a beautiful pink petaled lotus

Anthropology: Lotus Flower Meaning and Symbolism Throughout Various Cultures

Humankind has always been attracted to bright, beautiful, fragrant, and colourful flowers. In civilizations, both old and new, flowers have undoubtedly had an influence over humans. They’ve acted as a source of food and medicine. For the same reasons, flowers are not only important to humans but to insects, birds and other animals as well. Additionally, they are helpful to the plant it grows in as well, as they aid in its reproduction. It clearly plays an important role in nature.

Flowers are also used as decorations, enhancing the aesthetic value of any place thanks to their various colours and shapes. Their natural fragrance also produces a sweet scent that fills the air with pleasant smells. Being in the presence of fresh flowers, at most times, has a positive emotional impact on humans. They bring about an instant change in mood, making most feel positive, energized and peaceful.

This is also one of the reasons why we present flowers to the people we respect and love. We communicate our wish for them to experience positive emotions. Though the colour and scent convey different messages. Nevertheless, they are presented with the intention of transmitting positivity.

The individuality of each type of flower, in the way they appear, the way they smell, and the way they grow, have made them even more valuable. These variations have made them symbols of human qualities that are highly valued. Flowers have generally long been regarded as symbols of strength, generosity, auspiciousness and purity. Every culture in the world, however, has its own interpretation of what different flowers represent to them.

Depending on what they represent and mean to a culture, flowers find themselves as part of the décor at events like weddings, funerals, birthday parties, and more.

bouquet of different flowers
Image by anncapictures from Pixabay

In fact, flowers aren’t solely part of the décor, they are used as part of rituals and worship too, because of their spiritual value. Certain types of flowers are believed to possess certain spiritual powers, like the power to bring good fortune, vanquish negativity or negative energies, protection. They can be found at most places of worship as an offering to the gods and goddesses, either as garlands or loose petals. For this purpose, flowers can also be found on altars inside homes.

A type of flower that possesses many spiritual powers, and one that is prevalent across multiple cultures, is the lotus flower.

The lotus is truly a special flower, one that is unlike any other. In ancient times, and even today, the flower was used as traditional medicine in various eastern cultures. It is believed to calm the mind down, improve concentration, reduce anxiety and cleanse the blood. It is also valued for its cosmetic properties. Moreover, the different parts of the plant are used as ingredients in Asian cuisines. And finally, the flower has great spiritual significance, which is why it is even considered a sacred flower, especially in some eastern cultures.

In today’s post, we’ll be looking at the lotus flower in detail. We’ll try to understand what makes it such a special flower around the world and find out what it means to different cultures.

About the Lotus Flower

The word lotus was initially used to refer to many species of different flowers. Nowadays, it is associated with the genus Nelumbo. This genus has two known species, the Nelumbo nucifera, commonly known as the Indian lotus, and Nelumbo lutea, commonly known as the American lotus. Sometimes, certain species of colourful water lilies are also mistakenly called lotuses. The Nelumbo nucifera is the pink lotus that we are most familiar with.

Lotuses are aquatic plants that grow in swamps, shallow ponds, and shallow areas of lakes and rivers. These plants thrive in warm and humid climates but can grow all year round. Nelumbo lutea is native to North America, while Nelumbo nucifera is native to Asia and Australia. Nevertheless, they are able to grow all over the world. They are, after all, one of the most durable plants with excellent survival abilities. The plant is able to survive extreme heat and sunlight, it isn’t affected by pollution and may even help purify the water. The lotus is also able to regulate its temperature like many warm-blooded animals.

The Features of the Lotus flower

Lotuses attach their roots in the mud, grow broad circular leaves on the surface of the water, and have thick, lengthy and sturdy stems filled with air pockets within. The stem can shoot up to 20 inches above the water.

The plant grows in muddy waters before reaching the surface and is exposing itself to light and producing a beautiful flower. The deeper the mud, the larger and more beautiful the flower is. The iconic flower is easily recognizable by its size and brightly coloured petals that are arranged concentrically, overlapping each other. While pink is the most common, the petals may come in different colours. When the flower blooms it reveals the centre.

