21May2019

Andaman Chronicle

The Daily Diary of the Islands

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You Need to Tell Your Children About Them

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Other countries celebrate their mythical animals. Garuda belongs to Indian mythology but is the national bird and symbol of Indonesia. The Phoenix or Homa is revered in Iran. Here are some we should know:

Byangoma/Byangomi are the legendary birds of Bengal. They look like hoopoes, are wise, strict and assist whom they consider deserving. They are born blind and need a few drops of blood from a donor to activate their sight. When they tell the future to someone, that person hears voices, a bird song and suddenly has an intuition about something which is to happen.

Gandaberunda is a two headed, long tailed mythological bird who possesses enough, immense, magical strength. The bird is depicted as clutching elephants in its talons and beaks. In the ancient coins of Madurai, it is shown holding a snake in its beak. In the Chennakesava temple there are depictions of a chain of destruction : A deer is eaten by a python who is destroyed by an elephant who is attacked by a lion who is destroyed by Shiva in his incarnation as Sharabha. Sharabha is then destroyed by Narasimha (man-lion) as Gandaberunda

The tale is like this : The demon Hiranyakashipu is killed by Vishnu who comes as Narasimha. But even after he was slain, Narasimha, who had tasted blood, did not change back his form to Vishnu. The gods grew scared of his raging form and they appealed to Shiva. Shiva turned himself into Sharabha – a combination of man, lion, bird – in order to subdue Narasimha. But Narasimha changed into Gandaberunda, with two heads, fearful rows of teeth, black in complexion, and with wide blazing wings, and fought with Shiva-Sharabha for eighteen days, killed him and then died in a massive explosion of energy.

Gandaberunda was first adopted by the Vijayanagara empire in 1510, and as the royal insignia of the Wodeyar rulers of Mysore 500 years ago. Coins from the rule of Achyuta Deva Raya are thought to be the first to use the Gandaberunda on currency. Found in the sculptures and bas- reliefs of many temples in the South of India, it is the official emblem of Karnataka.

The Homa bird, of Vedic times, lives and breeds in the air, lays eggs in the air, and, before the eggs reach the earth, they hatch and the baby bird flies upward to join its mother. They never touch the earth. Persian, Turkish and Sufi  poets praise them as divine birds, and birds of paradise.

In Vedic literature there are references to birds bringing the divine Soma plant from the mountains. S and H have been interchanged in Greek and Persian: Hindus, eg. those living on the banks of the river Sindhu, are called Hindus. Six becomes Hexa in Greek. Perhaps the Soma bird is the mythical Homa bird. In Persian mythology it was believed that if this bird flew over someone’s head, and its shadow fell on him, he would become a mighty king. This belief made Tipu Sultan of Mysore create a golden throne with the Homa bird, in gold and jewels on the canopy .

The mythical Hansa or Swan/Goose represents purity, perfect union with the universe, divine knowledge. The Hansas, also called Aryannas, live in Manasasaras (Mansarovar) in the Himalayas. They don’t like rain, so they come to Earth when it rains in their abode ,and return as soon as rain begins here. They are the children of Dhritarashtri, who is the daughter of Kashyap and Tamra, according to the Valmiki Ramayana. The Hansas were first black and white, but they became pure white as a boon from Varuna the god, who once took their form to hide from Ravana. The gods had assembled for a havan and had to change into various bird forms when Ravana attacked them. The hansa eats pearls and separates milk from water from a mixture of both. The Hansas play an important role in the story of Nala and Damayanti.

In the Hindu epic Mahabharata, Navagunjara is a creature composed of nine different animals/birds. Navagunjara has the head of a rooster, and stands on three feet - those of an elephant, tiger, deer or horse, the fourth limb being a raised human arm carrying a lotus or a wheel. The beast has the neck of a peacock, the back or hump of a bull, the waist of a lion, and the tail of a serpent.

