Here’s a quiz question. Observe the images on your screen.
What is one common factor across all these pics?
Another clue: India’s prestigious national civilian awards are named after this, as is the election symbol of the current ruling party.
You’re right, that’s way too easy – the lotus flower. But why is it so prominent in these pics, and in Indian life in general?
Ah, time for some botany. The lotus is usually found in muddy ponds and swamps. The flowers or the leaves do not get affected by the wet and muddy environment; instead they offer their beauty and fragrance to everyone, regardless.
This behaviour fascinated the ancients in India and the lotus became their favourite to symbolise certain desired principles and attributes. Especially one particular principle: detachment.
In Hinduism, the theme of detachment features profusely in the Bhagwad Gita (one of Hinduism’s holiest books). And the lotus was a favourite analogy. For example in this succinct verse:
“One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord,
Is unaffected by sins, just as the lotus leaf is untouched by water”
In Buddhism too, the lotus represents purity and renunciation, floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire.
So the lotus (which is now India’s national flower) was not just a big deal to Hindus and Buddhists since ancient times, it was a defining symbol.
Perhaps recognising that importance, and the underlying message, Islamic architects began using the lotus across structures.
And now, observe the top of the Taj’s main dome, or the domes on the mosque or mehman khana on the other side, or most other domes in Islamic monuments… All of them have one distinctive feature – an inverted lotus placed on its apex.
Perhaps the next time you see a lotus, you would be reminded of its simple message – of detachment and focus on your karma!
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*Goddess Lakshmi: Raja Ravi Varma [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons ; Buddha By Alexander E. Caddy (The British Library – Online Gallery) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons ; Sheshashayee Vishnu: By Ramanarayanadatta astri (http://archive.org/details/mahabharat05ramauoft) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons