Owls in Shakespeare and Hindu Literature (Post No.5693)

Written by London Swaminathan

swami_48@yahoo.com

Date: 23 November 2018

GMT Time uploaded in London –18-28
Post No. 5693

Pictures shown here are taken from various sources including google, Wikipedia, Facebook friends and newspapers. This is a non- commercial blog

I am adding following points from The Dictionary of Superstitions (year 1989) to my original research article on owls:-
It is interesting to see several cultures have views about owls similar to Hindus. In Hinduism it is mostly associated with death and secret activities. Stories from Panchatantra and Mahabharata adduce proof tp this. At the same time goddess Lakshmi and Chamunda have owl as their Vahanas

I want to add following information to my original article published in 2014
1.Taking owls to Athens is a parallel to the saying Taking coal to New Castle 

2.Theophrastus,319 BCE, says
If an owl is startled by him in his walk, he will exclaim Glory be to Athene!before he proceeds.

3.Ovid, 15 CE, says
The owl of the night sat on an opposite house top and uttered his ill boding funeral voice.
4.Pliny The Elder, 77 CE, in Natural History, says 
Owl seen in day time
The it is looked upon as a direful omen to see it in the city or in the day time.

It is similar to Hindu views. Sanskrit and Tamil literature link owls to crematorium and evil omens.

 

Shakespeare

5.Shakespeare,1595, says in Midsummer Night’s Dream,
Whilst the screitch owle, sctritching loud,
Puts the wretch that lies in woe,
In remembrance of a shrowd 

In 1599, Shakespeare adds in Julius Caesar, adds
Yesterday the Bird of Night did sit,
Even at Noone day, upon the Market place,
Howting and shreeking
……..
I beleeve, they are portentous things Unto the Clymate
That they point upon (an omen of Caesar s death)

Xxx

6.In 1625, Delaney Thomas of Reading , in 1725 Bourne refer to owls and death.
Bourne says in Antiquates Vulgares,
Omens and Prognostications are still in the mouths of all tho only observed by the vulgar. In country places they are in great repute… If an owl , which they reckon a most abominable and unlucky bird, sends forth it’s hoarse and dismal voice it is an omen of the approach of some terrible thing, that some dire calamity… is near at hand.

7.In 1773 White Selborne says
From this screaming probably arose the common people’s imaginary species of screech owl, which they superstitiously think attend s the window s of dying persons.

8.In 1829, Brocket of North country Words
The barn or the white owl has the reputation of being the herald of horror and disaster
In 1841 Hartsthorne writes
The singular cry or scream of this white owl is considered ominous of death.

9.Even in 1967, S Marshal writes in Fenland Chronicle,
If an owl sat on the roof, or flew up against a window at night, that meant a death actually in the house

OWLS : Are they Good or Bad Omens?
Lakshmi and her Vahana Uluka/owl

Written by London Swaminathan
Post No. 1062; Dated 24th May 2014.

Owls are nocturnal birds. They are known as very intelligent and good birds in the Western World. As a symbol of knowledge and of erudition that can see through obscurity, the owl appears in the emblems of educational institutions, book stores and publishing houses. In Greece owls are associated with Goddess Pallas Athena/Minerva, the Goddess of Wisdom.

In India and China owls are not liked by the people because of its demonic gaze. They consider them as the harbinger of misfortune. Owls have earned a bird name in Indian mythology and folk lore. People associate their calls with the God of death.

Goddess Lakshmi and Chamunda have owls as their Vahanas. In Judaism, the female night demon Lilith is described in the company of the owl; Mayan death God Hunahau is often depicted with a head like an owl’s.
In the pre –Aztec civilization of ancient Mexico (Teotihuacan), the owl was the sacred animal of the rain god. But Aztecs considered it an evil omen.


Emblem of Birbeck college,London

Owls have negative associations in popular thinking: with their nocturnal habits, solitude, silent flight and plaintive cry they came to symbolize evil and death. Hooting of the owls was regarded an ill omen.

In India the famous fable book Panchatantra has a long story of a fight between the crows and owls. At the end, the owls are burnt with their nests by the clever crows. Indians who practise black magic kill owls during Deepavali to ward off evil or to gain magical powers. Villagers kill owls for their meat thinking that it would cure many diseases.

In the Vedas
“Uluka is the ordinary word for owl from the Rig Veda (10-165-4) onwards. The bird was noted for its cry and was deemed the harbinger of (nairrta) ill fortune (AV 6-19-2;Taittiriya samhita 5-5-18-1;Vajasaneyi samhita 24-38). Owls were offered at the horse sacrifice to the forest trees (Vajasaneyi Samhita 24-23; Maitrayani Samhita 3-14-4)”.
(page 102, Vedic Index of Names and Subjects, A A Macdonell & AB Keith)


Greek Goddess Athena with owl

Narada and owl
Scriptures refer to calls of owls as having the character of songs i.e. one note or or a simple combination of notes repeated at various intervals. Thus the call of the Brown Wood Owl is said to consist of four deep musical syllables, who—hoo—hoo–hoo. There is a story that narrates how sage Narada was advised to learn music from an owl residing near the Manasarovar lake on the Himalayas (Lingapuranam). This shows that the ancient Indians also appreciated the musical calls of the hated bird. (Tamils also had the same belief; see below for more details).

The long eared owl is distinguished by long tufts, usually borne erected and is most probably the ‘sasoluka’ which has served as a model for the face of a particular attendant of Lord Skanda (M.Bh. 9-45-79). One of the Matris of the same deity is said to have a face like that of the sasoluka (ch 30)
(Mayans also had the same description; see above)


University seal with owl.

