The lotus is much more than a flower
for Hindus. It is symbolic of all that is good and beautiful.
Scriptures tell us that it first bloomed with the creation of the
universe. Over the centuries it has lost none of its allure.
The lotus is one of the worlds
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 terms 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 found in the country and widely used in religion is called
It has large flowers up to 25 cm across
and leaves 60 cm across. Both flowers and leaves sometimes grow up
to 1.8 m above water . As botanical features indicate different
evolutionary origin the plant is not included in the water lily
order. But the ancients, for their part, never made any distincation
between a water.
Fertility is the most important symbol
that has been ascribed to the flower. Other association like
rebirth, purity, beauty and sensuality flow from this aspect.
According to Hindu mythology, after the
great deluge the almighty fertilized the waters to produce an egg.
From one part of this egg came Brahma the Creator, and from another
the universe. Hence, the universe is called brahmand or the
cosmic egg in Sanskrit. Another legend states that Brahma emerged
from a lotus that grew out of Vishnu the Preservers navel.
Pushkar in the western state of
Rajasthan is the site of a cattle fair that in recent times has
become a big draw with tourists form all over. As the story goes,
Brahma worried that the growing sin in the world might taint the
sanctity of his abode. So he sent his lotus in search of another
suitable spot. The lotus search took him to Hateshwar near
Pushkar, where he built three tanks Jyestha, Madhya and
Kanishta. On a night during the month of Kartik (November) a
heavenly lotus is believed to bloom in the Jyestha Tank.
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.
The flowers 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.
Similarly in China mourners give the
family of the deceased envelopes containing an outline of the flower.
Ra or the sun, the chief deity of ancient Egypt is shown sitting as
a child on a water lily. Likewise Brahma is always shown in popular
iconography to be sitting on a louts.
Some believe that the lotus came to
India from Egypt. Later, Buddhism borrowed the flower from Hinduism.
In Buddhist painting and sculpture, whenever Buddha is shown
delivering an important sermon, he is shown sitting on a lotus
pedestal. Buddhist scriptures enumerate fragrance, purity,
delicateness and beauty as the attributes of lotus.
Like the lotus that grows in muck but
does not partake of it, the human heart should stay independent of
evil thoughts in Buddhisms ideal. Guanyin, the Buddhist
Goddess of Mercy alleviates humanitys 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 Tantrik Buddhism. The lotus motif has also been
extensively used in shrines, art, architecture and sculpture of the
Jains. The Ionic order of architecture of the ancient Greeks is an
offshoot of the Assyrian and Phoenician forms which have the lotus as
Indian literature abounds in references
to the flower. Poets have compared a pretty face, dainty limbs and
attractive eyes to the flower. The plants steam is spoken of
as the favourite meal of elephants. Its leaves have cooled the fires
of many a noble lady
separated from her beloved. And
kamshastra (The Art of Lovemaking) has four categories of
women, the most beautiful and accomplished among them being the
padmini or the lotus lady. To men of letters, the lotus
presented an alternative to the banality of human existence.
The flower is put to many uses. 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. Besides, extract from the flower is used in traditional as
well as modern medicine.
Nelumbo nucifera is a wholly edible
species. Its seeds are roasted to make puffs called makhanas. The
plants rhizomes are a source of lotus meal which is rich in
starch. In fact is American counterpart, Nelumbo petapetala was
source of starchy diet for the American Indians. A number of wild
animals feed on the plant. Fish find refuge in its underwater
The upper cupule or fleshy capsule in
the lotus dries out at maturity and separates from the plant.
Floating about it releases seeds through holes in the surface. New
plants germinate from these.
When the Bahais
followers of Bahaullah, a 17th century Iranian
mystic decided to build their temple in New Delhi their choice
of design was a lotus, Fariburz Sahaba, the architect who made the
design, explains, The lotus not only has an association with
all the religions of India but is probably the most perfect flower in
the whole world.
It is symmetrical, it is exquisitely
beautiful. And how does it grow ? If grows in a swamp, and it raises
its head out of the slime absolutely clean and perfect. Now this is
what the manifestation of God is in the world.
When I visited the shrine long lines of
visitors patiently awaited their turn to enter its portals. The
queue that I was in slowly moved towards the entrance. And then we
were in the inner hall bathed in light. Like the cupule which holds
the plants seeds, the hall took to the great spirit.
The temple is one of the important
landmarks of Delhi. Hundreds drawn by its unique shape visit it
daily. Two rows of petals open up like a lotus about to bloom. At
night the illuminated building appears to be floating on water.
Now from sublime to overtly ridiculous.
Two years back Taiwan was rocked by
fraud case involving a Zen master. Thousands of gullible buyers
bought lotus pedestals from him in the belief that it would absolve
them of their Karmic obstacles !
Such is the enduring power of the