Lotus Flower in the Vedas, Kalidasa and Sangam Tamil Literature (Post No.3808)

Written by London swaminathan


Date: 11 APRIL 2017


Time uploaded in London:- 20-22


Post No. 3808


Pictures are taken from various sources; thanks.


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In Indian literature ‘flower’ means Lotus. For other flowers, they name it. Most of the Hindu girls are named after flowers. Lotus flower names are more prominent than other flower names. In Sanskrit lotus has more words than any other flower. in Tamil ‘MALAR’ means ‘flower ‘and the ‘Lotus’. Lotus flower is used as offering for all the gods and goddesses.


In the Vedas

‘Puspa’ in Sanskrit denotes a flower generally. It occurs in Atharva veda (8-7-12; 10-8-34) and Vajasaneyi Samhita and Taittiriya Samhita. Since Tamils use Malar for flower and lotus, Puspa may be lotus in the Vedas as well.


Puskara is blue lotus flower found in the Rig Veda (6-16-13; 7-33-11). Some scholars think it may be the bowl of the ladle. We have more references in Atharva Veda and later Brahmanas. Puskarini is a tank with lotus flowers in the beginning, then to all holy water tanks.


Pundarika denotes the blossom of the lotus in the Rig Veda (10-142-8). Later Brahmana and Upanishad have many references. The Pancavimsa Brahmana states that the lotus flower is born of the light of the Naksatras (18-9-6) and the Atharva Veda compares the human heart to the lotus (10-8-43) ( and in Chandogya Upanishad (8-1-1) as well).


Mysterious Puskara-saada

Puskara saada means ‘sitting on the lotus’. it is one of the animals in the list of victims at the Asvamedha/ horse sacrifice. It occurs in Taittiriya, Maitrayani and Vajasaneyi samhitas. It may be a bird or a bee or something else.

A woman’s face is frequently compared to lotus in Indian literature. Kamban, who wrote Ramayana in Tamil, also compared the face of Rama to a full blown lotus. He says that Rama’s face remained like a blossomed lotus in painting even when Dasaratha and Kaikeyi asked him to go to forest for 14 years so that Kaikeyi’s son Bharata can rule the country.

In Kalidasa

Kalidasa and Tamil poets use similar words for this flower in their works.

Sangam Tamil poet Mutukannan Sattanar described the lotus with the epithet Hundred Petalled flower (Puram.27). It was used by Kalidas earlier in the Kumarasambhava (7-46). Kalidasa used the word  Hundred petalled for Brahma because he is seated on a lotus.

Kalidasa says, Lord Shiva honoured Brahma (100 petalled seater) with a nod of the head, Vishnu with spoken words, Indra with a smile and other gods with a mere look according to their seniority (KS 7-46). This shows how Hindu kings honoured their guests according to their seniority!

Tamil poet Mutukannan says, “All the 100 petals of a lotus that grows in a muddy water tank, proudly stands without any difference. Likewise, there are hundreds of people who are high born. But most of them die unsung like the leaves of lotus plants. Only very few attain the fame to be sung and fly high.


The poet gives a message through the image of lotus flower. Not all the people attain fame like the lotus petals. Most of them die without fame like the lotus leaves.


Kalidasa and other Sanskrit poets use the lotus image for eyes. In the Rtu Samhara, the beautiful tremulous eyes of a frightened deer and the lovely, impassioned and dark eyes of women are imagined to be lotuses, blue as well as white (RS 2-9; 3-14)


In the Megaduta Kavya, Yakshini is compared to a lotus plant on a cloudy day, with its lotus neither opened nor closed up (Mega.43)


In the Kumarasambhava, Parvati’s tremulous eyes are compared with blue lotus. In Raghu vamsa, Kumarasambhava, Vikrama Urvasiya we come across many references to lotus like eyes. In those works women’s face is also compared with lotus.


The breath of Parvati’s mouth is imagined to possess the fragrance of a full blown lotus (KS 7-19)


Siva tasted the honey of Parvati’s lip as a bee does on drinking that of a lotus flower (KS 8-23)

When the women of Mithila looked at Sita from their windows, they are described as lotuses.


In all his seven works, there are number of lotus images comparing to women’s faces, limbs, eyes, skin colour etc.


In Sangam Tamil literature, there is no description of the relationship between lotus and sun. But in Kalidasa we have such references. The gloomy appearance of a Yaksha is imagined to be a lotus after sunset (Uttaramegham 20).


The water of Ganga mixed with the waves of Yamuna looks at one place like a garland of white lotuses intertwined with the blue ones (RV 13-54)


There are over 90 references to lotus in his seven works.

In Tami Literature

Nallur Nattattanar, author of Cirpanatruppatai, paints a picture of bees humming melodiously in the lotus blossoms in the tanks of the Choza country (Cirupan70-77). He uses the epithet Divine lotus, because it is all gods’ favourite flower.


Kapilar describes (Nar.1)the honey gathered from the lotus flowers in one of his poems. ‘The acquaintance with noble men of high qualities is as sweet as the honey gathered by the bees from the lotus flowers and stored in the honey comb of the lofty branch of a sandal wood tree in a high mountain.


Katiyalur Uruttiran Kannanar (his name is Mr Rudraksha), author of two long Sangam poems Pattinapalai and Perumpanatrupatai had the astonishing power of observation of nature. He gave us accurate comparisons to almost every sight and sound he described in his poems. In his work Perumpanatruppatai, he compares the lotus petals to the long ears of the rabbit (lines 114-115). In another line he described the ‘divine lotus flowers of flame like hue’ line 289/90.

