Perhaps in no other
civilization had the depiction of seasons accompanied with its birds,
fragrances and flowers taken as formalized a shape as in India. It
has become an integral part of Indian life, literature, folklore and
The rains came pouring
down. The roar of the elements was truly frightening. I panicked
momentarily. In the distance, I could hear the peacock calling as if
inviting me to join in its joyous revelry.
The peacock is truly a
beautiful bird. As it walks throught the bushes my thoughts wander to
our rich literature. Sauntering in and out of our poetry are these
peacocks, with each poem they reveal a separate emotion. So it is not
just a pictorial image the peacock is an entire technique.
The word peacock points
to a specific season varsha ritu, or the monsoon.
Monsoon ragas (melodies) contain beautiful description of the
rainy season. And most of these compositions mention the peacock.
The peacock, then, is
unusual in at least two respects. Although it often denotes the
basic emotion shringar or love that is universal in its
appeal, it also symbolizes pain the pain separation from ones
lover. Samyog or union on the one hand has the peacock calling in a
celebratory manner, heralding the advent of the rains. And in a
totally different manner, the full-throated call of the mor
(peacock) establishes the viyog rasa (separation) where the
call of the peacock reminds the nayika (heroine) of the
absence of her lover. There are texts which mean go away, O,
peacock, do not call. I, a mere viyogini, do not want to be
reminded that I am in separation.
Establishing a permanent
mental and emotional bond with her music, is Shubha Mudgal, wan
eminent vocalist. Commenting on the usage of the peacock in Indian
music, Shubha remarked that each composition is sung differently as
it evokes different emotions. I did not want to go away without
listening to her earthy, melodious voice. And she sang two
compositions in Raag Kedar and a traditional bandhish
(form of singing which is bound by a framework) in Raag Des to
prove her point. I could clearly see the contrast the Kedar
composition portrayed feelings of sorrow and anguish and the Des
composition had a joyous, springy quality to it.
Folk dialects, like Braj,
Avadhi, Bhojpuri have used the world peacock in myriad ways
mor, morla, mayur. Folk-texts related to the monsoon are in
plenty yet the lyricism or the poetic quality mainly nurture
the viyog rasa or the pain to separation. Since the
men-folk migrated to the cities for work, the women often waited with
abated breath for months on end for union with their lovers. Bihari
literature has the Barahmasa from of poetry that usually
describes the woes of these separated ladies. Here, addressing the
peacock, the women request it not to call, lest it remind them of
their men who are away.
On reading the Vrindavan
texts, one finds this emotion predominantly illustrated. Shubha
also mentions that the Pushtimargis of the Bhakti movement have a
vast amount of literature that dates back 5000 to 7000 years. They
have created brilliant padas (verses) for every time of the
day the ashtayam leela since each day is
compartmentalized into eight blocks. The Pushtimargis have
also invented verses for each season and festival. So, the verses
for varsha ritu or the monsoon season are unique and vibrant
in its quality with the peacock taking on a very dramatic flavour.
An absolutely textual
image of the peacock is that it is part of the flora and fauna that
serves the divine. Vrindavan the divine land, where lord
Krishna, adorning a peacock feather, danced, played and teased the
gopikas (milkmaids), has fine examples of poetry that portray
the image of this beautiful bird.
Reverberating with the
sounds of his musical genious, I listen to late Kumar Gandharvas
composition brindavan, kyon na bhaye hum mor (I wish I
were the peacock roaming the by-lanes of Vrindavan).
What is fascinating about
this evocative songster, the peacock, is that it has been differently
used in our texts. It denotes a womans lissome neck in one
poem and in the next is rapturously describes her gait or what Pandit
Birju Maharaj, the Kathak maestro, terms as mor ki chaal (the
walk of the peacock).
Very early in Indian
thought, literature and the arts, the peacock began to be used as a
motif to describe feeling. This fascinating bird became a symbol of
The Junagadh Rock
Inscription of Skandagupta gives poetic descriptions of the rainy
season with reference to the peacock. In fact, the first
Ritu-varnana, about the rainy season is in the Ayodhyakand.
Here varsha (rain) has been used by the poet to aggravate the
state of Ramas love-lorn condition seeing the sky
bereft of clouds, with their mates, the peacocks devoid of festivity,
seem to be in contemplation. Kalidasas Meghadootam
also extensively uses the peacock as a motif to describe human
emotion, particularly that of anguish and separation.
In most texts, be it
poetry or prose, the peacock specifically signifies an expression
that is all-comprehensive and pervading.
The Dhola-Maru Ra
Doha, one of the most popular poems in Rajasthan contain vivid
narrations of the peacock. And it is used to depict Viyog.
But in Beli Krisan Rukamani Ri, composed in Dingala dialect by
Maharaj Prithviraj of Bikaner, the peacock is a symbol of joy since
it projects union of the nayak and nayika (hero and heroine).
No amount of Rajasthani literature can be complete without the
mention of the great poetess Mirabai. In her song of eternal
separation, she summons the peacock to hunt for her beloved, Lord
Indication of the usage
of the peacock is evident in Gujarati and Kannada folk literature.
Here, the peacock is dancing in gay abandon, suggesting rejoicing, or
Alternating between the
two deep emotional states of you and sorrow, the peacocks cry
in Prithviraj Raso of Chandvardai is synonymous to
Prithvirajs pangs of sorrow since he longs for Shashivrata
In the poetic
compositions of Ritikal (17th century), that are in Braj
and Avadhi, the usage of the peacock purely denotes shringar rasa
the love existing between the nayak and nayika.
Truly a magnificent bird~
Used in myriad expressions, evoking moods of devotion, loneliness,
love and separation, this bird has attained pride of place in our
Proof that the peacock
was the focal point of many a musicians becomes absolutely certain
when one hears the Thumri (style of singing) of the late
Bhaiya Saheb Ganpat Rao. His exquisite compositions conveyed the
usage of mor that attained extraordinary heights. I have
fond memories of listening to dhuns (rustic melodies) bringing
out the moods of the village maids in Sawan (rainy season) through
Our repertoire of music
includes innumerable rain-invocation songs where this colourful bird
features to portray love that is philosophical and ethereal.
And as I walk up the
ridge, early in the morning, I see a peacock, perched upon a tree. I
perceive not only its wonderful plumes and delicate grace, but am
also instantly reminded of the Thumri I heard a couple of
years ago Dekho Nachat Mor by Begum Akhtar. Her
mellifluous voice begins to echo in my ears, and my pace slackens.
The appeal, the magical
aura of the peacock is an exalted personal expression of union with
A cool breeze carrying
with it the fragrance of flowers leaves me intoxicated. This
seemingly simple bird, unmatched in elegance becomes a symbol of the
divine. I bid adieu to the peacock in the morning mist.