The competition was tough, the prize impressive. Among the many strong contenders were influential members of the avian fraternity- the Great Indian Bustard, the Sarus crane, the Garuda and the Swan. But only one would rise above the rest and bag the top honour- the national bird status. We all know how that story ends.
In 1963, the Peacock became the National Bird of India. However, the magnificent blue bird with its exquisite plumage was an icon from much earlier and much beyond the Indian subcontinent. Symbolising flamboyance, royalty, wisdom, or even vanity. The peacock is significant to so many cultures in all corners of India.
Today, we invite you to different sort of bird-watching. Let us follow the beautiful blue bird as it gracefully glides its way into museums, art, architecture and legend.
The Peacock : A Seat for Royalty
The jewel-encrusted, opulent throne befitted the richest of the Mughal monarchs and the peacock motif added to its grandeur. Built by Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century, it graced the Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audiences) in the Red Fort, Delhi. The jewel-encrusted, opulent throne befitted the richest of the Mughal monarchs and the peacock motif added to its grandeur.
The “Peacock Throne” gets it’s name from the two peacocks that adorn the throne. Various jewels such as emeralds, rubies, sapphires, pearls and even the Kohinoor diamond adorned the throne, signifying the colours of a peacock’s feathers.
In 1739, the ruthless warlord Nadir Shah of Persia sacked the city of Delhi and defeated the then Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah. He looted the imperial treasury, including the Peacock Throne, and it has not been found since.
Peacock : Favoured by the Divine
The peacock was a favourite with the gods. Kartikeya, the Hindu God of War and son of Lord Shiva and Parvati, uses the peacock as his steed (vahana).
The most famous iconographic association of the peacock is with Lord Krishna who brandished its feather on his headband.
Interestingly, the peacock finds a way to connect with Buddhism as well! Regarded as a symbol of wisdom, some depictions of Buddha feature a peacock.
In fact, a sculpture from the Bharhut Stupa, represents Buddha as a peacock himself, flanked by two other peacocks on his sides referring to two of his premier disciples.
The Peacock, a Musical Call
The Peacock is associated with Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom and music.
This Mayuri Vina, a peacock-shaped, bow string musical instrument was quite popular in Indian courts in the 19th century. The Indian Museum in Kolkata has an interesting collection featuring this instrument.
The instrument was part of a band that played to welcome the Prince of Wales (Edward VII) to Bengal in 1875. Following the event, the instruments found home at the Indian Museum, donated by the eminent Indian musicologist, Raja Sourindra Mohun Tagore (from the same family as the poet-laureate Rabindranath Tagore).
The Peacock in Design and Architecture
In some aspects of architectural design, the use of the peacock functioned as an ornament. And given how beautiful the bird is, it lent itself well for the purpose. At Sanchi, you can spot the beautiful bird on the stupa gateways, generally in landscape scenes.
The eastern gate depicts a peacock pair in profile, on a rocky landscape, with a mango tree in the background.
The Peacock makes an appearance at the City Palace Jaipur too!
Minted in money
It is a testimony to the peacock’s significance that it appears so often on all that is valuable- money. On coins issued by the Gupta ruler, Skandgupta, the peacock appears on the reverse with its feathers unfurled while the Emperor was depicted on its obverse.
The peacock also appeared on notes issued by the Reserve Bank of India much before India became independent. This note issued in 1939 bears the image of King George VI with an illustration of dancing peacocks at the bottom, underneath the panel of value denomination.
We hope you enjoyed this post. If you’re keen on peacock-spotting this season, no better place than a museum!
Srishti is an abundantly curious individual who counts history, poetry and chocolate as her many first loves. As the Editor of The Heritage Lab she does her bit to breathe fresh life into how museums are perceived in India. She’s currently studying Cultural Anthropology at the University College, London.