The flowers stay open for three days but close and submerge every night and come back to the surface or above the surface in the morning. Despite dipping itself in the muddy water, it always comes out clean and bright.

Lotuses are also the only flower to blossom and fruit at the same time. Lotus seeds appear when they bloom. However, it is once they are pollinated that petals fall and seeds begin to develop properly.

The plants live for many years, and their seeds can survive for more than 1000 years, even in dry conditions due to their tough seed coat.

At present, there are over 100 varieties of the lotus plant. One of the rarest varieties of the lotus is the Zhinzun Qianban or the 1000 petal lotus. It has existed since ancient times but it wasn’t discovered until 2009, in southern China. Due to the sheer number of petals, the flower is believed to represent the universal mind and supreme consciousness.

pink lotus with thousand petals
1000 petal lotus. Image Credit: Pinterest

History of the Lotus Flower

There is evidence of the lotus plant existing as many as 145.5 million years ago. It was one of the few species that managed to survive during the ice age (1.8 million to 10,000 years ago). It was a time of drastic environmental change which led to the extinction of many flora and fauna in the northern hemisphere. The lotus is indeed a resilient plant and surely one of the most durable plants to have ever existed. This, of course, doesn’t mean that they are immortal. They can perish in undesirable conditions and natural disasters like floods.

Spiritual and Religious Importance

Flowers and the way they thrive and grow in their surroundings have taught humans some valuable lessons. The lotus, for instance, shows that it produces a beautiful and near-perfect flower despite having its roots in dirty water. The wise interpreted these characteristics as determination and courage. Important qualities are needed to motivate oneself.

Another lesson that the lotus teaches is resilience. This is because the flower is resistant to harsh climatic conditions and it has managed to survive for millions of years. In fact, due to this quality, many civilizations and cultures associate the lotus with gods and goddesses. It is because of these inherent qualities of the lotus, that the flower is considered to be so special. It is also why it has held high spiritual value across many cultures.

In Hinduism and Buddhism, the lotus flower is considered sacred. It was also an important flower in Ancient Egypt, as it was used by priests and pharaohs in that era.

Furthermore, the lotus has also been regarded as the symbol of the true meaning of life and beauty.

Medicinal and Culinary Values

fried lotus root slices in a bowl
Lotus Root Chips. Image Credit: Leite’s Culinaria

Apart from its spiritual meaning and religious importance, the flower has been used in cosmetics and traditional medicine systems for centuries. In traditional Chinese medicine, for instance, the lotus, among many other uses, was used to treat diarrhoea, acne and to better regulate the menstrual cycle.  In other ancient Asian medicine systems, it was still used to treat fever, cough, and bleeding, and to control lower blood sugar and cholesterol, as its lotus roots contain fibre and complex carbohydrates. They are also used as anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants. Lastly, lotus plants also have tremendous culinary value as all parts of the plant, i.e. seeds, flowers, leaves, roots and stems are edible. They are nutrient and mineral-rich. Lotus stems, for example, contain Vitamin C and Potassium. As such, parts of the lotus are used in many cuisines across the world today.

Significance of the Lotus Flower Across Different Cultures

Ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt, the lotus flower was a symbol of rebirth and the sun. The Ancient Egyptians observed that both the sun and the lotus would disappear at night and re-appear in the morning. This cycle of disappearing and reappearing was eventually seen as a symbol of rebirth and new beginnings. According to legend, a giant lotus spawned from the infinite ocean known as Nun. When the flower bloomed, Ra, the Sun God emerged from it. From then on, Ra would push the sun into the sky every day. The lotus would also continue to submerge itself in the water at dark, only to come back to the surface every morning.

cover page of the book of the dead
The Book of the Dead. Image Credit: Simon and Schuster

Due to its connection to rebirth and resurrection, the flower, particularly the Egyptian blue lotus (Nymphaea caerulea), which is more accurately a water lily, was associated with death in ancient civilization. As a result, it was used in various funerary traditions. In the famous text from Ancient Egypt, ‘Book of the Dead’, the Egyptians believed that the lotus could bring back the dead. This was done by casting certain spells from the book, which would supposedly transform a person into a lotus.

