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Sacred Lotus Flower: What Does It Symbolize in Thailand?

Sacred Lotus Flower: What Does It Symbolize in Thailand?

lotus flower thailand

As a hotspot of biodiversity, Thailand has a wide variety of plants and flowers blooming throughout the whole country. And one flower that stands out from the crowd is the lotus flower – arguably the most famous of all – due to its significant role in Thai society.

From Buddhist temples to traditional Thai art, such as paintings, architecture, and sculptures, lotus flowers are a frequent presence. But why?

In this article, you will learn more about lotus flowers and how important they are in Thai culture. But that’s not all. That’s because they are more than just a national symbol. These special flowers have been instrumental in supporting the livelihoods of Thai people and driving economic growth.

You’ll also find out where are the best places to see (and even buy) them.

What are Lotus Flowers?

Lotus flowers are perennial aquatic plants that have been regarded as the “Queen of Water Plants (ราชินีแห่งไม้น้ำ)” as they can adapt to any environment. (Source)

Lotuses are native to Thailand and many places around the world, in different tropical climates and cold zones. They have a variety of colors, sizes, shapes, and scents depending on their families and species.

In Thailand, there are 3 distinctive and common families of lotus flowers: (Source, Source)

  1. Genus: Nelumbo ~ (Thai name: Pathumchat (ปทุมชาติ)); Family: Nelumbonaceae.
  2. Genus: Nymphaea ~ (Thai name: Ubonchat (อุบลชาติ)); Family: Nymphaeaceae.
  3. Genus: Victoria Lindley ~ (Thai name: Victoria (วิกตอเรีย)); Family: Nymphaeaceae.

All these genera of lotus flowers have a significant role in Thai religion, however, the most important and popular religious symbol is Nelumbo.

FamilyGenusName of lotus flower
NelumbonaceaeNelumboSacred lotus / East Indian lotus (บัวหลวง)
NymphaeaceaeNymphaea
(in Tropical zone)
Water lily (บัวเผื่อน/ บัวผัน) [1] Red Indian water lily (บัวสาย) [2] Jongkolnee (บัวจงกลนี) [3] Royale Purple (บัวสุทธาสิโนบล) [4]
 Nymphaea
(in Temperate zone)
Hardy water lily (บัวฝรั่ง) [5]
 Victoria LindleyRoyal water lily (บัววิกตอเรีย/ บัวกระด้ง) [6]
Sources: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6]

The Many Names of Lotus Flowers in the Thai Language

Fun fact: Thai people have a lot of different words for lotus flowers.

It is well known that the common name for lotus in the Thai language is “Dok Bua (ดอกบัว)” or “Bua (บัว).” However, there are over 60 other names (synonyms) for lotus – most of which are euphemisms that have been used since ancient times.

They appear in literature, aphorisms, poems, proverbs, and Buddhist scriptures. For example:

Komol (โกมล), Jongkol (จงกล), Nilubon (นิลุบล), Bongkot (บงกช), Buntharik (บุณฑริก), Busakorn (บุษกร), Pathum (ปทุม), Sattabongkot (สัตตบงกช), Saroj (สาโรช), Uthumphon (อุทุมพร), Ubon (อุบล), and so forth. (Source)

These words are mostly borrowed from Pali and Sanskrit languages. They are also commonly used to name people, places, and any objects, such as Ubon Ratchathani Province (จังหวัดอุบลราชธานี) and Pathum Thani Province (จังหวัดปทุมธานี).

The Sacred Lotus Flower in Thailand

The sacred lotus, also known as “Bua Luang (บัวหลวง),” is classified as the edible aquatic plant of the family Nelumbonaceae, genus Nelumbo Adans L., species: Nelumbo nucifera. (Scientific name: Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn.)

These lotus flowers are commonly found in tropical and subtropical areas and are widely cultivated in Australia, India, Egypt, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.

The sacred lotus flower in Thailand have two colors (white and pink/ red), divided into 4 varieties:

  1. Saddhabutra (สัตตบุษย์) or Bua Chat Khao (บัวฉัตรขาว)
  2. Sattabongkot (สัตตบงกช) or Bua Chat Daeng (บัวฉัตรแดง)
  3. Pathum (ปทุม) or Bua Laem Daeng (บัวแหลมแดง)
  4. Punttarika (ปุณฑริก/ บุณฑริกา) or Bua Laem Khao (บัวแหลมขาว)

However, the only two major ‘commercial cultivars’ are Saddhabutra and Sattabongkot, which are used for religious purposes.

