Imagine my happy surprise, as I recently browsed through some old pictures, when I stumbled across this one, taken in the summer of 2006 in Kathmandu, Nepal.
I already mentioned the largely serendipitous treat of going to Kathmandu for two summers in a row here, but finding this picture – a testament to my long-standing tendency to look down and notice the ground, was an additional delight.
Unfortunately, I no longer recall the exact location where this photo was taken (maybe the internal courtyard of a temple?) but I remember being fascinated with the story of why the brass lotus flower was embedded into the ground.
But first, some (very basic) background. The lotus, you see, is one of the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism. Like the other seven, it holds within it many layers of overlapping meanings, both literal and more abstract. To put it briefly and simply (as only a layman like me can), padma – the sacred lotus, symbolizes the purity of body, speech and mind. The flower stands as a reference to the Buddhist path – it grows from the mud up through murky water (earthly attachments and desires) and appears clean on the surface (purification), producing a beautiful blossom (enlightenment). While the lotus flower is a symbol of purity, its long stem stands for the practice of Buddhist teachings which raise the mind above the “muddy waters” of attachment and desire, giving rise to purity of mind. The flower itself – an open blossom signifying full enlightenment, while a closed one standing for the potential for enlightenment, is often interpreted as a symbol for detachment, as water drops slide off its petals easily.
All this goes to explain the ubiquity of lotus flower images in places where Buddhism (as well as Hinduism and Jainism) is practiced. Buddha himself is often depicted either sitting, standing, walking or reclining on a lotus, as are many of the deities in Hinduism, in which the flower is a symbol of beauty, fertility, prosperity, spirituality and eternity.
But let’s go back to Buddha and the explanation of why lotus symbols are often embedded into the ground. It must have particularly impressed me when I heard the story back in Kathmandu, because I still remember it. According to legend, Buddha was able to walk immediately upon his birth and so, when he took his first steps in the world, lotus buds opened up from underneath to support and protect the tender soles of his baby feet. From then on, lotus flowers bloomed everywhere he stepped.
So, that’s the story that the brass lotus flowers embedded into the ground in of that temple’s yard in Kathmandu were recreating. And as for the G2 at the four corners, I have no idea.
*Update: My friend Bimbika, whose wonderfully colorful, four-day wedding festivities brought me to Kathmandu, wrote to say that the photo was taken at the Baber Mahal Revisited complex, which is built in a blend of Nepali, Indian and European architecture and which houses several galleries, restaurants and bars.