Friday, 14 October 2011

Mayuradhvani - Sound of the Peacock

It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds. – Aesop

I wrote first blog in Blogger writing about swan the Sanskrit word of which is "Hamsa" wherein I wrote about ragas starting with the "Hamsa".  Among these ragas, Hamsadhwani is very popular in Indian Music.  This blog is about magnificent bird Peacock (called in Indian langugage as mor, morla, mayoor) which has attained pride of place in our literature, arts, thought, mythology, dance, music and yoga. Before I write about peacock, what is reminding me of  my childhood and school days when I also did like other classmates keeping or sticking the feather in the pages of notebook  without much knowledge of it other than its attractions and rare availability in our places.  I am also reminded of the Circular peacock feathered fans (Alavattom) being used in Temples and festivals which added beauty and attraction. Right from childhood we saw the photos and descriptions of the Lord Krishna who has so many decorations, of flowers and peacock feathers.

The Peacock, Pavo cristatus (Linnaeus), the national bird of India   is symbolic of qualities like beauty, grace, What has gained it a symbolic presence in temples, royal gardens, and even at the gates of Paradise, according to one Muslim legend, is its  magnificent plumage  which  are just gorgeous with their vibrant colors and unique design.

Though there is a Peacock Sanctuary in Kerala viz., Choolanur Peacock Sanctuary, the only one of its kind in Kerala, is located at a distance of 30 km from Palakkad town, spreading over a 500 hectare reserve forest land, with a population numbering above 200, I could not visit the place. However, I could see peafowls so closely and as easily as I could find crows in our hometown when I was in Ahmedabad where I stayed for more than 28 years near to IIMA, ATIRA, PRLGujarat University campuses.  Monkeys and peacocks were very commonly seen in Gujarat. I remember the day when after rajayoga meditation class at Navrangpura BK centre, we had a stroll towards a college ground just behind of which is Hussain Doshi's Gufa (also known as Amdavad ni Gufa) where we spent some time watching and enjoying  a Peacock.  The Gufa (Cave) housed in the campus of the Centre for Environment Planning and Technology (CEPT) is an underground art gallery situated opposite Gujarat University in Ahmedabad. It is an example of contemporary architecture with a fusion of modern and ancient ideas. It was constructed using computer aided design and tribal initiative. Paintings and sculptures of noted artist M.F.Hussain and was designed by architect B.V.Doshi are exhibited in this art gallery.

While Hamsa (swan) symbolizes discrimination between the good and the bad or the eternal and the evanescent., peacock representing arrogance and pride over its beauty, and  showing beside the Goddess Saraswati by having a peacock as her mount teaches not to be concerned with external appearance and to be wise regarding the eternal truth."

Peacock is colourful, swan-sized bird, with ornate and extravagant feathers that mesmerize us from every angle. The unique shade of bright blue and the colorful feathers that adorn its tail make the peacock a beloved bird in many cultures and the one of the most beautiful and recognizable world creatures.  Much has been written about peacocks with different interpretations as to what it symbolizes and different legends. Technically, only males are peacocks. Females are peahens, and together, they are called peafowl.

Peafowl such as the blue peacock have been admired by humans and kept as pets for thousands of years. A male peafowl is one of the largest flying birds when the combined length of its train and its large wingspan are considered. This simple bird has become the symbol of divine because of its unmatched elegance and qualities.

The peafowl is prominent in the mythology and folklore of the Indian people. The Hindus consider the peacock bird to be sacred because the god Kartikeya, known by many names Subramaniam, Sanmukha, Shadanana, Skanda and Guha. (Second son of the Lord Shiva and Parvati or  and brother to the god Ganesh) rides on its back. Kartikeya is a popular deity and is better known as Murugan in southern states of India. The pious bird is seen along with Murugan gripping with its feet a serpent which symbolizes the ego and desires of people.  Thus, the peacock is regarded as the destroyer of harmful habits and the conqueror of sensual desires. Karthikeya thus symbolizes reaching perfection in life.  Like Snake charmers use flute training the poisonous snake to obey, another way that has been adopted is to worship creatures that can get rid of snakes.  As the snake is about to attack, peacock spreads out its wings and feathers with great force and sends the snake flying. Thus, Peacocks are said to be great snake-slayers and reputed to be immune to snake bites.  Feathers may be burnt to ward off disease. Peacock therefore, symbolizes victory over poisonous tendencies in sentient beings.

In Islamic tradition and lore, the peacock was guardian of the Gates of Paradise and in Christianity; peacock is an ancient symbol of eternal of life. Chinese regards the Peacock as a symbol of divinity, rank, power and beauty and symbol of the Ming Dynasty.  Saint Augustine believes the bird as incorruptible.

Loud and raucous call of peacock almost like laughter, reminds us to laugh at life. Even in medieval times, oaths were taken keeping hands rest on the birds.

The feathers were and are used in healing ceremonies and magical rituals. The round "eyes" of the feathers are viewed to give the Peacock vision into the past present and future, and they are seen as the sacred all seeing eyes of the magical world. At the same time, peacock feathers are regarded as ill-omened in many cultures. In Mughal times, only Royalty and the nobility were allowed to use fans made of peacock feathers. It was considered arrogant to use by others. There are   some sayings that 'One man's meat is another man's poison.' or 'One man’s pet is a fox's dinner'.  This could be because of the Greek Mythology according to which   a hundred eyed monster was turned into a peacock with all its eyes in its tail i.e. the Evil-Eye associated with wickedness. To describe human emotion, particularly that of anguish and separation, peacock has been used and this can be seen in Kalidasa's Meghadootam. It could also be a superstition that   it is very unlucky to have the feathers of a Peacock within the home or that the gifts of feather received or anything made out of the feather is considered as bad.

