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It was early morning in Tal Chapar blackbuck sanctuary in Rajasthan. “Pull over” I shouted in excitement and my friend, veteran wildlife photographer Kamal Sahansi, braked hard on the jeep. “Neel Kanth, wow! Beautiful” don’t make any sound. Just click,” said Sahansi, sharing expert advice.
There it was, my favorite bird-the Indian roller on a perch, looking up at the skies as if communicating with the almighty. Called the Neel Kanth in India, it is considered auspicious. People say if you get ‘darshan’ of Neel Kanth during the Navratra festival, your wish comes true.
According to popular belief, Lord Rama is said to have seen the Neel Kanth before setting on his journey to fight Ravana. Folklore says that sighting a Neel Kanth on Dussehra helps absolve people of their sins. To exploit this sentiment, poachers hunt the India roller and ‘exploit” the faithful by organizing ‘darshans’ in lieu of money — which is illegal.
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This was my first ‘encounter’ with the Indian roller and he sat quietly. It wasn’t interested in giving us a demonstration of his wonderful acrobatics from where it gets its name from.
A flash of blue, a splash of orange around the eyes, and a beautiful roll in the air describe this exquisite bird. The roller rolls in the air in a flash of blue and ochre. It could be catching insects, giving them a flash of its beauty before they disappear down its throat. One wonders whether this bird was given a chance to be considered our national bird, a title that the peacock has won. While the species is found from Southeast Asia to the Arabian Peninsula, Indian rollers are commonly found in the heavily populated plains of India, therefore figuring prominently in local lore.
The name Neel Kanth means “blue throat,” a name associated with Indian deity Shiva, whose blue throat resulted from drinking poison. Other common names are “blue crow” or “blue jay,” perhaps because rollers display crow-like attributes – being noisy, comfortable around humans, and omnivorous.
One can identify the Indian roller is a stocky, medium-sized bird with an overall drab brown appearance whilst perched. The bird is approximately 26-27 cm long and both male and female Indian rollers look alike. Male rollers perform acrobatic aerial rolls during their courtship displays, and sometimes as a defensive tactic around their nests.
There are 12 species in this family. Rollers are crow-sized birds found in the warm areas of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the islands of the South Pacific and they have small bills and medium to long tail feathers. Most rollers are a combination of blue and brown in color.
They fly straight up into the air, fold their wings, and fall freely towards the ground; they then roll over and fly up again! They eat insects while they are in flight and often perch on a branch waiting for prey to go by. Indian roller is one of the most colorful birds of India whose colors are visible during flight. Found across the plains in India, it is the state bird of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, and Odisha. Their calls, ‘chack-chack’ are crow-like and the frenzied flapping of their wings shows off their vivid colors.
Want to read more in Hindi? Checkout: दुनिया की सबसे बुजुर्ग महिला केन तनाका ने मनाया अपना 118वां जन्मदिन
Their cousin, the European roller (Coracias garrulus) migrates to India during winter. Predominantly blue, the European roller is a passage migrant and visits India briefly in the winter. The dominance of the brown color is what helps to differentiate the Indian roller from the European roller. “The European roller looks the same as our Neel Kanth”, was my first reaction when I saw this species closely in Sultanpur, near Gurugram.
“See this in a flight and it looks beautiful”, says my photographer friend Vishal Chowdhary, who managed to get the flying shot. “The Indian roller has lilac color marking on its face, while the European roller has a blue head. It has no marking on the head and possesses chestnut coloration on the wing and back. In addition to this, the Indian roller has bluish, lighter and darker blue wing color combination.”
A threatened migratory bird, the European roller is the only member of the roller family to breed in Europe. Its blue and brown-colored plumage is its most distinctive feature. Until 2010, little was known about this bird’s migration patterns and wintering.
For the first time, scientists from nine countries discovered the routes taken by this species which is currently in a fragile state of conservation. Researchers have been able to uncover this information with the help of geolocators and satellite transmissions. Each year, the European roller covers close to ten thousand kilometers all the way from Europe to sub-Saharan Africa via India and repeats such a long journey again in spring.
