Monsoon dance

Rains and peacocks are inseparable. Thakur Paramjit on the national bird

Man-more machaaye shore

Ghata ghan-ghore chhayee

Dheere dheere se

THE song while welcoming the cool showers of monsoon compares the joyous mind with a dancing peacock. Peacock, our national bird, has for centuries held an enviable position in the cultural scene of the subcontinent. Be it folklore, mythology, art, craft or literature, the peacock is present everywhere. It finds a mention in the stories of the Puranas and Panchtantra. Lord Krishna always wore a peacock feather in his hair. The peacock also held mention in the writings of Kalidas — Kumarsambhava, Raghuvamsa, Abhigana Shakuntalam, Meghdoot and Ritusamhara.

According to a Greek myth, the eyes on the peacock’s tail are those of the thousand-eyed demon Argus. Goddess Juno (wife of Jupiter, the Greek equivalent of Brahma) transplanted these to the peacock’s plumage. According to a folklore in the Khasi community of Meghalaya, when the world was new, the sun was a beautiful maiden who fell in love with a peacock. The bird did not like her and ran away. Shedding tears, she followed it and when her tears fell on its tail and created permanent marks.

The peacock has been the favourite motif of folk and classical arts. Miniature paintings representing the raags and raaginis such as malhar, vasant and madhu-madhavi depict the peacock accompanying the nayika. Natyasastra and Abhinaya Darpana, treatises on classical dance styles, pay much attention to the portrayal of the bird. In Kathak, 31 single and 27 combined hand gestures indicate the peacock, also evident in the combination of kapitha and sola padma in Bharatnatyam. The hand gestures called hamsasya shows a peacock in Kathakali, while in Odissi, the bird is expressed by combining the hand gestures as kapitha and ala padma.

In the kar dance of the Baiga tribe in Madhya Pradesh, gaily-dressed men put peacock feathers on their turbans while these adorn the coiffeur of women. The members of the Muria tribe of Bastar in Madhya Pradesh wear masks and put peacock feathers in their headdress for the chherta dance. Kharia, Bimjhal, Oraon, Kol and Kisan tribals of Orissa perform the karma dance while the nuptial dance called phul baant is performed in Seraikela in Bihar in the style of the peacock. In khamba lim, the harvest dance, nagas of Manipur imitate the courtship dance of peacock. The worlis of Maharashtra put peacock feathers in a brass pot and dance around it.

Whether it is the city palace of Jaipur, Pichola palace at Udaipur or Phool Mahal at Bikaner, the peacock forms an important part. The Mughals fancied it and reared it in their gardens. It appears as a recurring motif on jars of the Harappan civilisation (2500-1500 BC). It has also been sculpted in various periods — Sunga, Kushana, Gupta, Chola, Pala and Hoysala. Shell-craft, jewellery, embroidery, weaving, filigree, woodwork, toys, stoneware and metal craft: wherever the Indian craftsman has turned his hand he has left the peacock to delight and embellish.