VULTURES IN MYTHOLOGY
Dr. M. Madhumathi
“Let’s praise the Noble Turkey Vulture, No one envies him, He harms nobody,
And he contemplates one little world from a most serene and noble height….”
On hearing the word ‘Vulture’ many people exclaim …. Aww!!! It is considered a bad omen/sign. Highly exploitative people are often compared to vultures and very often, we come across the expression ‘Vulture Syndrome’ which refers to the greedy expectation over succession of properties of a person who is on his death bed. But the other side of the coin is- vultures are hardiest living creatures and they play a vital role in the environment as ‘NATURE’S OWN DISPOSAL SQUADS’ because of their habit of eating the dead bodies.
Though vultures evoke awful expressions from general public, it is interesting to note that they enjoyed a different description about them in Indian mythological stories often narrated as bed time stories by our grandparents during childhood times. I remember the stories narrated by my grandmother about vultures with their connectivity mostly to Hindu mythology/Hindu Gods. Here I am presenting to you some of the depictions, stories and cultural beliefs associated with vultures I heard from my grandmother.
In Hindu mythology, Sakuni (Vulture) is considered as a Mother Goddess with terrible appearance.
It is also said that, the Apsarasa Maneka, threw her newly born daughter, Shakuntala, Vultures rescued and raised Sakuntala.
Vulture is the vehicle of Saturn (Sani).
· There is an interesting story…Let’s go through it….in the ancient time, the Sun lived close to the Earth, because of the strong sunrays, there is a decline in the population on the Planet Earth. So, it became necessary to find a solution to save the Planet. The Fox, Opossum and other vultures volunteered to rescue the Planet Earth. The Fox thought to hold the Sun in its mouth and started running towards heaven. The heat was so strong, inside its mouth, started to burn. That’s how; it still got a black mouth….Then it was the turn of Opossum, a bushy tailed animal; wrapped the Sun, around its tail, and rushed towards heaven. The tail lost its hair and has not regained it till date…….It was now the turn of Visionary Vulture, to save Planet Earth. The Vulture, with the strength of its wings and push of its head started the act of taking the Sun towards heaven. The full strength of the rays against his hairy crown, were put to ashes. Even then, Vulture, knowingly, shifted the Sun to the Heaven, flew with all its strength in the wings and pushed the Sun up and up in the Heaven, Thence, putting relay to an end. Vulture was greatly landed to the earth, but, lost his crown of his hair on the head, which was, once upon a time, as graceful as his feathers. Now, the Sun was at the safest distance and peace of the planet was restored. The Strength and will of the Vulture, converted Sun from a destroyer to the healer of animal kingdom till eternity.
They were two demi-gods in our Hindu Epic, Ramayana, in the form of Vultures known as Jatayu and his brother Sampati, who were associated with the stories of Courage and Self-sacrifice. When they were young, the duo used to compete over as to who could fly higher. During one instance, Jatayu flew so high, that he was about to get seared by the sun’s flames. Sampati saved his brother by spreading his own wings and shielding Jatayu from the hot flames.
In the epic of Ramayana, Jatayu, a Vulture King or Griddhraj is believed to have fought with Ravana to save Sita and sacrificed his life and waited alive till he informed Lord Rama, the direction in which his wife, Sita has been abducted by Ravana, a demon.
Besides these, Jatayu’s elder brother, Sampati helped in searching Mother Sita by pitching with Hanumanji, Angada And Jambavana, who were leading the group of monkeys. Sampati had a superior vision and a big distance of 100 yojanas was not a distance for him. In the epic Ramayana, Sampati, a bird, is accredited with keen eyesight with long distance and high flights too….
“Does anyone know about Griddharaja Parvat? Where is it? What is the Importance about it? Griddharaja Parvatis also locally known as Griddhakut Parvat and known in English as the Hill Of Vultures. It is located in India, in the Devraj Nagar village in the tehsil of Ramnagar, in the district of Satna. It is the hill of religious, archeological and ecological importance. This Parvat is a unique habitat for Vultures, not only from India, but also from other parts of the world. In the crevices of the hill rock, Vulture's numbering thousands can be seen. Every year, in the month of “Magha,” on the occasion of Vasantha Panchami, annual fair is organized, thousands of people come and take a dip in River Ganga. In Hindu Mythology, Griddharaja Parvat is of great religious importance and it has been mentioned in Skanda Purana as Griddhanchala Parvat. The famous poet Kalidasa mentions this place as the most sacred in his book Griddharaja Mahatya in the Sanskrit language. Kalidasa also mentioned that ‘it is believed to be the birth place of Sampati, the brother of Jatayu and also mentioned that a dip in the Manasi Ganga River originating from Griddharaj Parvat at an altitude of 2354 feet, is a savior of all kinds of sins. The Sons of bhrama and the Goddess Parvati first saw this hill and it is mentioned in Shiva Samhita.
There is an, another interesting narrative about Griddharaj Parvat. In India, an Egyptian Vulture was also considered to be a good bird, and there is a story about Two Birds that visit the temple of Thirukkalu Kundram(Hill of Sacred Vultures) daily for centuries. They would appear at 11A.M in the morning and were ceremonially fed Sweet Rice and other delicacies by the priest. According to Myth, the two birds used to be the Sages, Cursed by Lord Shiva, to live as Vultures, and were visiting the temple in penance. What makes this case so special is that it was always a pair of Vultures and they are regular visitors of the temple.
Lord Buddha used to dive into Meditation and Preaching’s on Griddhraj Kuta. This was the site where he returned just after the attainment of enlightment. Lord Buddha professed his Law of Motion or Dharma Pravarthana Chakra on its peak.
In India, the Zorastrian Community, the Parsee practice Sky Burial, where human corpses are openly offered to the Vultures. They believe that this form of disposal, limits to defiling of the Earth, Air and Water; that are sacred to the Parsees. The dead are placed on the top of a Sacred Structure called a ‘Tower Of Silence’. The corpse is completely stripped off its flesh by about 100-120 Vultures within an hour.
After hearing the stories/fables from my grandmother, I understood that assumptions about vulture generations all of which depicted vultures not as awful birds but as creatures of special and positive significance, began in ancient legends ages ago and got passed on to many further generations. I brought forth the above depictions and stories for fresh consumption of readers with a hope that they help to wipe away ill based negative thoughts on vulture as an awful creature and a bad omen. The noble description of vultures in mythological depictions could be brushed off as nothing more than myths by many. But yet, it would be unwise to ignore the noble characteristics and valuable services rendered by vultures to the mother earth on which humans live. Apart from their special ability to fly to great heights and possession of extra ordinary sense of smell, vultures exhibit many appreciable characteristics such as being gentle and harmless, good in pairing, caring and social bonding. More than anything vultures are better considered as nature’s gift to us for the very reason of them being the Natural Disposal Squads by virtue of their preying upon the dead bodies and thereby keeping the earth free from the evils of decomposition. But unfortunately, vultures are reciprocated with an unfair disregard to their utility and thereby threatening their very survival about which I would discuss in my next post.