Bonsai plant, widely prevalent today, is found everywhere - right from department stores to garden centers to nurseries. However, the Bonsai that are found today vary from their earlier counterparts and are thus known as pre-bonsai. Literally, Bonsai is an art of artistic miniaturization of trees or woody or semi-woody plants shaped as trees, by growing them in small containers. Though in the west, the term is applicable to all miniature trees, whether in containers or pots, according to the Japanese tradition, only container-grown trees can be termed bonsai. Read on to get complete information on the history of bonsai.
Interesting Information On Origin & Background Of Bonsai
Bonsai in China
The first emergence of Bonsai can be traced back to China, the Kung-Fu country of the world, that too as much as thousands of years ago. Initially known as penzai, it was term used to denote the practice of growing single specimen trees in pots. The miniature trees appeared as thin plants, with rough and knotted trunks, and resembled animals, dragons and birds. There are various tales and legends associated with the history of bonsai in China.
One of the legend states that during the Han Dynasty, an emperor created a landscape in his courtyard. In this, he created a miniature of his entire empire. Right from hills, valleys, rivers, lakes and trees, he built it all. It was believed that he created the landscape so that he could have a look at his entire territory, in a single glance, from his palace window. He had forbidden anyone else to posses such a landscape form of art. A person found even with a miniature version of the landscape was viewed as a threat and put to death.
According to another legend, bonsai plants can be traced back to 4th century A.D. A Chinese poet and civil servant named Guen-ming, after his retirement, started growing chrysanthemums in small pots. This was viewed as the beginning of bonsai plants. While Han Dynasty and Guen-ming tales are just legends, without any written proof, there is a documented record of bonsai being discovered in 1972, in the tomb of Prince Zhang Huai, of Tang Dynasty. The tomb contained two paintings, showing servants carrying plants that resembled bonsai. In the first painting, the servant was shown carrying a miniature landscape, while in the second; he was seen carrying a pot containing a tree
Bonsai in Japan
Buddhist monks brought bonsai to Japan in the Heian period. During this time, the practice of growing miniature trees in pots was limited to the higher class people, a prime reason for the downfall of this art in its initial years in Japan. However, with the Chinese invasion, in the 14th century, the art of growing bonsai was transmitted to all the people, irrespective of their class. Not only did Chinese make the art popular, but they also influenced its primary designing. This explains the reason as to why, initially, the same characters were used to represent bonsai in Japan, as were used in China. Once the Japanese had mastered the art, they modified it further. Much of the bonsai we see today is the refined version, which the Japanese have brought to the bonsai cultivation.
Bonsai in West
After making a mark in Japan, Bonsai came to the west, mainly from China and Japan. The first-ever exhibition in the west was held in the Third Universal Exhibition in Paris, in 1878. Bonsai, however, was not appreciated and accepted by the westerners, at the first instance. They thought it to be more of a torture to trees rather than a form of art. Nonetheless, with time, the theories and opinions about bonsai changed and it was finally accepted as an art in the west. This resulted in the first major bonsai exhibition being held in London, in 1909.
World War II enhanced the popularity of Bonsai in the west. After being victorious in Japan, the western soldiers brought a bonsai with them, on their return. Though the plant did not manage to survive long after the soldiers reached west, it managed to cultivate a yearning amongst the westerners. It was the Japanese in America who taught the art of Bonsai to the Americans. Soon, the art spread all through the world. Today, bonsai is seen as one of the most creative, innovative and inventive forms of art.