Animal Kingdom (Tiryak) in Epics

by Saranya P.S | 2019 | 51,616 words | ISBN-10: 8190396315 | ISBN-13: 9788190396318

An English study the Animal Kingdom (Tiryak) in Epics.—The present thesis is based entirely on Ramayana and Mahabharata although an attempt is made to analytically compare the Animal kingdom with Mriga-pakshi-shastra—‘The ancient Indian science of of Animals and Birds’....

Chapter 3.2 - The story of Jatayu (Bird characters, part 2)

In Valmiki Ramayana there are some special features that are not available elsewhere. One of them is the description where characters are placed in pairs. All of them are almost like twin brothers. The most important characters of this kind are Rama and Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna, Bali and Sugriva and Ravana and Vibhishana. There is also a description of a twin bird characters. They are Sampati and Jatayu. Both are noble vultures. Both are devotees of Rama and are his helpers.

Of them Jatayu died fighting for Rama or Sita against Ravana. Sampati, on the other hand, gave all his hard earned knowledge to the monkey army that was almost dying because of exhaustion, lying on the darbha grass on the bank of the Sea Setu. He saved himself and others and settled the Rama issue. The history of these bird brothers is very strange. They are known as Vulture Brothers. In the descriptions also they are birds. They were powerful vultures with wings, beaks and sharp claws. But like men they had reasoning power. They could communicate with language, and were blessed with divinity. They are characters that do a lot of things to take the incidents in the Ramayana forward. Therefore, the history about them as seen in the Ramayana, will be informative and entertaining.

Rama and Lakshmana along with Sita entered Pancvati when they saw Jatayu resting on a big tree in the forest they considered it as a miraculous creature.

They first thought he must be some powerful monster. Shri Rama sees Jatayu.[1]

atha pancavatim gacchannantararaghunandanah |
asasada mahakayam gridhram bhimaparakramam ||

The body of Jatayu was so big that it covered the entire banyan tree on which it was sitting. Thinking that it might be a giant or monster, Rama asked the creature he saw, “Who are you?”

Encouraging them, he replied in a sweet voice showing respect and love,

vatsamam viddhi vayasyam pituratmanah

“Son, know that I am a friend of your father.”

When Rama heard that he was a friend of his father, he felt respect and reverence for the new acquaintance and wanted to know more details about him. Then the Noble Bird talked not only about himself and about his genesis, but also about all the creatures on earth and about the genesis of man itself. All those things are not described here.

Let us only look at the genesis of Jatayu.

“In the ancient times, as we all know, there are many kings. One of the most renowned of them was prajapati Kashyapa. Before him there was the Daksha prajapati who had sixty daughters. Of these sixty, Prajapati Kashyapa took eight as his wives. From these eight wives came all the birds and animals seen in this world. Human beings and serpents came from one of those women. Vinata was my grandmother. She had two sons named Garuda and Aruna. I was born from Aruna. My elder brother is Sampati. I am called Jatayu and Shyeniputra. This forest is full of wild animals and more cruel giants and you are not safe. If you agree, I will stay with Sita and protect her. When you brothers go out for some important work, Sita will need protection, isn’t it?”

Sri Rama was happy. He embraced the earlier friend of his father. He made Jatayu explain in details his love and friendship with his father Dasharatha. But somehow Valmiki does not give details of what Jatayu said about these things. However, the friendship, company and protection offered by Jatayu was not refused by Sri Rama. They continued their journey to Pancavati together. He also entrusted the protection of Sita, the Janakarajaputri, to Jatayu.

They entered Pancavati. They found out a place for their quiet life. When they started building the “parnashala”, Jatayu was not seen. Then we hear about him as one fighting with Ravana who had abducted Sita. Sita was forcefully taken away by Ravana and as she was in the pushpakavimana she was extremely sad and afraid.

She was lamenting and was calling all the trees, creepers, birds and animals of the forest and requesting them to inform Shri Rama about her sad plight.

amantraye janasthane karnikaran supushpitan |
kshipram ramayashamsadhvam sitam harati ravanah ||
malyavantam shikharinam vande prasravanam girim |
sarvani sharanam yami mrigapakshigananapi ||
hriyamanam priyam bharttuh pranebhye api gariyasim|

As she was crying, she looked down from the vimana and saw Jatayu sitting on a tree.

“vanaspatigatam gridhrama dadarshayatalocana”.

Then she screamed at the top of her voice:

“Noble Jatayu, look at this immoral monster taking me away forcefully. As he is terrible and well-armed, you may not be able to face him alone. So please inform Sri Rama about the way I am abducted by this monster.”

