Water Lilies

Water lilies

Kairava

A kairava is a rogue, a gambler and a cheat.  It is also the white water lily.  Is there a connection?  It is tempting to imagine one.  So close is the kairava to the moon, under whose rays it blossoms as do all water lilies, that moonlight is called kairavī.  The kahlāra too is a white water lily, although the Amarakośa lists the two separately – the kairava is coupled with the kumuda (below), and the kahlāra with the saugandhika (‘sweet-smelling’).

प्रसारितकरे मित्रे जगदुद्द्योतकारिणि।

किं न कैरव लज्जा ते कुर्वतः कोशसंवृतिम्॥

prasārita-kare mitre jagad-uddyota-kāriṇi |

kiṃ na kairava lajjā te kurvataḥ kośa-saṃvṛtim ||

As the sun stretches forth his rays to light up the world, kairava, are you not ashamed to close your flower?

206 in the vṛkṣ’-any’-okti section of the Subhāṣitaratnabhaṇḍāgaram

Kumuda

The kumuda is classed by the Amarakośa with the kairava but unlike the kairava it is not always white and, along with the utpala, it is used very often to refer to any kind of water lily.  Like the kairava it lends its name to the moonlight, kaumudī, and is perhaps the water lily most attached to the moon.  The moon is the kumuda’s lord and husband (kumuda-nātha/pati), her kith and kin (kumuda-bandhu/bāndhava) and her friend (kumuda-suhṛd).  The king in the Vikramorvāśīya will only revive at the touch of Urvāśī’s hand just as the kumuda blooms only under the moon’s rays.

Kumudas are often cast as the stars in a glassy lake that resembles the translucent sky – both now free of the mud and clouds of the monsoon.  In the Bhaṭṭikāvya the white swans hidden among the kumudas and covered in foam are known only by their song.  Several poets see Ṥarad’s smile in the blooming flowers and in the Kapphiṇābhyudaya it has the colour of Balarāma’s body (both smiles and Balarāma are famously white).

It can though also be red – although not blue – sometimes as the rakta-kumuda (‘red kumuda’) but also as the plain kumuda.  Monier Williams notes that kumuda can be the ‘red lotus’ and identifies it as such as the Nymphaea rubra.

The word itself, Monier Williams tells us, means “exciting what joy” (ku-muda).

निशातुषारैर्नयनाम्बुकल्पैः पत्रान्तपर्यगलदच्छबिन्दुः।

उपारुरोदेव नदत्पतङ्गः कुमुद्वतीं तीरतरुर्दिनादौ॥

Niśā-tuṣārair nayan’-āmbu-kalpaiḥ patr’-ānta-paryāgalad-accha-binduḥ |

Upārurod’ eva nadat-pataṅgaḥ kumudvatīṃ tīra-tarur din’-ādau ||

As day broke, the river-bank tree, shedding drops of clear water from the tips of its leaves and ringing with birdsong, seemed to weep for the kumuda with tears formed of the night’s dew.

2.4 Bhaṭṭikāvya – Bhaṭṭi

Kokanada

The kokanada is the true red water lily, alongside the rakta-saroruha and the rakta-utpala. In the Uttarāmacarita, Lava and Kuśa’s eyes look like kokanadas when they grow angry.  It gives its name to a verb, kokanadaya – ‘to take for a kokanada’, and is used as an abstract noun in the verse below by Māgha.

भिन्नेषु रत्नकिरणैः किरणेष्विहेन्दो-

रुच्चावचैरुपगतेषु सहस्रसंख्याम्।

दोषापि नूनमहिमांशुरसौ किलेति

व्याकोशकोकनदतां दधते नलिन्यः॥

Bhinneṣu ratna-kiraṇaiḥ kiraṇeṣv ih’ endo-

R ucc’-āvacair upagateṣu sahasra-saṃkhyām |

Doṣ’’ āpi nūnam ahim’-āṃśur asau kil’ eti

Vyākośa-kokanadatāṃ dadhate nalinyaḥ ||

As the moonbeams, merged with the many different rays of jewels, multiply a thousandfold, the nalinīs, thinking ,‘this must be the sun’, even though it is night, bloom with the glory of red kokanadas.

