Indian ornithology

John C. Huntington huntington.2 at OSU.EDU
Wed Feb 13 20:02:23 UTC 2002

Earlier I tried to send an image of the Mauryan Vajrasana with its
"Geese" but we are restricted from sending images on this Indology
listserv  so it bounced back.

However in our Pala  (ca. 750-1300) sculpture archive, Sarasvati
occurs 23 times and is on a lotus with no vahana.

She occurs in the Nepal Iconographic database (all from drawings in
iconographic manuals of the 18-20th centuries) six times and is only
on a lotus if anything. The few stone images that we have photographs
of her in Nepal are also on lotuses. no Hamsa of any species

As for Gandhara, We have about 6000 images of Gandharan material in
the archive, including a good many stair casings on which mythic
animals are carved, lots of birds but no swans

such a survey is hardly definitive, but identifiable swans are not
commonly represented in Indic art before about 1300.


>I too have puzzled over the hamsa-swan-goose question, so if it's not
>ungermane, I enclose here a statement about the mute swan's migratory reach,
>which includes what is termed "northwestern India".  If that designation
>applies to the historic Gandhara area, then the appearance of swan-like
>birds in Buddhist sculpture might not be such a stretch from what may have
>been observed in the natural world.  But I also wonder, given that Gandharan
>Buddhist art shows powerful Greek esthetic influences, if the "art swan" may
>have first appeared with Greek art in the area. (Let's not forget the figure
>of Leda and the swan.)  A specialist's knowledge of Gandharan area art would
>be welcome.
>Another question:  are there any images of Devi Sarasvati's vahana, before
>the modern period,  that clearly show a goose?  I suspect that the 19th
>century English preference for the term swan over goose noted by Lance
>Nelson also carried over into colonial influences on the popular commercial
>poster arts, where Sarasvati is shown with a clearly drawn swan (no goose)
>at her side.
>Mute Swan:
>Palearctic, Nearctic, Ethiopian: The mute swan breeds in the British Isles,
>north central Europe and north central Asia. It winters as far south as
>North Africa, the Near East, and to northwest India and Korea.  (Reilly,
>1968; Granlund, McPeek, and Adams, 1994)
>Joanna kirkpatrick

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