Introduction

class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-31035″ />Lotus, considered as the National flower of India is one of the divine flowers. In Sanskrit, lotus is known as Kamala, Padma, etc. The word Kamalam is derived from the word “kam” meaning water and “alam” meaning to decorate. Thus, as the lotus decorates water, it is known as Kamalam. The other names of Lotus are Kanja, Niraja, Ambuja, Jaloruha, Sarisuruha, Padmasana, Kamalasana, Pundarika, etc. The botanical name of lotus is Nelumbo Nucifera (meaning nut bearing aquatic). The use of Lotus for religious and cultural purposes dates back to 6000 years.

 

Description of the plant

Lotus, an aquatic plant is native of East Asia and Australia. It grows in tropical and sub tropical regions. Lotus is found throughout India.

The flowers which grow only in shallow waters have long aerated stems that are bright and aromatic. The flowers 4- 10 inches in diameter rise above water. The flower closes in the evening and retracts into the water at night. It emerges afresh, (with its petals open) in the morning with the first rays of sun, thus symbolising rebirth. The flower blooms in summer.

The stalks of the flower rise above water. They are hollow and consist of a milky sap. (latex)

The flower blooms in different colours, shapes and sizes. Each flower lasts from 2- 5 days and darkens with age. The number of petals vary from 23- 50 in each flower. Flowers with 25 petals are termed as single flower, flowers with 25- 50 petals as semi- double and flowers with more than 50 petals are termed as double. After blooming, the petals fall off the flower, leaving a cone shaped seed head in the centre of the flower. The seed head contains 15- 20 openings with each opening containing a fruit. The fruit is encased in a cup like womb in the pod. When the fruit matures, the plant (stalk) bends and releases the fruit back into the water for regermination.

Lotus is available in five colours – Red, Pink, White, Blue and Purple. Each colour symbolises a virtue,

given below:

White: White lotus symbolises purity, knowledge and creation. Lord Brahma, goddess Saraswathi are seen seated on a white lotus.

Red: Red lotus represents love and compassion.

Pink: Pink lotus is considered sacred, symbolising wealth and prosperity. Gods and goddess are often depicted with holding a pink flower in their hand representing divinity.

Purple: Purple lotus symbolises spiritual enlightenment.

Blue: Blue lotus represents triumph of the spirit over wisdom, intelligence and knowledge. Lord Krishna and Lord Rama who had blue bodies represent the triumph of the spirit over intelligence.

Leaves: The leaves grow upto 50 cm in diameter rise above the water on stems from 1- 8 feet tall. The texture of the leaves is such that water appears as shimmering droplets that roll off easily from the leaves. This nature of the leaves is advocated as the way in which human beings should lead a life, unaffected, detached from the trial and tribulations in life. The leaves wither in winter.

The stalk is thorny which keeps the fish away from the plant.

Roots: The roots are firmly buried in the mud, while the stalks of the leaves and flowers are firmly attached to the root. The roots are harvested in winter and dried for later use.

A remarkable characteristic of lotus is that the plant can survive during long droughts and the seeds can be used after many years. Thus the flower is considered a symbol of immortality.

Purple Lotus                       Lotus Leaf

 

Lotus symbolises prosperity, purity, divinity, knowledge, learning, divine birth, creation, beauty, detachment, fertility, spiritual development and enlightenment.

The flower symbolises purity and resurrection, as the flower emerges from impure water. This is also likened to the individual soul which goes through lot of trials and tribulations on its path to enlightenment.

The lotus bud signifies potential of a spiritual nature. The opening of the petals signifies the expansion of the soul. It also represents triumph as it can survive for many years waiting to regerminate.

Puranic Reference

In Hinduism: Lotus, used in the worship of goddess and gods has puranic reference. In Mahabharata, it is mentioned that goddess Lakshmi emerged from a lotus that grew on the forehead of Lord Vishnu.

In Bhagavad Gita (Ch 5. 10)

“Brahmany adhaya karmani sangam tyaktva karoti yah

Lipyate na sa papena padma patra ivambhasa”

Meaning: One who does all work as an offering to the Lord without attachment to the results is untouched by Karma, just as a lotus leaf is untouched by water”.

According to Mahanarayana Upanishad, “In the citadel of the body there is the small sinless and pure lotus of the heart which is the residence of the Supreme”. The lotus of heart is the centre of the infinite omnipresent consciousness which connects with the consciousness of the universe.

In Vedas, it is mentioned that “Oh Human, This life of yours is balanced on the lotus leaf and your lifespan is just like a drop of water running down that leaf, which may fall any minute”. The divine feet of the Lord are termed as “Padma Pada”. The earliest reference of blue and white lotus is found in Rig Veda. In Arthrva Veda, the lotus is compared to that of the human heart. There is a mention of a garland of lotus in Taittiriya Upanishad. In Vedas the lotus is compared to the bowl of the sacrificial ladle due to its shape.

In Taittiriya Upanishad, it is described that before the creation of the Universe, the entire planet was submerged in water. Lord Brahma emerged from the navel of Lord Vishnu. Lord Brahma desiring to create the Universe which was fluid, (the planet was engulfed in waters) saw a lotus leaf coming out of the water. When Lord Brahma was about to create the Universe, the cosmic waters grew a thousand petalled lotus flower of pure gold, radiant like the Sun. These flowers became the doorway to the creation of the universe. Thus water represents the procreative aspect of the Absolute and the cosmic lotus, the generative.   Lord Brahma used the different parts of the lotus plant to create the universe. Lord Brahma symbolically represents that life begins in water. Lord Vishnu represents the force responsible for all living and non living things/beings, an invisible consciousness which is the ultimate source of all existence- lotus of heart.

According to Srimad Bhagavatam, the whole universe was submerged in water before creation. At that time, Lord Vishnu was reclining on his serpent bed- Adishesha. The Rajo guna manifested itself as the Lotus flower which emerged from the navel of Lord Vishnu. On this lotus was seated Lord Brahma. Lord Brahma pondered about the origin of the flower on which He was sitting, made futile attempts to search its origin. When Lord Brahma mediated to find the origin of the flower, it occurred to Him that the source of His being was shining within Himself. He also saw Lord Vishnu as the stem of the lotus. Thus Lord Vishnu is also referred to as Padmanabha, the flower which emerged from the navel of Lord Vishnu.

According to Padmapurana, (678 CE), it is mentioned that the world was born through the “Golden Lotus”.

Goddess Lakshmi is often referred as Padmini, “possessing Lotus;” Padmesthita, “standing on Lotus;” Padmavarna, “Lotus coloured;” Padmasambhava, “Lotus born;” Padmakshi, “eyes like Lotus;”Padmanana, “face like Lotus;”Sarasijanilaya, “dwells in lotus;”Padmapriya, “fond of Lotus” and Padmahasta, “holds a Lotus in her hand.”

The Sun god is referred as Kamalabandhu, Kamalanatha and Kamalavallabha among other names. Lord Surya is the only god to hold the lotus flower in both the hands. He is also seated on a lotus.

Buddhism: Lotus flower is a symbol of eternity, plenty and prosperity. According to Buddhist scriptures, it is said that the Buddha had a symbol of lotus on his feet at birth and wherever he placed his feet lotuses bloomed. Thus the flower is one of the symbols in the eight fold path to enlightenment representing faithfulness. The eight petals of the flower represent the eight fold path, one of the principle teachings advocated by the Buddha. The Buddha also symbolises immortality, enlightenment, purity of mind and body.

Buddhists also liken the opening of the flowers to the opening of the divine within the human soul. The closed petals represent the heart with its infinite potential for enlightenment, while the open petals symbolise the enlightened soul. Thus it is often seen that the Buddha is seated on a blooming flower. Tara, the female incarnation of the Buddha is often depicted as one seated on a lotus with her right foot on a small lotus cushion. The Mahayana sect of Buddhism maintains that all souls emerge from a lotus.

