and Science of the Indian Lotus
Sharma and A.K. Goel
Of all the
myriad blooms the most revered by man and esteemed by God is the magnificent
lotus. The ‘Sacred Lotus’
one of the most important and attractive wetland plant species in India. This
taxon occurs widely in temperate, sub-temperate, subtropical and tropical
regions in South-East Asia. In India, it occurs from Kashmir to Kanyakumari
exhibiting enormous phenotypic diversity with a large number of racial variants
in different shapes, sizes and shades of pink and white flowers having 16-160
petals. The habitats of this species are affected to a great extent by a number
of natural and anthropogenic activities like disposal of domestic and
industrial effluents, invasion of aquatic weeds, spraying of insecticides and
pesticides, drainage, floods and other developmental activities. Eutrophication
of aquatic bodies have caused a radical biochemical changes in the biomass of
aquatic plant species. Further, shrinkage of the water bodies has threatened
the habitat and distribution of the
races at an alarming rate.
has become an emblem of India - the petals represent the flourishing of
surrounding cultures, religions and countries. It is the foremost symbol of
beauty, prosperity and fertility. According to Hinduism, within each human
being inhabiting the earth, is the spirit of sacred lotus. It represents
eternity, purity and divinity and is used as a sign of life, and ever-renewing
youth. The feminine beauty, especially the eyes are described by lotus petals (Kamalnayani).
One of the most common metaphysical analogies compares like perennial rise to
the faultless beauty from a miry environment to the evolution of man’s
consciousness from instinctive impulses to spiritual liberation. In the
‘Bhagavad Gita’ man is adjured to be like the lotus - he should work sincerely
without attachment, dedicating his actions to God untouched by sins like water
on lotus leaf and the beautiful flower standing high above the mud and water.
Buddhists, lotus symbolizes the most exalted state of man his head held high,
pure and undefiled in the sun, his feet rooted in the world of experience. Few
flowers have found such prominence in legends and symbolism as the lotus.
Buddhist and Jain religions have fascinating stories about this plant species.
In Hinduism, the lotus flower is said to be centre of the universe. It arose
from the navel of God Vishnu and at the centre of the flower sat Brahma, the
creator of the world. Each of
Brahminical deities, Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Protector) and Shiva
(the Merger) are associated with this plant. Goddess Lakshmi, the patron of
wealth and good fortune sits on a fully bloomed pink lotus as her divine seat
and hold a lotus in her right hand. Goddess of wisdom, Saraswati is associated
with the white lotus. Virtually all god and goddess in Hindu religion are shown
sitting on lotus or holding lotus flower in their hand.
It is also
described that when divine life substance was about to put forth the universe,
the cosmic waters grew a thousand petalled lotus flower of pure gold, radiant
like the sun. This was considered to be an opening of the womb of the universe.
fossilised record of Nelumbo nucifera has been reported from the
Pleistocene epoch of
The presence of Nelumbo in the Tertiary period of Assam is reported on
the basis of impressions of leaves and rhizomes found in the collection from
Eocene bed near Damalgiri. These records confirm the evidence in support of the
view that Nelumbo nucifera is indigenous to India. This species is
distributed over a wide range of phytogeographical regions, exhibiting great
diversity in different shapes, sizes and shades of pink and white flowers.
Nelumbo nucifera. "East Indian Lotus" is an old world Asiatic species,
widely distributed in many Asiatic oriental countries, viz. India, Sri Lanka,
Indonesia, Korea, Combodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan and China.
