Birds of Gurbani
In this collection, I intertwined with Sikh-related themes as I explored the imagery evoked by the Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. By building on verses from the Guru Granth Sahib with visual metaphors and calligraphy, I aspired to produce a visual message in addition to a linguistic one.
In "Birds of Gurbani", I explore the many references in the Guru Granth Sahib to different types of birds. Why birds? One of my favorite experiences during my years studying Biology has been taking a course in Ornithology. What started as a fun elective ended with a passion in many 5am bird watching trips. While most of the birds in this collection belong to the South Asian landscape, they have been part of some of the stories I read as a child growing up in India and are also distant relatives to some of my favorite birds to watch here in California.
The Baaz is a bird representing power and strength. In the lines chosen for this piece, the Baaz is said to pounce on its prey when it least expects it just as something unexpected or unwanted might happen to us in our lives.
A bird of prey seen in many miniature paintings as the chosen royal bird by rulers from different regions, the Baaz joins the Birds of Gurbani and adds a regal and majestic touch.
This little bird is loved and loves with immense heart. Known for its beautiful song that calls out to its beloved, the bird is equally intriguing in its form and especially the mohawk that forms on its head after enjoying the rain. While many songbirds(like the Chatrik in the lines within this piece) are referenced in Gurbani, the bulbul's persona and significance is very intriguing. Culturally a symbol of love and joy, the Bulbul takes a special place among the Birds of Gurbani.
One of the more popular birds in Punjabi folklore as well as Gurbani is the Hans. Besides being popular for its beauty, folk tales and mythology depict the Hans as a dutiful bird who knows how to find pearls and usually eats them (yum!). In these lines from gurbani, we are encouraged to contemplate the endless depth and extent of the Guru's song or Bani. However, to value something so precious we would have to take on the characteristics of a Hans or someone who can recognize a precious stone when it sees it.
In Gurbani and in general, the Soohat/Parrot is known as an intelligent bird that imitates sound easily. In these lines from gurbani, the Parrot recites the truth while bound in a cage of love. It flies away only when it recognizes the truthful master and becomes free. While the Parrot's ability to imitate and recite words has also earned it a reputation for annoyance and meaninglessness culturally, in gurbani it's ability to repeat words gets it liberated and united with the one it loves.
In Punjabi folklore, a crow perching nearby is suppose to signal the coming of a loved one or guests. In Gurbani, the crow is mentioned similarly as a messenger and also ominously as a vulture pecking at meat. In these lines in Gurbani, the crow is specifically asked to not peck at the flesh of a devotee as the True Master of the devotee abides in everything including the devotee's flesh.
Fareed Ji often mentions death and his flesh being pecked at by crows. It's not the fear of death or pain that worries him but the fear of destruction of something that belongs to his True Master.
In this piece, the elephant's large appetite and overeating habits are juxtaposed against the Sparrow's habit to eat little and just enough at one time. The sparrow flies away after eating chirping away in joy while the elephant faces the digestive aftermath of overindulging and a case of "I can't breathe, I ate too much". I guess the choice is ours. Would we rather be the sparrow or the elephant in this case? Which quality is more suited to bring a better life for us? And what exactly is that quality being mentioned here?