Lotus Flower Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance

Although their delicate, symmetrical form and charming colors are indeed a head-turner, there are deeper lotus flower meanings and symbolism worth noting. In fact, lotus flowers are considered sacred in various parts of the world, particularly in Eastern culture. So, what makes lotus plants unique, and why are they so popular? This guide will take you through everything you need to know about the meaning and symbolism of lotus flowers, plus learn about their ancient and modern cultural significance around the world today.

A pink lotus flower in bloom among large green leaves near a body of water

Etymology

The etymology of the word “lotus” traces its roots back to ancient languages and cultures, where the flower held significant symbolic importance. The English word “lotus” is derived from the Greek “lotos,” which referred to several different plants, including those in the lotus family as well as others that bear a resemblance to them, such as the water lilies (Nymphaea spp.).

In Greek mythology, the lotus-eaters (Lotophagi) consumed lotus plants that were narcotic and caused them to sleep in peaceful apathy. Here, “lotos” referred to a fruit or flower with narcotic properties, which some scholars believe might have been derived from the jujube fruit or a clover species.

The term “lotus” in many Eastern cultures, particularly in Hinduism and Buddhism, usually refers to the true lotus, Nelumbo nucifera, a plant with significant religious symbolism. The Sanskrit term for this lotus is “padma,” which is often used in a religious and cultural context to denote purity, beauty, and the unfolding of spiritual awakening, much like the lotus flower emerges pristine from muddy waters.

Lotus Flowers In Buddhism

A large white buddhist statue

Lotus flowers play a vital role in Buddhism. They generally represent spiritual awakening, purity, and faithfulness.

This belief is rooted in the fact that lotus flowers emerge from muddy waters. For Buddhists, that means rising above despite challenges and moving towards the light of wisdom.

In Buddhism, the symbolism of a lotus flower also differs depending on its color.

For instance, a blue lotus flower symbolizes a spirit’s victory over knowledge and wisdom. White lotuses signify peace and purity, while red lotuses, like other red flowers, mean love and compassion. Purple lotus flowers have a deeper meaning as their petals represent an important teaching of Buddha called the Noble Eightfold Path.

The pink lotus flower is central to Buddhism. It is regarded as the ‘true lotus’ and the primary color of the flower.

Lotus Flowers in Christianity

Lotus flowers also have profound meanings in Christianity. Generally, they represent purity and the creation of the universe. While Christians generally do not accept how material things like lotus flowers bear divine properties, the associations between sacred flowers and Jesus have been recognized.

One example is that lotuses rise from the muddy water for three days before they bloom. Another is that these plants’ roots can reach up to 6 ft deep. Plus, the seeds live long and can be resurrected after inactivity. All of these characteristics relate to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Lotus Flowers in Hinduism

Large Hindu temple

The lotus flower is a famous symbol in Hinduism. In general, lotus flowers represent spiritual enlightenment, growth, purity, and birth, among many others. The flower symbolizes one’s ability to perform their duty without being influenced by any desire, pleasure, or gain.

In Hinduism, lotus flowers reference the belief that life begins in water. The Hindu tradition believes that Lord Brahma appeared from Lord Vishnu sitting on a lotus plant.

Other Hindu deities are also associated with a lotus flower, such as the Hindu goddess of learning, Goddess Saraswati, and the Hindu goddess of wealth, Goddess Lakshmi.

Lotus Flowers in Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics

In Ancient Egypt, the lotus flower is associated with rebirth and the sun. Egyptians believe that the sun and the lotus flower have one thing in common – disappearing at night and re-emerging fresh in the morning. Because of this association, the lotus flower also symbolizes creation.

Interestingly, lotus flowers also signify death in Ancient Egypt. The renowned Book of the Dead, an ancient Egyptian text commemorating the dead, includes spells that transform a person into a lotus flower.

The lotus has always been a frequent sight in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. It holds a significant place in uniting upper and lower Egypt.

Meanings in Other Religions and Cultures

Pink lotus flowers and large green leaves in the mist

Lotus flowers also hold several important meanings and symbolism in other religions and cultures. For example, in Western cultures, these fascinating blooms typically represent the search for the true meaning of life. Because of their nature, they symbolize reincarnation and birth.

The meanings are different in Chinese culture since lotus flowers are perceived as a symbol of femininity and marital happiness.

That is not the case in Japan, where lotus flowers are considered spiritual and enchanting. In Japanese culture, lotus plants represent the purity of the mind and body.

The lotus is also sacred in Jainism. The blue lotus, in particular, symbolizes the 21st Jina, Neminatha.

