Monday, September 22, 2014

The Precious Lotus

A Lotus In Bloom - Pattaya, Thailand
The lotus flower, Nelumbo nucifera, is a very beautiful flower found throughout Thailand.  It comes in various colors such as white, blue, purple, pink, and red.

The seeds of the seed head, upper right hand corner of the above photograph are eaten raw or combined with sugar to form a paste that is used as the filling of various ethnic pastries.  I have enjoyed eating both the raw beans and the lotus paste filled pastries.  Other parts of the lotus plant, such as the roots, flowers, young leaves, and stems are also edible.  On our trip in January to Thale Bua Daeng (Red Lotus Sea) we purchased some treats made from the root of a similar water plant.

The lotus is an amazing plant.  It grows in the muck of ponds, lakes, and ditches.  Its roots are in the mud and muck of stagnant shallow water retention areas - murky turbid regions inhabited by leaches, amoebas, bacteria, and most likely some snakes. It grows in places that are not attractive to most people - which includes me.

A lotus plant can live for over one thousand years.  An over one thousand year old lotus seed was successfully germinated in 1994.

During roughly a week, the lotus flower blooms during the day above the water's surface.  As night approaches, the blossom folds back up into the flower bud and slip beneath the water's surface only to arise again in the morning.

Now that we are approaching the end of our rainy season, there are more and more stands along the roadside selling the dried seed heads.  The countless stagnant water features are now filled up with giant lotus leaves either floating on the surface with flowers about a foot above the water. Early in the morning the flowers set forth from the large buds,  The leaves are large - roughly two feet in diameter (60 cm).  The flowers are supported above the leaves on a thick stem.

Preparing Lotus Flower Offerings
The lotus has very significant symbolism in Buddhism.  It is one of the "Eight Auspicious Symbols" Every important Buddhist deity (god) is associated with the lotus - sitting on it, holding it, or each leg standing upon separate flowers.

The lotus springing forth from the mud represents purity of the body, speech, and mind - rising up from materialism, through the depths of experience, to bloom in the sunshine of enlightenment.  The two stages of the lotus flower are also symbolic of the stages of enlightenment - the tight flower bud symbolizing the time before person found Buddha or attained enlightenment with the full blossom symbolizing complete enlightenment and self-awareness.

There is a high demand and market for lotus flower buds.  There are farms that grow lotus to meet the need for fresh buds as well as people who harvest the buds that grow wild.

In March, during our trip to the Wat Suwannaram area, west of Bangkok, we visited a lotus farm.  We accessed the lotus farm by boat tour of the canals but could also had visited the farm by motor vehicle.  We were fortunate to arrive just as the workers were offloading their harvest at the land facility.

Female Worker Offloading Harvest of Lotus Buds
After slogging through the shallow muddy waters of the farm, the workers harvest the buds by cutting the stems about two feet below the water's surface.  The long stemmed buds along with lotus leaves which are also harvested for market, are then carefully placed in a flat bottomed wood boat that accompanies the workers.  The price paid by the agents for the markets is determined by the size, color, and condition of the buds and leaves at the nearby processing area of the farm.

A Second Female Worker Offloads the Harvest
The leaves and buds are carried up the banks of the flooded area and carried to the adjacent processing area.

Rinsed and Stacked Lotus Buds
In the processing area, actually a covered portico of the farm owner's home, the lotus buds are inspected, rinsed, and stacked by color and size to await the arrival of wholesalers later in the day.

Lotus Harvester
Having waded through murky waist deep water harvesting the lotus buds along with leaves, and hauling them to the farm house, the workers were covered with mud and perhaps with leaches.  Since the canal that we traveled on to the farm was relatively clean, the workers washed themselves prior to donning dry clothes to have their meal in the farm house.

Cleaning Up After Work
Duang Prepares A Bud For Offering
Duang and our boat driver showed me how the lotus buds are prepared to be offerings.  The petals are carefully peeled back from the tip of the bud.  Each petal is folded over and tucked into its base to expose the interior of the blossom.  This process continues until three rows are formed - three symbolizing the three gems of Buddhism - Buddha, Dhamma (The Teachings of Buddha), and the Sanga (Buddhist religious community).

Lotus Offering
During the special ritual for the dedication of the new statue for the "Outside" Wat for Tahsang Village, lotus buds were offerings at all three shrines as well as lotus petals were sprinkled upon the statues, roads, and devotees.  A special ritual apparently requires special offerings - a precious offering of precious lotus flowers -powerful and strong symbols of Buddhism.

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