The lotus of India, known as Nelumbo nucifera to botanists and as padma in Sanskrit, is one of the most significant symbols in the Hindu religion. Emerging from the depths of muddy water and resting nobly atop the surface, the lotus flower is a symbol of divinity, purity, non-attachment and wealth that is associated most strongly with the practice of yoga and the Hindu deities Vishnu, Brahma, Lakshmi and Sarasvati.
THE LOTUS-EYED ONE
Vishnu, also known as the Lotus-Eyed One, is a Supreme God featured in Hindu sacred texts such as the Vedas, the Puranas and the Bhagavad Gita.
Not only is Vishnu depicted with a lotus flower in one of his four hands, but another lotus also sprouts from his navel. Sitting inside the navel-sprouted lotus is Brahma, creator of the universe according to Hinduism. Here, the lotus represents the underlying eternal purity of the entire universe.
WEALTH AND DIVINITY
Embodiment of wealth, material and spiritual prosperity, and beauty, the goddess Lakshmi is depicted standing in a pink lotus while bearing another lotus in two of her four hands.
Throughout chapter two of the Devi Mahatmya (Glory of the Goddess), Lakshmi possesses myriad epithets, many of which are connected with the flower: lotus dweller, one who wears a garland of lotuses, and one whose face is as beautiful as a lotus.
Thus, the lotus is also a symbol of wealth and beauty, adorning altars dedicated to Lakshmi throughout the Indian subcontinent.
The lotus flower also plays a central role in yoga, the physical, mental and spiritual practices that originated in ancient India as a means to achieve liberation from the endless cycle of birth and death.
Practitioners of yoga embody different asanas, or poses, as tools on their paths. Padmasana, or lotus pose, requires practitioners to sit with the spine erect, legs crossed, and tops of the feet resting on the opposing quadriceps. This pose is considered one of the most auspicious for meditation, signifying the lotus flower again as a symbol of purity, divinity and non-attachment.
THE THOUSAND-PETALED LOTUS
In Kundalini yoga, practitioners focus on opening or activating “wheels of life-force” called chakras, which are located along the human spine. Activating the topmost chakra, also known as the thousand-petaled lotus or Sahasrara, often produces a profoundly mystical experience in the practitioner. Practitioners who have unleashed the power of the thousand-petaled lotus also experience mental purification.
Thus, the lotus is also a symbol of finality, release, and divine perfection.