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Visit to Maharashtra, Blue Lotus 3

Blue Lotus 3

Anne Frank: (1929-1945)
"The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy amidst the simple beauty of nature."

Dear Friends-
Today will conclude the series on Blue Lotus Explorations.

Jaharlal Nehru (1889-1964):
Flowers and trees and birds and stars and glaciers, and all the other wonderful things that surround us in the world. We have all of this beauty around us and yet grown ups often lose themselves in offices and imagine they are doing very important things. Can you recognize the flowers by their names and the birds by their singing? ... Young people, I hope you will take a long time growing up!

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
The question is not what you look at, but what you see.

"Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will
endure as long as life lasts."
Rachel Carson

The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your
nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties
at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then
do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common
work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily
bread are the sweetest things in life.
--Robert Louis Stevenson

"Every tree near our house had a name of its own and a special identity. This was the
beginning of my love for natural things, for earth and sky, for roads and fields and
woods, for trees and grass and flowers; a love which has been second only to my sense of enduring kinship with birds and animals, and all inarticulate creatures."
-- Ellen Glasgow

"Deep in their roots all flowers keep the light."
-- Theodore Roethke

Lotus Poetry
Many fair and beautiful poems on Lotus and Water Lilies have been written by illuminated hearts. Here are a few choice selections.

Elizabeth Akers Allen: WATER-LILIES. [from Poems (1868)]
            Down on the lake where the waters sleep
            In a trance of leafy gloom,
            Rocked ceaselessly by the lulling swell,
            In an endless waste of bloom,
            The fair white lilies, the bride-like lilies,
            Unbosom their rich perfume.

            O lovingly, after the stars go out,
            And the silent night is done,
            When their morning choruses clear and sweet.
           The wood-birds have begun,
          The fond white lilies, the bride-like lilies,
          Look up to their lord, the sun.

          And a spell like that which the lotus owns,
          Steals over the charméd air,
          As, slow unclosing their shining leaves
          So wondrously pale and fair,
         The rich white lilies, the bride-like lilies,
         Their golden hearts lay bare.

White angels of the crystal lake,
          Haloed with purity,
          There is never a touch of earthly dust
         On their radiant drapery,---
         The sweet white lilies, the bride-like lilies,
          The fairest flowers that be!

Sir Edwin Arnold Light of Asia
  This is that Blossom on our human tree
        Which opens once in many myriad years---
       But opened, fills the world with Wisdom's scent
        And Love's dropped honey; from thy royal root
        A Heavenly Lotus springs: Ah, happy House!

         White angels of the crystal lake,
          Haloed with purity,
          There is never a touch of earthly dust
         On their radiant drapery,---
         The sweet white lilies, the bride-like lilies,
          The fairest flowers that be!

Bliss Carman PRELUDE. From Pipes of Pan
          These are the lilting songs
         The dark sea children knew,
         When the sands emerged, and the sea
          Was a lotus of Indian blue;
          When, blossom by wind-blown blossom,
          Their virginal zones undone,
          Turning her face to the sun.

Sumner Lincoln Fairchild, 1803-1844: THE CITIES OF THE PLAIN.
         The purple lotus floating on the stream,
          That seems to catch its radiance as it flows,
          E'en as the prophet breathes the breath of heaven;
          And each delicious thing that buds and blooms
         In the fair Orient---the realm of light.

Blue Lotus Explorations Part 3

After returning from the deep and special trip to Assam, Ramakant had kindly arranged for my being able to observe each and every phase of the work he had been doing with the blue lotus blossom for the past several years. After a day’s rest in Bombay, we traveled to his extracting and distillation units north of the city. It had been some time since I had made the journey and it was amazing to see the difference a couple of years had made in travel conditions in India.

Several years back it was quite an arduous experience to get to the place where Ramakant and his family have their fine distillation facility. Previously, if one traveled by road, one had to contend with a lot of traffic, possible back-ups because of accidents, and many other obstacles. Now there is a 4 lane highway and we were able to make the trip in about 2 hours instead of 4. It was comfortable and easy, and because of this it was possible to enjoy some of the beautiful countryside we passed through.

