Thamarai (தாமரை) / tha-ma-rai / 
noun: Tamil, Asian lotus flower
by Sujatha Balasundaram      

Thamarai, close up

In South India, the Thamarai (Asian Lotus flower) depicts hope and strength to people struggling in their daily lives. A Tamil saying “Setril malarndha Thamarai” is commonly translated as “a lotus that blooms in the muck,” referring to beauty that is revealed amid adverse circumstances. The brightly colored lotus that emerges from the muddy floors through brackish waters symbolizes endurance and offers hope. Thamarai points to hope that inspires endurance. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thes. 1:3, emphasis mine). 

Thamarai is influenced by Madhubani art, a North Indian tribal art form. 


The South Indian saying “setril malarndha Thamarai” uses the beautiful flower as a placeholder of endurance. This flower has endured the muck (the mixing of fresh and salt waters), and the nibbling fish to rise to the surface and bloom, likewise we too can bloom amidst our trials and circumstances. This flower offers hope for those going through difficult situations. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul grounds this hope that perseveres and endures in Christ. He commends the church of Thessalonica for blooming as God’s image bearers and recognizes what fueled their endurance – their hope in Christ Jesus. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 1:3, emphasis mine). 

An overview of Madhubani art : Madhubani art is a folk art practiced in Madhubani district in Bihar, North India.

State of Bihar (highlighted in red), India

Originally this art was done by the women folk on the walls of their mud homes. They used natural vegetable dyes from beets (red), cow dung (greenish brown), coffee ( brown) etc. to create stories of their life and faith. Children join their mothers, grandmothers, aunts and maybe even neighbors in coloring the outlines drawn by the women folk of the home. There is a lot of singing and dancing. Traditionally, Madhubani art had 2 distinct forms based on the caste system in India. The upper castes painted two-dimensional images of gods and goddesses in vibrant colors, and the lower caste were allowed to use monotones to illustrate day-day activities. However, with the commercialization of this art form was the emergence of different styles of painting on various products taking the art form out of the mud walls and into homes all across the world. Some of the distinct features of this (commercialized) art form is the double outlines, flat shapes, themes from nature and vibrant colors.

Currently, this painting is hanging at the Student Art Gallery at Duke Divinity School as part of the collection on Hope. If you are interested in purchasing this painting please email

Published by Sujatha

Wife to a highly creative man, Uday Balasundaram who is passionately in love with Jesus and a mother to 2 precious little ones, Nadira and Aradhya.

One thought on “THAMARAI | HOPE

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