Crow killing owls
A particular species of owl has the habit of killing crows. ‘Kakolukiya’ section of the Panchatantra describes it in detail. They live in the Himalayan region. They are the species of Dusky Horned Owls. Mahabharata describes them as Pravarakarna and long lived (3-199-4). There is also a reference in the Ramayana. When after a break with Ravana, Vibhishana goes to Rama, the latter’s ally Sugriva warns him against the owl like tactic of the enemy (96-17-19).

Again after seeing this owl work havoc among the crows at night, Aswaththamam decided to kill Pandavas while asleep during the night time ( M.Bh 1-2-296) and the epic gives an interesting description of the bird:
Ulukam ghora darsanam
Mahasvanam mahakayam haryaksham bhabrupidangalam
Sudhirgagonanakaram suparnamiva veginam
Suptanjagana subahun vayasan dayasantaka: (M.Bh.10-1-36)

The Skandapurana also relates the above incident and calls the owl the powerful bearded vulture a (31-44/45)
Page 179 of Birds in Sanskrit Literature by K.N Dave.

Greek Coin with owl

My Comments:

1.It is interesting to note that the Jews and Hindus believed that owls are messengers of death. Sanskrit literature and Sangam Tamil literature associate owls with death (See Tamil Purananuru verses 240, 261,364)

2.It is equally interesting that owl like face of Lord Skanda’s attendant and one of the Matri’s is like Mayan Death God Hunahau, who has owl like face.

3.It is also interesting God Indra is called Uluka and several Rishis have the name Uluka and Kausika ,another name of owl. It is same in Tamil literature, as many of the Sangam age poets have Andhai (owl) attached to their names. Previously it was thought they were from the towns with the name of owl (Andhai). So we can conclude that both the positive and negative notions existed side by side. Otherwise we cannot have many Rishis with the name Uluka, Kausika and many Tamil names like Kukai Koziyaar, Pisiranthaiyaar, Othal andhaiyaar etc.

  1. It is amazing to read that Tamils and their counterparts in the North has the same belief the owls have musical skills.

All these debunk the racist Aryan – Dravidian divisive theories created by foreigners with a motive to stabilise their rule and spread their religion.
We also have various types of demons named after large birds like Uluka (owl), Suparna (Eagle) and Grudhya (RV: 7-104-17)

We can also conclude that Hindus are very good observers of nature. There are lot of references to owls in the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Tamil References:
The shriek of the owl in the Nemai tree in the desert tract is like the sound of the smithy (Natrinai 394)
A stanza in Natrinai (verse 83) is an apostrophe to the owl that has its abode in the deep recess of a tree on the bank of the village tank. Its shriek at night is said to be alarming and the lady-companion promises it a fine pleasant dish of meat boiled in ghee and fried flesh of rats if only it kept silent at nights when the hero comes on visit.

One description is of a night bright with the moon light and full of disturbances with the barking of dogs and the hooting of owls (Aka.122)

Owl’s Music


The owl’s harsh hooting is heard like the tune of the instrument called Makuli and seems to have some signification (Aka.351)
(Compare it with Narada learning music from owl :Linga Purana)
Jeevaka Chintamani, one of the Five Tamil Epics, says that the owl emitted sweet music like a lyre. It is in Nachinarkiniyar commentary on the epic.

In a rare reference in the epic, owl is praised as giving a positive message about the hero. But in other places the negative image is projected like other epic Manimegalai where the owl is described as the messenger of death. The oldest section of Sangam Tamil literature associated the bird with death and crematorium (See Purananuru verses 240, 261,364).

Kukai koziyar says that the shrill cry of the owl breaks the eerie silence of the graveyard (Pura.364)
The owl with nocturnal habits living in the burning grounds and other wastelands is said to make the sound ‘’cuttukkuvi ‘’and is imagined to call the dead (Pura. 240)

Owls hoot and keep time to peacock’s dance, says a poet (Aink.291)
Bilo Irudayanath, who has done research with the tribal peoples, says that if an owl sits on top of the hut, they will dismantle the old thatched roof and do a new roof.

Owl has several names in Tamil such as Aandhai,Aandalai, Kuukai, Kuraal, Kutinjai. But some names in Tamil Nigandu/Dictionary have the Sanskrit names Kinnara, Kinnari, Kausika, irudi (Rishi),Uluka and Pingalai. The words Kinnara, Kinnari are linked with musical skills.

Owl who saved Genghis Khan
The arms of the Tartar rulers contain a black night owl in a golden shield, because the first of them, Genghis Khan was saved his life with the help of such a bird. They believed that the barn owl saved his life. When his horse was shot in one of the battles he ran for his life and hid under a bush. His enemies were looking for him. At that time a white owl came and sat on the tree under which he was hiding. They did not even come near that tree thinking that he would definitely not be there. His enemies thought the owl would not have sat there if any man had been hiding under the tree. So owl earned a permanent place in their emblems!

Goddess Lakshmi with Uluka

From Mahabharata

Owl and Crow fight

(8).Uluka (owl) was the name of emissary sent by Duryodhana to tell the Pandavas that their peace proposal is rejected. Seer Kausika (Visvamitra) also means owl. In Tamil also we have many poets with owl name (Pisir Anthai, Othal Anthai). People thought that they are the names of their towns. My view is that they actually mean the bird of wisdom owl, which is the vehicle of Lakshmi and Greek Goddess Athena. In western countries it is a very common logo in the educational institutions.

This confirms my view that most of the tribal names are totem symbols I have already given the names of Tamil poets with frog names like their counterparts in Sanskrit. Tortoise is also the name of several rishis/seers.

Tags– Owl, owls in Shakespeare, Hindu literature, Tamil literature

–SUBHAM–

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