When we reached the facility after an easy passage, we had a delicious lunch and a short rest. Then Ramakant showed us the files that he was keeping on blue lotus alone. It was an amazing body of work composed of many careful GC's done on the absolute, not only from the two previous seasons but on the current year’s work as well.

It was not just a matter of doing one GC; many GC's were performed as the material was extracted from week to week, and month to month. The year's extractions to date had spanned the months of August, September and October. During this time the technicians had noticed many interesting fluctuations in the aromatic constituents of the absolute.

Many factors contributed to the variables in the GC analyses. First of all, the blue lotus is found growing in many different ponds throughout the region. Each environmental factor of those specific localities contribute to the profile of the oil: soil, water, temperature, etc., all have their influence. The time of day the blossoms are harvested, the age of the blossom (which has a five day life span), and the change of weather during the harvest season also had their influence (the beginning of the season was in the midst of the monsoon, and now the season was arid). Ramakant also carried out a series of experiments in his own blue lotus pond at the factory where he did the head space analysis at different times of day, and this clearly showed that the time of day also influences the type of odor the flower emits (and it is important to note that the blue lotus has a distinct and beautiful aroma at all times of the day).

All of these elements are important to note for anyone interested in the world of natural essences. Many times, without realizing it, we begin to expect nature to repeat herself in the essences we procure, but in the natural world repetition does not exist. The plants have their own moods, feelings, etc., which express themselves according to their nature and kind. Plants are intimately connected to the environments in which they grow and they respond to every small change that manifests therein. It takes a very deep person to put aside his or her human customs of thinking and feeling, to be able to listen to what the plants wish to share about their lives.

As Ramakant probed more deeply into his research, he began to understand the moods and feelings of the blue lotus in a much more profound and intuitive way. This is one of the things that happens when one is able to cast off that part of the mind which thinks only in terms of dollars and cents, and instead contemplates the wonders of the natural universe. As humans, we often tend to think of things in a very narrow way as if the only thing in the world that matters is us, but there are many other ways to view the world, and to enable such a shift in perception one has to set aside one’s pre-conditioned mental chatter and try instead to understand the messages of the world outside of us.

When in his simple way Ramakant explained these things to me (for he is equally capable of discussing these matters in highly technical terms, if required), it was not so much what he was saying but the way he expressed himself. There is a certain air of gentleness that comes from a person when his or her heart is open to the vibrant world around them. From such a person, words issue that resonate within the listener’s being, allowing vast amounts of information to be communicated with just a few words. Ramakant’s attunement to this type of experience is not due to personal effort, but rather is a consequence of some great kindness of the universe that allows him to be receptive to a territory which most of us usually do not see and seldom understand clearly when we do, because our pride prevents us from doing so.

It is very hard for many people to accept that plants could be good and noble teachers, and that they speak a language that is rich with experience that can help us improve our lives on many levels.

I can only report that as we interacted with the blue lotus, the surroundings it grew in, the people who harvested it, etc., it became clear that we had entered a sublime world that required us to become simple and innocent in our bearings so that we could understand and absorb more of the knowledge contained therein. It was equally clear that this was not something one learned all at once; rather, one had to sit in the classroom of nature throughout his or her life, focusing from within to heighten their receptivity to the glorious book of the natural world.

In the afternoon, we went into the nearby village where we met with the person in charge of the blue lotus collection who, for reference purposes only, I’ll call Sanjay. He and his family were dedicated to bringing flowers to the vast wholesale flower market. Many years ago his mother sold flowers there, and it was because of her influence that other family members had taken up this work. People such as these are very simple and unassuming, but they possess a depth of knowledge of their specialty that is equal to the expertise of any person, anywhere, performing any job successfully.

Sanjay was a hard working, resourceful and honest individual who knew the surrounding rural area very well. He could take people like us to locations we would not have discovered on our own, which had many types of flowers. In his work, he acts like a local contractor with a number of people working for him collecting flowers from different locations and farms within the area. There are thousands of farms within this rich coastal region, each often having fruit, vegetable and flower crops growing on small pieces of land, which are meticulously managed in a labor intensive fashion. In the West, we seldom see this type of operation, but in India it is the rule of thumb. With over 700,000,000 still living on and off of the land, ingenious ways have arisen of making even a small portion of land productive.

