Birds that caught the eye

With Lathashree Kolla, I began exploring the representation of ‘Saras’ crane in Indian Art in 2015. It is a lengthy project, and would take up substantial archive-hunting, miniature painting scrutiny and examination of various sculptures and conserved pieces.
The aim of this project is to identify the occurrences, provenance and cultural connection of the representation of Saras cranes.
Saras cranes have a distinctive long neck with red coloration, while rest of the bird is white. Saras cranes have their natural habitat of tall grasses and wetlands in modern Western India.
Of special religious significance to the Buddhists, this bird is believed to be monogamous. The partner laments the death of their mate for days on upon being hunted, etc. as per the accounts of local bird guides.
My trip to Nalsarovar near Ahmedabad to spot Saras cranes was unsuccessful on spotting the cranes themselves, but I came home with many legends and stories which the local Ahmedavadi population had to share. Rowing in the darkness, waiting for dawn, every white bird my eyes caught seemed to be Saras for a fraction of a second at least. We chanced upon flamingos and other beautiful birds that day, but I was heaving for the sight of Saras! I wanted to stand close to this enigmatic bird which has been frozen in countless miniature paintings, numerous frescoes from Leh to Rajasthan and immortalized in folk-lore.
Julia Leslie’s article mentions Saras to be the “Krauncha” of the Ramayana. I was unaware of this suggestion back when I had painted a series of paintings on Ramayana. Also, as I am reading newer pieces from Indian narrative literature, numerous connections with Saras are unfolding.
Life-long partnership has been attributed to this bird, and hence it is no wonder that the bird finds itself portrayed alongside lamenting ‘nayika’ for her lover in the miniature paintings… Spring in Mughal miniature paintings is incomplete without a dancing Saras crane pair. Flamboyant male Saras displaying his plumage to appease his love, often forms a pretty addition to courting scenes of Marwari miniature paintings…
I plan to weave these (presently) fragmentary pieces of evidences to have a robust narrative of the bird, both as an integral part of ecology, culture and religious beliefs.
Mughal miniature painting showing birds (from: Mughal Miniatures by J. M. Rogers) The red necked ones are Saras!

Published by Kalemighty

Penned thoughts from South Asian culture. Follow for thoughts on Archaeology, Anthropology, and Pedagogy around the world

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