It has been cultivated since early times, for religious and ornamental purposes. In India it is commonly grown in ponds and tanks for its elegant, sweet-smelling flowers.
Lotus flowers have been used throughout history in South Asia and have been featured in Buddhist and Hindu art, architecture and literature. It was even a symbolically important plant before the religions at the time of the the Indus Valley civilisation.
The flowers became symbolic of immortality and resurrection because people observed that they would grow from the bottom of dried up pools after the monsoon rains.
Despite its early use, it was Buddhism which first brought the lotus symbol to widespread use. Lotus medallions are prominent on the Buddhist places of worship at Sanchi in Madhaya Pradesh and Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh dating from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD.
As Buddhism spread from India to Central Asia and China in the first few centuries AD, lotus flowers were used to represent Buddha. They featured on rosettes, scrolls, motifs and iconography.
The giant leaves of lotus plants were used as plates in ancient India, and its seeds and roots are still considered a delicacy. 11th and 12th century texts noted lotus dishes and feasts in which lotus leaves were consumed.