The National Flower of India

The lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), known as the Indian lotus, sacred lotus, or simply lotus, is the national flower of India. This designation reflects the flower’s significance in the country’s culture, religion, and history.

Beyond its religious symbolism, the lotus represents the purity of heart and mind and the soul’s journey towards enlightenment. It stands for long life, honor, and good fortune and is often used in ceremonial and cultural events across India.

The lotus has been an integral part of Indian iconography and mythology from ancient times, appearing in various artworks, scriptures, and architectural motifs, symbolizing divinity, fertility, wealth, knowledge, and enlightenment.

Flower of Life

The Flower of Life is a geometric symbol consisting of multiple evenly-spaced, overlapping circles arranged in a flower-like pattern with a sixfold symmetry like a hexagon.

This symbol is found in various ancient cultures and is considered part of sacred geometry, which asign symbolic and sacred meanings to specific geometric shapes and proportions.

The Flower of Life is thought to represent the fundamental forms of space and time, and it is a visual expression of the connections life weaves through all sentient beings, believed to contain a type of Akashic Record of basic information about all living things.

Both the Lotus and the Flower of Life are seen as symbols of creation and the interconnectedness of all life. The Lotus represents the emergence of life and spiritual awakening, while the Flower of Life is seen as a blueprint of the universe, containing the patterns of creation as they emerged from the “Great Void.”

Lotus Flower Colors and Their Meanings

Pink lotus flowers near the surface of water

Lotus flowers are mainly available in six colors, including white, pink, yellow, red, blue, and purple. Like other flowers, their meanings and spiritual interpretations vary depending on their color.  

White Lotus Flowers:

These lotus flowers are one of the most popular colors. White lotus flowers symbolize many things, including beauty, grace, purity of mind, wealth, knowledge, fertility, and faith. Their worldwide popularity and relevance have gained them the name “Womb of the World.”

Pink Lotus Flowers:

These lotus flowers are often associated with Buddhism as these charming blooms are said to portray Buddha’s earthly symbol. Pink lotus flowers symbolize various meanings depending on the state of their buds. A pink lotus plant with a closed bud represents passing through the spiritual path, while a fully bloomed one means enlightenment.

Yellow Lotus Flowers:

Lotus flowers are also available in yellow. In religion, they symbolize joy and intellectual curiosity within spiritualism. The bright blooms also reference openness and hospitality.

Red Lotus Flowers:

The meaning of a red lotus flower is not much different from other popular red flowers, such as roses and carnations. These delicate blooms signify compassion, sympathy, and selfless love. They also represent heart, passion, and generosity.

Blue Lotus Flowers:

Blue lotus flowers are captivating and hard to find. These flowers are about thought over emotions, referencing the mind. They symbolize wisdom, knowledge, and worldly aspirations.

Purple Lotus Flowers:

Purple lotus flower meanings are often associated with Buddhism. Another rare color, they primarily represent self-awakening, as well as harmony and balance between different parts of ourselves.

The Lotus Flower in Art

The lotus flower has long been a popular subject in art and literature throughout history.

In art, the lotus flower is often depicted in paintings, sculptures, and decorative objects. It is often associated with beauty, purity, and spirituality.

Some popular examples of lotus flowers in the world of art include:

  • In ancient Egyptian art, the lotus flower was a common motif used in paintings, sculptures, and decorative objects. It was often associated with the sun god Ra, and was used as a symbol of rebirth and regeneration.
  • In Chinese art, the lotus flower has been a popular subject for centuries. It is often depicted in paintings, ceramics, and other decorative objects. The lotus flower is considered to be a symbol of purity and is often used in Buddhist art to represent enlightenment.
  • In Indian art, the lotus flower is also a common motif. It is often depicted in paintings and sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses and is used as a symbol of spiritual purity and transcendence.
  • In Japanese art, the lotus flower is often used in paintings, prints, and other decorative objects. It is considered to be a symbol of enlightenment and is often associated with Buddhism.
  • In Western art, the lotus flower has also been a popular subject. It was particularly popular during the Art Nouveau period and was often used in decorative objects such as vases, lamps, and jewelry.
  • The Water Lilies series by Claude Monet features several paintings of lotus flowers. Monet’s paintings of water lilies and lotus flowers were inspired by his own water garden at his home in Giverny, France.
  • The Lotus Temple in New Delhi, India, is a famous architectural structure that is designed to resemble a blooming lotus flower. The temple is a Bahá’í House of Worship and is open to people of all faiths.
  • The lotus flower is a common motif in Buddhist art and can be seen in sculptures and paintings throughout Asia. One famous example is the giant Buddha statue at the Todai-ji Temple in Nara, Japan, which is surrounded by lotus flowers.
  • The Rosetta Stone, an ancient Egyptian artifact that dates back to 196 BCE, features a carving of a lotus flower at the bottom of the text. The lotus flower was a common symbol in ancient Egyptian art and religion.
  • The Lotus Throne, a famous piece of furniture in the Royal Palace of Cambodia, is adorned with intricate carvings of lotus flowers. The throne was created in the 19th century and is considered to be one of the finest examples of Khmer craftsmanship.
  • The “Lotus Sutra” is a Buddhist text that has been illustrated and depicted in art throughout the ages. One famous example is a set of handscrolls painted during the Kamakura period in Japan, which depict scenes from the Lotus Sutra and feature lotus flowers as a prominent motif.
  • “The Lotus Blossom,” a painting by artist Martin Johnson Heade, features a close-up view of a white lotus flower. The painting is part of a series of floral still lifes that Heade created in the late 1800s.
  • The “Lotus Pond” series of paintings by Chinese artist Zhang Daqian depicts lotus flowers in various stages of growth and bloom. The paintings are part of Zhang’s larger body of work, which combines traditional Chinese painting techniques with modern influences.
  • The Lotus Flower Tower” in the Cirque of the Unclimbables, Canada, is a rock tower that was named after the lotus flower due to its shape. It is a popular destination for rock climbers and adventurers.

