The Lotus Blossom
By: Ly Vanna ( April, 2002 Volume 2 No.4 )

Roses express love, orchids express respect, but for Buddhists, there is no flower more important than the humble lotus. In ponds and stretches of still water all over the country, lotus flowers bloom pink and white. They often grow naturally, but where there are no lotus, Khmers will plant them. The pink ones (and not the white) will go eventually to seed, becoming the green pad that can be seen being hawked all over the country. The seeds are popped out one by one, peeled and the sweet flesh eaten. The white lotus flower blooms and dies, but is more highly prized as an offering for religious purposes.
Every pagoda will have a lotus pond, because lotus is the flower of the Buddha. As Khmer New Year approaches, more and more lotuses appear, carefully planted in advance for the religious and culinary feasts that accompany this special time of year. "Lotus represents purity. It has a delicate perfume and a beautiful shape so people use the flower for religious and dedication purposes," said Venerable Ya Loeng, assistant to the chief monk at Wat Samrong Andeth. "Lotus represent everything we wish to express and become as good Buddhists,"As a newborn baby, the Bodhisatava (an enlightened being and the name Buddha was known by before he achieved Nirvana) could walk seven steps on seven lotuses.

Later, the lotus became the seat for the Buddha and features prominently in most Buddhist religious art. "The lotus stays connected with Buddha from his birth until he achieves Nirvana," Professor Hang Soth, general department of cultural techniques at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts (MoCFA), said. "Khmer people favor the white lotus-maybe for its purity but Chinese, Vietnamese and other foreigners prefer the pink,” a veteran seller of the flowers at Wat Phnom, Mrs Sok Chea, said. But cultural experts believe it is the shape of the blooms that is the most important. "Lotus blossoms are shaped like ten fingers pressed together in prayer," Ouk Socheat, Under Secretary of State for the MoCFA, said.The rise of the humble lotus to such an auspicious rank may also have to do with the way it grows. From foul smelling mud, it sends long, delicate pink stems to the surface and blooms its sweet smelling flowers prodigiously almost like a living analogy of reaching Nirvana.

The Association of Nuns and Laywomen of Cambodia use the lotus as a symbol of people who have achieved a high level of religious education and pass that knowledge down to others.It says lotus is the symbol of learning and cognitive thought. But the plant is also indispensable to Cambodians in everyday life. The bulb is used as a vegetable in soups and stews, or left to mature and ground into a rose colored powder used in jelly-like sweets. The pink stem is stir fried with pork and tomatoes or used in sour soup (samlor m'cheu). The seeds are eaten as a popular snack, their pits and skin used in a range of traditional medicines that reduce fever and relieve stomach problems. Leaves serve as a natural wrap for vegetables at the market, or even hats for hot days. Wherever lotus grows, the water is said to be clean and fit for drinking if boiled water is not available. And the flowers are used by devotees everywhere as an offering to the gods. A single flower costs just 100 riel. "I bring the lotus to offer Buddha in the hope of happiness, luck, success and to pray that I am reincarnated as a beautiful girl in my next life," Srey Touch, a villager in Oudong district, Kandal province, said. "All the elders in my village do the same for their lives and futures."