As the lotus represented resurrection, it meant the deceased could ‘come back to life.’ Blue lotuses were used in temples, artworks, and evidently in tombs. When, in 1922, King Tutankhamen’s tomb was opened, the flower was found to be scattered over his body.

Nymphaea caerulea blue lotus
The Egyptian blue lotus. Image Credit: Ethnoplants

The lotus had many other meanings and uses. Firstly, it represented the unity of upper and lower Egypt. Secondly, it was also used as a type of recreational drug. It was even treated like medicine, for its ability to heal anxiety and insomnia. Finally, lotus flowers were also used for counting. One lotus flower equalled 1000 units, 2 was equivalent to 2000, and so on.

Lotus in Ancient Persia

In Ancient Persia or modern-day Iran, the lotus was seen as a symbol of purity, nobility, perfection, spirituality, femininity and the cycle of life. Known as niloofar in Farsi, the flower also represents life and creation.

In Zoroastrianism, which was the official religion of ancient Persia, before the Islamic conquest, the lotus was associated with many divine deities. It is for this reason that the flower was considered to possess mystical powers according to Iranian mythology. First and foremost, in the human symbol of Ahura Mazda, who Zoroastrians believe to be the supreme god and creator, a man is depicted holding a lotus flower in his hand.

ahura mazda symbol on a coin
Human Symbol of Ahura Mazda on a coin. Image Credit: Coinect

The flower is also a symbol of Nahid, also known as Anahita. Anahita is the goddess or a yazata (a divine entity worthy of worship) of water, fertility and wisdom.

Another deity that the lotus is associated with is Mithra, the yazata of light. An entity that is equivalent to a sun god. Mithra is sometimes shown to be standing on a lotus. It is also associated with the sun and Mithra because the lotus blooms when it comes in contact with the sun. In Iranian culture, a blossoming lotus symbolizes the spiritual ascendance of one’s spirit. Showing that mankind has the potential to also grow and succeed even in undesirable conditions.

Celebration of the Lotus

The lotus was so important in ancient Persia, that there was an entire dedicated to celebrating the gorgeous flower. It is an ancient tradition that was popular in antiquity. In the present day, it has mostly been forgotten and has very little documentation about the celebrations.

The celebration of the lotus occurred on the 6th day of the 4th month, Tir, in the Persian calendar. This date would be the equivalent of 27th June in the Gregorian calendar. The day honoured the seasons and the beginning of summer when the sun would be at its highest and days would be longer. That also meant that it was the best time for the lotus flower to blossom. Such a celebration goes to show how special the lotus was to the Ancient Persians.

Even today, it is regarded as a significant part of Iranian culture and biodiversity. Patterns of lotuses are abundant in Iranian architecture and artwork. Moreover, the lotus is one of the many national symbols of Iran.

The Lotus in China

In Chinese, the lotus is known as “lianhua” and it is a prominent flower that has found its place all throughout China’s history and culture.

The lotus is a symbol of many qualities in Chinese culture. It represents protection, spirituality, peace, femininity, and summer.

The way that the lotus grows is largely philosophical. The mud that the roots are attached to represent material life and the water is a representation of the astral world. When the plant surfaces and blossoms directly under the sun, it portrays one’s spiritual existence.

The flower is also seen as a symbol of purity and nobility due to its ability to grow in muddy waters and emerge clean, pure, and beautiful on the surface, without any impurities. For this reason, the medieval Chinese scholars would even call it ‘the gentleman of all flowers’.

The lotus flower has inspired many works of art and literary pieces. Chinese art from the 12th and 13th centuries, in particular, are seen to heavily incorporate the flower. Moreover, poets and scholars throughout history have used the nature of the lotus to encourage people to get through the challenges in life and to always show their best side, no matter how things really are. Just like the lotus.