The Lotus Flower in Literature:

In literature, the lotus flower is a common symbol used to represent rebirth, enlightenment, and perseverance. It has been referenced in poems, novels, and religious texts. Overall, the lotus flower is a powerful and versatile symbol that continues to inspire artists and writers across cultures and time periods.

Popular examples of lotus flowers in the world of literature include:

  • In “The Odyssey” by Homer, the lotus flower is referenced as a powerful plant that causes those who eat it to lose all desire to leave the island they are on and return home.
  • In “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse, the lotus flower is used as a symbol for the main character’s journey toward spiritual enlightenment.
  • In The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the lotus flower is referenced as a symbol of rebirth and new beginnings. The garden in the story is also described as being full of lotus flowers, which represent the potential for growth and change.
  • In “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the lotus flower is referenced as a symbol of beauty and purity. The character Daisy Buchanan is often associated with the lotus flower, as she is seen as beautiful and desirable but also somewhat unattainable.
  • In “The Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri, the lotus flower is referenced in the 19th canto of Purgatorio, where Dante sees a group of souls who the love of God has purified. These souls are described as being surrounded by a beautiful garden full of lotus flowers.
  • In “The Tale of Genji” by Murasaki Shikibu, a classic Japanese novel from the 11th century, the lotus flower is referenced as a symbol of love and devotion. In one scene, the main character Genji sends a lotus flower to his lover Murasaki as a token of his affection.
  • In The Lotus Eaters” by Tennyson, a poem inspired by the Odyssey, the lotus flower is again referenced as a powerful plant that causes those who eat it to lose all desire to leave the island.
  • In “The Lotus and the Wind” by John Masters, a novel set in India during the British Raj, the lotus flower is used as a symbol of the Indian people’s resistance to colonialism. The main character, a British officer named Tom, becomes fascinated by the beauty and resilience of the lotus flower, and begins to see the Indian people in a new light.

Tattoo Symbolism

A lotus tattoo being etched onto the skin

A lotus flower is a common choice for tattoos related to the flower’s colors or religious associations. Nonetheless, it bears more or less similar meanings. Generally, lotus flowers in tattoos often symbolize rebirth or rising above temptations. They can also mean spiritual awakening, beauty, purity, love, or enlightenment.

Suitable Gifting Occasions

Because of their unique and exciting features, lotus flowers have become a popular choice in floral arrangements for many different occasions. Nothing says Get Well Soon, Thank You, or I’m thinking about you better than beautiful, meaningful, and one-of-a-kind flowers like a lotus.

As with any other famed blooms, you can gift cut lotus flowers to anyone on any occasion. They come in various colors, too, so you have plenty of options.

Pick a lotus flower arrangement for celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, a new job or a new home, graduation, a birth or a new baby, and more. You can also use them to decorate your home or office or for events like weddings.

The Final Word

The beauty of a lotus flower goes beyond its aesthetics. It is considered by many cultures and religions as sacred and regarded for its many different meanings. This impressive plant continues to capture anyone’s attention with its enchanting bloom that comes in white, pink, yellow, red, blue, and purple.

Though short-lived, lotus flowers are highly valued as cut flowers for various occasions. Growing it at home is relatively easy, too. Provide it with the right conditions and proper care, and a lotus plant will shower you with its undeniably charming blooms.

Editorial Director | andrew@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.

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