NB: Only those lotuses that seem to have a distinct identity, almost entirely based on colour, have been described. For this reason padma, which although the most popular term for lotus is almost always used generically, and names such as sarasija (lake-born) ambhoja (water-born) paṅkaja (mud-born), śata/sahasra-patra (100 or 1000-petalled) and so on, are not included below.
The puṇḍarīka is the white variety of the padma. The word puṇḍarīka can also refer to the white umbrella used for kings and gods, as well as the colour white itself. The Amarakośa lists sitāmbhoja (sita is ‘white’) as a synonym. Aravinda is often used to denote the white lotus as well as a lotus in general, but the Amarakośa doesn’t classify it as white in particular. Men and male gods are often ‘aravinda-eyed’ (aravindākṣa) in poetry and the term is also a boy’s name.
सन्दृष्टाः कुवलयिनो मया विभागाः॥
sandṛṣṭāḥ kuvalayino mayā vibhāgāḥ ||
There were patches of white lotuses, their broad stems swaying
When stirred by the wings of geese honking lustily,
But they seemed dark blue as I looked in the interval
Between one tear falling and the next welling up.
1.31 Uttararāmacarita, Bhavabhūti – translated by Sheldon Pollock
Hallaka and Tāmarasa
The hallaka is the most positively red of the various lotus synonyms. The Amarakośa, Monier Williams and VS Apte all agree that it is red and the term doesn’t seem to be used for any other type of lotus (although it can refer to the Indian crocus according to Pandanus). However it makes but rare appearances in literature. The tāmarasa is more popular but less clear cut: Apte specifies it as the red lotus but others, including the Amarakośa, group it with other generic lotus terms. The word tāmra means copper and tāmarasa can also mean copper or gold which might suggest an orange-red colour.
अन्यत्र यापितनिशं परिलोहिताङ्गमन्याङ्गनागतमिवागतमुष्णरश्मिम्।
प्रातर्निरीक्ष्य कुपितेव हि पद्मिनीयमुत्फल्लहल्लकसुलोहितलोचनाभूत्॥
anyatra yāpita-niśaṃ parilohit’-āṅgam any’-āṇganā-gatam iv’ āgatam uṣṇa-raśmim |
prātar nirīkṣya kupit’ eva hi padmin’ īyam utphullahallakasulohitalocan’ ābhūt ||
Furious as it were at the sight of the sun arriving in the morning, having spent the night elsewhere, glowing pink as if he’d been with another woman, the padminī became red-eyed like a hallaka in full bloom.
From the tāmarasa we come to the kamala, second only to padma in popularity in Sanskrit and the favourite name for Hindi-speakers. Like padma, kamala does not exclusively or even mainly refer to any particular colour lotus but the word can also mean ‘desirous’ (desire is generally characterised as red) and ‘pale-red’ and can be used as a point of comparison for women’s glowing (pink) faces as in the verse below, which also plays on the lotus-like-a-face-like-a-lotus theme. The feminine kamalā is used of Lakṣmī and the kamala is famed for being the home of Lakṣmī, who is often found standing or sitting on a pink lotus. We can thus imagine the kamala as the pale pink lotus.
मुखसरोजरुचं मदपाटलामनुचकार चकोरदृशां यतः।
धृतनवातपमुत्सुकतामतो न कमलं कमलम्भयदम्भसि॥
Mukha-saroja-rucaṃ mada-pāṭalām anucakāra cakora-dṛśāṃ yataḥ |
dhṛta-nava-ātapam utsukatām ato na kamalaṃ kam alambhayad ambhasi ||
Having recreated the glow that appears on the lotus-like faces of women whose eyes resemble a cakora’s, red-pink with passion, whom does the water-floating lotus, a shade in the morning sun, not drive wild?
6.48, Śiṣupālavadha – Māgha