Man-Animal Coexisting

A smile is happiness you'll find right under your nose.
Tom Wilson

When it comes to festivities, no one celebrates like we Indians do. In the Vedas, there are mentions of 33 Hindu gods and goddesses (Rigveda 8.30. 2), however, with time the number is believed to have surpassed 33 crores or 330 million gods and goddesses in Hinduism alone. There are over 50 main festivals celebrated by the nation as a whole while uncountable pujas are performed in the country each day by the people of different cultures and religion. The Indian festivals form an integral part of the rich heritage of the country. The Hindu festivities like any other religion involve decorating houses and religious places with flowers, diyas, incense, and colourful rangolis. People wear new and bright coloured clothes, adorn heavy jewellery, make lots of delicacies, while dancing, praying and singing hymns and bhajans in unison with several instruments. Some people even take out processions.

My friend Gaurav Kumar and I had not stepped out for bird watching in some time and were itching to show our cameras some daylight. We ventured out one early morning to one of our favourite and beautiful bird-friendly places, a considerably desolate location behind a temple with a small stream flowing through. However, upon reaching there, we realised that a festival was being celebrated, with at least 20 ladies performing some form of puja on a small Shivling- a Hindu religious representation of Lord Shiva as the generative power of all creativity and fertility at every cosmic level. Surprisingly the Shivling was kept amidst the untamed nature, far away behind the main temple. There was loud music, chanting and the religious ceremony going on in full swing.

Initially it enraged us because of how this would negatively affect the natural habitat of the birds and animals staying here but soon we realised that this was more an example of human & wildlife co-existence. We waited for some time in hope for the celebrations to get over and the birds to resume their chores fearlessly but it was taking way longer than we thought. We diverted our attention from bird watching to the ceremony, changing our genre to street photography and started clicking the festivities. Observing people can be interestingly educating about the customs of other cultures, reflecting on how they differ from our own.

The ladies were busy with their activities, following a set pattern in a very synchronised manner, it was difficult to access who was following whom, which of them was the leader and which ones the followers. It seemed like they had been doing this for years and they knew exactly how to go about it. Eventually they all got up, balancing their clay pots on their heads, marching out in a single line. We were standing on an elevated road giving us an advantage of a better view, clicking away merrily as this colourful entourage slowly disappeared into the turn in the road.

I looked back at the Shivling they had left behind and noticed a squirrel surveying the place trying to steal the goodies. Initially I ignored it as a regular act of the rodent collecting leftover food for itself, when I realised something unusual. The squirrel wasn’t interested in the goodies but the sacred cotton thread called the janeu wrapped around the Shivling. Soon enough I witnessed the most comical sight where the rodent started to put all its efforts, heaving, tugging and pulling at the thread. Standing on his hind limbs, he was using his force to the fullest, trying to get the thread off the holy shrine, using everything in his wits and capacity including its sharp teeth and strong arms. He would pull at the thread, roll it into a bunch and start pulling again. It was amusing how the bunch was getting bigger and he was going on voraciously, totally insatiable, ensuring nothing was left behind…he wanted it all!

It was a working day for us and we were getting really late, so we had to abandon the mission and head home. Even today after so many years have passed, It makes me wonder what the squirrel must be wanting the janeu for and why it was not satisfied with just a part of it. Well, some mysteries are better left unsolved… but every time I think of the hilarious episode, it brings a big smile to my face and a wonder to my brain.



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