Thursday, Aug. 8, 2002
|Should I pluck it,
My hands would defile the flower;
I offer it, as it stands,
To the Buddhas of the Three Worlds.
|By Empress Koryo (701-760)|
Imagine rowing a boat out among lotus flowers at dawn, when the day is quiet, cool and fresh. Large green leaves ripple in the breeze, and long stalks rise above the water holding up beautiful flowers in shades of pink, or purest white. Traditionally, dawn is the best time for lotus-viewing in Japan, when the flowers have just opened, and before the intense heat of noon forces them to close. To Buddhists, these pure flowers rising from muddy waters seemed a symbol of spiritual awakening and salvation in paradise. When lotus plants were more widely cultivated in Japan, fresh flowers were often placed on family altars at the festival of O-bon, to welcome ancestral spirits back to earth. And at any time of the year, we can see statues of the Buddha attended by golden lotuses. The plant (Nelumbo nucifera ) is native to India and China, but has spread through Asia for its heavenly blooms and edible roots. Shinobazu Pond in Tokyo’s Ueno Park is a well-known place to see lotus flowers in early August.
Growing from the mud at the bottom of ponds and streams, the exquisite Lotus flower rises above the water and is usually white or pink with 15 or more oval, spreading petals, and a peculiar, flat seedcase at its center.
The lotus is an Asian water lily known for the delicate beauty of its water flowers. It possesses an amazing ability to flourish in a variety of environments ranging from clear ponds to muddy marshes. It is also known for its exceptionally hearty seed pods, which often plant themselves far from its source, bringing the beauty of the lotus blossoms everywhere.
Most seeds remain quiescent during a cold or dry season and germinate only with the coming of favorable growing conditions. Seeds that require special treatment to germinate, even when presented with adequate water and oxygen and favorable temperatures, are said to exhibit dormancy. Seeds with thick or waxy coats, which inhibit the entry of water and oxygen, may remain in a prolonged quiescent state. Seeds of the Indian lotus can germinate 200 years after they are shed. Most seeds, however, lose the ability to germinate within several years of shedding. Following the return of the rains, primitive peoples witnessed the rise of the undefiled water lily from the bottom of dried-up watercourses and considered the living blooms symbols of immortality and resurrection. The ancient Egyptians from the 4th dynasty greatly valued the sacred lotus, N. totus, in religious ceremonies and funerals.
Lotuses are 5 species of water lilies, three in the genus Nymphaea and two in Nelumbo; both genera are members of the water-lily family, Nymphaeaceae. Lotus is also the name of a genus in the pea family, Leguminosae, which contains such plants as the bird’s-foot trefoil, Lotus corniculatus. Nymphaea lotus, the Egyptian white lotus, is believed to be the original sacred lotus of ancient Egypt. It and the Egyptian blue lotus, N. caerulea, were often pictured in ancient Egyptian art.
The white lotus is a shallow-water, night-blooming plant with a creeping rootstock (rhizome) that sends up long-stalked, nearly circular, dark green leathery leaves, which float on the surface. The flowers, up to 25 cm (10 in) across, remain open until midday. The blue lotus is a smaller, less showy day-blooming plant.
The East Indian lotus, N. nucifera, found in southern Asia, was introduced into Egypt about 2,500 years ago but is no longer found in the Nile region. Its flowers are considered sacred by the Buddhists of India, Tibet, and China. The lotus, Nymphaea lotus, bears many-seeded, berrylike fruit and leathery, floating leaves that may reach 50 cm (20 in) across. The cup-shaped flowers of the lotus were often represented in ancient Egyptian art and architecture.