The most revered Buddhist mantra is ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ – “Oh jewel within the lotus, we bow to you.”

Ayurvedic uses

class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-31040″ />Lotus, is used extensively in Ayurveda for its medicinal properties for more than 1500 years. Lotus contains vitamin C, potassium, riboflavin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, copper, and manganese. The medicinal uses of lotus are mentioned in ancient texts like Charaka and Sushruta Samhitas. In Bhavaprakasa, a text, “The lotus is cool and enhances complexion. It is anti-phlegmatic, anti-bilious and relieves dryness of throat, burning sensation, blood impurity, poisonous sores and itching”.

All parts of the plant, flower, leaves, roots, seeds and the underground stem (rhizome which grow horizontally) are edible. Lotus is rich in dietary fibre and low in saturated fat. The latex found within the leaves, stems and flowers have anti bacterial properties, effective in the treatment of a number of disorders especially gonorrhoea and syphilis. The white lotus is cool, sweet and anti-phlegmatic. All parts of the plant have astringent, febrifuge, hypotensive, resolvent, stomachic, styptic, tonic vasodilator and hemorrhagic effect.

 

Leaves: The leaves taste bitter and contain alkaloids which have hypotensive effect. They are rich in nuciferine, nornuciferine, roemerine and quarcetin.

The juice of the leaves mixed with licorice (another plant) is used to treat diarrhoea and sun stroke.  Tea brewed out of the leaves is effective in strengthening the heart, and reducing the blood sugar levels.  A concoction of the leaves is an antidote for coughs, common cold, headaches, and nose bleeds. It removes the toxins from the blood and strengthens the overall immune system. New lotus leaves are effective in treating fatty liver disease (when large vacuoles of triglyceride fat accumulate in liver cells via the process of steatosis – abnormal retention of lipids in the cells) and lowering lipid levels in the body. Leaves are used to treat piles, leprosy and vomiting. The dried leaves are used to make the spleen healthier.

 

Stem:  The stem contains alkaloid, resin and tannate. The stem is used commonly in soups and stir- fry. The stamen of the flower is diuretic. The stamen (pollen) is used in treating premature ejaculation, urinary frequency, haemolysis (the breakdown of red blood cells), epistasis (gene interaction) and uterine bleeding.

Flower: Flowers contain linoleic acid, protein, phosphorus, iron and vitamins B and C. The flower stalk is haemostatic (stopping or retarding the flow of blood within the blood vessels. It is used to improve the texture and condition (anti aging) of the skin on the face. Flowers are used to treat excessive bleeding during menstruation, abdominal cramps, bleeding gastric ulcers, bloody discharges and post-partum haemorrhage, snake bites and scorpion stings. Flowers are effective in treating diarrhoea and cholera. A concoction of the petals is used as an energy booster for the overall well being. Decoction of dried flowers is used as syrup to treat cough.

Lotus tea is effective in treating heat related ailments and to stop bleeding. A decoction of the flowers is recommended as a cardiac tonic. The pounded flowers are used to treat syphilis (Sexually transmitted diseases). Blue lotus is effective in treating migraines, Alzheimer’s, heart conditions, sexual disorders and liver malfunctions.

Other uses: The petals are used to wrap food in India.

Fruit: Fruit is effective in treating fevers. The pod contains alkaloids that stop bleeding. A decoction of the fruit is used in the treatment of agitation and heart complaints.
Seeds: The seeds and inter segmental parts (lotus nodes) are rich in amino acids, fat, protein, starch and tannin. They contain alkaloids and flavonoids. The seeds having astringent properties, taste sweet.

Lotus seeds are used in the treatment of kidney, spleen and heart related diseases. Seeds have aphrodisiac benefits, effective in treating sexual dysfunctions in men. Seeds are used to reduce the cholesterol levels and to relax the muscles around the uterus. It is used in treating poor digestion, inflammation of the small intestine and chronic diarrhoea. Tea made out of the seeds has a calming effect on the body, thus used to treat insomnia, palpitations and restlessness. Seeds are used to strengthen the joints and have anti cancer and anti aging properties. Seeds taken with a rice wash for seven days will improve female fertility. The seeds are dried and popped as popcorn.  Seeds dried and powdered can be used in the making of bread. The lotus seeds are an antidote for the treatment of mushroom poisoning.

