What is the significance of the lotus in Hinduism? Today is the third day of Navaratri and I continue with the Navavarana compositions of Dikshithar. If you have just landed on my blog, you can find the first of the series here.
Today’s kriti is dedicated to the third Avarana (enclosure) which is an eight petalled lotus. Have you noticed how often the lotus appears in Hindu symbolism? We have Brahma, the creator, who emerged from the lotus. We have Vishnu, the protector, from whose navel the lotus emerged. We have Lakshmi who is seated on a red lotus and Saraswati who is seated on a white one. Vishnu Purana describes the earth itself as a lotus. We describe the eyes of Gods and Goddesses as lotus-shaped – rAjIva lOchana. We describe the faces to be lotus like – kamala vadana. We describe their feet to be lotus like – pAda kamala. Wise ones sit in padmAsana or the lotus-position in meditation. The Chakras in our bodies are said to be lotus-like, ending with the Sahasrara, the thousand petalled lotus associated with Supreme Consciousness. The soul is said to be in a lotus inside our hearts. And of course we have the Sri Chakra with two of its Avaranas symbolised as lotuses. What is this obsession with lotus?
The lotus is quite a remarkable flower. Interestingly, the plant has the ability to regulate the temperature of it’s flowers (ref.), somewhat like warm-blooded animals. As a viviparous plant, it generates offsprings attached to the parent, as a child is attached to the womb. It has remarkable longevity – it’s seeds can live up to 1300 years! In fact it’s genes have the ability to repair diseases and can withstand environmental stress (like freezing) (ref.). And it is so very beautiful! No wonder it has become one of most important symbols of Hinduism.
One oft used symbolism is the flower’s purity despite it’s origins in mud. Though it’s roots are in mud, it rises far above, untouched by the mud or the water. In the Bhagavat Gita, it is said that “One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus leaf is untouched by water.” (5:10). The way it closes at night and sinks to rise again in the morning, and its regenerative qualities mimic the cycles of life and soul. Its amazing fecundity makes it a symbol of fertility and even immortality. I need to do more research into this; the lotus seems to be interwoven into our texts in so many different ways.
So we come to today’s song Sri Kamalambikaya set to raga Shankarabharanam dedicated to the Goddess of the third Avarana called सर्व संक्षोभण चक्र Sarva Sankshobhana Chakra (All Churning Chakra). I wonder at the name – is it because by the time you reach this stage, your world is totally churned up? The presiding Goddess is Tripura Sundari. Let us think of her while listening to Kunnakudi M.Balamuralikrishna presenting this song for us.
Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :
Composer : Muthuswami Dikshithar
Raga : Shankarabharanam
Language : Sanskrit
श्री कमलाम्बिकया कटाक्षितोऽहं सच्चिदानन्द परिपूर्ण ब्रह्मास्मि
पाकशासनादि सकल देवता सेवितया
पङ्कजासनादि पञ्च कृत्याकृत्भावितया
शोक हर चतुर पदया मूक मुख्य वाक्प्रदया
कोकनद विजय पदया गुरु गुह तत्-त्रै-पदया
अनङ्ग कुसुमाद्यष्ट शक्त्याकारया अरुण वर्ण संक्षोभण चक्राकारया
अनन्त कोट्यण्ड नायक शङ्कर नायिकया अष्ट वर्गात्मक गुप्त तरया वरया
(मध्यम काल साहित्यम्)
अनङ्गाद्युपासितया अष्ट दळाब्ज स्थितया धनुर्बाण धर करया दया सुधा सागरया
shrI kamalAmbikayA kaTAkshitOham
sachchidAnanda paripUrNa brahmAsmi
pAka shAsanAdi sakala dEvatA sEvitayA
pankajAsanAdi pancha kRtyAkRtbhAvitayA
shOka hara chatura padayA mUka mukhya vAkpradayA
kOkanada vijaya padayA guru guha tat-trai-padayA
aruNa varNa samkshObhaNa chakrAkArayA
ananta kOTyaNDa nAyaka shankara nAyikayA
ashTa vargAtmaka gupta tarayA varayA
(madhyama kAla sAhityam)
anangAdyupAsitayA ashTa daLAbja sthitayA
dhanurbANa dhara karayA dayA sudhA sAgarayA
I (aham) have the grace (kaTAkshita=looked at with the corner of the eye) of Kamalamba. I am (asmi) the Brahman filled with (paripUrNa) the bliss (Ananda) of existence and knowledge.
By the one served by (sEvitayA) he who chastised (shAsana) Paka (=Indra) etc (Adi), by the one contemplated upon (bhAvitayA) by he who is on the lotus (pankaja) seat (Asana) and performed (kRit) the original (Adi) five tasks (pancha-kRitya) (=Brahma), by the one whose feet (padayA) are skilled (chahatura) in dispelling sorrow (shOka hara), by the one who bestowed (pradayA) speech (vAk) to the eminent (mukhya) dumb one (mUka) (ref.), by the one whose feet (padayA) outdoes (vijaya) the lotus (kOkanada), by that embodiment (implied) of those (tat) three (trai) words (padaya) of Guruguha (Kartikeya, also signature of composer).
By the cause (kArayA) of the eight (ashTa) powers (shaktyA) starting with Anangakusuma, by the cause (kArayA) of the reddish (aruNa) coloured (varNa) Samkshobhana chakra, by the consort (nAyikA) of the Lord (nAyaka) of the innumerable (ananta) crores (kOti) of worlds(aNDa literally egg), by the embodiment (implied) of the one consisting of (Atmaka) eight (ashTa) secret (gupta) parts (varga) (this chakra is made of eight petals), by the surpassing one (tarayA) (unsure of this), by the best (varayA), by the one worshipped by (upAsitayA) cupid (ananga) etc (Adi), by the one seated on (sthitayA) on the eight (ashTa) petalled (daLa) lotus (abja), by the one who has hands (karayA) holding (dhara) a bow (dhanur) and arrow (bANa), by the one who is an ocean (sAgarayA) of the nectar (sudhA) of compassion (dayA).