Cradled in its leaves, the fragile lotus flower floats on water, its spiky stem sinking deep beneath the water’s surface. These splendid, delicate flowers spring from modest, muddy marshes. A symbol of birth and spiritual enlightenment, and a signal that light can emerge from darkness.

Known as the ‘bean of India’, the lotus is also the national flower of Vietnam and Egypt. It is depicted on the walls of Egyptian tombs and temples to symbolise the sun – a tribute to the way it magically opens its petals at sunrise and folds into a bud at sunset. The lotus is sacred for Hindus and Buddhists. Buddha is often pictured holding the lotus flower or sitting on a lotus leaf. Hence the classic, cross-legged yoga pose named the ‘lotus position’.

The lotus is the flower of youthfulness and longevity. Indian Ayurvedic medicine uses its cooling, soothing petals to rejuvenate tired, aging skin. The Chinese brew lotus tea for its calming properties and as a tonic for overall good health. Some modern scientists suspect the lotus may even have the power to stop hair from greying.

The lotus flower has a warm, tropical scent that is said to carry the mind to lands where the sun shines. Its hypnotic fragrance is believed by some to have psychoactive properties. They say the Egyptians soaked the lotus in wine and used it as a narcotic for conjuring divine hallucinations.

This intoxicating, Eastern delight comes in a variety of vivid colours, each with its own spiritual meaning. The blue lotus flower is said to symbolise wisdom. The red represents love. The white lotus flower is the most fragrant and signifies purity. The divine scent of the sacred lotus lends a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘heaven sent’.