Fantastic Birds & where to find them….in Indian Mythology

Mythical birds such as Hippogriffs, Thestrals, Grindilows and Basilisks do not just roam the world of Harry Potter, they are very much part of Indian mythology too…..

Watch the video for a glimpse of some legendary birds from Indian mythology with fantastic abilities to separate milk from water or birds that feed on moonbeams or the ones that grieve for their mates….

The Gandaberunda

The Gandaberunda is a two-headed bird that features in the Vaishnava mythology. In the story of the Narasimha avatara, even after killing Hiranyakashayap in his man-lion form, Vishnu’s anger remains unabated and he remains in a destructive mode as ugra murthy.

So Shiva decides to tame his anger and takes the form of Saraba, another liminal or hybrid being with the combined attributes of the lion and a bird.

Sharabheswara

Seeing Sarabha angers Vishnu more and Sharaba and Narasimha takes the form of Gandaberunda, the two-headed bird, and after a fierce fight, eventually defeats him.

It’s interesting how the Narasimha avatara story features so many exotic beasts with hybrid attibutes, and definitely needs a closer look!

Two-headed beings are quite common in World mythology. They signify additional strength, might and even he ability to see in multiple directions.

The Gandaberunda is largely associated with power and might and was the royal insignia of the erstwhile Mysuru kingdom. Subsequently, after Indian became a republic, it was adopted by the Karanataka State government as its official emblem and today adorns the state’s flag.

Metaphoric use of birds in Indian mythology

One more reason why birds are a common motif in Hindu mythology is that they are perceived as dvija or twice-born. The idea of being twice-born is unique to Hindu culture where persons born in the three varnas (i.e. the brahmana, the vaishya and the kshatriya) undergo an initiation ceremony called upanayanam (the thread ceremony) after which they are inculcated into a period of education that prepares them for life as a householder.

Thus dvijas are believed to be born twice – once from their mother’s womb and the second time after their upanayanam.

And a bird too is born twice – once as an egg laid by its mother and the second time as a bird that hatches from the egg.  In fact, the dictionary meaning for the Sanskrit word ‘dvija’ is a bird.

Birds have also been used to refer to the atman or the self. In Vedic and Upanishadic lore, the story of two birds is narrated where one bird is referred to the jiva and the other to the atman. Jiva refers to the self with the individual consciousness and the atman to the undifferentiated consciousness.

The story points out how as the ‘jiva’ bird immerses itself in worldly pleasures, the ‘atman’ bird quietly watches everything without participating in any of the actions.

Soon jiva tires of worldly pleasures and strife and realises that unending bliss lies only in realising its true identity as the atman.

Click to watch the symbolism of Garuda in Indian mythology!

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