Monday, December 30, 2013

I rise from the Ashes....

Birds have fascinated human beings since a long long time.  One of the greatest inventions of modern times, aeroplane or airplane, was motivated by and a  result of man's umpteen efforts to fly in the air like birds.  Birds have been an inseparable part of our lives, dreams, imagination, stories and literature.

We were taught in schools that animals were classified in various categories and one of them was as Fishes, Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds and Mammals.  It is not known whether Lord Maha Vishnu also went to one such school or was the founder of this school of thinking.  He started his "DashAvatara" (ten incarnations) on similar lines - the first was a Fish (Matsya) followed by a Tortoise (Kurma), an Amphibious Reptile.  Amphibious since it can live both on land and in water but a reptile as classified by Zoologists.  He chose a reptile (Adishesha) for a bed and a bird (Garuda) as a vehicle. Then there was a Boar (Varaha) incarnation followed by a Lion-man, Narasimha.  While describing all other incarnations, Bhagavata uses the adjective "Adhbhuta Roopam" (fantastic form).  When it comes to Narasimha avatara, it uses the adjective "Atyadhbuta Roopam" (unbelievably fantastic form).  After Narasimha,  normal service was introduced with the next six incarnations in human form, Vaamana onwards.

Birds have been used as symbols in ancient philosophical literature to drive home complex tenets and principles.  Mundaka Upanishad's verse Dwa Suparna Sayujaa Sakhaayau is an excellent example of explaining the concept of "Atma and Paramaatma" through two beautiful birds sitting on the branch of the same tree.  One bird eats the fruits on the tree and is sorrowful; the other does not eat the fruits and is yet happy.  Many scholars have used this verse to further their own interpretation of vedic knowledge.  The beauty of this example, like many others in vedic literature, is that it is amenable to multiple interpretations and each one appears to be just right when you contemplate on it!  The earliest discourses on Bhagavata were given by a sage in the form of Parrot, a bird, Shukacharya, believed to be the son of Veda Vyasa.  Shukacharya, being a bird with a sweet voice was a perfect medium for giving discourses on Bhagavata to King Pareekshita, son of Abhimanyu.  Shukacharya was also chosen as the emissary of Srinivasa (Lord Balaji) to go to Asskasharaja, father of Padmavathi, to settle the marriage related issues as there were no matrimonial websites in those days.

Birds have been used extensively in ancient Indian literature and many of them could speak as human beings.  There were also birds using their own language in some stories, but there were expert men and women who could understand their language!  The earliest epic "Ramayana" had the two brothers, Sampaati and Jataayu. In fact, Ramayana took is birth itself due to a hunter killing one of the two loving "Krouncha" birds.  Mahabharata had many birds with the Swan of "Nala-Damayanti" fame again filling the role of matrimonial website.  Jataka Tales have their own bird stories, one of them being "Naagaananda"  where Jeemootavaahana prevents Garuda from killing snakes in future.  Panchatantra's Pigeon King Chitragreeva continued the tradition of the bird stories. Shukasaptati is a collection of seventy stories told by yet another parrot to a woman, one story a night, to prevent her from going to meet her paramour when her husband is away from her.  These are only some examples of how birds have made our stories and literature rich and interesting.

Western literature has its own complement of birds and bird stories.  Just as we have "Gandabherunda" (a bird with two heads, which is the official symbol of the Karnataka Government) and Sharabha (a bird-lion that can fly), it has the bird Phoenix, a bird that is a legend in itself.  (Picture shown alongside is taken from the internet).  Having its roots in Greek mythology, this bird is believed to die by fire and a new bird takes birth from the ashes of its predecessor.  Some versions say that the dead bird decomposes and a new one takes birth from the decomposed remains of the dead bird.  Hence the saying, The Phoenix rises from the ashes.  This bird is believed to be associated with the Sun and similar to the size and shape of an eagle.   

There is a small town by name Phoenixville in Pennsylvania, USA.  The town is about 30 miles north-west of Philadelphia and is situate at the junction of French Creek and Schuylkill river.  It was an industrial town some decades back with iron and steel factories, silk mill, hosiery and pottery units.  There is a tradition of Phoenix burning in this town.  Phoenixville has a "Fire bird Festival" every year.  A giant wooden Phoenix is constructed before the festival. The construction of the wooden bird takes several days.  The festival also provides an opportunity to local artistes to showcase their talents.  The festival has several shows and activities and is organized on a grand scale and is similar to our village fairs.  At the end of the festival, the wooden Phoenix is burnt down.  The picture given alongside, taken from the internet, shows the bird being burnt down.  The festival brings the memories of our own "Ramalila" and burning of the three statues of Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Meghanaada.

This years Phoenix burning was slated for 14th December and we were ready to go and enjoy the sight despite the biting cold and snow.  Unfortunately, snow turned into rain and we had to give up our plans due to bad weather as watching the spectacle in the snow and rain in an open ground was not suitable.  The festival itself went off very well though things were scaled down due to bad weather.  May be, we have better luck next time!       


  1. Birds,animals,Amphibians, all nature's creations have given enough lessons to human beings and scope for inventions where as human being is so selfish to keep every thing for himself and for his enjoyment.
    Thanks for bringing out a nice piece of information about birds' association with human life.

  2. It is very interesting to read about the evolution theory as understood from the Dasaavataras of Sri Maha Vishnu and it is clear that people across the globe are having similar customs and traditions where birds and animals are given lot of significance. Happy NEW YEAR 2014, Sir with your kith and kin @ US.
    Basavaraju K

  3. Happy New year!
    Thank you very much,
    I didn't know about Fire Bird Festival...Sheela

  4. Memory refreshed. Wish you and your family members Happy New Year 2014. JP

  5. Great piece of information about birds and their relationship with human life.

    Wish you and your family a happy and prosperous New Year 2014.

  6. It was a good piece of information enriching my knowledge.

    Wish you &your family a happy and eventful new year.
    Looking forward to more thought provoking articles.

  7. Lot of interesting things in your article . Wish you and your family a very happy new year!


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    Bhagavatha depicts the evolution of life and consciousness on earth. This article throws light on this aspect of evolution in a very interesting manner.

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