Chinese style lotus painting
Lotus painting by painter Lu Yifei (1908-1997). Image Credit: China Online Museum

Religious Significance of the Lotus in Chinese Culture

Also, because of the flower’s nature, it has always been regarded as divine and is even compared to heavenly beings. Most importantly, the lotus is associated with Buddhism. The lotus is seen as the holy seat of Buddha as it is considered perfect and pure. Buddhist temples often have a lotus pond in their premises where the Buddha is shown to sit on lotus-shaped seats. The flower, in this context, represents rebirth, longevity and enlightenment, its seeds are a symbol of prosperity and offspring, and its stem is a connection to one’s origins.

For these things that it symbolizes, most images of the Buddha contain lotuses. Interestingly, Buddhist literature in China is in fact called ‘lotus literature’ and Buddhist architecture is known as ‘lotus dwellings

It is not only a significant flower in Buddhism but, in Taoism as well. Both of which are the major religions practised by the Chinese population. In Taoist cultures, the lotus represents a mode of life that is characterized by morality, wisdom, peace, and purity.

Medicinal and Culinary Significance

mooncake with lotus seed paste filling
Mooncake with lotus seed paste filling. Image Credit: Flickr

In addition to its spiritual value, the lotus is treasured for its uses in traditional Chinese medicine and Chinese cuisine. As we saw earlier, the lotus plant has been used as part of the system and for their cuisine for many years. Medicinally, the plan is effective against many bacterial infections, haemorrhoids, diarrhoea, and even in providing some relief from rheumatoid arthritis.

As for its culinary uses, all parts of the plant are utilised to make mouth-watering dishes. The seeds, for instance, are used to make soups, stews and pastries like mooncakes. The lotus root is also used to prepare various snacks and side dishes.

Like in the ancient cultures discussed earlier, the lotus can be found engraved in various places of worship, in Chinese architecture, and even in objects such as ceramic ware.

The Meaning of the Lotus in Thailand 

In Thailand, the lotus is locally called ‘bua’. It is largely associated with Buddhism, which is the religion at 90% of Thais practice. This is why the lotus flower happens to be a part of many rituals and worship. People offer a bunch of lotuses along with candles and 3 incense sticks while praying. Offerings are placed in front of the Buddha’s statue as it is believed that the act of offering to the Buddha will attract good fortune in their lives and that they can gain good merit. Buddhists try to gain merit, which is acquired by practising good deeds, good acts, and good thoughts. Good merits are believed to influence the quality and nature of one’s afterlife.

The lotus flower is also associated with Buddhism as it represents enlightenment. The way that the flower pushes from below the water towards the light, symbolizes enlightenment.

Being such an auspicious symbol, many Thai people plant these flowers at home for prosperity.

Bua is also used as a medicine to improve the circulation of blood and digestion. And, of course, the plant is used for cooking as well. For example, the lotus leaf is used to wrap rice and steam it. Or it is used to simply wrap cooked rice. Either way, the rice is infused with a subtle aroma that seeps into the rice. Plus, a popular sweet in Thailand is dried lotus seeds boiled in syrup.

Furthermore, the synonyms for bua, which are pathum and ubon, are common names for girls. These words are also used in naming different locations, like Pathum Thani or Lotus City, a province located north of Bangkok.

Thailand has many places to view these gorgeous flowers. The most popular site is the Talay Bua Daeng or The Red Lotus Sea, located near Udon Thani, northeastern Thailand. Thousands of bright pink lotuses thrive in the shallow waters of the Nong Han Lake. Tourists and locals gather here between 6 am and 11 am to see the flowers bloom. It is simply magnificent! The ideal time to visit is between December and March.

thousands of lotuses blossoming in the red lotus sea
The Red Lotus Sea. Image Credit: Udon Thani Attractions

Significance in Buddhism

From our discussions on the significance and symbolism of the lotus flower in various cultures so far, we can easily grasp the fact that the lotus is considered one of the most important symbols in Buddhism.

