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Lotus: From a Pond to a Palace Dome

Article of the Month - March 2006
Viewed 56839 times since 2nd Oct, 2008

...Continued from Page 1

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Kuan Yin
Kuan Yin

 

 

 

 

 

But, to most other Asian countries - Burma, China, Japan, Nepal, Tibet, or Sri Lanka, lotus emigrated as an aspect of Buddhist art - often as the pedestal of the Buddha or Bodhisattva images and sometimes as the divine attribute of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. In China, Avalokiteshvara is known as Guan Yin or Kwan-yin, and in Japan, as Kannon or Kwannon. In India, Avalokiteshvara is a male deity, but in the entire far East, Avalokiteshvara, by whatever name, is revered as the female deity representing compassion.

 

 

 

 

A Modern Advertisement
A Modern Advertisement

Burma had Buddhism since pre-Christian era. A follower of Hinayana, Burma little believed in the later poly-deity cult of Mahayana, and hence majority of its divine images comprised those of Buddha, some with a lotus seat. All other Asian countries pursued Mahayana, with a wide range of deities. Obviously, images of many of them had lotus as their seat. It sometimes formed also an aspect of a deity's iconography. Tibet incorporated lotus pedestals with almost all deities. Now in this phase of globalization of fashions and tastes, lotus is fast emerging as a symbol of beauty and a chosen instrument of media and market aesthetics able to attract the eye to a product, and many sales promoting campaigns world-over are being designed with lotus as their cardinal motif.

Lotus in Brahmanical Perception

Kamalasana Saraswati
Kamalasana Saraswati

 

 

Whatever symbolic thrust Buddhism attached to lotus, its real glorification began with Puranas. Puranas discovered its many new dimensions. Besides that the lotus seat multiplied a god's magnificence and divine aura, it also made a god, as acclaimed Vishnudharmottara Purana, propitious. This was perhaps in recognition to the fact that lotus stood basically for the divine element in which were manifested fertility, prosperity, fruition, and riches, and hence when associated with a divinity, it multiplied such divinity's power also to propitiate. With the lotus consecrated on it, the auspicious 'ghata' elevated to the status of 'purnaghata' - from the earth, which 'ghata' symbolized, to the cosmic totality. Now, lotus had the divine birth - as an element of Lord Vishnu's body; integral part of his consort Lakshmi; multiplication of Shiva's seed; or inhabitant of heaven sent to the earth to incarnate as a flower. Puranas' lotus had manly vigour equalizing it to Vishnu's 'chakra', mace and conch, and placing it above his 'vaijayanti' and 'parijata', which only adorned him but were not his attribute, as was lotus; as also feminine tenderness, in which the presence of the tender-most female - Lakshmi, revealed. Vishnu kept it close to his bosom so that Lakshmi was always in his heart. Now, divine forms did not define the form or beauty of lotus - lotus defined theirs. Goddess Saraswati defined her purity with lotus as its metaphor,

 

 

Surya - The Sun God
Surya - The Sun God

 

 

 

 

 

and Surya and Agni, their propitiousness, for being the representative element of water.

 

 

 

 

 

Guru Brahma
Guru Brahma

 

 

 

 

 

Lotus alone was capable of balancing their heat and thus rendering them propitious. Brahma could assume Creator's role with elements of cosmos in full control when he appeared 'yogi'-like seated in a lotus, obviously because lotus had emerged from the unfathomable depths of ocean, as creation did out of the non-form.

 

 

 

 

 

Ganesha Seated with Consort on Lotus
Ganesha Seated with Consort on Lotus

 

 

 

 

 

In analogy, lotus represented the unfoldment of creation and upheld Brahma to effect it. Ganesh could bless a beginning to be detriment free, and his mouse would effect it by removing all obstacles, but auspiciousness would land only when lotus is his support.

 

 

 

 

Antiquated Nataraja
Antiquated Nataraja

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shiva danced with fire in hands to dissolve but with the lotus under his feet, for love and beauty, which was the essence of his being.

 

 

 

 

 

Mahabhairavi, Lotus seated, 11th Century
Mahabhairavi, Lotus seated, 11th Century

 

 

 

 

 

 

So lotus relieved Mahabhairavi of her awe-striking frame and added to her iconography a tender aspect.

 

 

 

 

 

Padmavati, A Transformation of Lakshmi
Padmavati, A Transformation of Lakshmi

 

 

 

It was in lotus that 'Kamalanayana' or 'Kamalaksha' Vishnu discovered the form of his eye and the beauty and tenderness of his feet. In his incarnation as Rama, Vishnu offered to Devi, when worshipping her for his victory over Ravana, one of his eyes in place of the missing lotus that he had kept for the last rite. Devi accepted his eye for the lotus and the 'yajna' was accomplished. Lotus not only effected Lakshmi's transformation as Padmavati but her very form was defined in a lotus-born diction:

Slender as a lotus-fiber; Lotus-eyed; In the lotus posture; Pollen dusting her feet; She dwells in the pendant lotus of the heart.

She is Shri or Lakshmi.

 

 

 

 

Lotus in Tantra

Secrets of Yantra, Mantra and Tantra
Secrets of Yantra, Mantra and Tantra

 

 

 

 

Lotus defined the form of many of the 'yantras' and 'mandalas' - cosmic diagrams and graphics, revealing definite process of cosmic laws and energies which acted alike on sensible and supersensible levels. The lotus, when reduced to the abstraction of a 'yantra', determined the symbolic character of form and living image of cosmic forces.