At that time Jatayuwas sleeping soundly. He heard the lament and the complaint and suddenly got up from his sleep and looked. He saw the vimana, Ravana and Sita in it.

The noble bird who was strong and powerful, sitting on the tree said like this:

“Ravana, you tenheaded monster, I am Jatayuand an enemy of immoral people. I am a lover of truth and a believer in the true faith. ShriRama is the king of the world and the lady whom you have abducted is his wife. How can you abduct the wife of another person?

This is highly immoral, condemnable, and destructive. Shri Rama has never committed a mistake in his life. Just because of your sister Shurpanakha’s pride and stubbornness, if you decide to go to war with Shri Rama you and your army will be killed. So immediately release and send Sita home. Or else you will be blasted like Vritrasura who was burned by the Vajrayudha of Indra.

Jatayu made this long sermon. The speech which contained many moral principles, justice, and things appropriate to good behaviour proved to be a futile cry in the wilderness. When Jatayurealized that his words were not taken seriously by Ravana, he prepared himself for battle. “I will not let you go unpunished till there is life in me” was the challenge of Jatayu as he flew to attack Ravana.

Ravana was an emperor of monsters and he was flying in his Pushpakavimana. How will he tolerate the impudence of a mere bird who wanted to advise him and threaten him? Ravana’s eyes were sparking with anger and he rushed towards Jatayu in the most monstrous fashion. The duel between Jatayu and Ravana taking place in the air was terrible. It was like two huge clouds colliding, or to use another simile, it was like the fight between two flying mountains. Jatayuwas able to inflict wounds on Ravana in many places, using his beak, claws and wings.

Because of the flapping of the mighty wings of Jatayu, the crown and other ornaments of Ravana were displaced. Ravana fought bitterly against the noble bird, sending powerful arrows at him. The bird was getting exhausted. But he did not care for his life and continued to fight with the monster most valiantly. Many parts of the vimana and its decorations were broken into pieces because of the flapping of the mighty wings of Jatayu. The bow of Ravana was broken. His chariot was broken into pieces.

Then the horses took Ravana, who was utterly exhausted, and leapt on to the earth.

sabhagnadhanva viratho hatashvo hatasarathi |
ankenadaya vaidehim papata bhuvi ravanah ||

Once again Jatayugave a moral sermon to Ravana:

vajrasamsparsha bhanasya bharya ramasya ravana
alpabhuddhe harasyenam vadhaya khalu rakshasam

“You thief, if you have courage you face Rama straight. If you do that you will have the same experience as that of Khara. You pretend to be courageous but you behave like a coward.”

The battle raged. Ravana sustained many injuries. Enraged, Ravana cut off the wings of Jatayu.

pakshau parshau ca padau ca khadgamudhritya socchinat

Jatayu then fell down almost dead. Sita, seeing the sad plight of Jatayu, leaving Ravana, rushed to him as if he were her father.

Caressing the noble bird affectionately, Sita cried.

“This noble bird came to rescue me. But he has fallen. I am most unlucky.”

Sita was embracing Jatayu and crying bitterly. She then was like a golden creeper covering a big tree. Ravana rushed to her and said to her, “Leave him, leave him!” He then dragged her away from the bird. The entire atmosphere was now at a standstill. The air did not move. The creepers did not move. The birds did not chirp. It was as if everything went mute. Ravana took Sita and climbed into the sky. Sita was wearing a yellow dress which was flying in the wind. The dress covered Ravana and he was shining like a mountain on fire. Ravana then rushed to Lanka with Sita. Thus he escaped into his own kingdom. He was greatly worried until he reached his country. The Malayalam phrase “pambakadannu” comes from this situation where Ravana reached safely home after crossing the sea.

Realizing that Sita was lost, Rama and Lakshmana were terribly upset and they were looking for her in all possible places. Then they came to the area in the forest where Jatayuwas lying with his wings cut off and legs wounded, and his body covered with blood.

When Rama saw the bird lying in this state, he suddenly thought he must be a monster who has caught and eaten Sita and is now rolling on the ground. Thus he misunderstood the wounded bird. He was going to send an arrow to kill it. But the dying bird recognized Rama and Lakshmana. Rolling in pain he told them, “The person you are looking for and my life are taken away by Ravana. I happened to see Ravana abducting Sita devi. I tried to save her. I fought with Ravana. But he cut off my wings. The chariot which is damaged, the protective armour lying there and the dead guard belong to Ravana. Since I am already killed by the monster, there is no need to kill me again.”

