Friday, June 17, 2011

People & Birds: A Spiritual Bond. Through History to The Present..

Even though many people might dismiss birds as not having much to do with what is happening to them or to the wider world, (other than may be the chicken-n-egg helping to feed the world;)
those who spy the goings-on in the bird world would tell you.., if you'd care to listen,
that Birds are also important as they are one of the best indicators of the overall health of, or changes in the environment..
[Also see, from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Q&A:
To a question posed by a general user, 'Which birds are most beneficial to mankind?', this was what the The Cornell Lab staff came up with as a consensus practical answer:  Red Junglefowl -aka the chicken! ;) In a way intuitive, they chose it 'because of the huge number of people who benefit from their eggs and meat.'

Birds are still very tied to some religious beliefs and rites in India even today..
  • In Hindu mythology, The hamsa , swan, is the vahana, the mount or vehicle, of the god Brahma, the creator. In the Vedas and the Purânas it is a symbol for the Soul- of purity and transcendence. ParamaHamsa (The Supreme Soul) is a title applied to the self-realized spiritual masters who are considered as liberated souls.
  • The Parsis (Persian Zoroastrians who immigrated to india in 10th century AD to avoid persecution by Muslims in Persia) in Mumbai, is a small community which the Tata family belong to. They leave their dead out in the open in the "Towers of Silence" (in Mumbai, located at Malabar Hill) to be consumed by vultures. According their belief, earth, fire and water are all considered as sacred elements, which should not be defiled by the dead.. (They worship fire in Parsi Fire Temples).  Therefore, burial and cremation have always been prohibited in Parsi culture.
But in recent years, there has been drastic vulture population decline (extensive urbanization, as well as the other main reason sited being, due to poisoning by the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac which is often given to cattles.. the carcass of which the vulture often feed on). Some years back I was reading about the Parsi community working with Bombay Natural History Society for a vulture breeding program, to address the crisis affecting their funeral ritual.   
  •  [Note: The item below is not related to my personal view/belief, but of some devout people. From anecdotes of the behind-the-scene 'secrets' I've heard, and my personal view as well, of the  is that the authorities are defrauding the devotees there with staged events, considering the huge amount of money in revenues from millions of people visiting every year!! ;) ]               On the most special day of Makara Sankranthi at Sabarimala temple pilgrimage in Kerala, a major auspicious event during peak pilgrimage season is appearing of a Brahminy Kite (Holy Garuda, an eagle, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu in Indian mythology).. Apparently, Sabarimala with a huge devotee-base across South and India and beyond, has "the largest annual pilgrimage in India with an estimated 45–50 million devotees visiting every year"
On Makarasankranti every year without fail, miraculous events occur. Firstly as the jewels (Thiruvaabharanam) of the Lord are transported from the Old Pandalam Palace to Sabarimala, a Krishnaparunth (holy Garuda - an eagle - the vehicle of Lord Vishnu), circles above the precious jewels (in fact guarding them), like a protector. This rare eagle is rarely seen in the midst of people for a long period of time, yet the auspicious bird follows the Thiruvaabaranam procession, finally circling above Sannidhanam at Sabarimala nine times as it pays its respects to Lord Ayyappan. During this time, there is not a single star in the sky except for a special Nakshatram. As the beautiful jewels are placed on the golden body of the Lord within the temple, the several hundred thousand devotees outside, crammed into any available free space, chant "Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa". When the jewels are finally all adorned on the Lord, the Nakshatram in the sky miraculously disappears. Within moments after the Lord being adorned with the Thiruvabaranam, an effulgence (Divya Jyoti) appears in the opposite hills of Shabarimala, shining 3 times. This hill is called Ponnambalamedu.
In some other parts of the world as well, Birds are still part of the lives of people..

  • One of the most enchanting bonding by Birds I've ever watched on screen.. was the Spiritual bonding between man and birds..
    From the centuries old tradition..among the Kazakh Nomads of Altai Mountains in Mongolia, with their Golden Eagles. The vast open spaces make hunting for animals almost impossible. The Kazakh nomads use Golden Eagles to hunt.. for their survival in the harsh mountain climate..
    This was featured in the episode on Mountains, of the BBC Series HUMAN PLANET:

It's a  millenium-old tradition of the nomad's deep bonding with nature, using Golden Eagles to hunt.. they take the fledging eagle from the nest before it could fly, and keep as pet and use it for hunting.
In between they also release them and the birds come back. In the end, after years, they release them into the wild and don't call them back..

Have watched a movie based on this as well, that was screened at the London FilmFest/2009 
The Eagle Hunter's Son. 
Made by Swedish director;  with real Nomads of Altai Mountain and their Golden Eagles

In fact, history tells, Birds had a lot to do with the courses of action people took, in the ancient world, through their association with ancient religious rites and beliefs..

  • In ancient Rome, very powerful priests, called "Augur" who could read omens from observing the birds, had a huge influence on the society.. They were central to the society of Roman Republic and the Empire.
Augurs were consulted by the commonfolk and the rulers,
for deciding whether to go ahead with their intended actions or not..
"including matters of war, commerce, and religion.."
[The Greeks called this bird-divining, as 'Ornithomancy']
..An Augur's main role was 'to interpret the will of the gods' (=Augury, from latin for it, 'Augurium'), 
by 'studying the flight/behavior of birds' (Latin Auspicium , literally "one who looks at birds", from 'aves spicere', Latin for 'looking at the birds')..
This was called "taking the auspices" and the words
' auspicious' and 'inauguration' are derived from these rites in Rome!

Ancient Roman Mosaic floor, in the "Domus of Birds" (House of Birds),
 Italicanorth of modern day Seville, In Spain's Andalusia region.
[Photos from Dec 2007 trip]
The city of Italica was founded in 206 BC by the Romans.
Italica is the birth place of Roman Emperors Trajan[AD 53-117], and (his adopted son) Hadrian.
So, in a way, birds had such huge influence, and who knows--
 by affecting the decisions of wars and such, in the most powerful empire in the world,
 they might have even changed the course of human history!! ;))
Legend has it that even the founders of Rome- Romulus and Rimus, were bird diviners,
 who consulted the gods through birds, for even the founding of Rome!
They might be a lil 'flighty' at times, but they are not to be taken too lightly!.. ;)
If you pondered on the decline, climate change and all the rest.. the OMENS are pretty clear..
The writing is on the wall, for us as a whole!.. ;)

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