Nature, light, water, spirit
Hindus associate the lotus blossom with creation mythology, and with the gods Vishnu, Brahma, and Lakshmi. From ancient times the lotus has been a divine symbol in Hindu tradition. It is often used as an example of divine beauty, for example Sri Krishna is often described as the 'Lotus-Eyed One'. Its unfolding petals suggest the expansion of the soul. The growth of its pure beauty from the mud of its origin holds a benign spiritual promise. Recall that both Brahma and Lakshmi, the Divinities of potence and Wealth, have the lotus symbol associated with them as their seats. (...)
The lotus flower is quoted exstensively within Puranic and Vedic literature, for example.One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus leaf is untouched by water. Bhagavad Gita 5.10
Borrowing from Hinduism, in Buddhist symbolism, the lotus represents purity of body, speech, and mind, floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire. The Buddha is often depicted sitting on a giant lotus leaf or blossom.
The concept of spriritual beauty rising from dirt fits well with Andersen's – and romanticism's – ideals and philosophy. Cf. the destiny of the ugly duckling or the little mermaid, not to mention Andersen's autobiographies.
Beneath the tree of knowledge in the garden of paradise stood a rosebush. And here, in the first rose, a bird was born. His plumage was beautiful, his song glorious, and his flight was like the flashing of light. But when Eve plucked the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and she and Adam were driven from paradise, a spark fell from the flaming sword of the angel into the nest of the bird and set it afire. The bird perished in the flames, but from the red egg in the nest there flew a new bird, the only one of its kind, the one solitary phoenix bird. The legend tells us how he lives in Arabia and how every century he burns himself to death in his nest, but each time a new phoenix, the only one in the world, flies out from the red egg.
The bird darts about as swift as light, beautiful in color, glorious in song. When a mother sits beside her infant's cradle, he settles on the pillow and forms a glory with his wings about the head of the child. He flies through the room of contentment and brings sunshine into it, and he makes the violets on the humble cupboard smell sweet.
But the phoenix is not a bird of Arabia alone. In the glimmer of the northern lights he flies over the plains of Lapland and hops amid the yellow flowers in the short Greenland summer. Deep beneath the copper mountains of Falun, and in England's coal mines, he flies in the form of a powdered moth over the hymnbook resting in the hands of the pious miner. He floats down the sacred waters of the Ganges on a lotus leaf, and the eye of the Hindu maid brightens when she beholds him.
Phoenix bird! Don't you know him? The bird of paradise, the holy swan of song? He sat on the car of Thespis, like a chattering raven, flapping his black gutter-stained wings; the swan's red, sounding beak swept over the singing harp of Iceland; he sat on Shakespeare's shoulder, disguised as Odin's raven, and whispered, "Immortality!" into his ear; and at the minstrels' feast he fluttered through the halls of the Wartburg.
Phoenix bird! Don't you know him? He sang the Marseillaise to you, and you kissed the feather that fell from his wing; he came in the glory of paradise, and perhaps you turned away from him toward the sparrow that sat with gold tinsel on its wings.
The bird of paradise-renewed each century-born in flame, dying in flame! Your portrait in a frame of gold hangs in the halls of the rich, but you yourself often fly around lonely and misunderstood-a myth only: "The phoenix bird of Arabia."
When you were born in the garden of paradise, in its first rose, beneath the tree of knowledge, our Lord kissed you and gave you your true name-poetry!