The attractive colour of the pollen of the lotus flower is described in Kuruntokai 300


Sangam poet Allur Nan Mullaiyar sings about a buffaloe punging into water in a tank to eat the lotus blossoms there (Akam.46)


Paranar is famous for his similes. He is the kaidasa of Tamil Literature. He used nine similes in a single stanza in Akam178. He says the lotus has flame like flower, long stems and broad leaves (Nar.310 andAkam.6)

Mankuti Marutanar also used the same epithet for lotus:lotus of thorny stems and flame like flowers- Maturaikkanchi line 249.


Mamulanar describes a buffalo eating lotus flowers in Akam.91


in Akam.176, we read a full description of a lotus plant by Marutam Patiya Ilamkatunko:There are blossomed lotuses like smiling faces, with buds like sharp pointed spears, leaves like the ears of elephants, rounded tubular stems like bamboo sticks and mature roots that enter deep into the ground causing clefts there in.

Marutan Ilanakanar compared the lotus flower to the face of a beautiful lady in Kalitokai (line 73)

an otter enters a lotus tank, scatters the Vallai creepers there, seizes the Valai fish amidst them, feeds upon it and returns to its rattan bush (Akam.6) according to Paranar.

Source books

The treatment of nature in Sangam Literature by M Varadarajan, 1969

The Imagery of Kalidasa by Dr Vinod Aggarwal, 1985

Vedic Index by Keith and Mc Donald



Humour in Sanskrit Literature


Compiled from Press cuttings by London Swaminathan
Post No.1494; Dated 17th December 2014

The “Sringara” and “Veera” rasas are prominent in Sanskrit literature; but “Hasya” (humour – provoking laughter) also finds its due place. This may arise in the juxta-position of two incongruous elements, punning (slesha)- two meanings , one may be derogatory, funny antics, foolish embarrassing situations etc. obscenity and conscious mischief will be “abuses” of humour; mere jokes may evoke response only from a limited class of people.

Valmiki Ramayana itself has good instances of humour a) Trijata, the aged Brahmin, girds up his loins, and holds his breath before throwing his stick to a far distance. This provokes a mocking smile from Rama, as reflecting the poor man’s greed. But the whirled stick falls on the bounds of Ayodhya – the Sarayu River- testifying to the sage’s innate strength. Rama is contrite at once and apologises for his earlier lapses.
(The more distance the stick covers the more land one gets as gift)


b)The ugly Surpanaka loves the superbly handsome Rama; their contrasting physical features as set out by Valmiki provoke mirth in the reader

c)The antics of Vanaras (monkeys) at the sea shore and at the Madhu Vana (drunk with honey in Sundara Kanda) are funny indeed!

laurel and hardy
Laurel and Hardy, Comedians

Humour in Mahabharata

The Mahabharata also has funny situations: e.g. Prince Uttara’s boast and later cowardice. The “Mattavilasa Prahasana” of Pallva Emperor Mahendra Varman is a rollicking comedy depicting the drunkards, fraudulent ascetics, Kapalikas, Pasupatas and Buddhists talking philosophy!

Sri A V Subramanian gave a talk on “Humour in Sanskrit Literature” on 16th June , 1985 under the auspices of Rasodaya at the K S R Institute, Mylapore. Sri P S Ramamurti presided.

The speaker confined himself to citations from classical Sanskrit Literature.

Some instances: (a) Kalidasa in Sakuntalam: The words of Vidushaka (jester) to King Dushyanta are humorous wittingly or unwittingly). When Dushyanta declaims on the superb beauty of Sakuntala and wonders which fortunate person is destined to have her, the Vidushaka says, “save her quickly. Let her not fall into the hands of some sage possessed of head, glossy with the oil of Ingudi!”

(b)When Dushyanta feels that his portrait of Sakuntala is incomplete, the Vidhusaka suggests “soto voce”; “the picture board is to be filled with batches of sages with hanging beards!”

charlie chaplin
Charlie Chaplin

c)When earlier Dushyanta speaks about the secret shy glances of Sakuntala, the Vidushaka quries “Did you expect her to mount your lap as soon as you were seen” (The Vidushaka pretending to be valorous but clutching at excuses for running away from scenes of danger, is also mirth provoking).

d)VIKRAMORVASEEYAM: Brahma, the creator, is said to be “Vedhaabyaasa Jatah” rendered foolish by repeated chanting of the Vedas lacking in “Rasikatvam”.

e)BHASA: In the drama “Pratigna Yaugandharayana”, a drunkard, says that an elephant accoutrements one by one had been mortgaged to the inn-keeper and finally that the elephant itself had been so mortgaged!

f)Kshemendra’s “Kalaavilasa deals humorously with the follies of men. In “Desopadesa”, a miser wanting to take his wealth with him after death ( A lawyer may advise that a cheque may be placed in his coffin!)

g)Nilakanta Dikshita in his “Kalividamabana” holds up to ridicule the dishonest ways of men – different classes in the Kali age. His Anayapadesa Sataka also has a vigorous satire on the weakness of mankind.

Charlie Chaplin

h)Miscellaneous Authors: Many citations were given, including the funny behaviour of drunkards. General statements are made about all being thieves, in their own ways (plagiarism among poets, included) – R.R.
From Paper Cutting from Indian Express dated 24-6-1985

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