Lotus Symbolism in Indic Tradition - Part 2
This is part 2 in a four-part series about the importance of the Lotus in Indic tradition. To read part 1, click here: Lotus Symbolism in Indic Tradition - Part 1 (wixsite.com)
Stay tuned for the next parts!
As a Symbol of Divine Birth
Lotus is the first sign of life upon the undifferentiated vastness of primeval waters. It is the first of all flowers that blossomed in the world. Growing from stagnant and murky water, it blooms with a sensual and imperious perfection. Lotus denotes divine physical life force. Like a lotus bud, a Buddhist or a Hindu is born in his world emerging on the surface of the water, he can flourish or wither according to his practices. Padma-garbha, the name implies one who is born like a lotus bud with the essence of purity in his mind.
Lotus is Creative Power
Existence is established firmly amidst the sea of possibility on Prithivi, the earth. Lord Vishnu was sleeping on the surface of the primeval ocean. A lotus sprang from his navel, within its inner whorl sat Lord Brahma and he is syayambhu. Centre of the lotus is Mount Meru, the world axis identified with its stalk. Ancient Egyptians also believed in the lotus bud as a symbol of the seed of manifestation.
Lotus in Vedic Iconography
Rigveda (6.16.3) describes lotus as the ground of being, and the support of the water of existence. Goddess of wealth-Lakshmi in Shri-sukta of Rigveda is called Padmini- one who possesses a lotus, Padmesthita - one who stands on lotus, Padmavarna- a lotus colored, and Padmasambhava- a lotus born. She is also known as lotus eyed- Padmakshi, she is lotus faced - Padmanana, dwells in lotus - sarasijanilaya. Lakshmi is a goddess of the fertility of soil. She bestows prosperity and riches. Her gold and silver garlands are symbols of royal splendor.
Nirukta, the most ancient book of Vedic hermeneutics says that lotus is called puraskar because it fosters everything that comes to be. In Upanishads the sun is referred to as “lotus in the sky”. Earth is also compared to lotus flower or leaf.
Sun and lotus
Sun and lotus represent important philosophical principles in Rigveda. The two concepts- The golden lotus and golden womb often overlap as symbols of the origin of the universe. Similarly, in Buddhism wisdom and compassion of the Buddha are depicted as emitting a golden light from which emerges a golden lotus. And from lotus are born Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Sun and moon are the breathtaking powers of nature. Their energies flow to the world. The root of lotus is in depth of slime and its development and blossoming are in response to the light of the Sun (Mahabharata 12.228.21). Stalk of the cosmic lotus becomes the means to cross over the life of existence. Lotus is sculpted as the symbol of all spatial existence. In Maitri Upanishad the petals of lotus represent directions of universal space. In the words of Coomaraswamy, “the petals of the lotus are the points of the compass of directions that is of infinite extension.”
The author is the Dean, Centre of Indology, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, New Delhi