Birds of the air
There are three birds in Indian mythology and Sanskrit literature called hamsa, chataka and chakora.
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
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
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, Delirious, Gaelikaa, Grannymar, Magpie11, 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.