Dr. R. L. SONI
Founder Director-in-Chief,
The World Institute of Buddhist Culture, Mandalay (Burma)

Vol. III, No. 7, 1958

      Animal sacrifices were an integral concomitant of many a religious and secular function in ancient India. References to these are found as far back as the Vedic period. In due course, however, worship with flowers (puspa-yajana) assumed popularity, so much so that the worship with animal sacrifices (pasu-yajana) ultimately became almost supplanted by it.

      What were the influences at work that brought about this transformation?

      It is suggested by Dr. S. K. Chatterji (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. XVI 1950, No. 1) that the method of worship with flowers is of Dravidian origin. In support he says that the word 'puja' is derived from!, the Dravidian word 'Pu' meaning flowers. But, Shri B. K. Chattopadhyaya (Journal of the Asiatic Society, Letters, Vol. XXII, No. 2, 1956) is of the opinion that the word 'puja' is a variation of the compound word 'puspa-yajanam' and that the words 'puspa' and 'apuspa' occur in simple and compound forms in the Vedas and Vedic literature. He adds: "It is very likely that the Dravidians contracted the word 'puspa' to the more easily pronounceable word 'pu'. Both the words 'puspa' and 'Yajana' being Aryan, the compound word 'puspa-yajana' contracted to 'pujana' or 'puja' becomes natural."

      In an illuminating Rejoinder, Dr. S. K. Chatterji (Journal of the Asiatic Society, Letters, Vol. XXII, No. 2, 1956, pp. 243-244) says that the word 'puspa-yajana' has not been found in any Sanskrit work, ancient or modern, and that its assumption as a possible source-form of the word 'puja' is an admission of the fundamental difference in the spirit of the two kinds of ritual, viz. 'homa' and 'puja'. " 'Puspa-yajana' could not be transformed into 'pujana' by merely dropping arbitrarily certain syllables in the middle of the compound. If it were to come to classical or literary Sanskrit through I Prakrit, we would have got an intermediate form like 'puppha-y (j)ajana, but this even we do not have," he argues.

      Dr. Chatterji, in support of the view that worship with flowers was new to the Aryans, further adds: "That the ritual of worship with flowers (and incense) was something which was quite new to the Aryan world is amply evidenced by a discussion on the use of flowers, incense etc., in religious worship which we find in the 'Anusasana Parvan' of the 'Mahabharata'.

      The 'rationale' is sought to be explained, evidently to meet questions from an enquirer, and it would suggest that it was a new kind of ritual which required to be explained."

      This indeed is a weighty argument and substantially establishes the fact that worship with flowers was something of a new technique with the Aryans. This, however, does not mean that the worship with flowers is of Dravidian origin. Mere existence of the word 'puja' in the Dravidian language and endeavours to show its derivation from the words 'pu' meaning 'flowers' and 'gey' meaning 'to do', and constructing the word 'pugey' and modifying it to the word 'puja', only prove that worship with flowers was practised among the Dravidians.

      Therefore, while we agree with Dr. Chatterji that worship with flowers was something of a new technique with the Aryans, we beg to differ with him on the point that it was a contribution from the Dravidian culture. For, if we accept his thesis on etymological considerations we will have to go into the datology of the word and establish beyond doubt that the word puja was in use with the Dravidians or 'worship with flowers' in vogue with them, long before such a worship was practised by the Aryans.

      We are of the opinion that while the Dravidians were using flowers in their worship, Aryans also were doing so. References in Gita (Ch. IX, verse 26) and Ramayana (Ayodhya-kanda. 20-18) as pointed out by Shri B. K. Chattopadhyaya (Journal of Asiatic Society, Letters, Vol. XXII No. 2, 1956), amply support this. In the former, Krishna declares:

"Whoever offers Me in Love,

A leaf, or water, flower or fruit,

Such gift of Love do I accept,

From those who in their hearts are pure."*

      And, Rama, on the eve of his exile, on visit to his mothers Kausalya, finds her engaged in worship of God with white flowers among many other things.

