Thursday, January 29, 2015

Why wear a peacock feather on the head?

When we look at the sculptural or pictorial representations of Lord Krishna or Lord Nataraja, one aspect grabs our attention.  Both of them wear a peacock feather on their head.  Lord Krishna wears it on his crown while Lord Nataraja on his matted locks of hair called "jaTaa”.
      Let us look at the mention of the peacock feather (barhi) in various dhyana slokas associated with Lord Krishna.
barhibarhAvacUDAMgaM kRuShNaM vandE jagadguruM (SrI kRuShNAShTakaM)
barhApIDaM naTavaravapuH karNayOH karNikAraM (SrImad BhAgavataM)
parikalitOnnata barhibarhachUDaH (The Dhyana Sloka at the beginning of Srimad Bhagavad Geeta)
 barhENEva sPhuritaruchinA gOpavEShasya viShNOH (Kalidasa's Meghadutam)
      Similarly the following dhyana sloka for Lord Nataraja makes a mention of the God's peacock feather adornment.
 caturbhujaM SrInEtraM ca prasAritajaTAnvitaM |
gauravarNasamAyuktaM barhipiMChasamanvitaM ||
 The dhyana slokas point towards the peacock feather, and we meditate upon these Gods in the suggested manner.  But the question remains as to why these Almighty Gods chose a peacock feather for a head ornament.  Would they have not got attractive and valuable gems to decorate their crowns?  What excellence is present in the feather of the peacock?  After all, the peacock is another member of the ordinary fowl family.
     Various fanciful answers have been proposed to this question.  Some people say that sporting the peacock feather must have been an erstwhile fashion.  They try to lend credence to the suggestion by citing the example of how it is highly fashionable today to dye the feather of a crow, or an owl, or a sparrow or a cock in a different colour and stick it to a hat or a turban! Like all little boys, Krishna must also have been influenced by the reigning fashion of his day!  Moreover, with Brindavan being a forest, it would have been easy to find peacock feathers lying around!
      But long years after Lord Krishna's days in Brindavan, he wore a peacock plume in his crown when he taught the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.  The dhyana sloka in the Bhagavad Gita clearly indicates this.
karakamala nidarshitAtma mudraH parikalitOnnata barhi barha cUDaH |
itarakara gRuhIta tOtra vEtraH mama hRudi sannidhimAtanOtu ShauriH ||
Perhaps Lord Krishna carried his boyish fad into adulthood!
      As the saying "alaMkArapriyo viShNuH" indicates, Lord Krishna (an aspect of Lord Vishnu) loves adornments and beautifications.  But what about Lord Nataraja who was an ascetic and a recluse? He had thrown an elephant skin and a tiger skin on his person, and had danced his divine dance without being bound by raiment of any kind.  Why did Lord Nataraja wear the peacock plume just like Lord Krishna when he had no interest in adornments?
      A few others therefore suggest that Lord Nataraja (an aspect of Lord Shiva) must have sported the feather out of love for his son. The peacock, we may recall, is the vehicle (vAhana) of Lord Subramanya, the son of Lord Shiva.  Kalidasa, the great Sanskrit poet, says in his Meghadutam "putraprEmNA kuvalayadalaprApi karNE karOti" when he speaks of Mother Parvati.  It means that Mother Parvati wore peacock feathers for her earrings out of love for her son.  Lord Nataraja did the same, they opine.
      Although this explanation is poetically gratifying, it is not a sound reason.  If Lord Nataraja used the peacock feather just out of filial love, we might probe whether Lord Krishna could have done similarly.  Did Lord Krishna wear it out of love for a friend or a family member?  Pursuing this thought further, we remember that Garuda was very dear to Lord Vishnu (and to Lord Krishna as well).  "dAsaH sakhA vAhanamAsanaM dhvajaH" (stotra ratna)  Garuda was the Lord's servant, friend, vehicle, seat and flag. Besides, Garuda is no ordinary bird but is the king of all birds.  Since Garuda had feathers that were beloved to Indra, the king of the Devas, he was also known as 'Garutman."  All in all, Garuda was a divine bird.  If the Gods were motivated by love for a friend or a family member in choosing their embellishments, Krishna would have done better in tucking a feather from Garuda on his head!
      Both Lord Krishna and Lord Nataraja are manifestations of the principles of creation.  They are tattva-murtis.  Their forms are divine and spiritual.  And our understanding of their forms must also be based on spiritual precepts, not on mundane and fanciful ramblings.
      Our Yogi-guru, Sriranga, has taught us that when we look at the peacock feather with spiritual realization, we notice that it has several distinct facets that help us grasp the divine.  That is why it was the perfect adornment for both Lord Krishna and Lord Nataraja.
      God's Maaya - the power by which the universe becomes manifest - is both enchanting and beguiling.  When the peacock fans out its feathers, the bold hues and the patterned plumage are bewitching to the eyes and the mind of the beholder. This represents the nature of Maaya.  Maaya holds its sway on the people of the world, and plays with them rather inconsiderately.  The Lord adorns the peacock feather on his head to show the dominance of Maaya.  Yet Maaya is controlled by the Lord, and He wills it to be His ornament.
      When we look closely at the eyespot in the feather of a peacock, we notice three circles or mandalas (orbs).  They stand for the Suryamandala, Somamandala and Agnimandala.  These mandalas are actually visualized by yogis in their meditation when they realize God within themselves. (Please note that they do not directly correspond with the physical Sun, the Moon and the fire we see in the world around us.)
karNikAyAM nyasEtsUryasOmAgninuttarottaraM |
vahnimadhyE smarEdrUpaM mamaitaddhyAna maMgalaM ||(Sri Bhagavatam 11-14-32)
      The above verse from the Bhagavatam and the epithet "maNDalatrayamadhyasthAya namaH" used in the worship of the Lord refer to the same mandalas seen by the yogis in their meditation.
      Besides, we also see the mark of Om-kaara (or Pranava) in the eyespot of the peacock's feather. Om-kaara connotes the Lord.  "tasya vAcakaH praNavaH, tajjapaH tadarthabhAvanaM"; "OMkAraM rathamAruhya"  It is also the means to reach the Lord.
      In this manner, no object in creation lends itself to the metaphor of the divine as does the peacock feather. Quite aptly, it has become the ornament of choice for both Lord Krishna and Lord Nataraja.
      Our deep and sincere gratitude to our yogi-guru Sriranga, who has taught us the spiritual significance of many such aspects constituting our Bharatiya culture.
[This is an English rendering of an article in Kannada by His Holiness Sri Sri Rangapriya Sri Srih published in “Vichara sumanomaala” of Astanga Yoga Vijnana Mandiram. Translation is by Smt Padmashree].