‘And Flora gave the lotus, ‘rose-red’ dyed,
And ‘lily-white’ – the queenliest flower that blows.’~Toru Dutt~
The flower Lotus brings a myriad of images to me…The childhood days when we carefully attempted to draw a perfect lotus flower (hardly knowing that it’s our national flower), proudly standing above the bright blue waters. With great care we filled its inside with rich pink hues, the petals were sketched with great care making each one uniform. Almost everyone’s lotus looked the same those days. Some knew the shortcuts to draw a perfect flower using many horizontal brackets. And some of us went overboard, adding petals on petals until the flower looked like a ten headed Ravana, struggling to balance his heads! The rest of us, the onlookers, wondered how could the slender stem manage to carry this humongous flower! Those were the innocent days when imagination leaped high and wild!
Learning synonyms were a part of our Malayalam curriculum and I used to enjoy that. The lovely synonyms of Thamara (lotus) used to fascinate me… Padmam, Kamalam, Nalinam, Ambujam, Pankajam, Rajeevam, Aravindam all were easy synonyms to remember as they were common names given to girls (a few were used for boys as well) But the names were considered a bit out of fashion for the girls of our generation then. Malayalam poetry was rich with lotus imagery. There would be no other flower celebrated so much in Sanskrit and Malayalam poetry. Poets used to revel in using the unique qualities of this flower through similes and metaphors. Who can resist comparing a pretty maiden full of feminine qualities to this sweet-scented divinely beautiful flower! Whether it be the lovely face or the slender tender rosy hued finger tips or the long dreamy petal like eyes, the exquisite lotus flower with its many synonyms made its mark in Malayalam poems and film songs.
Lotus is closely associated with Hindu mythology. Lord Vishnu holds a lotus in his hand. Lord Brahma sits on the blooming lotus springing from Vishnu’s navel. Both goddess Lakshmi(Padmasana sthithe devi..) and goddess Saraswathi (Ya Shwetha padmasana..) stand and sit on pink and white lotuses respectively. Krishna is always mentioned as Kamala nethran or the lotus eyed. Most of the numerous Hindu gods and goddesses when they’re depicted by artists are seen holding a lotus or sitting on a lotus flower; thus giving Lotus its divine status. Lotus flowers are given high regards in temples too. Lotus symbolises Purity and Divinity. Though Lotus emerges from mud, it is considered the purest of the pure. It is quoted an example that one’s surroundings or origin of birth need not proclaim the integrity and purity of one’s character. When we were children, almost all our evening prayers were filled with various lotus related lines. whether it’s ‘Shantham padmasanastham‘ or ‘Kararavindena padaravindam’.
Lotus flowers basking in the morning sunlight. As poets sing, Lotus is the favourite of the Sun where as water-lily is of the Moon
The buds resemble the folded human palms
Buddhism too is closely connected to lotus images. Buddha is seen sitting on lotus in paintings and sculptures. The chanting ‘ Om Mani Padme hum...’ spreads Tranquility and Peace and each syllable is said to have deep spiritual meanings. During my stay in Vietnam the lotus motifs they have used had really astonished me. Whether it be their ceramic art work, lacquer work, silk embroidery , or paintings lotus motifs are seen in abundance.
Riverside lotus sellers
waiting to be at the God’s feet- near the Vishnu temple at the river side
White Lotus has its own charm-@ The Royal Palace
At the steps of a pagoda
Cambodia lives and breathes Lotus; it is probably the Lotus bowl of South East Asia! Lotus is an integral part of the everyday life of the people and the land. The land is blessed with a wealth of this heavenly blooms and culturally it’s woven into the lives of the people here.The vast stretches of lotus ponds is a sight to marvel at!! Wild growing lotus stretches, cultivated lotus fields, pagodas with lotus ponds attached to them, flower markets pulsating with lotus blooms, pagodas filled with the subtle fragrance of the lotus blossoms- everything together gives Cambodia its unique charm and mystique beauty. Lotus, I feel , is the essence of this land. Sometimes it makes me curious why Romdul is their national flower and why not the stately lotus! Lotus buds and artistically folded blossoms, lotus fruits, leaves- you would not miss these wherever you go. I love the long drives in the rural parts of Cambodia; my heart swells with joy at the sight of the numerous lotus patches – a treat for the eyes, indeed!
vast stretches of lotus ponds
Lotus blooms ready for worship- At a flower market
Welcoming the customers@ a restaurant
Making your spa experience a more pleasurable one
Lotus is entwined with the daily life of the Khmer. Even though it is an exotic blossom with a regal and a royal air, in Cambodia it blooms for all. Cambodians, whether rich or poor offer this flower when they go to the pagodas; bunches of them. A bunch of six flowers are available for 2000 riel (50 cents). What else would be more befitting to offer God, than these flowers that resemble folded palms!
The story doesn’t end here. All parts of lotus are edible and The Khmer make good use of them. I shall continue the tale of this stately yet layman’s flower in my next blog ‘Lotus-Eaters’.
During my college days the Indo-Anglian poet Toru Dutt was a favourite of mine and I can not help sharing her poem on this exquisite flower .
Love came to Flora asking for a flower
That would of flowers be undisputed queen,
The lily and the rose, long, long had been
Rivals for that high honor. Bards of power
Had sung their claims. ‘The rose can never tower
Like the pale lily with her Juno mien’ –
‘But is the lily lovelier?’ Thus between
Flower-factions rang the strife in Psyche’s bower.
‘Give me a flower delicious as the rose
And stately as the lily in her pride’ –
But of what color?’ – ‘Rose-red,’ Love first chose,
Then prayed – ‘No, lily-white – or, both provide;’
And Flora gave the lotus, ‘rose-red’ dyed,
And ‘lily-white’ – the queenliest flower that blows.
What a beautiful imagination about the birth of Lotus!