So this may be a wild and confusing story that may be very disagreeable, but here it goes...There will also be a number of questions, so please bear with me.
First off, I see myself as a Theravada Buddhist, but also must indicate that I see myself as also heavily Independent. I do not find myself entirely attracted to South East Asian Buddhism (though still find it interesting). This may be because of various feelings on women's rights, homosexuality, etc in these regions...However, I have found myself particularly attracted to Indian culture, both north and south. If I may say, I also find Hinduism very interesting and somewhat inspiring (I am strong in my Buddhist faith, but open minded to all traditions).
So, I have a friend who is Hindu and she invited me to a Saraswati Puja, knowing how interested I am in religion. I very much enjoyed it and felt as though I learned a lot. Her father is a Brahmin and we both had a very production conversation about Buddhism, Hinduism, their comparison, and really just had an insightful, friendly connection. I also felt that being there gave me great spiritual inspiration, like none I've felt in awhile. So much so that I now feel I have a stronger connection with Indian culture and would like to apply that to my Buddhist practice. So here's where my obsessive questions begin. Some deal with my curiosity in general, others about whether or not I may incorporate such ideas into my practice.
1) At the Puja, devotees offered prasad that were blessed by sprinkling water on a flower and was later eaten by everyone buffet style. I am curious as to whether or not Buddhists practice prasad to the Buddha. Offering to bhikkhus yes, but what of the group doing a practice similar to that described?
I have found an image suggesting this is so, but I'd still like other's input if that's alright... http://cache.daylife.com/imageserve/06T91GPblrfou/340x.jpg
2) I noticed (quite easily from its size and complexity) that my friend also has a home altar, with various lights, murti paintings, figures, hawaiian-like lei on images, etc. I personally thought this was a very interesting way of setting up a religious altar and wondered if Buddhists have ever simulated this. Whether or not anyone has, would anyone know where one may purchase Buddhist paintings similar to the realistic oil paintings so prevalent in Hindu society?
Some examples I've found are: http://www.rudraksha-ratna.com/dispProduct.php?prodId=2930
3) Finally, and this too is mostly out of curiosity, I notice that many Hindu sculptures are colored (usually white skin, w/ emphasis on black, red, and clothing) and surrounded by gold. I find this art style very appealing and wonder if Buddhist art like this exists. If I may share a similar image...http://img24.imageshack.us/my.php?image=saraswatiwn3.jpg
Related to this question is if anyone knows a good place to buy a Buddha murti. I would assume the best thing to do would commission someone, but I'm not quite sure where to begin...
That's a lot I know, but just putting it out there that I am interested in how/whether Indian motifs are implemented in this way. Thanks for your patience and I hope to find some assistance.