4.46 Ṥiśupālavadha, Māgha

Utpala

The utpala, along with the kumuda, is the best known of the water lily synonyms and equally ubiquitous.  The utpala can be red or blue as two of its variants, nīlotpala (the blue utpala) and raktotpala (the red utpala), suggest.  By itself, although it can denote both, it tends to mean the blue water lily and as such is often used as a point of comparison for eyes.

Apte says that the word itself means ‘fleshless, emaciated, lean’, deriving it from utkrāntaḥ palaṃ māmsam.  Monier Williams offers a different derivation connecting pal to paṭ so that it means ‘to burst forth’.  It is also the name of one of the many hells of mythology, among other things.  The utpala can represent an excessive frailty, rather like the śirīṣa.  King Duśyanta in the Abhijñānaśākuntala thinks that to make Ṥākuntalā undergo tapas is equivalent to trying to cut firewood with the nīlotpala.

तरङ्गसङ्गाच्चपलैः पलाशैर्ज्वालाश्रियं सातिशयां दधन्ति।

सधूमदीप्ताग्निरुचीनि रेजुस्ताम्रोत्पलान्याकुलषट्पदानि॥

Taraṅga-saṅgāc capalaiḥ palāśair jvālā-śriyaṃ s’-ātiśayāṃ dadhanti |

Sadhūma-dīpt’-āgni-rucīni rejus tāmr’-otpalāny ākula-ṣaṭpadāni ||

Creating flickering flames as their petals and leaves are whipped about by the waves, the red utpalas, covered in bees, shone like blazing fire beset by smoke.

2.2 Bhaṭṭikāvya – Bhaṭṭi

Kuvalaya

The kuvalaya is a shade bluer than the utpala but can occasionally be found referring to water lilies in general.  In the lotus section above (link), when Rāma recalls the Pampa lake in the Uttararāmacarita he says the puṇḍarīka lotuses turned blue (kuvalayino) with his tears.  The kuvalaya, like the utpala, often represents women’s glances; in both the Mālatīmādhava and the Raghuvaṃśa windows peopled with curious women eager for a glimpse of Mādhava and Sītā respectively seem to be filled with kuvalayas.

आरक्तानां नवमधु शनैरापिबन् पद्मिनीनां

कालोन्निद्रे कुवलयवने घूर्णमानस्सलीलम्।

स्विन्नो दानैर् विपिनकरिणां सौम्य सेविष्यते त्वा-

मामोदानामहमहमिकामादिशन् गन्धवाहः॥

Āraktānāṃ nava-madhu śanair āpiban padminīnāṃ

Kāl’-onnidre kuvalaya-vane ghūrṇamānas salīlam |

Svinoo dānair vipina-kariṇāṃ saumya seviṣyate tvā-

Māmodānām aham-ahamikām ādiśan gandhavāhaḥ ||

The fragrance-bearing wind will attend to you, Sir, overseeing the rival fragrances shouting “me first, me first”.  Moistened by the forest elephants’ ichor it will playfully spin round in the night-blooming kuvalaya grove, leisurely sipping the fresh nectar of ruddy lotuses.

1.11 Haṃsasandeśa – Vedānta Deśika

Indīvara

The indīvara is the pure-blue-blood of the water lily family.  There is at least one reference to a red variety, rakta-indīvara, but by itself the indīvara is always blue.  In the Bhagavata Purāṇa, the lord is śarad-indīvara-śyāma, ‘dark blue like the indīvara water lily of śarad’, in the Haṃsadūta, Kṛṣṇa is like an indīvara trembling in the Yamuna’s waters and Rāma is very often described as ‘dark blue like an indīvara’.  The indīvāra (or indīvāra, or indivara) is said by Monier Williams to be the Nymphaea stellata or cyanaea.   The Amarakośa lists it as one of two names for the blue water lily, alongside nīlambujanma.

5 Responses to “Water Lilies”


  1. 1 parwatisingari October 3, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    taa kim nisha smrati priyavar brindavane, kumuda kunda shashanka ramya.

  2. 2 Ujjwol October 4, 2010 at 8:33 am

    Great Work! Always good.

  3. 3 Very good !!! November 19, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    Your truly right with this one…


  1. 1 Lotuses and Water Lilies « Sanskrit Literature Trackback on October 3, 2010 at 1:35 pm
  2. 2 Seasonal Poetry « Sanskrit Literature Trackback on October 23, 2010 at 1:54 pm

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