As the train made an unscheduled stop a few miles from Delhi during the last monsoon, a surprise was in store for some of the passengers, who had alighted on a moonlit night to have a look around and stretch their legs in the process. Just where the lines ended was a pit full of rain water with lotus bulbs floating on it. Perhaps it was a reward of sorts for the enterprising. How many moons does it take to find a lotus in bloom? One saw such a sight at the Taj some 300 moons ago. To see it in the National Capital Region revived memories.

The lotus growing wild is a sight to behold, especially at night amid the hum of crickets and the croaking of frogs with the moonlight weaving quaint patterns. For a moment one forgot that it was a waterlily, celebrated since antiquity both in India and Egypt, which was the centre of attraction for basically urban dwellers. For the ancient Greeks it was the white lily that held pride of place, along with the rose. It personified purity and was sacred to Hera, the Greek counterpart of Juno, wife of Jupiter, protector of marriage and guardian of women. The rose, of course, was sacred to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Did Homer know that there were 80 species of the lily? A surprise last week was the death of 93-year-old Aphrodite Khrisnamurthi, of Greek origin, married to a South Indian. Quite a mingling of diverse entities with an ex-Group Capt of the IAF. Was it a union crafted by the goddess herself?

The lotus fruit of the Greek was the food of the common man, besides it also provided him with a heady brew. However, the lotus eaters, whom Ulysses encountered were neither Greek nor Egyptian, but probably Libyan, though Colonel Gaddafi might not have admitted it. But the Indian lotus goes back to the primeval past, to the dawn of time, when Brahma sprang from the plant that grew in Vishnu’s navel.

The Lotus Temple in Delhi is not only a tribute to the Bah’ai faith but also to the lotus flower, which symbolises the Supreme one. “Attaining the lotus feet of the Lord” means eternal salvation (mukti). A transient example of this is the garden bee (bohra) that comes to suck nectar in the evening and gets entrapped in the flower petals, staying confined the whole night, until the morning rays of the sun releases it. It is believed that even Solomon’s Temple had some decorative panels depicting the lotus.