Peacock: The National Bird of India 

Not for nothing is peacock called the king of birds. It is one of the most beautiful birds. India has chosen it as its National bird.

It is big bird. Females don’t have the beautiful train of tailed feathers. They look drab in comparison. Every part of the body of the peacock is full of beauty except its feet.

There are many myths and fables connected to this bird in India. It is said that Krishna adorns a small peacock feather in his hair because more is most pious and devoid of any sex. It produces ear drops while dancing and the drop is lapped up by the female and she lays eggs.

Of course these are all stories. It is illogical to think that lord Krishna who had innumerable women as his consorts will consider such a choice.

In India peacocks are in plenty. In earlier times, they were commonly found in the villages roaming in the courtyards and sitting perched on the roofs and tree branches. They are commonly found in the plains areas jutting the hills.

There is a forest near my home where they are in plenty. During summer when they dance , it is sign of impending rains.

Here are some photos..

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Revival of Govardhan Parvat: The Mountain Moved by Krishna

In our country where mythology plays a big role in the lives of its inhabitants, many sites like hills, rivers, and caves have their associations with the mythology. One such concerns the Lord Krishna and is called Govardhan Parvat (mountain).

The legend is that when the uninterrupted deluge threatened to innundate Mathura, Krishna lifted the entire mountain on his little finger to make an umbrella to protect the Mathura.

UP government has planned to revive the almost barren Govardhan parvat situated about 23 kilometres from Mathura. Government plans to plant the herbal plants on the mountain. These are:

Kadamba: It is a tropical tree. Krishna and Radha are said to have conducted their love play under the cool shade of the tree. It is used as one of the raw materials in the preparation of “itars”.

Tamala or Indian bayleaf or tezpatta: It is commonly used in Indian culinary as well as medicines particularly for alleviation of diabetes due to the presence of highly antioxidant enzymes.

Karira: Scientific name is Capparis decidua. It’s spicy fruits are used for culinary purposes like vegetable, curries, and pickles. It is also used in medicine.

Pakar : It belongs to mulberry family. Leaves have sour taste.

Pilkhan: Scientific name Ficus virens. It grows to heights of about 100 feet. It is Avenue tree. It bears “strangler figs” because they can germinate on other trees and strangle them. It is used in Thai cuisine.

Halcyon days and Mythical Bird identified with kingfisher

The term halcyon days usually refers to the past times in one’s life when there a calm, happiness or successful period.
The term derives from the Latin word Alcyone who in mythology was daughter of Aeolus and wife of Ceyx. Her husband died during his shipwreck. The grief stricken Alcyone threw herself into the sea. After that both were transformed into halcyon birds identified as Kingfishers. For example the biological name of the white throated kingfisher is Halcyon smyrnensis.

When the birds made their floating nest on the sea, Aeolus restrained his winds and their was a period of calm of 14 days at the winter solstice, so that the eggs hatch into chicks and become birds.

The word halcyon comes from “Hals” meaning “sea or salty” and “kyon” meaning “to conceive” meaning to conceive in sea.

White throated kingfisher is a very beautiful bird. It is quite common in our area. Although going by its name, it is mainly a fish eater but it has modified its eating habits. It can catch insects, small rodents and lizards. That is why it can be found sitting on trees in the fields away from the water bodies.

Here are some pictures taken by me.

The Fabled Jand (prosopis cineraria) Tree

There are many references to “Jand” tree in Punjabi literature. Foremost it is connected to a place called Danabad the village of Mirza in the legend of “Mirza-Sahiban”. After getting Sahiba from her home on the day of her marriage to someone else, and sneaking on his mare-called Bakki in local language, he decides to take rest under the cool shade of Jand tree. He was overconfident that even after taking rest for the summer noon, he will make it easily to his native place before the end of the day. Rest is well known. He was killed by Sahiban’s brothers who came chasing them.

Then there is a famous Gurudwara called “Jand Sahib” in Bathinda Punjab where Guru Gobind Singh is said to have rested under a Jand tree. And and there is one tree located behind Kiran Cinema in Chandigarh which I saw today. This is said to be very old and indeed it looked like that as only skeleton was there. Many people worship it.I always thought about how this tree must look.

I found a very beautiful video describing the beauty of this tree by Mirza. it is in Punjabi language but brief summary of the meaning is “Mirza describes the cool shade of Jand tree, the branches are touching the ground, you shouldn’t say no to sitting under the shade of it. And why to stress the mare in the hot sun because it is not rainy season. You don’t worry, we will reach Danabad (his native village) before the sunset.

Before Chandigarh came into existence, there were villages here. People lived mostly rural life based on agriculture. They worship female goddesses which is attested by many temples in the area. Like Hindu culture they worshipped trees and idols. The Jand tree is one such tree which was worshipped in the area.

