The sarus crane (Antigone antigone) is a large native crane found in parts of the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Australia. Word ‘Sarus’ is derived from Sanskrit word “sarasa”, which means bird of the lake. These birds can be sighted in remote villages of Kathua and Samba District of our Union Territory. The special and peculiar features of this bird is that sarus crane is the tallest flying bird I.e it attains height of 5′.11″ when standing. Sarus Crane is State Bird of Uttar Pradesh . The species was a close contender to the Indian Peafowl as the National Bird of India.
Reference of this bird can be found in our history, culture and religious scriptures also. This is a known fact that death of a bird led to the birth of Valmiki’s Ramayana. Sage Valmiki headed out to take a dip in the river Tamasa. He decided to take a stroll before his bath, soaking in nature’s beauty. A little distance away he sighted two birds, a male and a female, completely engrossed in each other, even as the sage watched a hunter’s arrow killed the male. The silent and beautiful area was soon filled with the female bird’s cry of agony. Overcome with grief (shoka) Rishi Vlamiki uttered few words, which even to his surprise came out as a shloka, a verse perfect in rhyme and rhythm and that was the first ever Sanskrit Verse.
maa nishada pratistham tvamagamahs? svatI: samaa:
yat kraunchamithunaadekam avadhi: kaamamohitam
“Oh hunter, may you repent for life and suffer, find no rest or fame, for you have killed one of the unsuspecting, devoted and loving krauñcha couple.”
It is regarded as the first shloka among all the Poems. Valmiki is regarded as the first Kavi /poet, i.e., “Aadi Kavi”. Ramayana is also titled as the first Kavya. In different literature Krauncha has been described as a dove Flamingo, curlew or even a demoiselle Crane, However more recent studies have established the identity of Valmiki’s Krauncha pair as Sarus Cranes.
We have heard the story of young Prince Siddartha and the swan. When the prince was very young one day he found an injured swan (some assume it was sarus) on the palace ground that was shot by his cousin Devadatta. Siddartha, detached the poisoned arrow, and nursed the wounded bird with extreme sympathy. When Devadatta found out that it was the bird shot down by him he wanted to own the prize bird and demanded it back. After a heated argument Siddartha succeeded by proving that life of an animal belongs to the person who rescued him and not to the one who tried to kill it. According to intellectual scholar Hemraj Shakya-who was the most proficient in ancient languages like Brahmi, Sanskrit and Pali, and who is signified as the most admired of all researchers of ancient Indian and Nepalese history- there are no acknowledged species of swans or flying geese in the said territory at the time of Buddha. The bird in Siddarth’s Story must in all probabilities be the native crane whose marshland habitat distribution throughout India is more relevant of Sakyamuni Buddha’s Country. So it was Sarus and not the swan who was saved and later released in the lumbini jungle by Siddartha. Various Birders from Nepal are trying to save Sarus in their country where their number is reduced to 500 (2018 Census) An article titled “Lord Buddhas’s bird under Threat in his birthplace” in leading daily of Nepal “The Kathmandu Post” raised serious concern about decreasing number of Sarus Cranes in and around Lumbini where their number is reduced to 300 only. This article and various articles also depict that bird in Siddarth’s story was Sarus Crane and not a Swan.
Sarus Cranes form long-lasting pair bonds and maintain territories within which they perform territorial and courtship displays that include loud trumpeting, leaps, and dance-like movements. In India, they are considered symbols of marital fidelity, believed to mate for life and pine the loss of their mates, even to the point of starving to death. They are a symbol of marital virtue and in parts of Gujarat, taking a newlywed couple to see a pair of sarus cranes is customary.
It is a delight to watch a pair, standing side by side, preening or doing nothing, occasionally letting out a unison call to reassure themselves of their mated status. A sarus walks, forages, rests, sleeps, and flies with its mate. Even when they are in a flock, as it happens in winter and summer after the breeding season is over, pairs keep to themselves with their juveniles. They exhibit marital love, caring, attachment, and bereavement, much like human beings experience. Their commitment to mates is part of legend, mythology, folklore, and songs. Old Mughal and Rajput paintings always show a pair of sarus or a flock, rarely a single crane. You will never find a Painting, Carving, statue, embroidery showing a single bird.
Due to excessive hunting in Pakistan and Bangladesh they migrated to India and became extinct in those countries. Excessive hunting of different birds especially migratory birds in our state is a matter of concern and rather shame for human beings. As an inquisitive birdie few days ago I had had an occasion to visit Makhwal Kukrian wetland but could found only very less number of migratory birds. When inquired from locals they informed that due to indiscriminate hunting, birds are not coming to this wetland anymore. Our nation must not forget words of Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi that “the Greatness of a nation and moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”
When me along with birding friends reached the Sarus Cranes spotting site and were trying to find them and inquiring about Sarus Cranes we came to know that they are locally called Sarron, the etymology of this word is yet to be traced. We also came across a village tale which goes like, one husband of a newly wed village girl when noticed Sarus Cranes in the village he came with a gun during his next visit and killed a male Sarus and the whole village was trembled and shocked with female bird’s raucous cry in agony and the whole family of the hunter became insane. Villagers believe that surviving female cursed them and she also died within a few days after death of her mate, male Sarus. According to Mr.Parmil Kumar who is Ace birder of J&K who has observed 429 species of birds in J&K, only 20-25 birds are left in our Union Territory. Watching a Sarus Crane couple or family is an experience which can never be forgotten for whole life as they are epitome of unconditional love and devotion. It is an experience of lifetime and can never be forgotten.
(The author is Advocate J&K High Court)