Saturday, April 10, 2010

#27. Nirakh sakhi, yeh khanjan phir aaye

Painted Partridge

White wagtail


Hill mynah

Indian vulture

Peregrine falcon

Hawk cuckoo or Brainfever bird


Pariah kite

Greater flamingoes

bar-headed geese in flight

flamingoes in flight

greater adjutant stork

bar-headed geese

Bat (no bird, but a mammal)

Heeraman tota



Pied crested cuckoo

Lesser adjutant stork

(photo credit: Self, Wikipedia, birdsofbombay)

The Birds in Poetry and of Yore

When you read a poem, hear a song, go through some mythological story
Or the distress call of some environmentalist mentioning one bird or the other, are you able to picture the bird immediately? BNHS or Sanctuary does not give Hindi version every time they mention a bird, and sometimes even though you know the bird, you don’t place it properly. I faced the same problem till about a decade back. Over some time what I could learn and guess, I am sharing with you.

‘Nirakh sakhi, ye khanjan phir aaye’ (lo, my friend, these khanjans have come again). This is Sumitra during her years of separation from Lakshman when he accompanied his brother Ram during his exile. Khanjan is wagtail, mainly yellow wagtail which is a winter visitor found near water bodies.

Another bird is chatak. ‘Chatak khada chonch khole hai/samput khole seep khadi hai/main apna ghat liye khada hoon/apni apni hame padi hai’ (they are all waiting for the rains-chatak with open beak, pearl oyster opening the lips, and the poet with a pitcher). Chatak is pied crested cuckoo which is the harbinger of rains. It is sighted in northern and central parts of India just before the monsoons. It is a migrant from Africa, and it is said that monsoon winds help it to cross from one continent to the other. That is why its coming means that the rains are not far behind.

Two other birds of the same family are koel, our most famous song bird. Kokila used to be one of the more popular east Indian first names. Koel puts her eggs in in the nest of crows. Wonder what happens to the legendary cleverness of crow in this matter. The other is Papiha (brain fever bird). ‘Papiha re-e-e? mere piya se kahio jaaye’ (O papiha, please convey my message to my loved one). This bird is vocal during summer. It has a shrill cry, repeated 5-6 times, rising in crescendo. In English it sounds like ‘brain-fever-brain-fever.’ In Hindi as if ‘Pee-kahan?’ (where is my beloved). And in Marathi ‘paos aala’ (the rains have come)!

Bird sound resembling Hindi words; another example is Painted Partridge (kala teetar), a favourite of the shikaris. Its call resembles ‘subhan teri kudrat’ or ‘Ramchandra-Dash-rath’ depending on what your affinities are!

Cheel. The floating, gliding pariah kite. There is a proverb by Ghagh: ‘dhele upar cheel jo bole/gali gali main pani dole’ (if a kite gives a call perching on an unbroken round of soil, it means heavy rains). The U.P.Government at one time got research done on such weather forecasts(=indications) in the sayings of Ghagh. Most of them did not pass the test.

Associated scavenger bird is vulture (giddh). In Hindi those having keen sight or insight are called having giddh-drishti. For hunting, a vulture has to have keen eyesight. Both cheel and giddh you find hovering over a cadaver. What was Jatayu, the huge bird that tried to save Sita when she was being kidnapped by Ravan? It must be one of the larger varieties of our predators. It could be Imperial Eagle, but my best guess is Tawny Eagle, as it is more easily found in the southern part of the country.

One need not mention the ubiquitous house crow, another scavenger bird living near human habitations. I have a sneaking suspicion that Bombay has the highest crow population in the world (as Delhi of simians, both meant literally). Had Laxman painted the crow in all its moods if he was located elsewhere? Cawing of crow near the verandah is supposed to bring some guest. ‘Mori atariya pe kaga bole/mora jiya dole/koi aa raha hai’ (Crow is calling from top of the house, my heart is full of joy, someone is coming). Most birds start their song in the morning, however you can hear the crows in the night also, apart from bats which are not birds but mammals.

Vishnu’s carrier is Garuda. Location wise, adjutant stork foots the bill. A huge bird, larger than vulture, strong flier, martial in walk. Or It could also be one of the eagles.

During my childhood days the footpath booksellers invariably had a copy of ‘Kissa tota-myna’. Well, these two are the most famous mimic birds in the country. The tota here is Alexandrine parakeet (better known as Heeeraman in Hindi), and the myna here is not the abundant Indian Myna but Hill Myna (pahadi myna). Heeraman is easily the most beautiful cage bird, large, with long tail, having red patch on the shoulder, and ring on the neck. The hill myna is slightly larger than our common myna, with trade mark orange yellow wattles on the head. They say Heeraman talks best when kept alone in the cage. Hill myna is delicate, a prized cage bird before the advent of Manekaji.

Ravi Varma had made an exact replica of swan in his paintings. The hans in Hindu mythology and Sanskrit poetry is probably bar-headed goose, a winter migratory. and not the large swan we see in zoos and abroad. The neer kshir vivek rajhans which has the legendary quality of separating water from milk is according to many our own flamingo which has got colonies in Kutch. Yes, the legend is partly true. Flamingo’s bill is adapted for filter feeding. Upper bill is thin and flat which acts like a lid to the lower bill which is like a trough. Both have comb like structure which acts as a strainer. It feeds in shallow water, scrapes the muddy bottom, churned up mud is collected in the hollow beak and strained with the help of thick tongue and the comb-like structure (lamellae). Shoveller, another migratory duck, has the same quality of separating food from muck.

And lastly, the first Sanskrit poet (adi kavi) Valmiki uttered his first shlok when a hunter killed male bird of the pair of Kraunch. ‘Ma nishad pratishthatvam gatah shasti sama yatkraunch mithunadekam vadhi kamamohitam’ (You have killed one of a happy couple, may you not yourself live long). This was when he was on his way to take bath in river Tamasa. My best guess is that Kraunch is brahminy duck (surkhab). A large brown migratory duck always found in pair, and sometimes in a flock. Seems it has been a favourite hunting bird for ages. Edible quality of a meat depends on what it eats. Ask a lion or tiger. They always go for herbivores, and not touch other carnivores like jackals. That way, the cannibals had very poor taste!

1 comment:

बुद्धिनाथमिश्र said...

bhatt ji, Sumitra was Laxman's mother and not wife. she was Urmila.