The lotus flower is a fascinating flower that is used, admired, and even revered in many cultures, particularly in Asia. It is obviously a beautiful flower to look at, but its cultural importance is due to far more significant and interesting reasons.
The lotus is an aquatic plant similar to a water lily but actually from a different family of plants. Its natural habitat is the slow-moving, shallow water of deltas and floodplains of Asia, but it has been cultivated by humans to grow in other areas because of its many uses. The lotus plant’s roots grow in the mud at the bottom of the lake or stream in which it is planted. Thick stems grow up to 6-8 feet tall to break the surface of the water where the huge leaves, up to 3 feet in diameter, float on the water's surface.
The flowers themselves are big and showy (up to 12 inches across), with large petals, most often of white with pink tips, but sometimes in yellow and even red! Inside the petals is a crown of yellow pollen-bearing stamen - the lotus, like most flowering plants, relies on a community of pollinating insects to help it reproduce. The lotus flower petals also exhibit a natural behavior known as nyctinasty - the petals close the flower up at night and open again in the morning when the sun rises in a pattern similar to human circadian rhythms. Scientists aren’t quite sure why this happens, but it is believed to indicate that this species of plant is highly evolved and has adapted to its environment.
Lotus plants produce seeds every year. The seed pods resemble watering can spout and are often used in dried flower arrangements. A stand of lotus plants will deposit hundreds of thousands of seeds into the water around them. Many will be eaten by wildlife such as birds and fish and some will sprout immediately. However, one of the most unique things about lotus flower seeds is that they can lay dormant, even in drought conditions for many, many years. In one case, a viable lotus plant was grown from a seed in China that was 1300 years old!
What is the traditional symbolism associated with the lotus flower?
Many aspects of the lotus can be interpreted symbolically. A lotus plant begins growing in the muddy depths of the water. This is equated by many to represent the human condition with its chaos, confusion, and messiness. However, after a period of growth, the lotus reaches through the water to the surface where it can bloom in the glorious sunlight. To many, this symbolizes a journey of spiritual development through mindfulness; akin to the Buddhist concept of bodhi (spiritual awakening). The unblemished flowers blossoming from such dirty beginnings are a symbol of purity in some cultures.
Furthermore, the daily opening of the lotus flower with the rising sun is a powerful metaphor of revival that has appealed to many cultures since ancient times. It is a comforting symbol of renewal after challenging periods. This is particularly the case when you consider the seeds of the lotus which can withstand drought for many years before bursting back into life. The lotus is also considered a symbol of fertility, longevity, and eternity as a consequence of this feature.
How is the lotus flower used?
The lotus flower is not just a pretty bloom with spiritual significance. For thousands of years, the lotus plant has been cultivated by people for its many practical uses, too.
In many parts of Asia, parts of the lotus plant are eaten. The rhizomes (roots) are used as starchy, crunchy tubers in the cuisines of China, Korea, India, and Sri Lanka, although it is most popular in Japan. The rhizomes and the seeds are also used to make tea, particularly in Korea. Tender lotus stems are sliced up in salads in Vietnam, used as an ingredient in soups in Thailand, and fried to make side dishes in southern India. The leaves don’t get overlooked and are often used to wrap foods for steaming in southeast Asia. Even the flowers are consumed with teas being steeped from the petals and stamen in China, Vietnam, and Korea.
The lotus rhizomes, leaves, and seeds have also been used as folk medicines and in Ayurveda and Chinese traditional medicine. One of the lotus' most common uses in traditional Chinese medicine utilizes the seeds in an anti-diarrheal infusion. Moreover, lotus is not just cultivated for consumption by mouth! In Myanmar and Cambodia, the fibers of the lotus plant stems are utilized to make a unique and sustainable fabric called lotus silk.
What are the future uses of lotus?
Scientists believe that lotus plants have a big potential for treating contaminated wastewater. Lotus can grow in very murky water, but their roots are also capable of a process called rhizofiltration where heavy metals, excess nutrients, and toxic substances are filtered and removed by the roots of the plant. In an increasingly polluted world, a breakthrough in this sort of technology could be very beneficial.
The heat-stable proteins in lotus seeds that are thought to give them the ability to survive many years and harsh conditions while remaining viable are also being investigated by scientists who hope to use these properties in bio-engineering applications and anti-aging technology.
The lotus was chosen for the logo of the Puranik Foundation because of its symbolic representation of growth and transformation. However, we have added our own additional meanings to our lotus logo. At the Puranik Foundation, we believe in providing educational opportunities that open minds, stimulate holistic perspectives and inspire transformation. The multitude of uses of the lotus in both spiritual and practical senses seemed symbolic of the intimately interconnected nature of seeing the world in this way.
In our logo, we have a lotus flower with eight petals. These eight petals represent the attributes that we believe inform a holistic perspective: education, mindfulness, service, collaboration, sustainability, creativity, culture, and leadership.
In our next blog post, we shall provide an in-depth view of how the lotus has inspired us in these eight areas. Follow us on social media to be notified of our new posts.