Migration of birds is one of nature’s mysteries and wonders. Birds migrate to warmer places from cold countries for food and breeding. Some of the birds like Arctic Terns travel an amazing distance of 28,000 miles! They fly from North Pole to South Pole and return in six months. It is still a mystery and we don’t know for sure how the birds fly such a long distance generation after generation. Various theories tell us that they use earth’s magnetic fields or stars to navigate. Scientists even think that they have these routes embedded in their magnetic cells in their bodies. It is like our computer memory chips. We have a large number of bird sanctuaries in India where in birds from distance places come and breed and go back to their homes with their little ones.
One more amazing thing about the bird migration is that our ancient Sanskrit and Tamil poets have noticed it and included it in their literature. Golden peaks of Himalayas and the Himalayan lakes with swans are sung by Kalidasa and the Tamil poets. The great poet and playwright Kalidasa lived in the First century BC, during the time of Vikramaditya. A lot of evidence in the form of similes and expressions of Kalidasa are found in Sangam Tamil literature. These Tamil books are dated to the first few centuries of our era.
Bird migration is in Mahabharata as well. Our forefathers were keen observers of nature. They used this observation in their day to day life. When Draupadi asked for water in the forest, the Pandavas identified the water source from a very long distance by watching the circling the water birds. Then the most interesting ghost story of Mahabharata called Yaksha Prasnam was narrated in the question and answer format. This format is called Socratic method after Socrates. It is wrong because it is in Upanishads and Yaksha Prasna of Mahabharata. There are many more referencesto bird migration in the epic. Bhisma watched the bird migration from his bed of arrows before deciding his day of death in Uttarayanam. (Please read my article World’s first acupuncturist Bhisma)
Mysteries in Kalidasa’s Books
Kalidasa’s knowledge of geography, history, science, customs, psychology, arts, natural wonders and flight techniques are amazing. Shakespeare followed him in dramas and Leonardo Da Vinci followed him in innovations. In one of his books he describes how the wilder beasts migrate in a great rush. Those who watched National Geographic TV channels will be wonder struck how Kalidasa knew this animal migration. Perhaps it happened in his time in Indian forests. When he describes the flight in the sky he describes what the pilots see while landing a plane. This is experienced by the pilotsin their early days of flying training. No one other than a pilot would undergo such an experience. When you land a plane the earth would come towards you in such a great speed that you would be taken back. We also experience such things when we watch 3 D Movies wearing special glasses.
Kalidasa also talked about Light emitting plants (Kumar. I-30 and Ragu. IX-90). So far the scientists knew only light emitting jelly fish, electric eel and lower organisms like planktons. They are called photo luminescent or bio luminescent organisms. Fire flies are known to every villager. They emit light in the night. But Kalidasa wrote about light emitting plants (Jyotir latha). The BBC nature programme by David Attenborough showed such plants in New Zealand. Actually millions of fire flies crowd together on trees and hills and emit light in coordinated sequences. Only when one watches such Nature Channels on TV one will understand the mysterious things written by Kalidasa.
Birds in Tamil Literature
Ornithologists use Ringing or Electronic Tagging to find out the movements of birds. But without these modern gadgets, Tamil and Sanskrit poets have found out the movements of birds two thousand years ago. We have references to bird migration in Purananuru- verse 67 by Pisir Anthaiyaar, Natrinai 70 by Velli Veethiyaar( migration of cranes), Natr. 356 by Paranar, Akam 120 by Nakkeeran and Akam 273 (“v” formation of migratory birds) by Avaaiyaar. The Tamils called bird migration as “valasai pothal”.
Sangam poet Paranar (Natrinai 356) describes Himalayas with beautiful swans and celestial women. Alathur Kizar sings about the advancing South West monsoon towards Himalayas in Puram verse 34. I have written in another article it was not Hippalus who discovered monsoon but the Tamils who lived in the peninsular India. Karikal Cholan was praised by a poet (Puram verse 66) as using wind power to sail his ships in the ocean (see page 33 of my book Thamiz Ilakkiyaththil Athsiya Seythikal).
Avur Kizar greets a Brahmin by name Kaundinya Vishnu Dasan (puram166) to live longer like the Himalayas where bamboo trees grow. Murinjiyur Mudi Nagarayar sings in Puram 2 about the beautiful deers in the Himalayas with golden peaks where the Brahmins perform fire sacrifices. Paranar and Kumattur Kannanar praise the holy Himalyas as divine hills in Pathirrup Pathu verses. All these are echoes of Kalidasa’s verses in Megadhutam, Raguvamsam ,Vikrmorvasiyam and Kumarasambhavam.