Navagunjara is a common motif in the Odisha Pata-Chitra style of painting. The creature is considered a form of Vishnu. Once, when Arjuna was meditating on a hill, Navagunjara appeared. Arjuna was terrified, as well as mesmerised, by the strange being, and raised his bow to shoot it. But he realised that Navagunjara was a manifestation of Vishnu, and dropped his weapons, bowing before the bird creature.

The Chakora is a legendary immortal partridge/crow pheasant that lives on moonbeams. On the full moon night, the Chakora cries passionately for the moon, shedding tears of unrequited love for the moon in all her glory shining high in the sky. In the Mahabharatam, when Kuchela was on his way to meet Krishna, he saw the Chakora. By the time he returned home after meeting him he was rich! The Chakora  is believed to bring good luck. The association of Chakora and Chandra, the moon god, has inspired a number of love stories in India.

The Chataka is a mythological cuckoo, who is unwilling to drink water found on earth, choosing to drink only fresh pure rain water as it falls from the sky. It has a shrill voice. The Chataka pleads with the clouds to bring in rain so that its thirst can be quenched. A black/yellow/white bird, smaller than the dove, it has a long tail. The long crest on its head is shaped like a bow with an arrow stretched tight on it. References to this bird are made in Kalidasa and Adi Shankaracharya.

The chataka and chakora depend on natural resources — rain water and moonlight, a lesson that nature needs to be preserved without destruction.

These are only very few of our mythological birds, but you need to tell your children about them. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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And I am Still Heartbroken?

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

When my husband died, I inherited his work table, a long wooden desk with huge drawers. It has travelled with me from house to house and I kept everything of value in it : letters from my husband, wedding albums, unfinished manuscripts, pictures of my childhood and my son’s childhood, letters from my mother and mother in law.

When I moved into 14 Ashoka Road in 2002, The British-built house had been the badly kept and was the office of the Communist Party for 30 years. I should have paid more attention to it, especially when I saw the fungus seeping in and termites eating the doors. But every time I called the government engineers in, they either replaced the doors or painted over the fungus.

I tried lots of old grandmother remedies: planting banana trees in the garden, as this is supposed to keep away termites, putting fresh cow dung patties in different places so that termites would be attracted and then, as they clambered on, we could get rid of all of them.

One day I decided to finish my book on garden plants. But I couldn’t get the drawers to open. When I called the carpenter in, we discovered everything had been eaten by termites – and I mean everything. In one stroke I lost all my treasures.

I cried. I had the house broken down from inside and de-termited room by room. It took 16 months.

So many people ask me questions about why nature invented mosquitoes, cockroaches or termites! Even though termites have robbed me of my most precious belongings, I acknowledge that they are more important to the world than I am.

Pests to homeowners, they are actually beneficial insects. They can digest tough plant fibres, or cellulose, because of the specialized bacteria in their guts. They break down tough fibres, they recycle dead trees back into the soil, contributing towards a rapid recycling and turn-over of minerals. When they tunnel through the soil they aerate and improve it, which helps tropical forests and agricultural lands grow faster as water and nutrients reach the plants and trees. Some species attack living trees, but these are trees that are weakened, or under stress, which release a chemical (kairomone) used by the termites to locate it.

Only a handful of the 3,000 or so known termite species are pests to people. The rest are soil engineers who create the ground under your feet and keep it healthy. Termites thrive by eating what others can’t or won’t: wood, dung, lichen, even dirt.

By poking holes as they dig through the ground, termites allow rain to soak deep into the soil, rather than running off or evaporating. Termites mix inorganic particles of sand, stone and clay with organic bits of leaf litter, discarded exoskeletons and the occasional dead animal, a blending that helps the soil retain nutrients and resist erosion.

The stickiness of a termite’s faeces gives body to the soil and prevents erosion. Bacteria in the termite’s gut are avid nitrogen fixers, able to extract the vital element from the air and convert it into fertilizer.

Termites, and the elaborate habitats they construct, are crucial to the health of deserts and semi-deserts, tropical and subtropical rain forests, warm, temperate woodlands. At least 126 species of termites (including wood feeding ones) feed on 18 species of mammal dung  and can quickly remove large amounts. As termites bring large quantities of dung below the soil surface and enrich soils with nutrients, dung feeding by termites is important in the functioning of tropical ecosystems.

