The Lotus And The Nile

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The Lotus And The Nile

The blue lotus (Nymphaea caerulea) belongs to the Nymphaeaceae (Water-Lily) family. The blue lotus has several common names including: Egyptian lotus, blue water lily, and sacred lily of the Nile. It should not be confused with the "blue lily" or Agapanthus africanus, a plant of an entirely different genus (Anonymous, 1999). Be careful also not to confuse it with the Nymphaea lotus, which is the "white lotus". Fossils of this plant have been dated back to the Jurassic period, about 160 million years ago. Amazingly, the fossils suggest that the blue lotus has not changed much. Other records indicate wide dispersal of this flower before the Ice Age (Edwards, 1998).

It is important to first explain a few things about the nature of the blue lotus. The blue lotus or water-lily, is a floating aquatic plant that is known for it's colorful and aromatic flowers. The leaves are waxy, leathery and dark green with a reddish-purple color underneath (Edwards, 1998). The genus Nymphaea includes both tropical and hardy (cold-tolerant) species. There are also night-bloomers and day-bloomers. The tropical day- bloomers are the lotus that was used by the Egyptians (Edwards, 1998). The flowers of many species of lotus have the shocking habit of folding their petals and sinking beneath the water's surface during the night and resurfacing the next day to bloom again (Philbrick and Les, 1996).

Many ancient cultures found the blue lotus to be of great use and of esteemed status. In Asia and Africa, the blue lotus symbolized immortality in recognition of the plant's ability to survive and resprout after long droughts, and the seed's ability to remain viable for many years (Edwards, 1998). In China it was regarded as a religious symbol, and a symbol of feminine beauty. Similarly in India, it was compared with the human female form, and in their legends they believe that Brahma, their creator of the universe, sprang from a lotus-like blossom (Edwards, 1998).

The Japanese saw a representation of purity and the juxtaposition of good and evil, and the Buddhist's have a prayer mentioning the lotus, "Omi! Mani padme hum!" which is interpreted as, "Oh!, the jewel in the lotus flower!" (Edwards, 1998). The Greeks also admired the blue lotus. They associated the flowers with the mythical nymphs and beautiful maidens thought to inhabit the forests and mountains (Edwards, 1998).

The people of Ancient Egypt (Kemet), used the blue lotus extensively in their art and in their everyday uses.
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