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Ikebana, The Art of Flower Arrangement

Often vases colourfully done up in flowers and foliage in five star hotel lobbies or plush offices must have caught your eye. Striking arrangement of orange birds-of-paradise and red, pink or white anthurriums with serrated long leaves or branches in simple shallow vases are commonly seen brightening up and enlivening lounges, corridors, and alcoves. Ever wondered what this art of flower arrangement is, how it came about and how sophisticated an art form it is?

For the love of nature

The art of flower arrangement originated in Japan 500 years ago. The Japanese call it ikebana, which literally means, 'flowers kept alive'. By the very name, it is evident that the art is not mere floral decoration, but has a deeper, even spiritual connotation in expressing living nature aesthetically.

Japanese people's love of nature is legendary, and through this art they seek to represent the vibrant green outdoors in a confined space of the container. Ikebana seeks to bring together all the elements of a garden - the leaves, branches, buds, blossoms, pods, fruits, and grasses, apart from full-bloomed flowers, in a perfect harmony.

Fruits, shoots and all

Everybody loves flowers and we often gift bouquets to friends on several occasions, but you would be mistaken if you thought that ikebana was merely putting flowers together in a container. Often, it is seen that the leaves and the thorny stem or branch is discarded and the flowers are put neatly and symmetrically in a vase, but in ikebana such a thing would be a sacrilege. In this art, the bud, the branch and dried leaves are much preferred materials for arrangement, even more so than the colourful flowers, as these signify the cycle of seasons - of growth, sustenance and wilting.

Disciplined art form

There are several schools of ikebana, the ikenobo, ohara and sogetsu which have different styles and philosophies of flower arrangement. These are formal styles, but increasingly free styles of personal expression are coming to fore which present unlimited possibilities. In traditional ikebana, flowers and stems are arranged in pre-determined set patterns guided by certain rules of construction.

Basically, there are three triangular spatial groups - the higher level is upright central, the intermediate level which is slanting, and the lower level which is inverted, around which the materials are arranged. Ikebana originated when the Buddhist priests made decorated offerings of flowers to Buddha; thus it has its origin in the sublime sentiment of acknowledging God in nature, and nature in God. Thus the above-mentioned three levels signify heaven, earth and mankind!

Simple designs, elegant lines

Ikebana is simple in the basic materials and tools it requires. All you need is a shallow wide-mouthed container and some metal frogs. A metal frog is a holder with spiked needles into which you stick stems and twigs. In a shallow vase, add a little water and put in the metal frog and the container is ready to take in any flower arrangement.

The upright is the most basic structure and this arrangement looks good in shallow pots. The slanting, which is an ideal composition for beginners looks beautiful in tall containers like bamboo or pitchers. Again, in ikebana, the lines described by the elements are considered more attractive than the form and colour. A branch or a twig in a gentle flowing line is preferred or considered more aesthetic than a group of flowers in full blossom. The arrangement is necessarily asymmetrical and the empty spaces that the arrangements circumscribe are equally important as those the materials encompass.

In alcoves or on table tops

In Japan, every household has flowers arranged as decorative elements in the house. In the olden days, the vases were meant to be put in alcoves of a traditional Japanese home such that only the front side of the arrangement was visible and this was the face of ikebana arrangement. But as the art progressed and came out to table tops, all sides of the arrangement became important, and an ikebana practitioner had to keep this aspect in mind while making the arrangement.

Any kinds of flowers that are available locally or in your countryside at the time of arrangement can be used for ikebana. As this is a highly evolved art like painting or sculpture, anybody desiring to attempt it will require basic training. Most cities would have some ikebana society or groups of art lovers, from whom you could learn the art. It is not only creative but is also relaxing and meditative.

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