Common NameSacred Lotus, Asian Lotus, East Indian Lotus
Scientific Name (5)Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn. Order: Proteales Family: NelumbonaceaeGenus: Nelumbo
Thai NameBua Luang (บัวหลวง)Bua Luang Pathum (บัวหลวงปทุม)Bua Luang Chompoo (บัวหลวงชมพู)Bua Khan Khaeng (บัวก้านแข็ง)
Variety:
Pink/Red Lotus
Sattabongkot (สัตตบงกช)Pathum (ปทุม)
Variety:
White Lotus
Saddhabutra (สัตตบุษย์Punttarika (ปุณฑริก/ บุณฑริกา)

Botanical Characteristics:

Sacred Lotus (Source)

The sacred lotus has large green round leaves. Their leaves are slightly hairy and can grow up to about 60 cm and can be funnel-shaped or cup-shaped. The stems are thorns petioles (stems of flowers and leaves hold high out of the water’s surface).

The large flowers are 1.8 meters height above the water with strong petioles. Their flowers can be up to 25 cm long in the bud and have a pointed shape with double and single petals (50 petals each).

The petals are different from white to red. The fruits look like nut fruits that are produced on the flat upper surface of an expanded fleshy capsule-like structure. The seeds have an extremely hard shell. (Source)

Sacred Lotus in the Heritage of Thai Society

The sacred lotuses are one of the most meaningful Thai flowers, as for many centuries as they have been associated with human beings and their way of life in any aspect.

These lotus flowers always appear in Thai literature, language, beliefs, places, artworks, food, wisdom, and much more.

Sacred Lotus in Thai Beliefs, Religions, and Rituals

A set of incense, candles, and lotus flowers to worship (Source)

The sacred lotus flowers generally symbolize spiritual transcendence, purity, and faith and represent spiritual enlightenment for Buddhism in Thailand. (Source)

They are a symbol of the historical Lord Buddha, whether the Buddha is sitting, standing, walking, lying, or in any posture, the lotuses are always beneath him.

Therefore, lotus flowers are always depicted in the form of paintings, buildings, architectural components, artworks, and sculptures (especially, the construction of the Buddha images is often enshrined on a base decorated with lotus motifs).

In dharma practice, the lotus flowers are also used as a metaphor in the Buddhist doctrine of the “Four Types of Lotuses.” This compares humans to each type of lotus flower growing and standing at different levels above the ground and how much a person can understand the Dhamma and general matters. (Source)

This story is regularly taught to Thai students in order to instill them into better people and for self-improvement.

Because of these Thai beliefs, the lotus flowers are a part of many Buddhist traditions, rituals, and ceremonies. For example, the ordination ceremony, the Tak Bat Devo tradition, and Loy Krathong Festival.

Therefore, they are used as an offering or a medium to worship and pay homage to all sacred things during this important time.

Sacred Lotus as Food

Thailand is famous for its unique food culture. It is widely known that most natural ingredients can be used in Thai food, even if at first they seem inedible.

Lotus plants are also one of the wild edible plants in Thailand.

As such, they are used in food recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. All parts of the lotus can be used for cooking, for example: (Source)

  1. Lotus seeds can be eaten both fresh and dried for savory and sweet dishes.
  2. Lotus root is popularly dried for making desserts and snacks.
  3. Lotus sprouts can be used for cooking both fresh and dry.
  4. Lotus stems can be used as a substitute for many types of vegetables.
  5. Lotus leaves cannot be eaten but they are commonly used for wrapping food.
  6. Lotus pollens can be used to make tea.
  7. Lotus petals can be used as a substitute for many types of vegetables – the most famous one for tourists is “Miang Kham Bua Luang (เมี่ยงคำบัวหลวง).”
Lotus petals wrap – Miang Kham Bua Luang (Source)
Stir-fried minced pork with lotus stems (Source: easycookingmenu.com)
Lotus pollen tea (Source)
Lotus roots in syrup (Source)
Lotus seeds as snacks (Source)

Sacred Lotus as Traditional Medicine

Lotus flower is not only part of Thailand’s food culture, but it is also ingested for its medicinal benefits.

As a powerful herb, every part of the flower (from pollen, petals, seeds, sprouts, leaves, roots, to rhizomes) can be used as an ingredient in traditional Thai medicine, such as, for heart tonics, relieving fever, relieving fatigue, expectorant, relieving colic, treating diarrhea, and much more.

Interestingly, pharmacological studies show that lotus pollens have antioxidant activity and can reduce AChE enzymes that help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Lotus petals are also believed to lower blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. It has been suggested that the rhizome can relieve fever and treat heat inflammation. Also, with a mild and cool scent, it is also claimed that the flower can calm the mind and promote a better night’s sleep. (Source)

*Disclaimer: Please note this is not medical advice, and it is not suggested that lotus flowers should be used as a substitute for conventional medical treatment. Always consult a professional physician.

Sacred Lotus in the Thai Economy

The sacred lotus flower, including other varieties, is not only an important part of Thai culture but also plays a role in the Thai economy.

