Who does not like flowers? Their varieties, their fragrance, their colourful appearance, the artistic patterns on their petals, a bouquet of such flowers or a garland, all are enchanting, attractive and pleasing. Flowers adorn our drawing rooms, our gardens, our offices, our desks and our tables. They are used to decorate gates, platforms, drive ways, walls and ceilings. Ladies put them in their hair-locks. Devotees offer flowers to the deities, their portraits and idols and bouquets of flowers are offered to friends on important occasions as a mark of felicitation. Flowers are of different hues, colours and scents. From the dancing daffodils to climbing creepers, to proud narcissus and blue bells, to fragrant Jasmines and roses, every flower is soothing to our eyes and satisfying our aesthetic sensibilities. Yet the Pamposh (Lotus) has a place of pride for more reasons than one.
It grows in lakes and ponds, in springs and water troughs as also in mud and marshy soil. Poets of different languages have described it, its beauty and all that it symbolizes in varieties of ways. The poets of Sanskrit language have particularly taken a great fancy towards this flower. It is variously called a Shatadal, the flower with hundred petals, Sarasija, flower born out of a spring, Varija, jalaja, born of water and Pankaja, that grown in mud. It has a thick long green stem, pink petals and a green perforated bulb inside, which eventually gives a soft nutty fruit. Lotus is surrounded by green pods, spread all over on the surface of the water. The pod eventually thickens, changes to off white colour spotted with black sprinkling and is used as a vegetable or a savoury. It is brittle and is, therefore, called Nado’r, or unstable in Kashmiri language.
Lotus symbolizes life and has been praised, described and eulogized in literature as such. The Bhagavad Gita says that our life should be like a lotus, Padma-patram-iva- ambasaa, like a lotus in the waters, unaffected, unscathed and untainted. We should live in the waters of the world but remain unaffected by its influence. It is said that the lotus flower is one of the most ancient and deepest symbols of our planet. The lotus flower grows in muddy water and rises above the surface to bloom with remarkable beauty. At night the flower closes and sinks underwater, at dawn it rises and opens again. Untouched by the impurity, lotus symbolizes the purity of heart and mind. The lotus flower represents long life, health, honour and good luck. The lotus flower is viewed by our Rishis as a symbol of spiritual unfolding. The lotus has its roots in earthly mud, but as it grows upward in aspiration toward the light, its petals open out in a beautiful flower. The sacred mantra of the Buddhists is Om Mani Padme Hum, meaning, "Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus". The flower symbolizes divinity, fertility, wealth, knowledge and enlightenment. It is associated with the goddess of wealth, Maha Lakshmi, who brings prosperity, purity and generosity. She sits on a fully blossomed lotus flower. Symbols are said to be a means of bringing subtle, inner realities to a focus in outward expression. Within the fundamental unity of consciousness, certain symbols, such as the lotus lifting itself in purity above the muddy water, possess universal relevance and power.
Lotus is the National flower of India. The Lotus symbolizes spirituality, fruitfulness, wealth, knowledge and illumination. The most important thing about lotus is that even after growing in murky water it is untouched by its impurity. The lotus also symbolizes purity of heart and mind. The National Flower 'Lotus' is an aquatic plant of Nymphaea species with broad floating leaves and bright aromatic flowers that grow only in shallow waters. The leaves and flowers of the Lotus float and have long stems that contain air spaces in them. The lotus flowers have many petals overlapping in a proportional pattern. The root functions of lotus are carried out by rhizomes that fan out horizontally through the mud below the water. Lotuses, cherished for their tranquil beauty, are delightful to take a look at as their blossoms open on the pond's surface.The face, the hands and the feet of the Lord as also those of the preceptor are likened to a lotus, for their beauty, purity and piety. It is said that once a devotee of his decorated Bhagavaan Gopinath ji with scores of lotuses brought by him from Dal lake and Bab ji sat still to allow him to fulfill his desire of covering his master with this beautiful flower.
Anybody who has ever observed a lotus flower emerging from a murky pond cannot fail to see the beauty of this exquisite plant. The flower always looks so clean and pure against the background of the dirty pond. Because of this the lotus flower has come to be associated with purity and beauty in the religions of Buddhism and Hinduism respectively; the ancient Egyptians scholars observed that in the night-time the lotus closed its flowers and sank into the water, and in the morning came up with a different grandeur and therefore, the flower related to rebirth and the Sun. In actual fact the Lotus slowly emerges from a pond over a three day period and then blooms in the morning until mid-afternoon.
