|The Lotus is much more than a flower in the East. It is symbolic of all that is good and beautiful.
Scriptures tell us that it first bloomed with the creation of the universe. The Lotus is one of the
world’s most celebrated flowers. From time immemorial to the present day, it has always been in
folklore, religion and the arts in one form or the other.
The term "Lotus" is applied in general to several species of plants. About 100 Lotus species are
found in temperate regions of Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. The pink and rose
coloured variety that grows in this country and has been honored in much of the yogic tradition
is called Nelumbo nucifera.
Fertility is the most important symbol that has been ascribed to the flower. Other associations
like Rebirth, Purity, Beauty and Sensuality flow from this aspect. The Goddess of Wealth, Laxmi
is also called Padma, Kamla and Kamalasana after the other names of the flower. The four
handed Vishnu is depicted bearing a conch, chakra (wheel), mace and lotus in each of his four
hands. Kwan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of Childbirth, Compassion, and Protection, is often
seated or standing on a Lotus.
The flower’s petals close to enable the plant to control its inner circulation of water to avoid
being affected by weather. This phenomenon led the flower to acquire the metaphor for rebirth
as it could seemingly transcend time. Bodies of Egyptian pharaohs were interned as mummies
in the belief that they would live again, “like a water lily re-opening." Buddhist scriptures
enumerate fragrance, purity, delicateness and beauty as the attributes of the Lotus.
Like the Lotus that grows in muck but does not partake of it, the human heart should stay
independent of evil thoughts is Buddhism’s ideal, echoed in the words of Christ to be "In the
world but not of it." Kwan Yin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy alleviates humanity’s sufferings
by sprinkling drops of water as she walks over a bed of Lotuses.
According to Yoga and Tantra there are seven Lotus wheels in the human body. The Lotus is the
object of meditation in Tantric Buddhism. The Lotus motif has also been extensively used in
shrines, art, architecture and sculpture of the Jains who aspire to absolute non-violence
(ahimsa) in all forms. The Ionic order of architecture of the ancient Greeks is an offshoot of the
Assyrian and Phoenician forms which have the Lotus as their basis. To men of letters, the Lotus
presented an alternative to the banality of human existence.
Indian literature abounds in references to this splendid flower. Poets have compared a pretty
face, dainty limbs and attractive eyes to the flower.
The Kamashastra (The Art of Lovemaking) has four categories of women, the most beautiful and
accomplished among them being the Padmini or the Lotus lady.
The flower has many resources. The thread, taken from the leaf stalks is used for making wicks
for oil lamps in temples. Cloth made from this yarn is thought to cure many ailments. Extract
from the flower is used in traditional as well as modern medicine. The plant’s stem is spoken of
as the favourite meal of elephants - and elephants are the animal sign of prosperity and good
fortune in India.
Nelumbo nucifera is a wholly edible species. Its seeds are roasted to make puffs called
makhanas. The plant’s rhizomes are a source of Lotus meal which is rich in starch. In fact its
American counterpart, Nelumbo Petapetala, was a source of starchy food for the American
Indians. A number of wild animals feed on the plant. Fish find refuge in its underwater stalks.
When the Baha’i’s – followers of Baha’u’llah, a 17th century Iranian mystic – decided to build
their temple in New Delhi their choice of design was a lotus, the architect who made the design,
(Fariburz Sahaba) explained, “The Lotus not only has an association with all the religions of
India but is probably the most perfect flower in the whole world".
The Lotus flower is symmetrical, it is exquisitely beautiful, just like the fully alive human spirit.
And how does it grow ? It grows in a swamp, and it raises its head out of the slime absolutely
clean and perfect. A manifestation of the Divine in the world.
Such is the enduring power of the Lotus.
- from an unknown author in the Hindu world
|The Lotus –
Much More Than a Flower in the East