Researchers at Princeton University report, in the journal Science, that termite mounds serve as oases in the desert, allowing the plants that surround them to persist on a fraction of the annual rainfall and to bounce back after a withering drought. Even when desertification starts to happen in the area, the vegetation on or around the mounds does so well that it will keep reseeding the environment. These mounds prevent fragile dry land from slipping into lifeless wasteland.

Termites have been historically widely eaten by people suffering from malnutrition due to protein deficiency, fed to animals, and used as medicine across the continents of Asia, South America and Africa. In fact, these insects are among the most commonly consumed insects on the planet, second only to grasshoppers. In a survey on the consumption of termites, held in Côte d’Ivoire, from 500 people surveyed, 97% consumed termites, demonstrating that such use is part of the reality of rural and urban populations in that country.

A. Vasconcellos, de Figueirêdo, I.S. Policarpo, and R.R. Nóbrega Alves have done a study on edible and medicinal termites. 45 termite species were recorded as being used by human populations in the human diet, or for livestock feeding, and nine species used as a therapeutic resource. As food or feed for animals they are eaten in 29 countries in Africa, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Malaysia, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela and Columbia. Even Indians eat the Odontotermesfeae species of termite.

Zambia uses termites to combat child malnutrition, Somalia to suture wounds. Brazil uses termites for asthma, flu, bronchitis and as antifungal, India uses them for asthma, ulcers, body pain, rheumatism and the enhancement of lactation. Nigeria uses termites to stop sickness in pregnant women, soothsaying and to ward away ghosts!

Termites of the species Macrotermes have high levels of proteins and lipids and are abundant in Africa. They are known as “big termites”, and are considered one of the favourite foods, not only of humans but also of gorillas and chimpanzees and wild birds.

Their mounds, or termitaria, are also important to humans. For instance, researchers E.Arhin, M.C.Esoah and B.S.Berdie, have studied the Economic Importance of Termitaria in Mineral Exploration. Termites transport deep seated inorganic and organic material into their shelter. In areas where minerals are not immediately apparent, miners analyse the soil of termite mounds before choosing the area. Often gold has been found in the samples.

The mounds are vast, clean, well ventilated with cool circulating air - palaces built of tunnels and galleries of sand, clay and termite excretions. The mounds protect their builders from the sun that would desiccate them, the rain that would drown them, and their many predators. The mounds are refuges for plants, fungi and large herbivores, too. They are cooler in the heat of day and warmer at night. Antelopes often congregate around termite mounds to graze. Cheetahs come to remain cooler during the day. Elephants rub itchy backsides against them.

They are also fascinating insects. The oldest societies on this planet, almost 200 million years old, each colony has three distinct castes : the reproductives (queen and king), the soldiers, and  workers. The colony can consist of more than a million individuals. Their nest is located either underground, on a tree, or in a mound sticking out of the soil.

In almost all species, the workers and soldiers are blind. New reproductive termites are winged, and able to fly. These young kings and queens leave their home colony to find a new place to found their own colony. They break their wings off and settle down in their new home to raise their offspring.

Termites use chemical scents produced by chest glands to talk to one another. Each colony produces a distinct scent. Termites stay clean by grooming each other. Their good hygiene is important to their survival, as it keeps parasites and harmful bacteria under control within the colony.

Termite soldiers guard the nest at all times. When they sense danger they sound the alarm by banging their heads against the gallery walls to send warning vibrations throughout the colony. If workers set out to repair a hole in the mound, they will be surrounded by soldiers who protect them.

Termites are the ultimate model social citizens. They divide their labour and are altruistic and unselfish. In a new study of “panic escape” behaviour among termites as they seek to flee from danger, researchers at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center found that, unlike humans in a crowded theatre, or ants, termites do not panic.

They don’t run about, push and shove, climb over the fallen. They file into a single formation and follow the ones in front in a unidirectional flow at a uniform speed and spacing. If one termite stumbles, or slows down, those behind stop and wait for it to right itself: No trampling allowed.

