Flowers, Fruits and
Foliage of Faith, Part 1
Most Europeans and North Americans will be familiar with Harvest Festivals at their local place of worship. This is a time to offer thanks to one's God for the wondrous variety of flowers, crops, trees and fruits nature provides. It is also a time to give thanks, and celebrate, the gathering in of the Harvest and the bounty that nature, and man's labor, brings to the world. At this time we are all reminded of the importance of nature and how it brings sustenance, beauty and faith into our lives.
Here in Thailand, rice is the most important crop and, on an early morning, one can see it being offered to Buddhist Monks as they walk making "binderbaht". Also, there are particular flowers and trees which are associated with the country's faith. One of the most ubiquitous flowers, which every visitor will see, is the lotus and it has great religious significance to Buddhist beliefs. The lotus symbolizes purity, peace and compassion, as well as fertility (fertility because of the many seeds in the lotus). Legend has it that when infant Lord Buddha took his first steps (seven), a lotus blossom grew from each of his seven footprints. So this flower became sacred to Buddhist followers (as it is also to Hinduism). Aside from seeing lotus blossoms being presented to Monks, visitors will notice lotus motifs incorporated in many carvings and decorative items. As a flower, it grows well in wet conditions most are seen in ponds or ornamental fountains with large platelike leaves which either float on the water surface or rise above as they mature. Interestingly, water will not stay on a lotus leaf it runs off, or beads, in the same fashion as quicksilver. The bloom, itself, usually white or pink, rises on a long stem and opens gradually to the sun.
Another plant sacred to Buddhism a tree this time is that of the Rose Apple. Many visitors will have seen, and perhaps tasted, the rose apple as it is readily available at any fruit and vegetable market. More popularly known in Thailand as the Jambu (or Chom-poo) Tree, it is a large, multibranched tree which grows to a height of 40 feet or more. With its thick, leathery leaves and great span of branches, the Jambu Tree offers great shade and coolness against the sun. Story tells that Lord Buddha, as a young man, was watching men and animals as they ploughed the land in readiness for a new crop. Lord Buddha sat under the shady boughs of a Jambu Tree and, seeing the men and oxen labor over the ploughs, meditated on the burdens we all must carry in this life. As the sun climbed across the heavens, shadows changed and lengthened as the day grew longer but the shadow of the Jambu Tree protecting Lord Buddha did not! So the Jambu or Rose Apple Tree is sacred to this day.
Two examples of what visitors to Chiangmai might see as they move around the city and markets. And, perhaps, reflect on the religious significance of the beautiful Lotus Blossom and the humble Rose Apple.