While European rollers are on the list of the endangered species, the Indian rollers are described as least concerned by the IUCN. However, experts feel that Indian rollers are not so common these days. In fact, they are facing a crisis due to indiscriminate hunting by poachers and the use of pesticides.
The government has launched a 10-year plan to help in the conservation of birds and their habitat. Capturing and displaying Indian rollers is illegal. They are protected under Schedule IV of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 which carries a penalty of Rs 25,000 and imprisonment. India is also the president of the Bonn Convention (Conservation of Migratory Species of Wildlife, CMS) under the UN.
Nearly 370 species of migratory birds visit India through three flyways – Central Asian Flyway (CAF), East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF), and the Asian-East African Flyway (AEAF). India has been working through many programs for the protection of these species. Next time you see these beautiful birds, remember they are a boon for farmers as they eat insects and worms from farmlands. These birds are natural pest controllers. (IANS)
Diwali is arguably one of the most auspicious and celebrated holidays in South Asia. It is celebrated over the span of five days, where the third is considered most important and known as Diwali. During Diwali people come together to light, lamps, and diyas, savour sweet delicacies and pray to the lord. The day has various origin stories with the main them being the victory of good over evil. While the North celebrates the return of Lord Rama and Devi Sita to Ayodhya, the South rejoices in the victory of Lord Krishna and his consort Satyabhama over evil Narakasura.
Narakasura- The great mythical demon King
Naraka or Narakasur was the son of Bhudevi (Goddess Earth) and fathered either by the Varaha incarnation of Vishnu or Hiranyaksha. He grew to be a powerful demon king and became the legendary progenitor of all three dynasties of Pragjyotisha-Kamarupa, and the founding ruler of the legendary Bhauma dynasty of Pragjyotisha.
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Narakasura was created, grew up to be strong and powerful but he was not satisfied with it, so he decided that he would worship Lord Brahma. He performed severe penance and was driven by the power of his penance; Lord Brahma appeared before him. Narakasura knew his mother loved him dearly so he asked Lord Brahma to grant him a boon that he would only die by the hands of his mother, Bhumidevi. Lord Brahma smile and ultimately granted him the boon.
Narakasura burst out laughing as Lord Brahma vanished. He thought no mother would kill their child so Lord Brahma had made him immortal. Drunk and maddened by his own power Narakasura brought all the kingdoms under his control and targeted Swargalok (Heaven). Even Indra (King of Gods) and demi-gods had to retreat in front of Narakasura. He kidnapped and took 16,000 women from the palaces as prisoners. Troubled by Naraksura's deeds the gods rushed to Lord Vishnu for a solution.
Lord Krishna and Devi Satyabhama were born to kill Narakasura
Lord Vishnu was born as Lord Krishna and Narakasura's mother Bhumidevi took the avatar of Krishna's wife Satyabhama. As Satyabhama, Bhumidevi was unaware of the knowledge of Naraksura being her son. Aditi the mother of all gods approached Satyabhama crying for help with bloodied ears as Narakasura had torn off the glowing earrings from the ears of Aditi.
Satyabhama was furious on gaining the knowledge of Narakasura's atrocities she asked Krishna to fight the demon king while she fights alongside him. Krishna agreed and they attacked the great fortress of Narakasura, riding his mount Garuda with his wife Satyabhama.
The furious battle unleashed. Krishna defeated Narakasura's general Mura and came to be known as Murari (the killer of Mura). Narakasura used several divine weapons against Krishna, but Krishna slew all those weapons effortlessly. The demon hurled a shakti towards Krishna, which mildly hurt Krishna and he fell unconscious. Upon this sight Satyabhama was enraged, she furiously pulled out a weapon of her own and hurled it at Narakasura's chest. Anxious Satyabhama turned to her fallen Lord, Krishna got up with a smile and he was completely fine. He was only playing his part. It was Satyabhama who was an incarnation of Bhoomidevi, whose hands were destined to slay Narakasura.