It can therefore be assumed that the lotus flower meaning is different between cultures, the ancient Egyptians and the Indian both Buddhists’ view and the Hindu view, though in fact they share many similarities.
Anybody who has taken a look at Egyptian culture cannot fail to have noticed the significance of the meaning of the Lotus flower in their culture. In ancient Egypt there were two main types of lotus, the white and the blue. Another type, the pink lotus flower was introduced into Egypt sometime during the late period of their civilization. If one is to observe the many hieroglyphics, it is easy to see that the blue Lotus flower is the most commonly portrayed. As mentioned above this flower is known to be associated with rebirth. This is a consequence of it supposedly retracting into the water at the night, and emerging a fresh in the Sun the next day. The Egyptians therefore associated the lotus flower with the Sun which also disappeared in the night, only to re-emerge in the morning. Therefore the lotus came to symbolize the Sun and the creation. In many hieroglyphics works the lotus is depicted as emerging from Nun (the primordial water) bearing the Sun God. As something that is associated with rebirth, it is no surprise that the lotus flower is also associated with death, and the famous Egyptian book of the dead is known to include spells that are able to transform a person into a lotus, thus allowing for resurrection.
Another interesting fact about the lotus flower meaning to the Egyptians was the way that it was used as a symbol for the unification of the two Egyptian kingdoms, that is to say the bonding of Upper and Lower Egypt. For a long time the lotus had been used in the hieroglyphics and art of Upper Egypt, whereas in Lower Egypt the Papyrus plant was notably in abundance. Therefore pictures of lotus and Papyrus that had grown up together and become inter-wound with each other came to be a symbol of the bringing together of the two kingdoms.
In Buddhism the lotus flower is known to be associated with purity, spiritual awakening and faithfulness. The flower is considered pure as it is able to emerge from murky waters in the morning and yet be perfectly clean. Therefore in common with Egyptian mythology the lotus is seen as a sign of rebirth, but additionally it is associated with purity. The breaking of the surface every morning is also suggestive of controlling desire, this leads to it being associated with spiritual enlightenment. As Buddhism is an Indian ideology and faith, different from that of Egypt, there are many more colours of lotus to be seen. So it is not too surprising that the many different colours have come to be associated with different aspects of Buddhism. The main symbolism of the lotus flower and their meanings as generally accepted are given here.
1. Blue Lotus: The blue Lotus is associated with a victory of the spirit over that of wisdom, intelligence and knowledge. If you get to see a blue Lotus in Buddhist art you will notice that it is always depicted as being partially open and the centre is never visible.
2. White Lotus: this colour lotus is known to symbolize Bodhi (awakening), and represents a state of mental purity, and that of spiritual perfection; it is also associated with the pacification of one’s nature. This lotus is considered to be the womb of the world.
3. Purple Lotus: known to be mystic and is associated with esoteric sects. It can be shown depicted as either an open flower or as a bud. The eight petals of the purple Lotus are representative of the noble eightfold path; one of the principal teachings of the Buddha. Following this path is thought to lead to self awakening, and is considered one of the noble truths.
4. Pink lotus: this is the supreme lotus and is considered to be the true lotus of Buddha.
5. Red lotus: this is related to the heart, and therefore is associated with love and compassion.
Perhaps one of the strongest associations of the lotus flower with religion is that observed in Hinduism. In this religion the lotus flower meaning is associated with beauty, fertility, prosperity, spirituality, and eternity. The most common form seen in Hinduism is the white lotus flower. Many of the gods and goddesses of Hinduism are linked to the flower, for example, as already stated above the goddess of prosperity, Laxmi, is usually depicted as being seated atop a fully opened lotus flower. Likewise Brahma, the god of creation is depicted as emerging from a lotus emanating from the naval of the sustainer Lord Vishnu. As a lotus is able to emerge from muddy waters un-spoilt and pure, it is considered to represent a wise and spiritually enlightened quality in a person; it is representative of somebody who carries out his tasks with little concern for any reward and in a detached manner. It is very interesting how the open flower and the unopened Lotus bud forms are associated with human traits. The unopened bud is representative of a folded soul that has the ability to unfold and open itself up to the divine truth. Thus we have had a better understanding of the significance of the lotus flower in literature and religious ideologies. No doubt it is a flower but a flower with a difference, called PAMPOSH in Kashmiri.
Let me conclude with this Sanskrit Shloka:
Kararavindena padaravindam mukharavinde vinivashiyantam, jagat vate tam prithukam shayanam balam Mukundam manasa smarami
– I remember in my heart the child Mukunda, who with his lotus like hand puts his lotus like foot into his lotus like mouth.