By Seema Burman
PM Narendra Modi said:
“Notion of universal brotherhood is being reflected via the G-20 logo. The lotus in the logo of G-20 is a symbol of hope in these tough times.”
This article is a brief attempt to highlight the significance of lotus in Indian tradition.
Scientifically named, Nelumbo nucifera, lotus is one of the two extant species of aquatic plant in the family Nelumbonaceae. It is sometimes colloquially called a ‘water lily,’ though this more often refers to members of the family Nymphaeaceae. It is cultivated in many parts of the world but especially in Asia, including India and Southeast Asia. It grows in water and is mistaken for water lilies, having a bowl shape with petals and green leaves. The flowers are white, pink, red, or blue.
All flowers bring a smile to the face but a lotus flower evokes wonder and awe. Born in the dirt yet absolutely pure and clean, the lotus shows mankind how to remain peaceful despite the sorrows of samsara. Each evening its petals close at sunset symbolizing rebirth and renewal. A lotus flower gets its nourishment from the mud found at the bottom of the lake, yet it raises its stalk above the water and blossoms towards the sun denoting enlightenment amid ignorance. The lotus teaches us not to be affected by our surroundings.
This is clearly depicted by Sri Krishna in the Bhagavada Gita (5.10):
“Those who dedicate their actions to God, abandoning all attachment, remain untouched by sin, just as a lotus leaf is untouched by water.”
A lotus plant has large leaves that float on the water’s surface. As they are waterproof, lotus leaves are used as plates. Sri Krishna says that karma yogi also remains detached and unaffected by their surroundings. Human beings live in a world engrossed in desires and attachment but a person who wishes to rise spiritually must perform karma without bothering about external factors so that one may achieve enlightenment.
Lotus represents the highest level of consciousness, where enlightenment and purity dwells.
The Lotus flower is frequently mentioned in the ancient Sanskrit Hindu scriptures, as Padma (pink lotus), Kamala (red lotus), Pundarika (white lotus) and Utpala, Neel-Kamala (blue lotus).
The blue lotus is a rarity and is supposed to be found in the Himalayas. Blue lotus symbolizing enlightenment is offered to Bhagwan Shiva. Red lotus signifying love, affection, and romance is offered to Devi Lakshmi, Devi Durga and Bhagwan Surya. White lotus symbolizing peace, purity, and calmness is offered to Ma Saraswati and Ma Parvati. Pink lotus symbolizing Divine Love is offered to Radha and Krishna, Rama and Sita, Shiva and Parvati.
Known as Padma in Sanskrit, there are several synonyms for Lotus. Ja denotes birth in Sanskrit, so ja is added to words meaning water because a lotus thrives on water. Several synonyms of lotus have been derived in this manner, like – Neeraja, Ambuja, Pankaja, Kamala, Kunala, Rajeeva, Aravinda, Nalini, Saroja, Padmaja, Padmini, and Padmavati.
The lotus is mentioned extensively in Puranas and Vedas.
Sri Vishnu is referred to as Pundarikaksha, Kamala-nayana, Kamala-lochana, meaning that ‘His eyes are as beautiful as a Lotus flower’ or the ‘Lotus-Eyed One’.
According to a story in Linga Purana, once Devatas were unable to defeat the demons because of a boon they had received from Brahma. Devatas ran to Sri Vishnu for protection from demons. Sri Vishnu started worshipping Siva with one thousand blue lotuses. For one thousand years Vishnu prayed to Siva with one thousand blue lotuses while Siva sat in the lotus-pose dhyaana. One by one, Sri Vishnu would pick up the lotuses and offer them to Siva while chanting one thousand names of Siva, (Shiva Shatanama strotra). One day Siva made one lotus disappear. As Vishnu chanted a thousand names and reached 999 lotus, he found one flower missing. Vishnu immediately plucked His beautiful lotus-like eye and completed the worship. Impressed with the devotion, Mahadev granted the indestructible Sudarshan Chakra to Vishnu which had equivalent power as Trishul and Brahmastra.
Lotus is also a symbol of creation.
A giant lotus (Padma) sprouts out of Vishnu’s navel (naabhi) like an umbilical cord that gives birth to Brahma. Since then, Vishnu is called Padmanabha. Vishnu asked Brahma to manifest a new cosmic creation. Brahma explored the Lotus stem from which he had emerged but reached a dead-end. Sitting on the lotus throne, Brahma meditated for 100 Maha-Yugas. After 100 Maha-Yugas, Vishnu appeared before Brahma in Blue and Gold, lying on a huge serpent with a thousand hoods on the mighty waters of the Ocean.
Even in one of the four hands of Vishnu, there is always a Padma (Lotus), denoting that by His Grace one can get the highest spiritual experience. Lotus gives us hope that we too can rise from the muddy samsara and bloom like pure enlightened atman. This is why, in Sanatana Dharma, deities are represented with lotus flowers as their seats. Every part of Devi-Devatas and Bhagwan is associated with lotus. While describing the deity we use the lotus as a reference. His feet are lotus-like, charana-kamala, eyes are lotus-like, kamala-nayana, and hands are lotus-like, kara-kamala.