The lotus symbolizes enlightenment, liberation and purity of the mind for the same reason that many other cultures see it as a symbol of purity – The fact that the lotus has its roots embedded in mud, but still manages to produce a beautiful flower. In the same way, in Buddhism, it is believed that each person has the potential to achieve enlightenment even if they are impure or flawed.

Buddhists believe in reincarnation until one reaches nirvana. Nirvana is a state of enlightenment where a person is released from the cycle of death and rebirth, the consequences of karma and any desires or suffering. This is what Buddhists ultimately try to achieve.

The lotus has been a part of Buddhism since the birth of Siddhartha Gautama or Gautama Buddha, the founder of the religion. It is believed that just as he was born, he took seven steps forward. With each step, a lotus flower miraculously blossomed underneath.

The Buddha's first seven steps after birth.
The Buddha’s first seven steps after birth. Image Credit: Pinterest

The lotus, along with the precious parasol, a white conch shell, two golden fish, a knot of eternity, a vase of great treasures, the victory banner and the dharma wheel form the eight auspicious symbols in Buddhism. The eight items combined symbolize the qualities of enlightenment and act as tools to teach spiritual lessons.

Lotus as an Analogy

In his life, the Buddha observed the lotus and took many lessons from the way it exists and used it as an analogy for humans. Analogies he would use to preach to his disciples. He motivated them to put in the effort to attain Nirvana, encouraging them to rise above their challenges and go towards the light of wisdom and enlightenment. Just like the lotus that grows in muddy waters but pushes through all the impurities to come up to the surface, coming directly in contact with the warmth of the sun and blossoming. The muddy dark waters are a representation of the dark side that tempts us to get off track. The lotus roots remind us of our origins and background. Finally, the gradual opening of the petals represents the spiritual journey to achieve enlightenment.

Many a time, the Buddha is shown to be seated on a lotus flower. This is a representation of a person overcoming the pains of the material world and becoming enlightened.

In Buddhism, different colours of the lotus flower represent different ideas. Here is what they mean:

Purple Lotus: The purple lotus is associated with self-awakening through the eightfold path of Buddhism. The eightfold path is represented by the flower’s eight petals.

a lotus flower with purple petals
Image Credit: Enviearth

Blue Lotus: The blue lotus is associated with wisdom, knowledge, emotional control and victory of the spirit over one’s senses.

Pink Lotus: The pink lotus or sacred lotus is considered the true lotus of Buddha. It is the Buddha’s earthly symbol.

Red Lotus: The red lotus is a symbol of love and compassion in Buddhism.

White Lotus: The white lotus symbolizes purity of the mind, spiritual awakening, perfection and beauty, royalty, wealth, serenity, peace, knowledge, fertility. It also represents one’s journey from darkness to enlightenment. The white lotus also happens to be the symbol of Tara. Depending on the different sects of Buddhism, Tara is either considered a deity or a Bodhisattva. She is the goddess or Bodhisattva of compassion and protection.

Yellow Lotus: The yellow lotus represents spiritual perfection or heightened spirituality. It also serves as a symbol for the different worlds in the universe.

Finally, the lotus is also frequently visible in Buddhist architecture, artwork and imagery. It is a common pattern found engraved in all Buddhist places of worship all around the world. The use of lotus imagery dates back to 250 BC. Whereas, engraving the design in places of worship dates back to 180 BC.

Significance of the Lotus Flower in India and Hinduism

In India, the Nelumbo nucifera, or the sacred lotus, is the national flower due to its prominence and significance in Hindu mythology. Hinduism and India are inseparable. Both concepts are interwoven with each other, so, talking about one is incomplete without the other.

The ideas that the lotus represents in Hinduism and Buddhism are similar. In Hinduism as well, the lotus flower represents spiritual enlightenment, divinity, growth, birth and purity. Additionally, the lotus symbolizes the ability to follow one’s dharma without being distracted or influenced by distractions in their surroundings. This is once again taken from the fact that lotuses can survive, grow and produce a beautiful flower, despite being living in muddy waters.