 

 

 

 

 

Jain Ayagapatta (cosmic diagram), Kushan Period
Jain Ayagapatta (cosmic diagram), Kushan Period

 

 

 

 

 

The tradition of identifying in lotus the diagrams of cosmic energy began by the early centuries of the Common Era - Jain Ayagapattas, Buddhist 'mandalas' etc., being their examples.

 

 

 

 

The Tantrika Sadhana for Kindling 'Kundalini'
The Tantrika Sadhana for Kindling 'Kundalini'

Lotus had special significance in 'kundalini-sadhana' - kindling of inherent vital energies. The 'yogi' perceived various steps of such 'sadhana' - from 'muladhara' to 'nirvikalpa samadhi', as the stages of lotus when unfolding. 'Muladhara' is the base and 'nirvikalpa samadhi', the state of being when the subject and the object become one. Steps from 'muladhara' to 'nirvikalpa samadhi', known as 'chakras', are seven. Indian tradition conceives body as composed of five elements: the earth, water, fire, air, and the sky. First five steps of 'kundalini-sadhana' represent these body elements. The 'muladhara' is the seat of the earth and is conceived as crimson lotus with four petals; 'svadhisthana', the seat of water, as vermilion lotus with six petals; 'manipur', the seat of fire, as blue-black lotus with ten petals; 'suddha', situated close to the heart, the seat of air, as ruddy lotus with twelve petals; 'visuddha', close to throat, the seat of the sky, as purple lotus with sixteen petals; the sixth - 'ajna', the point between eye-brows where meditating mind fixes itself, as white lotus with two petals; and, the last - 'nirvikalpa samadhi', as the lotus abounding in all colors and with a thousand petals.

 

Lotus in India's Classical Dances

Dances Of India - Bharat Natyam
Dances Of India - Bharat Natyam

 

 

 

The symbology of lotus extends also to Indian music and dances. In the 'Bharatanatyam' recital - one of the principal classical dances of India, 'padams' - lotuses define its fifth stage when the dance-moves begin widening requiring expanded room for a fuller display of the composition.

In the terminology of music this stage is known as 'padams' - lotuses. This was actually the stage when the dancer - while dancing for the deity in the temple, as in ancient India a dance was, as a rule, performed for the deity, reached the door of the 'garbhagraha' - sanctum sanctorum. In classical temple architecture, the entrance to the 'garbhagraha' was defined by an elaborate lotus motif. The movement across lotus led to the realization of the deity within, and its outer half, stretching opposite the sanctum, led to the light beyond. The lotus, both in dance and temple architecture, was thus conceived as the instrument of light and spiritual realization.

 

 

Lotus in Indian Architecture

Sacred Space
Sacred Space

 

 

 

Most extensive has been the use of various lotus motifs in devising the 'shikharas' - spiral towers, of the Hindu and Jain temples in the entire North, East and West. Dravidian architecture of South used lotus motifs but not to define the 'shikharas' of its temples. Its 'shikharas' were differently conceived. The apex of the 'shikhara' in a Northern Indian style temple, known as 'amalaka', just below 'kalasha' - finial, was invariably designed as lotus - inverted or otherwise, and was always one of the most magnificent members of temple art.

 

 

 

 

 

The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal

 

 

 

This aspect of temple architecture and its over-all beauty has been so imposing that Islamic rulers of India, to include Mughals, imported the style of dome for their mosques, tombs, castles and other structures, from the Islamic world but designed its apex with lotus - usually an inverted one.

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

  • Heinrich Zimmer: The Art of Indian Asia.
  • Kapila Vatsyayan: The Squares and the Circle of Indian Arts.
  • Moti Chandra: Jain Miniature Painting from Western India.
  • Dr. S, N, Saxena: Lotus in Indian Painting.
  • Navaneet Patnaik: The Garden of Life.
  • Vijay K. Malhotra: Kamala, Shashvat Sanskritik Pratika.
  • Dr. Daljeet-P.C. Jain: Monuments of India.
  • Masterpieces from the National Museum Collection.
  • Arts of Asia, Vol. 33, No. 4 Hong Kong.

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  • I am in escrow on a house on Lotus street and have had been thinking "Did I do the right thing?" So I searched and found that LOTUS will suit me fine! THANK YOU!
    by Kelly Lenihan on 17th Jul 2009
  • Highly informative and have used info in
    a school report. Would like more info such as date of publication etc.to give
    proper credit in reference works. Thanks,
    very educational and very worthwhile
    intellectually speaking. Michele
    by Michele Pearson on 15th Jan 2007
  • Whilst it is stylistically derived from architecture using an upturned lotus finial, the shrine picture titled Sacred Space would appear to be use a Columbine or perhaps Love-in-the-Mist seedhead for the dome and finial.
    by Ian Ison on 3rd Jun 2006
  • Thank you for this lovely article.
    Again, it fits my introduction of the padma in the INDIA SAIJIKI.

    http://indiasaijikiworlkhaiku.blogspot.com/2005/12/lotus-padma.html

    Greetings from Japan
    Gabi Greve
    Daruma Museum
    http://darumasan.blogspot.com/
    :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
    by Gabi Greve on 6th Apr 2006
  • This is fantastic! Thank you for creating this newsletter...So much valuable and interesting information...I appreciate your effort....
    Namaste,
    by Lisa Hayden on 17th Mar 2006
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