[INDOLOGY] The Longevity of Crows

Roland Steiner steiner at staff.uni-marburg.de
Thu Aug 21 14:17:11 UTC 2014

In the sixth book (entitled Nirvāṇaprakaraṇa; chapters 14-28/29) of
the Mokṣopāya/Yogavāsiṣṭha the muni Vasiṣṭha tells his
disciple, prince Rāma, about a corvid (a raven or a crow; in the story the
bird is variously designated as vāyasa, kālakākola, kāka, and kākola)*
named Bhusuṇḍa (this is the uniform spelling throughout the
Mokṣopāya manuscripts; in the Yogavāsiṣṭha and
Laghuyogavāsiṣṭha editions the name is printed as Bhuśuṇḍa).

Once, Vasiṣṭha participated in a talk (kathā) about long-lived beings
(sucirajīvin) in which the raven/crow Bhusuṇḍa was mentioned. Out of
curiosity, Vasiṣṭha set out for Bhusuṇḍa’s habitation on a
marvelous tree standing on a peak of mount Meru. In the course of their
conversation we learn that Bhusuṇḍa is the son of the male raven/crow
Caṇḍa (himself being the vehicle of the mātṛ Alambusā) and of one
of the female geese (haṃsī) who are the vehicles of the mātṛ
Brāhmī. Bhusuṇḍa is virtually immortal; in the phase between the end
of a kalpa and the beginning of a new creation he survives in the state of
deep sleep (suṣuptāvasthā). In few words, his method is the
concentrated observation of his breath which, in his case, is not a
suppression of but an intellectual reflection on his breath
(prāṇacintā). Mentally, Bhusuṇḍa is a jīvanmukta ("liberated while
living"). The story contains a lot of interesting details in literary and
philosophical respect which cannot be dealt with here.

By the way: some Sanskrit lexicographers list the terms cirajīvin and
dīrghāyus ("long-lived") as designations for corvids, and, in the
Pañcatantra and the Kathāsaritsāgara, cirajīvin is attested as the name
of a corvid.

* Cf. K.N. Dave, Birds in Sanskrit Literature, rev ed. 2005, p. 3: "[...]
lexicographers have treated all black Crows including the Raven as a
variety of a common type".

Roland Steiner

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