The embryo in the seed tastes bitter. The embryo is removed before the seed is used for medicinal purposes. The bitter components of the embryo are isoquinoline alkaloids with sedative and antispasmodic effects. The alkaloids dilate blood vessels and thereby reduce blood pressure. Small amounts of the alkaloids are found in the seeds with embryo removed, and these may contribute an antispasmodic (herb or a drug used to suppress the muscle spasms) action for the intestines, giving relief in diarrhoea. The seeds are used to treat fever, cholera, nervous disorders and insomnia.

Roots: Lotus root is rich in starch, tannate protein, amino acids, pyrocatechol, d-gallic-catechin, neochlorogenic acid, leucocyanidin, leucodephinidin, peroxidase, potash, sugar, vitamin B1, B2, and C. The roots have a cooling effect on the body and is used to treat bruises.  Roots are extensively used to treat respiratory disorders. An extract of the juice from the raw roots is effective in treating Asthma, Tuberculosis, and coughing spasms.  A decoction of the roots acts as energy booster (enhances vigour) and is a relief for excessive thirst.  It is used to treat inflammation and effective in cleansing the wounds. Roots are also used to treat skin pigmentation, small pox, and dysentery. The root nodes are used to treat nasal bleeds, haemoptysis, haematuria (presence of red blood cells in the urine) and functional bleeding of the uterus. A decoction of the root is used in the treatment of haemorrhages, excessive menstruation. Rhizomes when boiled with sesame oil, rubbed on the head gives a cooling effect.

The root is used as a vegetable in countries like India China, Japan and other Asian countries. Roots are used to strengthen the liver. The knots are rich source of tannin which helps to contract the blood vessels and good for treating blood loss in cough, stools and bleeding uterus.

Petals: Petals are used in making perfumes other than culinary uses.

Other uses: The dried pods are used for decorative and floral arrangements. The seeds are either eaten raw or are used in several receipes. In India the seeds are called as phool Mukhana.  Threads are made out of the leaf stem which are used as wicks in oil lamps in temples. Cloth made out of the yarn from leaf stem is said to be a panacea for several ailments. Japa mala made out of the seeds is said to enhance the wearer spiritually.

Significance

Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s statement best describes the flower as “Indian culture is like a blooming lotus of a hundred petals, each of its petals representing a regional language and its literature.”

Several government awards are all named after the flower- like the Padmashree, Padmabhushan etc.

The blue lotus symbolises the origin of life. Egyptians believed that Nile valley area was the birth place of human civilization. There is a remarkable similarity between the shape of the flower and the Nile and its tributaries.

The dome of Taj mahal resembles an upside closed lotus resting on its petals.

Lotus is a symbol of spiritualism. The divine qualities of a man unfold with the light or the grace of the Guru or the Lord falling on him.

In Buddhist symbolism, the three lotuses Pink, White and Blue represent the three types of human being. This is because the plant is either on the surface of water, or slightly above it or out of it.

For Buddhists, lotus symbolises the exalted state of man- his head held high, pure and undefiled in the Sun, his feet rooted in the world of experience.

Lotus is also the national flower of Vietnam.

In Yoga, the seven chakras in the body are symbolised by the lotus as follows:

 

Chakra Symbol
Muladhara or root chakra Lotus with four red petals
Svadishtana or sacral chakra Lotus with six vermillon petals
Manipura or solar plexus Lotus with ten blue petals
Anahata or heart chakra Lotus with twelve petals
Vishuddha or throat chakra Lotus with sixteen petals
Ajna or third eye Lotus with two white petals
Sahasrara or crown Lotus with 1000 petals representing the infinite

According to Gheranda Samhita, a classical yoga text, the lotus pose, or Padmasana, commonly used to mediate is considered as the destroyer of all diseases and is said to improve concentration.

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