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Understanding Ikebana

Monday, March 8, 2010, 14:30 Hrs  [IST]


Ikebana is the traditional Japanese art of arranging flowers and is being practiced in Japan for more than 600 years. Today, Ikebana is frequently seen in entrance halls and living rooms, as well as in lobbies of hotels and in guest rooms of hotels. Although layer after layer of flowers are used in western floral arrangements, in Ikebana, the key consideration is to use few stems and leaves as possible in composing elegant contours that highlight the flowers’ beauty. Ikebana is the creative art of flower arrangement that recreates the vital spirit of beauty through use of all types of plant material gathered from the environment. It is said to be a disciplined form of art bringing nature and humanity together.

Ikenobo is the oldest school of Ikebana, founded by Buddhist priest Ikenobo Senkei in the 15th century. He is thought to have created the Rikka (standing flowers) style. This style was developed as a Buddhist expression of the nature’s beauty, with seven branches representing hills, waterfalls, valleys and so on arranged in a formalised way. The oldest Ikebana manuscript, ‘Kaoiraino Kadensho’ dates since 1486. The famous ‘Senno Kuden’ manuscript, by the founder of the Ikenobo School of Ikebana, was written in 1542. Ever since many styles have appeared, disappeared and developed.

Later on, other schools emerged, styles changed and Ikebana became a custom among the Japanese society. Different styles of Ikebana changed in the late 15th century and were appreciated even by the common people and it transformed into an art form with fixed instructions. In the beginning Ikebana was very simple, constructed only with very few stems of flowers and evergreen branches; the first form of Ikebana was called ‘Kuge’.

Though, it seems to be simple and asymmetrical form of arrangement made up of odd numbers of stems and flowers, it is more than simply putting flowers in a container. The main idea of Ikebana is symbolism and simplicity. Asymmetrical form and empty space is an essential feature of this arrangement and the materials, containers and setting must also have a sense of harmony. The idea of Ikebana arrangements is to provide one with harmonious closeness with nature.

top_080310_1.jpgThe Term ‘Ikebana’ means living. Hence, real flower and floral material are used in these arrangements. All the elements used in arrangement must be organic, be it branches, leaves, grasses or flowers. The structure of Ikebana arrangement is based on a scalene triangle delineated by three main points, usually twigs, considered in some schools to symbolise heaven, earth and man and in others sun, moon and earth. Though Ikebana is a creative expression, it has certain rules governing its form. These rules can be easily identified in an arrangement’s colour combinations, natural shapes and graceful lines.

The Japanese truly appreciate natural beauty that it amounts almost to a religion and because of this, Ikebana is sometime considered amidst with spirituality. Spiritual aspect of Ikebana is considered very important to its practitioners. Silence is utmost priority while practicing of Ikebana. It is time to appreciate the elements of nature which is often overlooked. Individual(s) practicing Ikebana become more patient and tolerant of differences, not only in nature, but also in general. It inspires to identify beauty in all art forms. This is also the time when one feels close to nature, which provides relaxation for the mind, body and soul. The Japanese always felt a strong bond of intimacy with their natural surroundings. The awareness of how nature changes over time and learning its rhythm is the first step in involving oneself in Ikebana.

Design Principles
Another aspect present in Ikebana is its employment of minimalism. An arrangement may consist of only a minimal number of blooms interspersed among stalks and leaves. Usually an odd number of stems were used as they were considered lucky and looked more beautiful. A minimum three stems were used such as:

SHIN: It is the first and the tallest stem used in Ikebana arrangements. It symbolises ‘Heaven’ and placed at an angle of 10 degree from the central axis. Shin is responsible for providing the height to the arrangement. The length of this stem is one and half to two time the diameter or height of the container which ever is more.

SOL: The second stem used in Ikebana is SOL. It is placed next to the heaven or behind it at an angle of 45 degree to the central axis. The length of SOL is three-fourth of SHIN and it provides maximum width possible to the arrangement. This stem symbolises ‘Man’.

It is the third stem placed on the opposite side of the SOL at an angle of 75 degree to the central axis. The height of HIKAE is half of SOL and it seems to balance the arrangement. It symbolises the ‘Earth.’

Two other stems that can be used in Ikebana are: MOUNTAINS, which lies between heaven and man and MEADOW, which lies between man and earth. Any additional stems when used are known as ‘JUSHIS.’

Usually, three to five years are required to acquire these technical and expressive skills. Over the seven centuries of its evolution, Ikebana has developed many different styles of arrangement. The most common are the rikka (standing flowers), seika or shoka (living flowers) and nageire (flung flowers) styles when making arrangements in bowl-shaped vases and the moribana (piled-up flowers) style when using dish-like containers. The first styles were a tall upright central stem that had to be accompanied by two shorter stems.

When the tea ceremony emerged, another style was introduced. The style used for tea ceremony rooms was called Chabana. The simplicity of the Chabana helped create the Nageire or ‘thrown-in’ style. Nageire is a non-structured design which led to the development of the Seika or Shoka style. The style is characterised by a tight bundle of stems which form a triangular three-branched asymmetrical arrangement, which was considered classic.

Seika or Shoka style consists of only three main branches, known as ten (heaven), chi (earth) and jin (man).Three styles of Ikebana have gained popularity. They are
Moribana: Low arrangement made in low shallow container. It is sometime known as modern arrangement.

Nageria: These are tall arrangement in tall container

Sieka: Classical style of Ikebana with the basic elementary design upright.

The author of this article is Arvind Kumar Saraswati, Lecturer, Banarsidas Chandiwala Institute of Hotel Management & Catering Technology, New Delhi

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pran raina Jul 16, 2010 5:09 PM
Dear Mr Saraswati
Thank you for sharing this knowledge with us it is always refreshing for us House keepers we are so bussy in our day to day work we forget what we want to do as hobby
I appreciate your efforts
Pran Raina EHK ITC hotel maratha Mumbai
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