Unfortunately we build our homes from termite food — wood. And I am still heartbroken. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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India Was Not Always This Cruel

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

India was not always this cruel. Inspite of the culture of animal sacrifice and ritual hunts by tribals, it was, by and large, a peaceful country where people lived together with animals and respected their lives. All this has changed in the last 50 years. Now animals are either a nuisance, or a commodity, and hurting them is no longer something one thinks about. What can you say about a country whose government says, happily, that 52% of our exports are meat, fish and leather. And close on their heels are eggs.

Till a few decades ago, most villages and communities has a gramadev: a god or goddess who looked after the area, had his/her own little temple and was regularly prayed to. Many of them represented, or looked after, animals and so did the villagers .

Bhramari is the goddess of bees and wasps who cling to her body. An avatar of Durga,  She is mentioned in the Devi Bhagvata Purana. Her main temples are in Trisrota, Jalpaiguri and in Nashik.

Arunasura meditated for thousands of years to Brahma. For the first ten thousand years, he lived by ingesting only dry leaves; for the second, he lived by drinking only drops of water; and, for the third, he lived by inhaling air alone. For the fourth ten thousand years, he did not consume anything. Light emitted from his body and began to burn the whole world. Lord Brahma appeared and granted him his wish : protection from all two- or four-legged creatures. Thinking himself invincible Arunasura assembled  an army of asuras to vanquish the gods. Indra trembled with fear and went with the Gods to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

Arunasura took the moon, the sun and then attacked the abode of the gods, Mount Kailash. Shiva brought his army but was unable to defeat him. He called out to Parvati, and the Shakti grew tall, wielding a mace, trident, long sword and shield, in her four hands.  She closed her three eyes in concentration, summoning forth  six legged creatures - bees, hornets, wasps, termites and spiders from the skies. They emanated from her as Bhramari Devi and  both destroyed the asuras. They attacked Arunasura and ripped open each part of his body.

Scorpions are worshipped from time immemorial: seals with Scorpion images are discovered in Indus Valley, heaven is called ‘scorpion world’ (puth Thel Ulaku) in Tamil. In Urvasi, or Peacock Island, in the Brahmaputra river in Guwahati, the Devi in the Umananda temple is represented by a scorpion.

In Kandakoor village in Yadgir, Karnataka the villagers celebrate Nagapanchami as Chelina Jatre (festival of the scorpion). The villages worship the scorpion goddess Kondammai and play with live scorpions as well. Interestingly, there have been no cases of people being stung by these scorpions. People come  from nearby districts, and the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, to be a part of this religious ceremony. Milk, coconut oil and sarees are offered to the Scorpion goddess.

Chelamma is a Scorpion Goddess of southern Karnataka. Followers believe that by praying at the Chelamma shrine a person will be guarded from scorpion bites. She is the goddess of the Kolaramma temple in Kolar. There is an ancient Hundi which is carved down into the ground and people have been putting coins into it for the last 1,000 years.

Gogaji, also known as Jahar Veer Gogga, Gugga Vir, Gugga Rana, is a folk warrior-hero deity venerated as a 'snake-god' worshipped in the villages of  Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Haryana and Jammu.

According to legend, Goga was born with the blessings of Guru Gorakhnath and was called Goga ji because of his service to cows. It is believed that he lived in the 12th Century and his kingdom was called Bagad Dedga, near Ganganagar. He was a member of the Chauhan clan.

Goga protects his followers from snakes, poisons and other evils. Although a Hindu, he has many Muslim devotees. His shrine is a one-room building with a minaret on each corner and a grave inside, marked by a  bamboo stick with peacock plumes, a coconut, some coloured threads and  a blue flag on the top.

His symbol, a black snake, is painted on a wall. Fairs are held at Gogamedi in Hanumangarh, Rajasthan. It is a common sight to see people with snakes lying around their necks. According to a folklore in and around his birthplace, Dadrewa, it is believed that if someone picks up even a stick from Johra (a barren land which has a sacred pond in Dadrewa), it turns into a snake.

