Chapter 19 - The Saranga Birds
IN the stories narrated in the Puranas, birds and beasts speak like men, and sometimes they give sound advice and even teach spiritual wisdom. But the natural qualities of those creatures are adroitly made to peep through this human veil.
One of the characteristic beauties of the Puranic literature is this happy fusion of nature and imagination. In a delightful passage in the Ramayana, Hanuman, who is described as very wise and learned, is made to frolic with apish joy, when he imagined that the beautiful damsel he saw at Ravana's inner courtyard was Sita.
It is usual to entertain children with stories in which birds and beasts are made to speak. But the stories of the Puranas are meant for elderly people, and in them usually some background is given in explanation of animals having the gift of human speech.
The usual expedient employed is a previous birth when those creatures were human beings. For instance, a deer was a rishi in a previous birth, or a fox a king. The subsequent degradation being due to a curse.
In such cases the deer will act as a deer and yet speak as a rishi, and in the fox the clever nature is shot through with the characteristics of a wise and experienced king. The stories are thereby made interesting vehicles of the great truths they sometimes convey.
Khandavaprastha, that forest full of uneven places and thorns and prickles and cumbered with the crumbling vestiges of a long dead city, was indeed a frightful place when it came into the possession of the Pandavas.
Birds and beasts had made it their abode, and it was infested with thieves and wicked men. Krishna and Arjuna resolved to set fire to the forest and construct a new city in its place.
A saranga bird was living there with its four fledgelings. The male bird was pleasantly roaming about in the forest with another female bird neglecting wife and children. The mother bird looked after its young ones.
As the forest was set on fire as commanded by Krishna and Arjuna and the fire spread in all directions, doing its destructive work, the worried mother bird began to lament:
'The fire is coming nearer and nearer burning everything, and soon it will be here and destroy us. All forest creatures are in despair and the air is full of the agonising crash of falling trees. Poor wingless babies! You will become a prey to the fire. What shall I do? Your father has deserted us, and I am not strong enough to fly away carrying you with me."
"Mother, do not torment yourself on our account. Leave us to our fate. If we die here, we shall attain a good birth in some future life. If you give up your life for our sake, our family will become extinct. Fly to a place of safety, take another mate and be happy. You will soon have other children and be able to forget us. Mother, reflect and do what is best for our race."
Despite this earnest entreaty, the mother had no mind to leave her children. She said: "I shall remain here and perish in the flames with you."
This is the background of the story of the birds. A rishi named Mandapala long lived faithful to his vow of perfect brahmacharya but when he sought entry to the higher regions, the gatekeeper said: "There is no place here for a childless man" and turned him back. He was then born as a saranga bird and lived with a female companion named Jarita. She laid four eggs. Then he left Jarita and wandered in the woods with another female companion, Lapita.
The four eggs of Jarita hatched in time and they were the four birds mentioned above. As they were the children of a rishi they could cheer and encourage their mother in the way they did.
The mother bird told her children: "There is a rat-hole by the side of this tree. I shall put you there. You can get into the hole and escape the fire. I shall close the mouth of the hole with earth and the fire will not touch you. When the fire dies down I shall let you out."
The children would not agree. They said: "The rat in the hole will devour us. It is better to perish in the flames than to die ignobly by being eaten up by rats."
The mother bird tried to relieve the fears of the children and said: "I saw an eagle devour the rat. There is now no danger for you inside the hole."
But the children said: "There are sure to be other rats in the hole. Our danger is not ended by the killing of one rat by the eagle. Kindly save your life by flying before the fire reaches us and this tree catches fire. We cannot get into the rat-hole. Why should you sacrifice your life for our sake? How have we merited it, who have done nothing for you? We have only brought you unhappiness since we came into the world. Take another mate and live happily."
The fire which destroyed the whole forest, mercifully left the baby birds unscathed. When the fire had subsided, the mother bird came back and saw with wonder that her children were safe and chirping merrily. She embraced them and was intensely happy.
While the fire was raging, the male bird, anxious for the safety of his young ones, had expressed his fears to his new love-bird Lapita. She had petulantly upbraided him. Hearing his repeated laments "Is it so?" she said: "I know your mind, I know that you desire to go back to Jarita, having had enough of me. Why falsely bring in the fire and the children? You have yourself told me that the children of Jarita would never perish in fire since the Fire god has given you that boon. You may as well tell the truth and go away, if you like, to your beloved Jarita. I shall only be another of the many trusting females betrayed by unworthy males and cast out wandering in the forest. You may go."
The bird Mandapala said: "Your assumption is untrue. I took birth as a bird for obtaining children and I am naturally anxious about them.
I shall just go and see them and then come back to you " Having thus consoled his new mate, be went to the tree where Jarita was seated.
Jarita paid no attention to her consort but remained absorbed in joy at finding her children alive.