As per one of the most important Hindu scriptures, the Bhagavad Gita, the bud of a lotus can be compared to a folded heart or soul. It has the ability to grow much like a flower and bloom or awaken to discover the holy truth. The blooming of a lotus flower symbolizes the journey of a person’s spirit towards enlightenment. And an open flower shows the mastery of the mind over matter.

illustration depicting the birth of Brahma
Brahma emerging from a lotus connected to Vishnu’s navel. Vishnu lies on a cobra in the cosmic ocean. Image Credit: The Logical Hindu

In Hinduism, the lotus is associated with many of the Hindu gods and goddesses. It is even associated with the Hindu belief that life began in the cosmic waters. According to Hindu mythology, before the existence of time, there was only a dark and expansive ocean that filled a void. The ocean was inhabited by a massive cobra at the end of which laid the preserver, Lord Vishnu, asleep. The ocean was silent until one day, there was a vibration, a humming sound that emerged from the depths of the water. This was caused by the ‘om’ sound. The sound transmitted its energy throughout the expanse, which finally woke Vishnu. At dawn, a large lotus flower grew out of Vishnu’s navel. From that lotus, emerged Lord Brahma, the creator.

goddesses lakshmi and saraswati sitting on lotuses
Godesses Lakshmi (left) and Saraswati (right). Image Credit: Wealthy Matters

The lotus is also the symbol of their consorts, Goddess Saraswati and Goddess Lakshmi. Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of learning, wisdom, and knowledge, and the consort of Lord Brahma sits on a large white lotus and holds pink lotus flowers. The white lotus acts as a symbol of truth, light and knowledge. Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity and Lord Vishnu’s consort, sits on a pink lotus. The pink lotus flower is considered the most sacred. The goddess sitting on a pink lotus symbolizes fertility and life.

Relevance in Yoga

person meditating in the lotus pose
Person sitting in padmasana. Image Credit: Yogapedia

The flower is even relevant in yoga. The meditative lotus pose, also known as padmasana, has great health benefits as it makes the body more flexible, improves posture, calms the mind, body, and soul. This is the basic pose used during meditation and is held for prolonged periods of time. To do the padmasana, the legs are crossed and the feet are tucked under each leg, seemingly resembling the flower. Padmasana is a respectful pose as the soles of the feet are tucked away. Exposing soles, especially in the presence of a god or goddess or divine entity, is considered impolite and disrespectful in both Hinduism and Buddhism.

lotuses representing the seven chakras
Image Credit: Sneha Ramji

Also, in the field of yoga, the lotus flower is a symbol of the seven chakras. Chakras are energy centres in the form of spinning disks found at different points in the body. Chakras must stay converged for optimum well being. There are 7 chakras, namely, root, sacral, solar plexus, heart, throat, third eye and crown chakra. Each of these chakras is represented by the lotus flower with different numbers of petals. For example, the second chakra, which is the sacral chakra, is represented by a six-petal lotus flower.

Lastly, the lotus also plays a huge role in the ancient system of medicine known as Ayurveda. Different parts of the plant are used to brew tonics and concoctions to treat ailments of the heart, liver, skin, blood and various bacterial infections.

Lotus Flower in the West and Christianity

The type of lotus that is more familiar in the western world is the Nelumbo Lutea or the American lotus. An endangered species of lotus that grows pale yellow petals and acts as a symbol of beauty and flawlessness. Like in the east, the west has also reaped the benefits of the lotus flower, especially in medicinal use. Like in the treatment of certain skin conditions, diabetes, and more.

american lotus with pale yellow petals
The American Lotus. Image Credit: Pinterest

The flower also has spiritual value as it is sometimes seen as a symbol of the Virgin Mary. Although it is usually the white lily that is associated with the queen of paradise, the lotus is sometimes called white lily. In that context, the lotus represents fertility, virginity, purity, piety and divinity. Just like Mother Mary.

The lotus is also a symbol of resurrection as it submerges in the water at night and reappears on the surface and blooms in the morning. In Christianity, the flower also represents inner strength and the willingness to face challenges to succeed.