I happened to listen an interview in FM Radio with the organizer of the Birdwatcher’s society of Andhrapradesh (BSAP), an NGO formed by a few enthusiasts in Hyderabad with the object of spreading the message of bird conservation.  BSAP organizes field trips, lectures, film and slide shows, nature camps, treks, waterfowl counts, bird ringing, etc. Considering Ecological and Biological importance and many other advantages by having such type of activities apart from conservation of birds, it is definitely a good hobby and activity. While some people are taken this as a kind of profession or past time engaging feeding, watching, studying or taking care of the birds as their pets, some people are least concerned about birds & animals  and  do not mind killing them and making them for foods.   

The peacock displaying of its tail which looks like hundreds of eyes are watching and the sound of peacock which is like a screaming or baby crying and all other movements are actually for attracting peahen during courtship or an indicator of rain, signaling its approach with a harsh crying call. The all seeing eye of peacock is taken as the eye that sees all actions and all people, meaning that nothing escapes the universal justice. In other words, Peacock is used as a symbol for Protection and Enlightenment. Since it is associated with rainy season, it is a symbol of fertility. 

The name Arjun, depicted in the Indian epic Mahabharat refers to the peacock. Sri Krishna's peacock-plume can be linked to our lives. The plume on his head like a crown is mutli-colored feathers. Bright colors stand for happiness, felicity, merriment and prosperity and dark color stands for sorrow, despondency and calamity. This indicates whatever colors that life offers is to be accepted as a gift with equanimity and to accept friends and foes equally.

Music and the peacock: Musicologists attribute the origins of notes (swaras) to the Nature's sound and Shadjam (S) is the sound of peacock also. In Hindustani music, Thumri, reference of peacock can be heard. 

Mayuradhvani is another raga which is not as popular as Hamsadhwani raga and has only very few compositions.    Tyagaraja's popular composition “Raga sudharasa panamu jesi ranjillave o manasa “in this raga highlights his awareness that music born of inspiration has OM sound, echoing out the body with the seven notes emanating from Siva. Tyagaraja expressed the importance of raga through this composition meaning of which is like this:  “O mind! Enlighten yourself about the nature of raga .Practice of nada yoga or music bestows you, without much effort, powers that otherwise accrue only through strenuous yogic exercises, sacrifice of comfort or through severe penance.” This song is popular even outside the carnatic music lovers as it was sung in some of the movies.  One of them is Malayalam movie “Sargam”. 

To listen the song, just click Ragasudharasa - Sargam (1992) KJ Yesudas, KS Chithra  and Classical song   of MLV Raga Sudha Rasa - MLV ,

The other name of this raga is "Andolika" and in this sarvakalika raga evoking vira rasa Ri and Ni are raga chaya svaras.

Other kritis in this raga :
Karanamemi kanene by GNB
Sevikka vendumayya by Muthuthandavar
Vajresi mathe  - Muthiah Bhagavatar

Gajanano virajathe - NS Ramachandran
Vyomakesam namami -Muthiah Bhagavatar

Peacock Yoga Posture:

Yogasans are the destroyer of all diseases and Mayurasana is a posture which assumes the shape of peacock during the asana and it is a wonderful Asana for (i) improving digestion (ii) helping tone up the internal organs such as, spleen, liver, kidneys, pancreas and stomach (iii) bringing glow on the face (iv) strengthening thighs, forearms, wrists and hands, abdominal muscles and entire back body. This asana is suggested for diabetic patients.

This is done by joining both hands in the front and turn the fingers backwards. Sit on knees. Then inhale and place the elbows on both sides of the navel slowly straighten the legs backwards. The whole body (in the lateral plane) on ones palms with the support of the elbows, just like a peacock ‘s leg holds its body.  At the completion stage, the head and legs will be above the ground at the same level. Mayurasana is sometimes also called “Forearm or Elbow Balance”.

The other variety or different pose of Peacock is Pincha Mayurasana (Feathered Peacock Pose)

The above asanas (poses) are very difficult and it should be practiced with great care and only attempted by those who have achieved advance level yoga poses. It is not advisable for those who are pregnant or having diseases like peptic ulcer or hernia. Suitability can be checked up with a doctor also.

Hams asana (Swan pose) where the whole body floats horizontally off the ground, supported by working the arms, wrists and hands is also like Mayurasana.  But this challenges even those who mastered the Mayurasana because the fingers pointing forward rather than back seems to increase the effort.

Peacock idioms:

There is an idiom that, "Proud as a Peacock" as pride is a quality that attributes to a handsome peacock. Another idiom:  she's like a jackdaw among peacocks = she's like a fish out of water; As happy as a peacock; as vain as a peacock; dressed like a peacock;

" Pride of the peacock is the glory of the God".-William Blake
" To Paradise, the Arabs say, Satan could never find the way until the peacock led him in." - Charles Godfrey Leland
A Peacock has too little in its head, too much in its tail ( Swedish proverb)
Sparrows who emulate peacocks are likely to break a thigh (Burmese proverb)       

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