Birds of the air

There are three birds in Indian mythology and Sanskrit literature called hamsa, chataka and chakora.


Goddess Saraswati and the Hamsa

The Hamsa is a familiar leitmotif in Indian art, literature, sculpture and textiles. It is an aquatic bird that resembles a goose or a swan. It is reputed to eat pearls and to be able to separate milk from water and drink only pure milk. This is something we as human beings wish we could do. Imagine having the facility to discard all the bad fats in our food automatically!

The Hamsa represents the perfect  harmony between spirituality and life. When the word ‘hamsa’ isconstantly repeated, it changes to ‘Soaham’ meaning ‘That I am’. Thus the hamsa is often identified with the Supreme Spirit or Brahman. The flight of the Hamsa also symbolises the escape of the soul from the cycle of samsara. The bird also has special connotations in Advaita Vedanta – just as the swan lives on water but its feathers do not get damp, similarly a person who follows Advaita, non-dulity, tries to live in harmony in this material world of Maya (illusion), but is really detached and not impacted by its illusionary nature.

The Hamsa is seen as a symbol of purity, detachment, divine knowledge, cosmic breath (prana) and the highest spiritual accomplishment. It is supposed to transcend the limitations of creation for it can walk on the earth, fly in the sky and swim in the water. The Hamsa was also used extensively in the art of Gandhara, accompanying images of the Shakyamuni Buddha. It is considered sacred in Buddhism.

The hamsa is depicted as the ‘vehicle’ or vahana of Saraswati, the goddess of learning. A white swan is often shown sitting at her feet next to her feet. The sounds of the air that we inhale is called ‘ham’; the air that is breathed out is called ‘sah’. So Goddess Saraswati is supposed symbolically to ride the very essence of being: our breath.

Lake Manasarovar, near Mount Kailash is seen as the summer abode of the Hamsa. Poetical images describe the migratory flight of the swans to that lake in the Himalayas.

Chataka and Chakora

Chataka bird

The Chataka is the Pied Crested Cuckoo bird. The poets describe it as being unable to drink water found on earth. It can only directly drink rain water as it drops from the skies. It is a migratory bird that appears only in the rainy season.  It has a shrill voice similar in pitch to the cuckoo.  The chataka pleads with the clouds to bring in rain so that its thirst can be quenched. A bird smaller than the dove, it is described as having a long tail and is coloured black, yellow and white.  It has a long crest on its head shapedlike a bow with an arrow stretched tight on it that actually prevents it from drinking from the earth as this crest comes in the way. References to this bird are made in Kalidasa and Adi Shankaracharya.

The chakorais a kind of partridge. It is a legendary bird

Chakor bird

described in Hindu mythology that thrives only on the moon-light for its food. Moon-light is supposed to its nectar or Amrita.  Adi Sankaracharya also refers to this bird  and is supposed to have drunk to  its brim the moonlight of  Goddess Shakthi or Amba’s smile, which is so sweet that it benumbs the beak of the bird. To counteract this numbness, the bird goes to get a drink of the  moonlight compared to a ‘sour gruel’ when compared to the godly smile. The association of Chakora and Chandra, the moon god has inspired a number of folk love stories in India.

The chatakas and chakoras depend on natural resources—rain water and moonlight. This is symbolic of the necessity to preserve nature in all its beauty and glory and make it an essential reason for our being. It is a lesson not to destroy, exploit and denude creation’s gifts to mankind. The hamsa’s ability to separate milk and water symbolizes the need to discriminate between good and bad and the eternal and evanescent.

This topic was chosen by another mythical bird in the LBC group–but a real person alright–MAGPIE!

Welcome to the Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where Akanksha, Anu, Ashok, Conrad, DeliriousGaelikaa,  GrannymarMagpie11,  Nema, Noor, Ordinary Joe, Paul, Maria the Silver Fox, Rummuser , Will Knott, and I write on the same topic. Please do visit the linked blogs to get seventeen different flavours of the same topic.






About padmum

You could call me Dame Quixote! I tilt at windmills. I have an opinion on most matters. What I don't have, my husband Raju has in plenty. Writer and story teller, columnist and contributer of articles, blogs, poems, travelogues and essays to Chennai newspapers, national magazines and websites, I review and edit books for publishers and have specialized as a Culinary Editor and contributed content, edited and collaborated on Cookbooks. My other major interest used to be acting on Tamil and English stage, Indian cinema and TV. I am a wordsmith, a voracious reader, crossword buff and write about India's heritage, culture and traditions. I am interested in Vedanta nowadays. I am now an Armchair traveller/opinionator/busybody!
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  1. Delirious says:

    It’s no wonder that birds are so highly esteemed in your culture; they are wonderful animals! I never tire of seeing birds.


