With its presence dating back to 145.5 million years ago, the lotus flower is one of the most commonly used symbols throughout the history. It has been a significant symbol for several religions and cultures, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism.
Rebirth and Enlightenment As Common Symbolism
In general, the lotus flower is mainly considered as a symbol of rebirth since it rises from darkness and turns into a beautiful flower with pink and white petals much like a human being born from nothing and turning into something complete and beautiful. This process of coming into existence is also considered as a symbol of spiritual enlightenment and the expansion of one’s soul.
Lotus Flower in Hinduism and The Sacred Lotus Padma
Sometimes named as a “water lily”, the lotus flower is of significant importance to the Hindu religion since the Sacred Lotus Padma is associated with several gods in Hinduism such as Vishnu, Brahma, Kubera, Lakshmi and Saraswati. Symbolizing purity and divine beauty, one of the prime deities of Hinduism and the Supreme Being of Vaishnavism, Vishnu was mentioned as “Lotus-Eyed One” in the ancient texts of the belief. Vishnu was depicted holding a lotus flower in his hand in many works of Hindu iconography.
According to Hindu religion, the lotus flower unfolding its petals is a symbol of one reaching a deeper state of mind as his soul expands.
In Hinduism, it is believed that the spirit of the Sacred Lotus Flower (Padma) is a part of each human being’s soul. It is a symbol of fertility, prosperity, beauty, divinity and life. The rise of the lotus flower from dirty and muddy waters symbolizes achieving spiritual enlightenment and breaking free from basic, instinctive impulses.
Lotus Flower in Buddhism
In Buddhism, the lotus flower represents purity since it blossoms on long stalks and moves freely over blurry and muddy waters. It is also a symbol of detachment because the water moves down on its petals easily.
Since the plant grows in muddy water, rises above it and turns into a beautiful flower that reaches light/enlightenment, the lotus flower is a symbol of strength, perseverance, fortune and promise in adverse conditions in Buddhism.
The growth and transformation of the lotus flower are also considered as a process of purification. As it grows out of and rises above the muddy waters, the flower (representing the soul) purifies itself in spite of being born in darkness.
Faithfulness is another concept associated with the lotus flower as a symbol since the enlightenment can only be achieved if one works to rise above all adversities and he is faithful enough according to Buddhism. The mud that one has to rise above represents the suffering that all human beings are born into. This suffering is a part of the journey of enlightenment since it is a test that will determine whether or not a soul is strong enough to break free from the muddy waters.
Finally, the lotus flower is considered as a symbol of reincarnation and rebirth in Buddhism. Reincarnation is central to Buddhist belief. The lotus flower’s transformation while losing its old leaves and adding new ones every day is a symbolic process of reincarnation.
Lotus Flower in Egyptian Culture
The lotus flower was one of the most important symbols in the ancient Egyptian religion. Called as “seshen”, the flower was a symbol of Upper Egypt and represented creation and rebirth. It was closely associated with the Sun god, Atum-Ra as it was also a symbol of the sun. Later, the lotus flower was associated with Nefertum, the god of healing, beauty, perfume and fragrance. Nefertum/Nefertem was often depicted in ancient Egyptian art wearing a crown made of lotus flowers.
Much like its use in Buddhism, the lotus flower was considered as a symbol of rebirth and recreation since it closes its petals at night and opens them back again in the morning. This is also the reason why the lotus flower was associated with the dead entering the underworld to be reborn there.
Another use of lotus flower in Egyptian culture is related to the cult of Osiris, funerals, the mummification process and The Four Sons of Horus. The Four Sons of Horus were born from a lotus flower according to Egyptian mythology and they were depicted sitting on a lotus flower in several ancient Egyptian artworks. In addition to that, the goddess Isis was believed to be born out of a lotus flower.
There is a legend in Egyptian mythology which suggests that the sun rose out of a lotus flower while another one suggests that a lotus flower came out of the endless ocean “Nun” and gave birth to the Egyptian god of sun when it bloomed.
Lotus Flower in Chinese Culture
In Chinese Buddhism, the lotus flower is considered holy as it is the seat of Buddha. It represents ultimate purity and perfection since it rises from the mud.
The lotus flower in Chinese culture also symbolizes cleansing of the soul while turning into an outward beauty thus achieving the true nature of reality according to Buddhist belief.