Then she turned to her husband and asked in an indifferent tone why he had come. He replied with affection:
"Are my children happy? Who is the eldest among them?"
Then Jarita cut in icily: "Do you greatly care? Go back to her for whom you abandoned me. Be happy with her."
Mandapala philosophised: "A woman will not care for her husband after she has become a mother. Such is the way of the world. Even the blameless Vasishtha was thus ignored by Arundhati."
Chapter1 - Ganapati
Chapter2 - Devavrata
Chapter3 - Bhishma's Vow
Chapter4 - Amba And Bhishma
Chapter5 - Devayani And Kacha
Chapter6 - The Marriage Of Devayani
Chapter7 - Yayati
Chapter8 - Vidura
Chapter9 - Kunti Devi
Chapter10 - Death Of Pandu
Chapter11 - Bhima
Chapter12 - Karna
Chapter13 - Drona
Chapter14 - The Wax Palace
Chapter15 - The Escape Of The Pandavas
Chapter16 - The Slaying Of Bakasura
Chapter17 - Draupadi's Swayamvaram
Chapter18 - Indraprastha
Chapter19 - The Saranga Birds
Chapter20 - Jarasandha
Chapter21 - The Slaying Of Jarasandha
Chapter22 - The First Honor
Chapter23 - Sakuni Comes In
Chapter24 - The Invitation
Chapter25 - The Wager
Chapter26 - Draupadi's Grief
Chapter27 - Dhritarashtra's Anxiety
Chapter28 - Krishna's Vow
Chapter29 - Pasupata
Chapter30 - Affliction Is Nothing New
Chapter31 - Agastya
Chapter32 - Rishyasringa
Chapter33 - Fruitless Penance
Chapter34 - Yavakrida's End
Chapter35 - Mere Learning Is Not Enough
Chapter36 - Ashtavakra
Chapter37 - Bhima And Hanuman
Chapter38 - I am No Crane
Chapter39 - Wicked Are Never Satisfied
Chapter40 - Duryodhana Disgraced
Chapter41 - Sri Krishna's Hunger
Chapter42 - The Enchanted Pool
Chapter43 - Domestic Service
Chapter44 - Virtue Vindicated
Chapter45 - Matsya Defended
Chapter46 - Prince Uttara
Chapter47 - Promise Fulfilled
Chapter48 - Virata's Delusion
Chapter49 - Taking Counsel
Chapter50 - Arjuna's Charioteer
Chapter51 - Salya Against His Nephews
Chapter52 - Vritra
Chapter53 - Nahusha
Chapter54 - Sanjaya's Mission
Chapter55 - Not a Needle-Point Of Territory
Chapter56 - Krishna's Mission
Chapter57 - Attachment and Duty
Chapter58 - The Pandava Generalissimo
Chapter59 - Balarama
Chapter60 - Rukmini
Chapter61 - Non-Cooperation
Chapter62 - Krishna Teaches
Chapter63 - Yudhishthira Seeks Benediction
Chapter64 - The First Day's Battle
Chapter65 - The Second Day
Chapter66 - The Third Day's Battle
Chapter67 - The Fourth Day
Chapter68 - The Fifth Day
Chapter69 - The Sixth Day
Chapter70 - The Seventh Day
Chapter71 - The Eighth Day
Chapter72 - The Ninth Day
Chapter73 - The Passing Of Bhishma
Chapter74 - Karna and the Grandsire
Chapter75 - Drona in Command
Chapter76 - To Seize Yudhishthira Alive
Chapter77 - The Twelfth Day
Chapter78 - Brave Bhagadatta
Chapter79 - Abhimanyu
Chapter80 - The Death Of Abhimanyu
Chapter81 - A Father's Grief
Chapter82 - The Sindhu King
Chapter83 - Borrowed Armor
Chapter84 - Yudhishthira's Misgivings
Chapter85 - Yudhishthira's Fond Hope
Chapter86 - Karna And Bhima
Chapter87 - Pledge Respected
Chapter88 - Somadatta's End
Chapter89 - Jayadratha Slain
Chapter90 - Drona Passes Away
Chapter91 - The Death Of Karna
Chapter92 - Duryodhana
Chapter93 - The Pandavas Reproached
Chapter94 - Aswatthama
Chapter95 - Avenged
Chapter96 - Who Can Give Solace?
Chapter97 - Yudhishthira's Anguish
Chapter98 - Yudhishthira Comforted
Chapter99 - Envy
Chapter100 - Utanga
Chapter101 - A Pound Of Flour
Chapter102 - Yudhishthira Rules
Chapter103 - Dhritarashtra
Chapter104 - The Passing Away Of The Three
Chapter105 - Krishna Passes Away
Chapter106 - Yudhishthira's Final Trial