the lotus

God’s favourite flower the lotus has earned such a reputation by appearing front and centre in religious myths around the world. Considered to be perfection in form, the lotus has been associated with many creation myths. With its radiating petals, the lotus connotes the “divine vulva” that gave birth to the gods and goddesses of ancient religions. These deities are often depicted in the company of this pristine flower. It became a sacred symbol for all that is beautiful on earth, and a reflection of divinity, purity and eternity.

In India, the “thousand-petaled lotus” (padma) was visualized as the mouth or doorway of the universe, so it’s not surprising that it was thought of as the idealized vulva through which all life was delivered. And no surprise that all the primary deities in the Hindu pantheon are depicted with the lotus. Some sit at its centre, some stand or recline, and they’re usually shown holding another lotus. Lord Vishnu, one of the three gods of the Hindu triad (trimurti), is described as having the lotus springing from his navel, from which Brahma was born. Lord Krishna was called the “lotus-eyed one”, a reference to his divine beauty.

The perfection of the lotus bloom has inspired humans to the highest aspirations. Seeing the lotus blossom “floating” on the water, its petals opening to the sun – this has long been the perfect analogy of the human soul opening to the light of the divine. That is springs from the mud seems like a miracle, all the more so because its petals appear free of any dirt or slime.

For ancient Egyptians, the lotus was a solar symbol. The spread and span of its petals were the sun’s rays, the giver of light and life. With each dawn, the petals opened, closed at night and opened again with the rising sun, representing rebirth and renewal. The blue lotus (also known as the blue lily of the Nile) was considered the most sacred. It was the symbol of modesty and cleanliness. The seeds of the lotus can remain dormant in dry riverbeds for 200 years waiting for the rains, at which time the blossoms emerge from the mud radiant and unsullied. The lotus was regarded by early Egyptians as symbols of resurrection and life eternal.

The “throne of Buddha” – that’s how Buddhists see the lotus. The eight petals of the lotus represent the eightfold path of Buddhist law called dharma. We find the lotus at the heart of the Buddhist mandala (a design representing cosmic order), symbolizing the embryo of the world. Coloured lotuses represent various aspects of human attainment white signifying mental purity, red for compassion and the heart, blue for intelligence and wisdom, and purple for mystic insights. The pink lotus is reserved as the symbol of the historical Buddha.

In China, the lotus has likewise been a religious symbol and inspiration for poets and artists. Merely gazing at a painting of a lotus was believed to draw one into the heart of perfection. Sufficiently inspired, the viewer would then seek their own inner potential. The long fibrous stem of the lotus is not easily broken, a quality that the Chinese adopted as a symbol of marital fidelity and harmony. The lotus was also associated with feminine beauty. The flower emerging from the pond was “like a very beautiful woman coming gracefully from her bath”. The lotus was also likened to “gentle people who keep themselves clean”. Ancient Egyptians said something similar about the sacred blue lotus, since dirt doesn’t adhere to the leaf or blossom.