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There are not many trees of this species in this area nowadays. I was curious to know how this tree looked like and other details. I found an article in the English daily “The Tribune” which gives the good information about the tree.

The tree known by scientific name of “prosopis cineraria” is endemic to dry areas and is found mostly in Rajasthan and adjoining areas of Punjab and Haryana. It is known by is known as “Jand” in Hindi and Punjabi, “jandi” in Haryanvi, “khejri” in Rajasthani, and “sami or samri” in Gujarati. The tree plays an important role in ecosystem of arid and semi-arid areas. All the parts of the tree are useful, it is called kalp taru or wish fulfilling tree.

During Vedic times, khejri wood was used to kindle the sacred fire for performing yajana. There are references of it in Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Lord Rama worshipped khejri tree known as Sami  Pooja, which represents the goddess of power, before he led his army to kill Ravana. The worshipping of this tree is referred to as samipuja. Pandavas also worshipped this tree and hid their weapons in it during their agyatavasa.

Khejri tree provides shelter and protection to animals and birds in desert areas. This tree is home to many large birds like kites, hawks and vultures.

Many Rajasthani families use the green and unripe pods (known as sangri) in preparation of curries and pickles. The importance of the medicinal value of samitree has been highlighted in our ancient literature. The bark of the tree provides immediate relief to a person bitten by snake or scorpion. Its leaves and fruits are used in preparing medicines for curing nervous disorders. The medicines prepared from its bark are also used for treating diarrhoea, dysentery, piles, worm infestations and other skin problems. The bark is also used to cure leprosy, bronchitis, asthma, tumour of muscles and to improve concentration. The gum of the tree is nutritive and good in taste and is used by pregnant woman at the time of delivery.

When Braham Kamal (ब्रह्मकमल) Bloomed in our home

One of neighbours in ONGC colony Dehradun gave us a cutting of a cactus like plant in March 2013. She told that the plant is called “Brahama Kamal” and is considered very auspicious in Hindu mythology. It is said that a lotus bloomed from the navel of Vishnu who is the greatest of holy trinity of Brahama, Vishnu and Mahesh or Shiva and Brahama was created on this bloom. That is why it is called Braham Kamal (ब्रह्मकमल). Kamal means lotus in Sanskrit

It’s scientific name is Epiphyllum oxypetalum. It is a very interesting and unique plant. It belongs to Family Cactaceae. It is commonly known as Night blooming Cereus, Queen of the night, Lady of the night as its beautiful Lotus like flower blooms late night. In India it is called as Brahma Kamal ( ) and is treated as a sacred plant. It is popularly known as Orchid Cactus as the flower has orchid like beauty and plant resembles cactus in habit. It is known by different common names in different parts of the world viz. Jungle cactus, Dutchman’s Pipe.

The plant is native to Sri lanka where it is known as Kaduphul ,it is believed that plant blooms rarely and that too late night. People in many places of India have been successfully growing it in the pots. At least I know of two people in Mumbai and Dehradun.

In the meanwhile, we shifted to Panchkula near Chandigarh and brought the plant with us. It began to add on branches but no flower appeared on it for two years. Then in the last week of July, a strange stem like structure covered with pink threadlike structures began taking shape. Firstly it grew straight downward from the tip of a blade of plant. Then the lower part began swelling and becoming like bulb. On the evening of second August around seven o clock the bud began opening and flower unfolding. By ten o clock in the night, it completely opened up to show a pristine white lotus. It was mesmerising to see it.

We were very excited as we were told that flower blooms for one night only and had a life span of 10 hours. In the early morning, we again observed it. It was still there but had begun to shrink back. In the noon, it completely became like a thread. But after three weeks it again gave another flower.

It is said to blossom during mid July to mid October in India. Let us see that if it bless us more times during this season.

Searching the elusive Saraswati !!!!!

We have been taught in our school about Indus Valley civilization and how it was replaced by arrival of the people from west which have been called Aryans. That the Indus Valley civilisation was spread between Indus  and Yamuna rivers. Exacavation at many locations established many huge settlements like Harrapa in Pakistan side punjab and Mohenjodaro in Sind district. But it is not the end. So many sites have been established belonging to this civilisation throughout North India beginning from plains of Punjab and Haryana to as far south as Dholavira in the Kutcch coastal area of gujarat.

This civilisation thus was spread into the fertile flat plains served by many rivers like five rivers of Punjab, Indus River, Yamuna river and so many of their tributaries. These are perennial rivers with the origin in the glaciers of Himalayas. They bring about huge supply of water as well as rich alluvial soil. Thus the area is suitable for agriculture.

The civilisation is said to highly advanced as is evident from the town and unban planning, sanitary system, baths, water harvesting and trade with many countries in the west. But even then it is said that these people did not develop any language or whatever symbols are there still have not being interpreted.