More Uses of the Lotus Flower

In addition to possessing religious, spiritual, medicinal, cosmetic and culinary value, as we have discussed so far, the lotus also has economic value. Parts of the lotus, for example, the leaf is not only used to wrap rice but to wrap products as well. It is used as a form of eco-friendly packaging. More importantly, in places like Myanmar and Vietnam, lotus is used to produce a very fine, luxurious and delicate textile called lotus silk. It is produced using fibres extracted from the stem of a lotus. The manufacturing process is time-sensitive, time-consuming and tedious as much of the process is done by hand due to the material’s fragility. This rare textile is extremely expensive, costing at least 10 times more than regular silk. 

Another use of the lotus is to gift it to loved ones. Lotus flowers are generally gifted to people recovering from an illness, someone who is in difficulty, or to someone far away.

Lotus in Architecture

 

baha'i house of worship the lotus temple
Lotus Temple. Image Credit: Pandotrip

The lotus flower can also be seen in architecture and the best example of this would be the lotus temple located in New Delhi, India’s capital. It is a structure dedicated to the people of the Baha’i faith, being one of the seven Baha’i Houses of Worship in the world. Nevertheless, people from all walks of life can visit the temple. The building is literally shaped like a lotus and even has 27 marble structures shaped like lotus petals. The structure is large enough to accommodate 2,500 people.

Meaning of the Lotus Flower in Tattoos and Jewellery

The lotus flower happens to be a very common design pattern in tattoos and jewellery. In jewellery, wearing the lotus is believed to have calming effects on the wearer. As it is a symbol of positivity and new beginnings, many believe wearing jewellery with lotus patterns can also attract the same.

The same idea applies to tattoos. However, many also get lotus motif tattoos, either wishing to permanently align their chakras or wishing to associate themselves with certain divine entities, often choose to get tattoos with lotus designs, or as a way to show their faith or belief in a certain philosophy. Or, simply for the aesthetics. Some common tattoo patterns that feature the lotus are as follows:

The Lotus Mandala

illustration of a lotus mandala
Lotus Mandala Design. Image Credit: Mandalas for the Soul

The mandala is a complex design where the shapes, chosen colours and patterns all have their own meanings. To better understand lotus mandalas, let us first understand what mandalas are. A mandala is a visual representation of the universe in Hinduism and Buddhism. They tend to have very intricate and concentrated geometric designs. The geometric patterns are meant to link a person to their inner self and the universe. Earlier, and in some cases today, they are used to aid focus during meditation. A lotus mandala is simply a mandala that is designed in the form of a lotus.

Lotus mandalas are not only popular as tattoo designs. They are used by some monks, like Tibetan monks, to carefully study the patterns and intricacies of the mandala to figure out how to achieve enlightenment, as the lotus is a symbol of enlightenment.

Unalome lotus and three dots

tattoo of a lotus unalome
Lotus Unalome with three dots. Image Credit: 1984 Studio

The unalome is another common tattoo design. It initially represented the third eye of the Hindu god of destruction, Lord Shiva. The spiral at the bottom represents his eye and life and the lines represent the different milestones a person achieves in their life. The knots from the spiral are the obstacles, challenges one will likely face, and the lessons a person learns from those obstacles. Sometimes people like to add a lotus at the top of the spiral to represent freedom from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

In the context of Buddhism, the meaning of the unalome is not very different. It is a design that symbolizes the path to enlightenment. The spiral shows the beginning of one’s life and spiritual journey. The knots following the spiral represent the challenges in life and how those challenges help in making a person more mature and wise over time. The straight line at the end is the moment of peace or the moment at which one attains nirvana. Many a time, people like adding three dots at the end of the line that represents death or fading into nothingness upon attaining Nirvana.

The Takeaway

a blossoming pink lotus
Image Credit: AARN GIRI

Upon exploring what the lotus means to different cultures around the world, we see that the flower is considered to be this perfect, beautiful and sacred being. They all learn similar lessons from the way that the flower grows, blossoms and produces fruit. As such, we see that the meaning of the lotus shares many similarities in a lot of cultures.

 

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