Nelumbo belongs to the monogeneric family Nelumbonaceae and represented by
two species namely N. nucifera native to tropical and sub-tropical Asia
to Australia and also naturalised in
‘Yellow Lotus’ is indigenous to
America. The flowers of N. nucifera races are more attractive than the
pale yellow flowers of N. lutea.
the great importance of this aquatic plant species, National Botanical Research
Institute had taken-up a project on collection, introduction, acclimatisation,
documentation and multiplication of Nelumbo nucifera in the NBRI Botanic
Garden for ex-situ conservation of its racial variants. The germplasm of
35 indigenous races has been builtup in the Botanic Garden covering varied
phytogeographical zones of India. The germplasm of two species and 25 races has
also been enriched from the Botanic Gardens of Japan, Thailand, U.K., Germany,
U.S.A., Brazil and Australia in various shades of pink, white and yellow
flowers. Generally the number of petals vary from 16-36 in most of the races of
lotus. The maximum number of petals from 116-160, were recorded in a pink
double flowered race collected from Midnapur (West Bengal) which has been
described as Nelumbo nucifera ‘Krishna’. ‘Kamal Krishna’ is an extremely
beautiful cultivar for cutflower having 4-5 days vase life.
is the ‘National Flower’ of India. It is deeply associated with the Hindu
mythology, philosophy, art, architecture, poetry and culture since the time
immemorial. It is the symbol of purity, beauty, divinity and eternity.
Nelumbo nucifera ‘Sacred Lotus’ is an important constituent of the aquatic
flora. A pond full of lotus plants provides a stunning sight. It is not only
important for the Indian culture but deeply imbibed in whole of South East
Asia, Japan and China. It is of immense aesthetic, nutraceutical and economic
values. Efforts have been made for the conservation, documentation,
multiplication and dissemination of the species and races of Nelumbo
nucifera in the Botanic Garden, NBRI, Lucknow.
It is an
interesting phenomenon that the lotus plants produce a significant amount of
heat during the sequence of flowering and regulate the temperature with
precision to form its own microclimate. The best and profuse flowering has been
observed at the temperature between 30°C -
35°C for 2-4
days duration. The thermoregulating mechanism in the lotus flower enhances and
stabilizes the floral development and helps the insect pollinators with a warm
and hospitable environment.
propagated by the division of rhizomes and seeds. Rhizomes with new sprouts are
cut into small pieces having at least three nodes. Seeds are scarified at both
the ends for early germination. Seeds are known to possess the maximum period
of viability among all the flowering plant species. The seeds can be stored for
several years at the room temperature. Lotus was once grown in Egypt, where it
is now extinct. But seeds found in Pharaoh’s tomb sprouted after centuries of
storage. Excavated seeds from South Manchuria have germinated and survived even
after five hundred years. This is the reason lotus is called the ‘Symbol of
Investigations have also revealed that the lotus plants can absorb heavy metals
and may be recommended for plantation in the ponds utilized for discharging the
industrial effluents for water purification in the most natural manner.
Further, the lotus can be planted in tubs and placed inside the swimming pools
which will provide additional beauty to pool and purify the water naturally
without usage of harmful chlorides.
Economic and Nutraceutical Importance
possesses many medicinal, economic and nutraceutical properties. In the ancient
medicinal literature, it has been reported in several Ayurvedic formulations as
sweet, cooling, astringent, demulcent useful in weakness, dysentery, diarrhoea,
in burning sensation during fever and also in curing cough and cold. The
flowers are commended as cardiotonic, liver, urinary and veneral disorders. The
seeds are highly valued in conception, blood disorders and as cooling medicine.
The leaves and rhizomes in powdered form are prescribed for the treatment of
piles. The rhizomes and fresh seeds are edible and cooked for the preparation
of several delicious dishes. The farinaceous rhizomes ‘Kamal Kakdi’ are edible
and sold in the vegetable market. The leaves are used as plates in rural areas
for serving the food. Lotus flowers are in great demand in the floriculture
extensively by people throughout the subcontinent and has remained an integral
part of the cultural ethos in India. The R&D management should be based on
proper understanding of the biology, habitat, macro and micro climates of this
plant species in the aquatic ecosystem. Conservation of Nelumbo nucifera
and its sustainable utilization can help in keeping this species alive,
flourishing and improving the economic condition of rural masses.
Dr. S.C. Sharma is an Emeritus Scientist (CSIR) and Dr. A.K.
Goel is a Scientist at the National Botanical Research Institute,