      This might force us to accept that Krishna actually declared acceptance of worship with flowers or that the Royal Mother was actually worshipping the Deity with flowers, as suggested by Shri. B. K. Chattopadhyaya (Journal of the Asiatic Society, Letters, Vol. XXII No. 2. 1956 p. 212). If we do that on the mere authority of the books called Gita or Ramayana, we would be wrong. By saying this, we have not the least intention of undervaluing the sanctity of this literature. What we mean to suggest is that the statements in these admirable books must be read in the context of, not the chronology of the events described but the datology of the works under consideration. The fact has to be faced that though the nucleus of the 'Mahabharata' may even be in the 10th Century B. C. and of the 'Ramayana' some centuries earlier, the epics were actually dated post Buddhistic. Thus even though they be, to a considerable extent, chronologies of the epic period and descriptions of the events and sociological conditions connected with that period, certain contemporary influences could not but have entered the descriptions in these epics, at the time of writing, particularly when those influences had already become a common properly with the people. In this connection, it must be remembered that Indian thought and life had witnessed a cultural and spiritual metamorphosis since the 5th century B. C., the cause of this great transformation being the advent of the Buddha. His appearance brought about a historical process in the life of the nation which had far reaching effects on all levels of living and all levels of thought. The result was that Indian history took a new turn and Indian life took to new ways of thinking and new ways of living. New customs made their appearance and worship took forms in keeping with the spirit of the time. Thus it was that animal sacrifices lost patronage and instead there came into practice bloodless techniques involving the use of lovely flowers and fragrant incense. Instead of tears and cries and streams of blood flowing from the so-called sacred altars, the shrines became the centres of peace and happiness, symbolised by the presence of full-blown beautiful flowers and fragrant incense, all in an atmosphere of serenity and Metta (universal lovingkindness). It was this influence that percolated to the masses and found its way into their art, literature, language and worship. The Aryans and the Dravidians and even other groups and nations in and out of India were more or less influenced by these developments. The Ashwamedha and other animal yajanas disappeared, as if by magic, from a good part of India.

      The epics and Gita and the Puranas, and, as a matter of fact, most of the Vedic and Upanishadic and philosophical literature, were either committed to writing in this period or underwent some requisite changes.

      The Dravidian word 'puja' could be traceable to those influences and also the presence of the word 'flower' or 'flowers' 'for worship' in Gita and Ramayana and other Brahministic literature, could be considered as indicative of the contemporary cultural climate in India. On the basis of these observations it is easy to follow the evolution of 'pasu-yajanam' to 'puspa-yajanam'. And, the obvious probabilities are that neither the Aryans borrowed the system of the use of flowers in worship from the Dravidians, nor the latter from the former and that both of them and others as well were substantially influenced by the cultural concomitants of a great historical process in India, initiated by the advent of the Buddha, as a result of which 'homa' and 'soma' and 'pasu-yajana' were replaced by 'puja' or 'worship with flowers.'

      The evidence of this is found in the Buddhist Shrines all over the world, which not only far outnumber all the other shrines but also bear unmistakable testimony to the fact that the Buddha is worshipped only with flowers, lights and incense. In Burma, a leading Buddhist country, there is a Burmese expression, namely 'Phaya-phu' meaning 'to worship the Buddha'. Here the integral 'phu' is obviously an abbreviation of the word 'phull' meaning 'blossoms'. When pilgrims come from distant places and asked the purpose of their visit, their answer is 'for Phaya-phu', meaning 'to offer worship to the Buddhist sacred places.' And, they visit these places with devotion in their heart and invariably with flowers in their hands as a visible token of that devotion. Also, at the gateways of the shrines, there are flower stalls, the keepers of which come forward with ready bunches for sale to every pilgrim that enters the sacred precincts. Certainly, there are no shrines in the world which daily receive more flowers in offering than those dedicated to the Buddha.

      It is really interesting that the etymological analysis of the word 'puja' in use in the Dravidian language, as shown by Dr. S. K. Chatterji, and of the word 'phu' as used by the Burmese, leads to the same result viz, the use of a word meaning 'flower' or 'blossoms' linguistically but spelling 'devotional worship' in practice. Those who have even once witnessed the Flower Festival in a Buddhist country when on the Buddha Day the damsels of the town in their best attire and best looks proceed in a well organised procession, with daintily balanced water-pots on head and lovely blossoms in hands, to a Bodhi Tree, where they water the tree and offer the blossoms to it in supreme devotion in conscious recognition of the Great Awakening that transformed Siddhattha into the Buddha over 25 centuries back at Buddha-Gaya in India under the Bodhi Tree, a distant progenitor of the sacred tree before them, will at once appreciate that flowers, because of their association, have obviously become synonymous with worships in Buddhism. Also, may it be mentioned that puja is not only a Dravidian word but a Pali word as well. It is conceivable that the Dravidian use of it was inspired by Buddhistic influences.

      It is also a significant matter that the Buddhistic influences not only definitely transformed for the better the culture and history of Japan but also inspired the Japanese genius with profound admiration and love for flowers, which manifested in a phenomenon unique in human history. The cultural meaning and the spiritual significance of the floral ceremony of Japan are unmistakable. The practice of it not only brings about a perceptible transformation in the ethical character of the individual but also leads to glimpses of spiritual experiences, on the basis of which serenity, wisdom and efficiency synthesise themselves into practical results in personal life and social and national welfare. In this way the sphere of worship (puja) has become extended: from the shrine room it has expanded into the hard practical realities. Verily, the Floral Ceremony is a wonderful Japanese discovery, under Buddhistic influences, of the practical technique of worship with flowers offered to the Truth at large. This helps every individual to discover Truth for himself or herself.

      * Translation by Dr. C. C. Caleb. Luzac 1911 'The Song Divine.'

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First posted on 11th July 2001


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