Lotus Symbolism in Indic Tradition - Part 3
This is part 3 in a series of four articles depicting the influence and significance of the Lotus Flower in Indic cultures. To read the previous articles, click here: https://www.destinationheritage.com/blog . Stay tuned for more!
Lotus and Hindu Goddesses
Devi Lakshmi- the goddess of affluence/wealth is also venerated as Kamalaa or Padmaa. She is worshipped for good fortune and prosperity. Saraswati represents intellectual power and Devi Durga represents political and military power. Goddess Lakshmi stands on a lotus and holds a lotus in her hand. Standing on a lotus means presiding over the power of fertility of the soil, and jewels and precious metals in the womb of earth. Lotus in her hand means purity of means to earn.
On the gates of the Sanchi stupa Goddess Lakshmi sits on a fully opened lotus. Several other blossoms rise around her. Two elephants on her two sides sprinkle the life-giving water from the pots held in their uplifted trunks. Lakshmi hold s a lotus in her hand.
Lotus represents purity of intellect
Devi Sarasvati, the goddess of intellect sits on a white lotus. This indicates purity of knowledge. Knowledge should be used for enlightening one’s mind aspiring for harmony and peace. Therefore the goal of Jnana yoga in Bhagavad Gita is self-realization. It is through knowledge that one can reach a state of transcendence. Again it is knowledge that points out that means do not justify the end. Therefore Indian philosophy insists on reaching the goal of self realization by a noble path which leads to Peace and prosperity in the Universe. Goddess Sarasvati is the eliminator of ignorance and she holds a manuscript in her hand representing knowledge. In one of the hands she holds the musical instrument of the vina and in the other she bestows benediction. She wears white garments.
ya kundendy tusharahara dhavala
ya shubhra vastravrita
ya vina vara danda mandiata kara
ya shveta padmasana
sa mam patu sarasvati bahagavati
Fusion of wheel and lotus
A fully opened lotus bears a solar character and affinity to wheel. Buddha Shakyamuni is compared to the white lotus. He can experience and can interact with the outside world. His interaction with the world is characterized by compassion and kindness because he is free from lust and greed. Wheel and lotus are taken as secret pivots of the world. Diverse constituents are disposed around in symmetrical fashion. A wheel represent affinity with lotus in the form of a solar disc whose rays constitute the eight spokes of the wheel.
When Buddha was being represented in aniconic form, wheel was identifiable with the universal sovereign- chakravarti. At several places wheel was sculpted as a symbol of the Buddha. During the first century CE when Buddha came to be represented in human form, a wheel appeared at some places on his body or on his throne indicating the first sermon given at Sarnath. When Buddha sits in Dharmachakrapravartana mudra he opens a lotus petal by petal, meaning disclosing the philosophy slowly to enlighten the devotees. Eight major points of compass in space are represented by eight petals od lotus. Thus, it represents cosmic harmony. This way it is used in many yantras and mandalas. In the Japanese Buddhist sect Shingon a lotus is displayed in the guise of a nave. Eight rays proceeding from it constitute the fusion of sun and lotus symbolism. Chakrastambha in India meaning a pillar surmounted by a wheel recalls an open or blossomed lotus on top of its stem.
The author is the Dean, Centre of Indology, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, New Delhi