India Design Motifs – The Lotus, Part 28

BY: SUN STAFF - 3.10 2017

Balinese Temple Padmasana

A study of the historical, spiritual and cultural elements of Vedic design.

In our last segment of this series, we were discussing the lotus as a pedestal, or padmasanaupon which divine beings or objects are seated. As we mentioned, the lotus pedestal is also found in Balinese temple art.

Bali is said to be one of the last strongholds of Vedic culture on the planet, and many Vaisnava traditions are alive and well there. Like temples in India, Balinese temples are comprised of a number of different structures, like the garbha griha (sanctum), mandap(porch), and shikara (tower). In Bali, one of the most important structures in the temple is the padmasana.

The Balinese padmasana is located in the jeroan, or inner courtyard of the temple complex. It typically resembles a tall, sculpted stone tower with a flat seat that is reserved for the supreme Deity.

Balinese Padmasana

The padmasana is always situated in the northeast corner of the temple complex, facing away from Gunung Agung, the holiest mountain in Bali. Carved into the base of padmasana is a turtle figure. Popularly known as Bedawang in modern Bali culture, the turtle is actually the divine incarnation of Lord Visnu as Kurma avatar. Also carved into the base of the padmasanais a pair of nagas. They are representatives of the sacred mountain, not unlike of the snakes on Govardhan Hill.

The entire structure is situated so that the Deity's seat is well above the heads of devotees who come to worship. Carved stone steps at the base of the tower allow offerings to be placed. From top to bottom, the entire structure is symbolic of the spiritual and material creations, from the demoniac depths to the transcendent abode of the Supreme Lord.

While not easy to see in either of the padmasana examples pictured above, the lotus motif is carved into the towers. In the picture at top of page, the lotus design is central to the ornate fretwork bordering each tier. In the second image, there are lotuses in the center of the upper three tiers, and bordering the base (in diamond pattern).

Aside from the padmasanas we have been describing up to this point, the lotus plays a central role in temple architecture that goes far beyond simple pedestals. Whole temples have been designed as representations of the lotus motif.

One of the most widely recognized lotus temples found in India was built not by the Vaisnavas or any other Hindu sect, but rather by the Baha'i, who chose this universally recognized spiritual motif for their religious shrine. The Lotus Temple of the Baha'i resides in Delhi, where it attracts throngs of tourists each year. This structure has won numerous architectural awards.

Baha'i Lotus Temple

Another interesting example of lotus architecture is found in the temple and hermitage of Santhigri Ashram at Pothencode, near Trivandrum, Kerala. The asrama was built by Navajyothisree Karunakara Guru, whose stated mission was to establish the Yuga Dharma in Kaliyuga. After his departure, this 91 foot tall lotus edifice was erected in his honor. It was inaugurated just a few months ago.

The temple is comprised of a lotus structure having twenty-one petals. Twelve petals face upwards, and nine face down. The twelve top petals represent the twelve rasi, and the bottom nine petals represent the nine griham. At the base are 27 pillars, representing the 27 nakshatras. Each of the top petals is 41 feet high, and the base petals are 31 feet. The entire temple has an outer covering of makrana marble, making the structure quite an architectural feat. The heart of the lotus, the sarakoodam, is a 27-foot diameter teak enclosure shaped like a lotus bud, in which the Guru's samadhi is located.

Santhigri Ashram, Pothencode, Kerala

Just we as saw a wide variety in lotus petal configurations in the previous example of padmasanas, there is great variety in the lotus motif used in architectural structures. Pictured below is a small Jain shrine at Hastinapur, known as the Kamala Mandir. In this example, a row of open lotus petals form the base, above which rise six tiers of upward pointing petals.

Kamala Lotus Temple, Hastinapur, Uttar Pradesh

In our next segment, we'll look at another lotus temple structure that was designed to showcase the actual physical construction of the lotus flower.