ALSO READ: Choosing Environment-Friendly Diwali
Lord Krishna and Goddess Satyabhama had put an end to the Narakasura's kingdom of evil. As Narakasura lay on his deathbed he realised that Satyabhama was no one but an avatar of his own mother. He requested a boon from his mother, for no one to mourn his death. Instead, he wished for people to celebrate it with light and colours. They freed the 16,000 women who later married Lord Krishna to restore them of their honour in society, retrieved Mother goddess's earrings. This day is celebrated as 'Naraka Chaturdashi' popularly known as Choti Diwali - the day before Diwali as the triumph of good over evil.
Keywords: Diwali festival, goddess Laxmi, demon king, Lord Krishna, Satyabhama, the festival of light, Naraksura, Narak Chaturdashi
For all the great inventions that we have at hand, it is amazing how we keep going back to the safety pin every single time to fix everything. Be it tears in our clothes, to fix our broken things, to clean our teeth and nails when toothpicks are unavailable, to accessorize our clothes, and of course, as an integral part of the Indian saree. Safety pins are a must-have in our homes. But how did they come about at all?
The safety pin was invented at a time when brooches existed. They were used by the Greeks and Romans quite extensively. A man named Walter Hunt picked up a piece of brass and coiled it into the safety pin we know today. He did it just to pay off his debt. He even sold the patent rights of this seemingly insignificant invention just so that his debtors would leave him alone.
Anyone wearing safety pins that were visible began to be associated with the rock movement in the 70s. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Later, he even invented the sewing needles and a couple of other important inventions but never kept any of the patent rights.
When the punk rock tradition took over in the seventies, safety pins became a fashion rage. They were used as piercings and to patch clothes together. Anyone wearing safety pins that were visible began to be associated with the rock movement. In some cultures, the safety pins have become symbols of good luck.
Keywords: Safety-pins, Punk Rock, Brass, Accessories, Walter Hunt
In South India, Deepavali marks the end of the monsoon and heralds the start of winter. The festival is usually observed in the weeks following heavy rain, and just before the first cold spell in the peninsula. The light and laughter that comes with the almost week-long celebration are certainly warm to the bones, but there is still a tradition that the South Indians follow to ease their transition from humidity to the cold.
Just before the main festival, the family bathes in sesame oil. This tradition is called 'yellu yennai snaana' in Kannada, or 'ennai kuliyal' in Tamil, which translates to 'sesame oil bath'. The eldest member of the family applies three drops of heated oil on each member's head. They must massage this oil into their hair and body. The oil is allowed to soak in for a while, anywhere between twenty minutes to an hour. After this, they must wash with warm water before sunrise.
Women applying oil to the heads of men Photo credit: Indians in Kuwait
In some parts of the peninsula, soap is not used to wash off the oil because it nullifies its effects. Some cultures who do not like the oil to remain in any way on their skin wash it off with shikakai and herbs, which is a paste that is traditionally used as a substitute for soap. Sometimes, the oil is heated with flowers and spices as well and is less sticky than in its pure form.
The purpose of this ritual is to cleanse the body, detoxify it, and produce heat in it. Sesame is a very heaty substance and tends to heat up the body. This heat, or 'usshna' in Kannada, prepares the body to face the sudden cold that comes to the peninsula immediately after Diwali. South India has no smooth transition weather-wise from monsoon to winter. There are a few days of stable, rainless weather, and suddenly the cold winds descend.
In many ways, the celebration of Diwali is centered around preparing for winter, considering the amount of heat and light the rituals consist of – lighting lamps, bursting crackers, and consuming warm treats. Those who practice these rituals earnestly find the shift in seasons and weather quite pleasant.
Keyboards: Sesame Oil Bath, Diwali Ritual, Traditional Sesame Oil Bath