THE FLYING ELEPHANT
The core idea of mythological animals is to bring together lofty goals to embellish our lives and guide us towards excellence, writes SUDHAMAHI REGUNATHAN
The desire to excel in every aspect of human life is as old as life itself. All our ancient texts are evidence to that. Whether it is the famous lines, ‘Lead me from darkness to light, from falsehood to truth, and from the fear of death to the knowledge of immortality’, from the Brihadaranyak Upanishad, or the even older lines yearning to be of one mind without discord, as mentioned in the Rig Ved, the aspiration has always been lofty.
Parrot And Hans
Ram was described by Valmiki as being as forgiving as the earth and as dignified as the mountains. Birds and animals also became ideals for human aspirations. An endearing example is that of the parrot, the image of which is woven into the bridal saris by the mother of the bride. The parrot is said to visit only beautiful spots where there are plenty of fruits; so the mother wishes her daughter lives in a house of abundance and beauty. The hans is another common motif ornamenting saris and even temple doorways. It is believed to have the ability to separate milk from water, symbolising that it is endowed with the wisdom of discernment and represents the pure soul which is full of wisdom.
The elephant was highly revered for its majestic appearance, its incredible memory, its usefulness in battle and the fact that it does not kill to feed itself. Human genius added wings to this creature so that an element of the divine was introduced. The flying elephant is a mythological creation of many cultures. So too the horse. The flying horse, known variously in different cultures as Uchchaishravas, Pegasus, Al-Buraq, or Devadatta holds the same idea. By adding wings, the speed and power of the horse gained sacred connections and thus was celebrated.
Then came animals which were a combination, like the shardula. There is a school of thought that perhaps animals like the shardula did exist. The shardula has been translated as the lion or the tiger, but iconographically it seems to be a combination of the lion and another animal or bird, which could be a horse or an elephant and so on. Sita mentions it in Valmiki Ramayan as one of the frightening beings that roamed the forest. In common parlance, the shardula has come to symbolise the resplendent, the most powerful, and the best among creatures.
The power to create was now in the hands of the people. The makara is another fascinating animal, as far as our knowledge goes, mythical. It comes with the body of a fish, the trunk of an elephant, the feet of a lion, the eyes of a monkey, the ears of a pig and the tail of a peacock. An aquatic animal, it is considered auspicious as it has beauty and prowess of every kind. Therefore, it ornaments many temples.
The navagunjara comes with a story. It is said that Arjun was meditating when a creature appeared before him. It had the face of a rooster. It had one foot raised like a human arm holding a lotus in its hand. The other three feet belong to an elephant, a tiger and a horse. Furthermore, it had the neck of a peacock, hump of a bull, waist of a lion and its tail was a serpent. Arjun prepared to attack it but realised it was the vishwaroop, unified divine form of Krishn.
There are many more such animals. Stories only add to the imagery, but the core idea of mythological animals is to bring together lofty goals to embellish human life and guide it towards excellence. To learn from everyone, to highlight the best in different creations and, therefore, respect all is the way to progress. Asti sanghe shakti — indeed, there is power in togetherness. ■
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