Siva’s association with lotus is described in the Sanskrit prayer Lingashtakam (Eight Sloka prayer of Linga), “Ashta Dalopari Veshtitha Lingam, Sarva Samudbhava Kaarana Lingam, Ashta Daridra Vinaashaka Lingam, Tat Pranamaami Sadaa Shiva Lingam”, meaning ‘I bow before that Lingam, which is the eternal Shiva, Which is surrounded by eight petals (lotus), Which is the prime reason of all riches, And which destroys eight types of poverty’.
From the churning of the ocean, Samudra Manthan, Ma Lakshmi emerged seated on a giant red-coloured lotus flower and chose Sri Vishnu as Her consort.
Red represents Rajo Guna (Rajas) which is seen in activity, desires and materialistic pleasures. Most goddesses are portrayed as sitting on a lotus flower and holding a lotus flower in their hands. Red and Pink lotus are offered to Ma Durga, Gauri and Lakshmi. The well-known hymn called Sri Suktam chanted as part of the Hindu religious repertoire at temples dedicated exclusively to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth provides a vivid and awe-inspiring description of the goddess. The verses ‘Padme Sthitaam Padma-Varnnaam’ ‘Padminiim Sharannam’ ‘Padma-Maaliniim’ Padma-anane Padma Uuru Padma-Akssii Padmaa-Sambhave’ describe Lakshmi as golden-hued, resplendent like the moon and sun, bedecked in gold and silver necklaces, having a smiling face, seated on a lotus, whose face is of lotus, is supported by lotus, whose eyes are of lotus, who is born of lotus, who is fond of lotuses, who is the possessor of lotuses, who holds lotuses in Her hands, who dwells in the abode of lotuses and whose eyes are like lotus petals. During Deepawali, goddess Lakshmi, is worshipped with 108 or 1008 lotus flowers, so that She may be pleased and grant wealth.
Goddess Saraswati is depicted with white saree seated on white Lotus ‘Ya shwetpadmasana’, travelling on a white Swan and playing a musical instrument Veena. The white color is Sattva Guna representing knowledge and education. It is said that baby Radha was sleeping inside a lotus flower when she was found by Vrishbhanu and his wife Kirti.
Lotus is the national flower of two countries- Vietnam and India.
As Vietnam is dominated by Buddhist culture, the lotus is their national flower as well. It is depicted that Gautam Buddha held a lotus while achieving enlightenment. In Buddhism, the lotus symbolizes purity of body, speech, and mind. Just as a lotus leaf doesn’t get wet, similarly Buddha doesn’t react. Gautam Budhha is portrayed sitting on a lotus meaning that he has overcome ignorance and risen above worldly pleasures.
In Hindu and Buddhist cultures, the lotus symbolizes sacredness, longevity and beauty. A closed bud symbolizes the time before enlightenment, while a fully bloomed lotus represents full enlightenment.
In ancient Egyptian times, the lotus was very important in their religion and art. The lotus was pictured in various works of art, as a border to outline the painting, or in hands of a god or human. They used lotus in counting also. One lotus would be 1,000 and two lotus as 2,000 and so on. In Egyptian culture, it was believed that during creation time a giant lotus flower grew out of a pond and from it the sun rose.
Padmapada was one of the most famous devotees of Adi Shankaracharya. Before becoming a sanyasi, his name was Vishnu Sharma. Adi Shankaracharya gave him the name Sanandanan after he became a monk. A few disciples thought that Adi Shankaracharya showed undue favouritism to Sanandanan. According to the ancient texts, Sanandana was washing clothes on the other bank of the Ganga. Deciding to prove his devotion, Adi Shankaracharya called him loudly and asked him to join in the Vedanta teaching. Sanandanan immediately started walking on Ganga. It is said that a lotus flower appeared under each step to hold Sanandanan on the water. Shankaracharya then bestowed him with the name ‘Padmapada’ which literally means ‘the one with lotus feet.’
In Yoga Sastras, lotus is used in meditations for concentration.
Chakras are seven energy centres in the body (Mooladhara, Swadhisthana, Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddha, Ajna, Sahasrara). Each Chakra is visualized as a lotus flower having a different symbol, colour, mantra, and number of petals. Chakras are crossing points of the Nadis or roads that carry subtle energy and Prana throughout the body. Chakra means cycle denoting the cycle of birth and death, infinity, and eternity. If Chakra gets blocked, energy flow is disrupted. Dhyaana, pranayama and asana open these blockages.
Kundalini is the energy residing in Mooladhara (Root) Chakra. Mooladhara has 4 petals, Swadhisthana (Sacral) has 6 petals, Manipura (Solar Plexus) has 10 petals, Anahata (Heart) has 12 petals, Vishuddha (Throat) has 16 petals, Ajna (3rd Eye) has 2 petals, Sahasrara (Crown), also called Sahasra-dal i.e. 1000 petaled Lotus which connects with infinite consciousness. The kundalini when awakened travels up the spine through other Chakras and reaches Sahasrara, giving enlightenment.
Author: Seema Burman has been writing columns on culture and spirituality for years including for Speaking Tree.
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