    • padmum says:

      Feeding birds is part of our daily ritual advised by our scriptures. In fact I wanted to write about two birds–the krauncha lovers–who inspired a hunter to write our most famous and revered epic, the Ramayana.

      Valmiki was a hunter who reformed after heraing the story of King Rama who accepted exile to fulfill the promise his father had given to his step mother that her son would be king. Valmiki was moved by this story, and continued thinking about it. Walking to the river Tamasa for his daily ablutions, his eyes fell on a pair of mating Krauncha birds, and he paused a moment to enjoy the moment and share their happiness. Suddenly, the calm was shattered by an arrow which found its mark, and the male bird fell down dead! The female bird lamented over the corpse of her lover in a piteous manner, which tugged at the heart of the sage.

      Catching sight of the hunter who had separated the loving birds, he cursed “you have separated these birds who were deeply in love. Never in your life will you be able to rest, but shall wander homeless all your life!”

      No sooner had he cursed the man that he regretted his action, for he had succumbed to emotion and attachment to the birds. When he recollected his words, he realized that the words he had spoken in anger and pity had taken the form of a rhyme – a sloka – that perfectly rhymed with the wailing of the bereaved Krauncha bird!

      Valmiki realized that it was the will of God which had made him utter those words in what was to be the first sloka in Sanskrit literature.


      • Anu Dharmani says:

        Hi, can you tell me which are the Krauncha birds? And can also please tell me which bird is called the ‘neelkanth’. I have been searching about this bird and each I come up with a different bird, some say it is the white-throated kingfisher, others say it is the indian dollar bird, still others say it is the verditer flycatcher. please help. thanks


        • padmum says:

          Hi This is what I got from the internet…I wll find out more and tell you later:

          The Demoiselle Crane is known as the Koonj (कूंज, کونج, ਕੂੰਜ) in the languages of North India and Pakistan, and figure prominently in the literature, poetry and idiom of the region. Beautiful women are often compared to the koonj because its long and thin shape is considered graceful. Metaphorical references are also often made to the koonj for people who have ventured far from home or undertaken hazardous journeys.
          The name koonj is derived from the Sanskrit word kraunch, which is a cognate Indo-European term for crane itself.
          In the mythology of Valmiki, the composer of the Hindu epic Ramayana, it is claimed that his first verse was inspired by the sight of a hunter kill the male of a pair of Demoiselle Cranes that were courting. Observing the lovelorn female circling and crying in grief, he cursed the hunter in verse. Since tradition held that all poetry prior to this moment had been revealed rather than created by man, this verse concerning the Demoiselle Cranes is regarded as the first human-composed meter.


          • Anu Dharmani says:

            Many thanks for the reply. I was searching for your response somewhere else! Could you tell me whether this story on the cranes is related to our mythology or is it taken from the Christian mythology. If there is any thing you want to know, please feel free to ask…….LOL


      • Deepa says:

        Neelkanth is Indian Roller (as per the Vernacular names of Indian Birds published by BNHS


  2. Grannymar says:

    The only one of those birds I ever heard about, was the real Magpie – he is not a bad chap!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. blackwatertown says:

    Interesting and educational.


  4. padmum says:

    Thanks Paul–birds are an important feature of our lives and literature. Many times they are symbolic of family values that promote harmony.


  5. Conrad says:

    Your mythology is so rich. It’s often what I think of when I think of India – your mythology. And it is so often beautiful!


    • padmum says:

      Yes Conrad, our mythology is so rich it becomes a labyrinth, a tapestry…connected by multiple strands to tell stories that are interconnected. Strangely many of the stories are similar to Greek and Roman myth and epics, to stories in the Bible and so on. There are resonations in Maori and African tales as well.