With regard to the blue lotus, Sanjay was responsible for coordinating the harvesting of flowering ponds with the cooperation of the people who owned them. He had a few people working for him who did the collecting. Many ponds containing this special lotus are found in this particular local coastal belt, but unless one knows the many country roads, villages, etc., it’s nearly impossible to locate them. People such as Sanjay have spent their entire life learning the intricacies of their locales, and because of their devotion to plant sourcing they’re able to find such out of the way places.

The season for blue lotus lasts for approximately three months, and Sanjay kindly took us to a place that although surrounded by apartment complexes, was still kept as a vast open pond. There were many thousands of blossoms growing here. Several of Sanjay’s colleagues were with us and as they plunged into the shallow ponds they allowed us to take many photographs of the harvesting process. Generally, these harvesters perform their tasks in the early part of the day, but they agreed to work while we were there so we could see them collecting these perfect blossoms in their normal work scenario.

It was the most incredible scene. The harvesters were able to pluck up the blue lotus blossoms just as we might pick flowers from our western gardens. The blooms were everywhere. Wicker baskets were quickly filled with this treasure of treasures. Holding one of these jewels in my hands, and admiring its elegant sky blue petals that fade to a light cream color as they approach the luminous golden center, I felt as if I was being escorted into a timeless world. And the aroma that steals forth from the blossom is transcendent in nature. There is nothing of this world in its ethereal, softly sweet, uplifting bouquet.

In India the blue lotus and its aroma are connected with Lord Krishna who recited one of the most revered scriptures of the Hindu faith, the Bhagavad-Gita. The flower and its aroma are connected with Krishna because one of his qualities is that of divine love. It is equally connected with him because he embodies the idea of executing one’s worldly tasks with zeal and enthusiasm. The perfume of the blue lotus is said to promote very high levels of energy in those who inhale its intoxicating aroma.

After this wonderful introduction to the earthy activity of blue lotus collection, Sanjay took us through the surrounding area to see many other large and small ponds that were part of the seasonal collecting routine. Through his dedication enough ponds had been located to enable the harvesters to easily collect over 1 million blue lotus blossoms per season, which in turn could potentially yield enough concrete to produce 10 kilos of absolute.

We also visited one small seaside farm where Juhi, a local type of Jasmin with a very potent odor, was growing. This jasmin is most loved by the people of Maharastra as they consider its scent superior to Jasmin grandiflorum and Jasmin sambac. The flower is pure white and tiny. Ramakant has already begun extracting the blossoms on a small scale for the production of absolute.

Our tour of the area eventually took us to an old temple by the sea, frequented by the local people. The soft light of evening always created an enchanting occasion in this ancient land. After visiting the temple we sat by the shore sipping coconut milk as the sun set over the gently breaking waves. Following a two lane country road that wove its way between farms and their simple but elegant homes, our trip back to Ramakant's factory was made in the lovely coolness of a tropical evening.

Back at the factory we enjoyed a splendid vegetarian meal prepared by Shanakar Ji, a world class cook working for Ramakant's family. It is always a great delight to eat food prepared by him. Many delicious vegetables and herbs are gathered fresh from the garden within the factory compound and Shanakar Ji deftly turns these delectable items into a regal meal. As we munched our way through his tasty creations he quickly added freshly cooked chapatti to our plates.

After enjoying this wonderful repast we went up to the roof of the compound where we could enjoy the full moon and the breezes caressing the land. Nearby many of the villagers and factory workers had gathered to sing devotional songs, and their sweet voices surrounded us as we strolled on the open terrace.

India may have changed in many ways, but she still exudes an ancient spiritual heritage which time cannot touch. One encounters this in hundreds of unexpected ways, not the least of which is the chanting of hymns that honor the Hidden Power which gives life and inspiration to the lowest, through the loftiest. Often in my life I have had the opportunity to sit enfolded by the quiet beauty of an Indian night, absorbing the ancient spirit of the land in the deserts of Rajasthan, the semi tropics of Karnatika, and many other spots throughout the country. When enfolded by the arms of night, one can more easily surrender his or her identify and let something larger and more profound enter the heart.

There is a beautiful book that many of you may have read: Mirdad, by Mikhail Naimy. In this book there is a chapter called "On Night the Peerless Singer:"

“In the stillness of this night Mirdad would have you hear the songs of Night. Give ear unto the choir of Night. For verily is Night a Peerless Singer.

