Love came to Flora asking for a flower
That would of flowers be undisputed queen,
The lily and the rose, long, long had been
Rivals for that high honour. Bards of power
Had sung their claims. “The rose can never tower
Like the pale lily with her Juno mien”-
“But is the lily lovelier?” Thus between
Flower-factions rang the strife in Psyche’s bower.
“Give me a flower delicious as the rose
And stately as the lily in her pride” –
“But of what colour?”-“Rose-red,” love first chose,
Then prayed,-“No, lily-white,-or, both provide”;
And Flora gave the lotus, “rose-red” dyed,
And “lily-white,”- the queenliest flower that blows.
( a sonnet on The Lotus by Toru Dutt)
The beauty of flowers like roses, orchids, tulips and carnations to name a few, may delight and enchant our senses no end but the one flower that you can’t dislodge from our collective-cultural-consciousness is the ‘queenliest flower that blows”–the lotus. Our National flower, it’s an ancient auspicious symbol that recurs time and again in our epics, mythology and scriptures and forms the prevailing motif of our sculptures, temple carvings, architecture, paintings and even cave murals. But to see it blooming in the wild in marshy swamps is to understand the metaphorical references that revere it as the ultimate symbol of purity and divinity; why the Bhagavad Gita exhorts “One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus is untouched by water” (Chap 5, Verse 10) ; why the flower is considered so sacred that it serves as the seat of deities, signifying their eternal divinity.
On a road trip to Odisha last winter, some of the most memorable sights for me were the small bodies of residual-monsoon water on either side of the road with lotus plants floating over their muddy waters and the flowers blossoming on long stalks, their delicate flawless beauty in total contrast to their miry surroundings…so evocative of “the most exalted state of man–his head held high, pure and undefiled in the sun, his feet rooted in the world of experience.”.
(Photo credit..Surinder Sharma)