When Rama heard what Jatayu said and saw his condition and the things he pointed out, he felt great sorrow and shame. He caressed Jatayu and lay near him and told Lakshmana:

rajyadbhramsho vane vasah sita nashtadvijo hatah
idrishiyam mamalakshmirnnirddahedapi pavakam

“I am so unlucky that if I fall into a river that is full of water it will immediately go dry. Look at this old noble bird who is a friend of my father. Just because of my misfortune even he is lying here mortally wounded.”

Saying like this, Rama gently caressed the wounded body of Jatayu. With the divine touch of Rama, Jatayu died and went into eternal bliss.

Although he was dying, with great difficulty, Jatayu had said to Rama:

“Ravana is carrying Sita through the air. After cutting my wings off, he went in the southern direction. He did this at a very inauspicious time. He is like a fish that has swallowed a hook. He is on the way to destruction. You should not worry at all. You will be able to kill him in battle and retrieve Sita Devi.”

Soon Jatayu’s soul left him.

Shri Rama cried bitterly at the death of Jatayu. He lamented saying:

“This Jatayu had lived in this forest enjoying such a good life. It is a pity that his end came this way. He had gone to help my wife and he was killed so tragically. Even among animals there are creatures who are so good and moral that they are willing to help the needy. I feel greater sorrow at the death of this noble bird than at the loss of my wife. I feel so upset when I think of his cruel fate. We should bury him properly and do the necessary rituals.”

After that they built a funeral pyre on the bank of Godavari. There they cremated the body of Jatayu. Sri Rama carried out the usual funeral rituals and made the necessary sacrifices, He prayed for the eternal bliss of Jatayu. He did all that should be done for the eternal rest of the departed soul. The soul of Jatayu entered eternal bliss.


As Rama was walking during his stay in the forest, he met the gigantic Jatayu, the youngest son of Arunaa. Rama thought Jatayu to be a monster or giant and asked him, “Who are you?” But Jatayu recognized Rama and talked sweetly to him and introduced himself as a friend of Rama’s father, Dashratha.

When Rama came to know that Jatayuwas a friend of his father, he properly greeted him and offered him hospitality.

When Rama asked him about his “Kula” and tribe, Jatayu answered this way:


He said his name and his place. He said,

“I am Jatayu. Please know that I am the son of Shyeni. If you want I can help you during your stay in the forest. When you go out I will protect Sita Devi.”

Jatayu was the king of vultures.

In the Itihasa called Ramayana, words have meanings that are legendary. It is in the 14th Sargam in the Aranyakanda that Jatayu reveals his genealogy. When he says that he is the son of Aruna, who was the son of Vinata, it means he is a king belonging to the Surya dynasty. Vulture may be a symbol of a dynasty. In the Itihasa Puranas we see that Kite, Lion, Garuda, Snake, and Bear were the flag symbols of many dynasties. Kings were known as Garudadhvaja, Kapidhvaja etc. indicating the dynasties they belonged to.

Human beings cannot have diplomatic relations, administrative consultations or war alliances with animals. Such relations can exist only between human beings. So it should be understood that monkey kings mean those who made monkey their flag symbols and vulture kings mean those who made vulture the symbol of their flags. It is in Bhasa’s Abhishekanataka that Bali is presented both as a monkey and a bear. Bali is there referred to as Riksharaja Bali. Bali’s father is Indra.

When it is said that Jatayu is the friend of Dasharatha, it should be considered how friendship can exist between a bird and a human being. The convention is that friendship develops between persons of the same nature, habits or addictions. The language of a vulture can never be soft and sweet. It will be harsh and piercing. In the 68thSarga of Aaraynakanda, the vulture is qualified as ‘dvija’.

Shrirama asks Jatayu this question:


It means,

“Dvijottama, what did Sita say to you, Jatayu, when you saw Sita being kidnapped by Ravana?

Since a bird is fist born as an egg and then hatches into a bird, the term dvija is quite appropriate for it. Still what kind of libation and burning culture does a bird have? Nobody burns a bird or libation offered for it. But we Rama conducted the funeral of Jatayu in the same way he did with the body of his father. A bird can never be addressed as “Arya”.

But at the time of the kidnapping of Sita, she says to Jatayu thus:

“jatayopashyamam aryahriyamanamanathavat.”

It means

“Hey Arya Jatayu, don’t you see that I am being kidnapped like an orphan?”[3]

Footnotes and references:


Valmiki Ramayana III.14


Ibid. III. 14:5-33



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