In the Punjab region Guggaji  is worshiped in shrines known as marris. The shrines can range from ant holes to structures that resemble a Sikh Gurdwara, or a Mosque. People bring food offerings and also leave them in places where snakes reside.

Nagnachiya Ma, the snake goddess, is the kuldevi of the Rathore Rajput clan. Her upper half is a woman and her lower half is a snake. Her main temple is in village Nagana near Jodhpur. She was originally established by Rao Dhuhad under a Neem tree, which makes that tree also holy for the Rathores. She is also worshipped in Khakharechi in Gujarat, where the Rathores built a lake. In all villages where Rathores live they have a shrine of Nagnachiya Mata.

Manasa Devi, the folk goddess of snakes, is worshipped, mainly in Bengal and north-eastern India, for the prevention and cure of snakebite, smallpox and chicken pox, and for fertility and prosperity. She is also known as Vishahara (the destroyer of poison), Nityā (eternal) and Padmavati.

Originally a tribal goddess, Manasa was accepted in the Hindu pantheon by the 14th century. Manasa is depicted as a woman covered with snakes, sitting on a lotus or a snake. Her canopy is the hoods of seven cobras. Sometimes, she is depicted with a child on her lap. She is often called "the one-eyed goddess" and, among the Hajong tribe of northeastern India, she is called Kānī Dīyāʊ (Blind Goddess)

The Puranas are the first scriptures to speak about her birth. Once, when serpents and reptiles had created chaos on the Earth, Kashyapa created the goddess Manasa from his mind (mana). Brahma made her the presiding deity of snakes and reptiles. In other myths she is the daughter of sage Kashyapa and Kadru, the mother of all Nāgas. Myths glorified her by describing that she saved Shiva after he drank the poison, and venerated her as the "remover of poison".

Generally, Manasa is worshipped without an image. A branch of a tree, an earthen pot, or an earthen snake image is worshiped as the goddess. In North Bengal her shrine is found in the courtyard of almost every agrarian household.

Manasa is also worshipped in Assam, and a kind of Oja-Pali (musical folk theatre) is dedicated to her. Manasa is ceremonially worshiped on Nag Panchami - a festival of snake worship in the Hindu month of Shravan (July–August). Bengali women observe a fast on this day and offer milk at snake holes. In South India people worship her at the Manasa Devi Temple in Mukkamala, West Godavari, Andhra Pradesh.

Bagalamukhi  is a  crane-headed goddess in Hindu legend, Bagala controls black magic, poisons and disguised forms of death. She rules over the perception which make us feel, at a distance, the death or misery of those we know. She incites men to torture one another. She revels in suffering. She wears yellow and her left hand carries torture instruments, while the right hand holds the tongues of adversaries. Her hair hang freely about her back and shoulders, and her tiara is sealed with a crescent moon, two small golden cranes, while a large white crane with outspread wings rests upon the crown of her head.

Her legend relates how an asura named Madan, ‘The Seducer’, once gained the boon of omniscient speech, whereby everything he said came to pass. Intoxicated with this power Madan began to use it to defeat all his opponents. The gods petitioned Bagalamukhi. Seizing Madan by his tongue she paralysed his power of speech. She is often evoked to win lawsuits, to gain power, to render opponents speechless, to block or paralyse enemies, and to increase eloquence, memory, and knowledge.

The main  temple of Bagalamukhi is located in the Newar city of Patan, in the Kangra Valley, and in Datiya in Madhya Pradesh.

Airy, whose eyes are on his head, is the gramdeva of Kumaon and the protector of animals. His two attendants, Sau and Bhau, ride on dogs. His main temple is Byandhura, Champavat.

Chaumu is worshipped as the protector of animals in the Jhulaghat-Pancheshwar region. Bells and milk are offered. His main temples are in Chaupakhia in Pithoragar, and Chamdeval in Champavat.

There are hundreds more. If you know of any do send the details to me. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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