Then it is also said that one fine day this civilisation disappeared. There are many theories like inundations due to changing course of the rivers which cannot happen short time. Another very strong reason is the invasion of these areas by fair colored people from the west. These are said to be pastoral people rearing cattles and riding chariots driven by horses. These were the people who are called Aryans and since they vanquished the native dark colored people who were pushed south wards or those remained were obliged to be inferior to their conquerors.

It is also said that the Vedas are their creation. How the pastoral people can create such profound literature? In these Vedas, another river figures prominently or rather dominates. It is river Saraswati. This river is said to have been responsible for the developments of the civilisation along its banks. It is said to be flowing between Satluj and Yamuna and going all the way down towards Sind after merging with Ghaggar river and then Hakra river combinedly called Ghaggar Hakra river.

Ghaggar which is sometimes synonym with Saraswati still exists but even the Vedas mention that at the Saraswati has dried down at many places is elusive today. It is definitely not the elusive third river of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati trio which does not fit the route mentioned in the Vedas. Since so many of remains of Indus Valley civilisation have been discovered in Haryana like Rakhigarhi-which is said to be spread over the largest area than earlier sites like Harappa fall near the path said to had been followed by the Saraswati . This means that Vedas existed at the time of Indus Valley civilisation people and invasion theory is not plausible. Many scholars like Michel Danino agree with this theory in his book “The lost river: on the trail of the Saraswati“. The following map is proposed by him.

But many like Doctor R.C.Thakran, professor of history at university of Delhi  who has done research on the geological and soil aspects of areas along the Ghaggar river contest the existence of river as being responsible for giving rise to such a big civilisation. It is too small a river with its catchment area in the lower Shivaliks. Thus at the most , this must have been a season river. The variation in the moisture content of the soil in the dry beds decline sharply with the distance travelled indicating that flow was not large enough so as to saturate the subsoil equally all along. Sediments are identical to those of Shivalik hills in composition indicating the source in the Shivaliks. Anyway the present reality is that river is not visible anywhere.

But government in Haryana is bent on its revival. Based on the scriptures, it will excavate the river said path to revive the past Aryan glory with which we North Indian identify ourselves. There are plans to pump the water from underground through tube wells into the excavated river.

According to the report the work is already begun. As reported in the times of India newspaper reproduced below.

As part of its attempt to revive Saraswati river, Haryana government on Tuesday initiated excavation work at Rolaheri village in Yamunanagar district.

Inaugurating the work, Haryana assembly Speaker Kanwar Pal said the project would once again take the culture and heritage of India to the golden period. Officials say that south Indian scholar Dr Ratnakar has shown interest in initiating the work on the project.”

Let us hope to be positive. But the conclusions based on the facts not the sentiments.

 

Rudrakash Elaeocarpus blascoi: Last Tear of Siva???

5Mukhi
Panch Mukhi (5 faces)

Rudraksha tree and its seed are held in great esteem for religious purposes. The nuts are very strong and has faces (mukhas) formed by engraved lines from its head to the bottom across the outer surface. Most common nuts have 5 faces and are called “Panchmukhi” meaning with five faces. Most precious is the one with 21 faces and only two go them are said to exist. There price may range anything between 10 to 15 lakhs INR.

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21 Mukhi (21 faces)

The nuts have the potential of medicinal values. Most of the members of the family Elaeocarpaceae have indolizidine alkaloid compounds, which have attracted a great deal of interest on account of their ability to inhibit the enzymatic activity of glucosidases. Hence, there is some potential to explore it further in the treatment of cancer, HIV and blood pressure.

In indian mythology tree are connected with Lord Siva who is said to have shed tears of grief and the tear drops became trees when they fell on the soil. These trees in India are confined mostly to North Eastern and Southern India.

The trees do not proliferate in numbers in wild. This is because of the extreme hard shell of the nut and low permeability to Moisture. This results in poor and erratic germination. Not only that the tree takes more than15 years to start flowering. So many species are in the process of becoming endangered.

One such tree: Elaeocarpus blascoi belongs to family which is confined to only to the Palani Hills in Tamil Nadu, is facing threat of extinction as just one tree of the group survives. It was discovered in Bear Shola of Palni Hills, Tamil Nadu in 1970 and was later found to be extinct during the exploration of the flora of Palni Hills. Fortunately, it was rediscovered in another region of the Kodaikanal forests in 2000 with only one living individual. It is a strict endemic species to Palni Hills of Western Ghats found on the fringes of the moist evergreen forest above 2,150 meters and included under Endangered category (World Conservation Monitoring Centre 1998) and Red list of IUCN. Elaeocarpus blascoi is a canopy tree growing up to 20 meter tall in moist evergreen forests with short new branches.

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Flowers

Various propagation techniques like tissue culture are required to raise saplings keeping in view the extremely poor results of germination from nuts. At present, there are two saplings of the tree with an conservation NGO.

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Sapling