      • Kriti says:

        Okay, ‘Padmum’, you seriously need some knowledge. First, stop referring to real facts as ‘mythology’. Sanatana Vedic Dharma, unlike other fake religions, is an eternal truth that explains the entire universe both spiritually and scientifically. It is not ‘strangely’ that these ‘stories’ are similar to that other bunch of junk. THEY came many millions of years after and COPIED these things from Ancient India, if you don’t already know. Christianity is misled and has so many scenarios in it directly taken from Sanatana Vedic texts and altered. Jesus studied in Ancient India and learnt from ancient yogis and THAT’S how he got powers to walk on water. Muslims also stole from India, evident in their invasion tactics, and so the ‘quran’ sounds so much like Puranas. THIS is the truth. Hindus are the sole ones who do not ‘take’ from anyone. Sanatana Dharma is self-sufficient.


    • Kriti says:

      It is not mythology. Sanatana Vedic Dharma is an eternal truth and law with only facts.


  6. Rummuser says:

    Oddly enough The Red Indian mythology also has a lot of stories as metaphors based on birds though animals play greater roles.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Rohit K says:

    Reminds me something I read about Hamsa. I once read quite an unusual and unique explanation of its association with spiritual realisation and enlightenment while doing some research on brain anatomy. We have what are known as cerebral ventricles in our brain. Its basically an area between the two halves of the brain filled with a fluid (cerebro-spinal fluid). When seen from above (dorsal side) in a cross section, they resemble a swan. This explanation claimed that there may be some link between this and the physiological changes that may be happening in the brain of a self realised yogi. What makes this more intriguing is the fact that this article made reference to a sub-structure of these ventricles being the ‘sahasrara chakra’ (choroid plexus) and the cerebro-spinal fluid converting to what may be the ‘ojasa’ in an ‘urdhva-retas paramahamsa yogi’. I am usually sceptical when people try to mix science with spirituality in this manner, but something makes me feel that there may just be some degree of truth to it. Strangely enough the cerebrospinal fluid travels upwards from the bottom of the spine to the cranial cavity which is in stark similarity to retas converting into ojas and travelling upwards through the sushumna. Very controversial but I found it interesting.


    • padmum says:

      Thank for this information.the more science is talking about the mind and its intricate workings, the more people are finding that the Vedas, Puranas and Itihaasas have already recorded the information–maybe symbolically but it is all there.


      • krohit99 says:

        Absolutely, and another controversial thing to say might be that the western civilisation finds it very hard to believe someone figured it all out before them.


      • Kriti says:

        Whites have ‘written history’ after their vulgar invading and killing and looting of other rich countries. India was the ‘jewel’ in their ‘queen’s crown’. They invaded the ancient country for being so absolutely rich beyond belief, beautiful, and full of purity. After stealing from the rich, being poverty struck white shit, they now claim they have invented things and when THEY say something is true based on science, THEN the world follows them. Very few followers of Sanatana Vedic Dharma know that this is not a religion, but an eternal truth with no beginning or end and every possible scientific fact and beyond that can possibly exist in all of Creation. While other fake religions bullshit so illogically, every component of Hinduism is logical, correct, and true. When christopher columbus and his moron white friends were running around like morons crying the world to be flat, it was already well known to even villagers in India the full knowledge of the entire multiple universes, make of the solar system, etc. These whites didn’t find out anything at all. It is all there in Sanatana Dharma from the beginning of time itself. But there are too many ‘Hindus’ who are willing to degrade these facts due to their white as*-licking needs.


  8. siri varsha palagani says:

    thank Q for the information.


  9. Krishen Kak says:

    The swan is not a bird indigenous to the Indian subcontinent, so please check whether the hamsa is the swan, or is it Anser indicus, the bar-headed goose. “Swan” sounds better in English than “goose”. When was the swan introduced into India?


  10. Purushottama says:

    I would request the author to please correct the words used here “mythology”. It seems you are not proud of ancient INDIAN literature. Our vedas and puranas and all the historic places described therein still exist. So my request is please dont call them mythology. Muslims dont call their scriptures as mythology. Chrisitans dont call their scriptures as mythology, then why are you spreading this misconception of mythology. Please stop it,


    • MANOJ KUMAR says:

      Yes, you are definetly right. dear purushottam.


    • Riya says:

      Beautiful. You said it. These Indians are shit morons who ruin a beautiful culture and religion with their inferiority complex. No other religion calls their fake scriptures as ‘mythology’ save for those who claim to be ‘Hindus’. Actually, Hinduism, or Sanatana Vedic Dharma, has the least number of followers in the world. Think about it.


  11. Ankita says:

    Utterly beautiful article


  12. Pingback: Hansa | Legitimate Baby Names

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