Doctor Le Thi Tuyet

For quite some time, lotuses have become a special symbol in Vietnamese’s lives, bearing a beautiful meaning, representing everything that is elegant and classy

Four layered lotus shaped cap. Gold. Champa culture. 17th - 18th century

In Buddhism, lotuses represent moral value, purity and holiness; it is also the symbol of knowledge, incorruptibility, free of mediocrity, filth and worries.

In the folks’ perception, lotuses equates to those who possess elegant beauty, sophistication and bravery and who live among the mediocre but are not tempted by fame or materials…

It might be because of the aforementioned reason that lotuses are brought into art from the very early days, appearing with great frequency in traditional shaping and decoration. They are depicted and stylized in various ways that carry the signatures of time. Overtime, we can recognize the typical images of lotuses under different historical period through Buddhism architectural decoration with various artifacts including Buddha statues, worshipping artifacts and household tools. One typical example of unique architecture inspired by the image of lotuses is Dien Huu Pagoda (also known as One-Pillar Pagoda), built from Ly Dynasty. Legend has it that one spring night in the Ky Suu Year (1049), King Ly Thai Tong dreamt of Bodhisattva on a giant lotus, leading him onto it. After waking up, the King told his courtiers about his dream and Thien Tue monk advised that he should build a pagoda on a stone pillar in the middle of a lake with the shape of a lotus to worship bodhisattva, just like what he saw in his dream. The Pagoda bears the square shape with 3 meter length per side and is built from wood, tiled-roof, put on a stone pillar with a 1,2 meter diameter. From a distance, the pagoda looks like a giant lotus sprouting from the water, with the pillar representing the peduncle. In the 17th century, a structure called Tich Thien Am (meaning “holding good things”) was built inside But Thap Pagoda, Bac Ninh. The structure is also called 9-storey lotus due to the fact that it is built into 9 stories of wood, representing 9 lives of convention of Buddha. This is also the 9-class lotus that one will attain while conventing, free from samsara, free from life and death, to go up to nirvana. Another pagoda bearing the same lotus architecture is Kim Lien Pagoda (Golden Lotus Pagoda), which was built in 1972 in Hanoi. Surrounded by a lake, the pagoda looks just like a lotus sprouting from the sparkling water…

A kettle featuring an elephant by lotuses. White enameled ceramic. Preliminary Le dynasty. 15th century. Artifact from an old wrecked ship in Cham Island, Quang Nam.

The image of lotuses in Buddhism decoration is usually involved the image of Buddha lecturing or Buddha meditating on a lotus. The lotus, on which Buddha either sits or stands, represents the quiet, no life, no death and pure spot. The tendons on the lotus leaves are considered the 84 realms uniting at one point, which is the peduncle, which is also the release way, the only way to enlighten the common people. The philanthropist philosophy ò Buddhism is illustrated sophisticatedly by the simple and friendly image of the lotuses, which cover the country lakes with the pink color.

Floor tiles embossed with blooming lotuses. Terracotta. Ly period. 11th - 13th century

Representing purity, lotuses appear on most worshipping products. We can find them on candelabras, incensories, đỉnh đốt hương, trays, altars, vases, …with the lotus images depicted to illustrate both aesthetic and sacred values.

Lotus decoration is also popular on various everyday tools, from luxuries in the palace to common tools outside. Under the Ly Dynasty, artists usually carved lotus petal on both the inside and the outside of the pottery (bowls, dishes) before enameling and being loaded into the kilns. Other carrying tools like pots, candelabras, jars, bottles, … is decorated with concave details of lotus petal on the lids, the necks and lower-parts to create a elegant, luxurious touch to the tools. Under the Tran Dynasty, the lotus images are depicted in a more lively and free way with a more realistic touch to it. Under Le and Nguyen Dynasties, the lotuses are strictly positioned but still flexible with sharp shapes creating an elegant and concise beauty on each art works…

Statue of Buddha Shakyamuni born out of a lotus. Gilded wood. Renaissance Le period. 17th - 18th century.

The huge collection is being kept and exhibited at National History Museum is a proof that lotuses is a popular choice in architectural decoration and Buddhism art, from routine tools of the common people to the luxurious gadgets in the palaces… This is the clear illustration different classes among the people to escape from the earthly life: the kings, the monks, the common people in Vietnam’s society, for which King Tran Nhan Tong is a symbol.