Kalitokai by Maruthan Ilanagan (92) sang about the swan and the Himalayas .Also Kali 72,, 146 (Nallanthuvanar), Kali 12 (PP Katunko) When we give milk mixed with water, swans and geese can drink milk only leaving the water. They have a magical skill to filter it says Kalidasa .Gatha Saptasati poets copied it.
The migratory birds use the Krauncha Pass in the Himalayas to travel further north says Kalidasa (Krauncha means crane). The modern name for this pass is Niti Pass. The gait of the swans is compared to the gait of women. The cry of the swans is compared to the tinkling sound of the anklets. The white colour of the crane is compared to the glorious white umbrella of the royalty. The feathers of swan are used in the beds and mattresses of Tamil kings.
Lord Murukan is called Kraunchabedanar, one who created the pass in the Himalayas, though which the birds migrate from Siberia to Vedanthangal near Chennai. Lord Muruka’s name as Kraunchabedanar is used in Tamil literature.
Kalidasa’s references of swan, cranes and Himalayan geese: Mega. 11,23, 59, 70,81.
Vikra. IV 2,3,4,6,20;31,32,33,3441,54
BIRD MIGRATION :Vikra IV 14 to 17
Kumara. 1-30 (Hamsa mala)
Ragu. IV 19,VIII 59, XIII-33, XVI 33, 56, XVII-75
Nala Damayanti story narrated in the Hindu mythology also tells us how Damayanti sent messages using the birds.
Tamil and Sanskrit Comparison
Birds flying in V shaped formation is compared to garlands by both Sangam poets and Kalidasa (Mega. 11,59). This formation was used by fighters in Mahabharata war as well. It was called Krauncha formation.
Raguvamsam (I-41) described this as festoons welcoming a king. In another place the birds flying in V shaped formation was compared to the Skull garland in the neck of black demon woman Thataka. It was a beautiful comparison of white cranes flying with the dark clouds as background. Tamil Brahmin poet Nakkeeran who was well versed in Sanskrit compared this bird formation to the garland in the neck of Lord Skandan (Murugan) in Akam verse 120. Another verse in Akam 234 also used this simile. This simile is found in GSS (Gatha Saptasati) as well. But GSS poets never talked about Murukan and so they were not the sources for Tamil poets or vice versa.
Most important verses are of Pisiranthaiyar (Puram 64) and Paranar (Natrinai 356).Let us look at them in detail and compare them with that of Kalidasa:
Pisiranthaiyar (Puram 67) sends a message through a swan travelling from Kanyakumari to Norhtern Mountains after eating the fishes in the Indian Ocean. The poet asked the swan to take rest at Uranthai and deliver a message to his friend Kopperuncholan whom he never met (Please read my article Amazing Powers of Human Mind to fully understand the friendship between the two great people of ancient Tamil Nadu). The poet very well knew the northward journey of swans after satisfying its hunger. This poem is an echo of Megadhutam sloka 98.A later day poet Saththimutraththu Pulavar also used the same technique of addressing a crane (Krauncha) to deliver a message.
Paranar in Natrinai 356 made it very clear that the red legged, may be pink legged flamingos, go to the Himalayas to feed its little ones/bird lings after taking food from the southern oceans. In the same poem he sang about the golden peaks of the Himalayas where the celestial angels play with the swans.
Kalidasa in Vikramorvasiya Act IV slokas 14 to 17 made three points which were used in Tamil poems
1. Love message through Swans
2. Cooing of swans was mistaken to tinkling of anklets of his girl friend
3. Swans travelling to Manasasovar Lake in the Himalayas
(There is a big bird sanctuary for flamingos in Kodikkarai/Point Calimere in Tamil Nadu)
In short, whatever Kalidasa said about the bird migration, their V -shaped formation looking like a garland, their northward journey towards Himalayan lakes, the golden hued Himalayan peaks, the celestial angels playing with the deer and swans, the Brahmin saints doing fire sacrifices and the cobras dancing with their crown jewels in the Himalayas (see Kakkaipadiniyar Nachchellaiyar’s sixth song in the Pathitrupathu) all these are used by various Tamil poets. No one would doubt that the Tamil poets copied or imitated Kalidasa .Not all of them would have travelled to the Himalayas when there was no transport, safer land routes or bridges to cross big perennial rivers two thousand years ago.
Sakuna Satram (omens) is a branch of Hindu astrology which proves that Hindus are keen observers of birds’ movements. Sakuna means bird in Sanskrit. A bird’s movement, its cry, its position –all are taken in to account before predicting the future.