Out of the darkest crannies of the past; out of the brightest castles of the future; from the pinnacles of the heavens and the bowels of the earth, Night's voices gush and rush into the farthest corners of the universe. In mighty waves they roll and eddy round your ears. Unburden well your ears that you might hear them well.

What bustling day nonchalantly blots out, unhurried Night restores with passing wizardry. Do not the moon and stars hide in the glare of the day? What day drowns out in hodge-podge make-believe, Night chants abroad in measured ecstasy. Even the dreams of herbs swell in the choir of the night."

And what can I say of the company on that evening? Ramakant, who has been my steadfast guide into India's aromatic universe, and Manoj, who had come from Kannauj to be with us. Manoj is a kind and simple person who has been responsible for a part of the project pertinent to the authentic distillation of Indian attars. Because of his life long involvement with traditional perfumery, he was able to assume the work of distilling these precious aromatic essences for us in the time honored way. For several years Manoj has executed this work in an immaculate fashion. The company of these two good souls, along with the sweetness of the surrounding night, made for a memorable evening. Sharkarji, the cook, had also placed a special vessel on the terrace containing the ingredients for a unique Indian sweet: Khir. It is believed that by exposing the vessel to the night air beneath a full moon, it would become infused with the nectar of the moon, making a tasty treat even tastier. With many pleasant thoughts and impressions we retired for the night.

Early next morning we were up and about in the compound garden viewing the many aromatic species that had been planted by Ramakant’s family for the sake of their getting to know the plants on an intimate basis. It was an auspicious day as we had also brought half a dozen agarwood trees from Assam to be added to the collection. Other specimens surrounding us were Bakul and Champa trees, Gardenia and Jasmin shrubs, different types of Holy Basil herb, and small, beautiful lotus pond. We enjoyed this aromatic prelude to a fine breakfast.

After breakfast our lotus contractor from the previous day, Sanjay, sent an auto-rickshaw loaded with many thousands of blue lotus blossoms for extraction. His workers carried large gunny sacks filled with this treasure to the terrace where the vats of hexane were kept. These vats were then loaded with the flowers, which commenced the first step of the extraction process. Later, this solution would be concentrated in high fractionation columns to prepare the concrete. The concrete would later be transformed into the absolute after it was washed with alcohol, chilled, filtered, etc.

When one witnesses all these things with one’s own eyes, it becomes plain that every pure absolute, essential oil, CO2 extract, attar, etc., that we have the opportunity to enjoy, is a miracle of creation. The lives of the plants, the people, the settings in which they dwell, the knowledge of the complexities of the distillation/extraction processes, are all part of that miracle, but, ultimately, one can only point to the mystery inherent in the miraculous. How a plant develops in nature and creates within herself precious aromatic essences from earth and air, is an enigma that we can only bow our heads in admiration of.

How people came to understand that a plant’s vital essence could be extracted or distilled is a subject which has a thousands-of-years-old history. How people have tended and harvested these plants over time, in various places, is again a huge chapter in a fathomless creative process. As one allows the richness of this timeless story to wash over ones sentience, the inner eye of wonder and joy opens, and here one senses that it is impossible to be thankful enough for whatever natural phenomena bring an aromatic gem into being. The whole of life becomes a song of thanks for the privilege of being involved in a world that since the beginning of time has brought gladness to those who have explored it with a simple heart.

As we returned to Bombay via the beautiful countryside through which we had passed along the way, the gentle impression of the blue lotus was engraved on our hearts and minds. This perfect botanical jewel has hidden within her heart a scent that gently penetrates one’s psyche and opens the charmed casements of a pure and elevated world that is fundamental to one’s being.

Every aromatic plant offers us glimpses into these quiet and sacred portals of our existence that once experienced, encourage us to find ways of making them a part of our daily life. If through our aromatic explorations we learn appreciation, respect and reverence for life, then I think we are indeed very fortunate people.

The legend of the blue lotus
multifacted site on symbolism of blue lotus
ancient wisdom
feature story
superb botanical information
lotus history and legend
wonderful site illuminating the many words associated with lotus in Indian languages