They represent one of the most famous ornamental and commercial cut Thai flowers, which are in demand all year round.

Therefore, they are cultivated for flower production. The main cultivating areas for lotus flowers are in Nonthaburi, Nakhon Pathom, Suphan Buri, Ubon Ratchathani, Khon Kaen, Phichit, Phayao, Nakhon Sawan, Phitsanulok and Phatthalung Province. These areas produce a large number of cut lotus flowers and export them worldwide (such as in Austria, the United States, Singapore, and Japan).

Therefore, its appeal and popularity stretch significantly further than the Land of Smiles and offers itself as an important economic export, now and for the future.

Where and When to See Lotus Flowers in Thailand?

Lotus flowers can flourish everywhere in Thailand, as they are very adaptable to local environments. In a household area with a suitable temperature, they always bloom all day from early morning until midday.

Naturally, the most blooming season for lotus flowers is during the winter from late November to early March.

If you want to admire the beautiful Thai flowers in their nature, here are 4 famous destinations that you should not miss:

Red Lotus Lake:

Red Lotus Lake (Thai name: ทะเลบัวแดง) is located in Udon Thani Province, Northeast of Thailand. This is a large freshwater swamp (over 46.5 square kilometers) which is a natural water source that is plenty with many species of fish, birds, and aquatic plants.

In this place, there are pink lotus flowers blooming every year from late November to early March.

Tourists can take a boat to see the beauty of lotus flowers during this time (The price for the big boat is 300 THB per 10 persons in 45-60 minutes, while for the long-tail boat is 100 THB per person). (Source, Source)

Wang Bua Daeng:

Wang Bua Daeng (Thai name: วังบัวแดง, หนองบ่อ, หนองบัวแดง) is located in Nong Khai Province, Northeast of Thailand. This place is a large natural swamp filled with red, white, and pink lotus flowers blooming over 3 square kilometers from December to early March.

Tourists can visit and take a boat during 06.00 – 12.00 (The service charge is 50 THB for adults and 25 THB for children). (Source)

Bueng Boraphet:

Bueng Boraphet (Thai name: ทุ่งบัวแดงบึงบอระเพ็ด) is located in Nakhon Sawan Province, Upper Central Thailand. This place is the largest freshwater lake in Thailand (212 square kilometers) with approximately 148 species of animals (including rare species) and 44 aquatic plants.

Recently, after the water in the marsh receded, a large number of lotuses emerged from the water in two areas, covering an area of 2 square kilometers. Tourists can take a boat to see lotus flowers. The price for the big boat is 600 THB per 10 persons in 1 hour). (Source)

Red Lotus Flower Market:

Red Lotus Floating Market (Thai name: ตลาดน้ำทุ่งบัวแดง) is located in Nakorn Pathom, Central Thailand. This floating market is divided into 3 zones: the local market zone, the cafe zone, and the lotus lake zone.

The lotus zone has a large area of ​​0.04 square kilometers. There is a boat service for tourists who want to see lotus flowers closer and its charge is 100 THB per 4 persons in 20 minutes. (Source)

Red Lotus Lake taken by Suraphon Supawatanakul (Source)

Where to Buy Lotus Flowers in Thailand?

If you want to buy fresh lotus flowers, you can go to any fresh markets in Thailand and ask some local people for Thai flower shops or flower stalls.

If you stay in Bangkok, the recommended place where you can buy lotus flowers is the Flower Market or Pak Khlong Talat (Thai name: ปากคลองตลาด). This is the largest and cheapest Thailand flower market where you can buy all kinds of flowers.

Lotus Flowers Are Special

Traditionally, the lotus flowers are very important to Thailand. They are not only beautiful to look at, but they have also played a role in various cultural activities of Thai society – whether it be beliefs, artworks, literature, medicine, food, and wisdom.

As a country rich in culture and uniqueness, Thailand is known for having many official and unofficial national symbols, such as its tuk-tuks, temples, elephants as its national animal, and even the ratchaphruek as its national flower.

Lotus flowers may tend to go unnoticed by the average tourist in Thailand, but when you visit Thailand, you’ll see lotus flowers everywhere. And if you pay attention to them, you will see the deep relationships the Thai people have with them.

Like always, if you want to learn more about Thailand, stay with ThaiGuider. You might learn something you never knew about this unique country.

Not finished reading about Thailand flowers? Check out our article: ‘Ratchaphruek: Thailand’s Famous National Flower & Tree.’

Jordan Sully

I'm a Thailand fanatic who has been traveling to the Kingdom since 2017. The country has given me so much, this is my small way of giving back. I hope the articles on this site help you to learn more about Thailand and inspire your next adventure to The Land of Smiles. Thanks for checking out ThaiGuider!

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