The lotus is an aquatic perennial plant with many layered petals arranged around its core that is often depicted as a symbol of purity, beauty and grace in various religions. It is usually found in water gardens with their penchant for warm sunlight as they open up in the morning and close their delicate petals in the afternoon. Even though their petals can be seen floating on the surface of the water, the roots are firmly seated in the mud with long stems attaching them to the leaves. Did you know that every night the flower submerges itself into the water, only to rise up again and bloom on the surface in the morning? This unique life cycle is just one aspect that makes this flower have such symbolic weight in spirituality as well as earned its spot as one of the most sacred flowers in eastern religions and the reason to look deeper into the meaning and symbolism of the lotus flower.
Lotus flower in Ancient Egypt
One of the earliest known civilizations that were known to venerate the lotus flower were the Ancient Egyptians who for thousands of years believed it to be a symbol of creation, resurrection and rebirth. One common myth stated that a person who died can be transformed into a lotus while another revolves that during the time of creation, a giant lotus flower grew out from a pond and from which the sun was born. Often referred to as Seshen, due to its life cycle, the lotus flower represented the sun and is commonly seen in ancient Egyptian wall art, engravings and paintings either as an outline in a section of work or depicted in the hands of gods and humans. Priests also used it in ritualistic work by grinding up the leaves of the flower to make a potion which had a mild sedative and mind altering effect.
Lotus flower in Hinduism
In Hinduism, the meaning of the lotus flower is as an auspicious symbol depicting culture, etiquette, divinity, fertility and youth. In common belief is that the lotus flower came from the navel of god Vishnu (the protector) and that Lord Brahma (the creator) sat at the center. Krishna is also often described as the “Lotus one- eyed” which refers to his divine beauty. Hinduism also believe that within each human spirit lies the sacred lotus with the lotus symbol at the center representing consciousness (chakras).
“The lotus is also an important offering in hindu rituals”
In the Bhagavad Gita , “the Song of God”, the ability of the lotus flower to remain untouched as it emerges from the mud and into the surface of the water is seen as a way a wise person would conduct his duties without putting emotional attachments and can be calm in the face of worldly pleasures.
Lotus flower in Buddhism
In Buddhism,the meaning of the lotus flower’s is seen through its’ life cycle that symbolizes how the soul moves from one state to another, from our early origins in the earth and slowly gaining experience as it grows through the water to finally bloom in the sunlight, signifying enlightenment. It appears across a lot of Buddhist cultures and is one of the “Eight auspicious symbols” in the religion.
Significance of the colors
The lotus flower has several meanings that although similar to other religions, also have some unique aspects with different colors of the flower representing different meanings.
- The white lotus represents purity of the mind, body and spirit, representing the heart of the Buddha and allowing us to be able to overcome obstacles and hurdles in life. The white lotus is also often associated with the female representation of Buddha, due to its depiction of calm and serenity.
- The red lotus flower representing the emotional connections that we hold including love, passion and compassion. It is usually shown as having the petals open to symbolize our hearts being open and filled with love.
- The blue lotus is usually depicted as partially open to represent our desire to seek wisdom, and use logic and intelligence to create entitlement.
- The pink lotus is a representation of Buddha, wherein lies the history and myths surrounding him. It also shows the state of a person’s mind, while the flower is closed, it shows the stage in which they are transcending to on his spiritual path while an open pink lotus in full bloom shows they have reached total enlightenment.
- The purple lotus symbolizes spiritual awakening while the final gold lotus speaks of all enlightenment and achievement. The flower is often shown both open and closed to represent all the different paths that we take on the way to entitlement.
The meanings of each different color of the lotus flower helps in the understanding of the teachings of Buddhism and serves as a reminder for practitioners to implement the teachings as they travel through their own individual paths to enlightenment. This also led to the formation of the lotus position commonly used in both Buddhist and Hindu yoga practice. One sits with their legs crossed and tucked in a way that the bent knees look similar to the petals of the lotus. It is also seen in Buddhist and Hindu mandalas which are spiritual and ritualistic symbols.
“As the lotus flower is born in water, grows in water and rises out of water unsoiled, so I, born in the world, raised in the world having overcome the world, I live unsoiled in the world” – Buddha
Modern interpretation of the flower
In modern times, the lotus flower has inspired artworks, poems, buildings, jewelry, body art, music and is seen in various facets of our life today. Some of the most commonly known lotus inspired architecture that has drawn awe and admiration throughout the world include the Lotus Flower Artscience Museum in Singapore that has won numerous awards and sparked intellectual discussions about its concept and design and the Lotus Temple in New Delhi which has both religious and architectural significance.
It is also not difficult to find the lotus flower adorning the skin in various depictions as it has grown popular among modern tattoo enthusiasts who either value it for its deep rooted cultural and religious significance as well as its overall beauty and design. Lotus flower tattoos can be seen in various forms either as an intricate design or a simple form in different parts of the body.
All in all, the lotus flower is one of the most beloved flowers revered from ancient times all the way to today. Its’ exotic beauty and mysterious spiritual symbolism has spread from its’ early eastern origins and inspired numerous people around the world to push forward even when faced with adversities.