The Mystical Chātaka Bird

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The Chātaka bird is a migratory bird that appears only in the rainy season. Also known as the Jacobin cuckoo (Clamator jacobinus), or pied crested cuckoo, it is a member of the cuckoo order of birds that is found in Africa and Asia. It is partially migratory and in India, it has been considered a harbinger of the monsoon rains due to the timing of its arrival. It has a shrill voice similar in pitch to the cuckoo.

The Chātaka pleads with the clouds to bring in rain so that its thirst can be quenched. A bird smaller than the dove, it is described as having a long tail and is coloured black, yellow and white. It has been associated with a bird in Indian mythology and poetry, known as the Chātaka (Sanskrit: चातक) represented as a bird with a beak on its head that waits for rains to quench its thirst.

In Hindu mythology, the Chātaka bird emerges as a captivating symbol, weaving tales of patience, resilience, and spiritual aspiration. This bird waits for the divine to quench its thirst. There are stories of the Chātaka bird dying of thirst at the banks of a river because she is waiting for the sacred rains of the monsoon.

She is particularly associated with the god of love, Kamadeva, and is believed to reside in the heavenly abode of Lord Indra, the king of gods.

Spiritual Themes of the Chātaka Bird

Kamadeva the god of desire

Spiritual Longing: The Chātaka bird is seen as a symbol of spiritual longing and devotion. Its choice to abstain from water until the arrival of the monsoon is akin to the devotee’s yearning for the divine nectar of spiritual knowledge and enlightenment.

Patience and Resilience: The Chātaka’s ability to endure thirst until the rains come is a lesson in patience and resilience. It teaches that enduring hardships with unwavering patience is a virtue that leads to eventual spiritual fulfillment.

Selective Purity: By drinking only rainwater, the Chātaka bird is selective about the source of its sustenance. This signifies the importance of choosing pure and righteous paths in one’s spiritual journey, avoiding the impurities that may hinder spiritual growth.

Associations with Kamadeva: The Chātaka bird’s connection with Kamadeva, the god of love and desire, adds another layer of symbolism. Kamadeva’s influence extends beyond physical love to encompass the yearning for divine love and union with the supreme. The bird longs for the sound of the pure monsoon rain. The song of this quenching deluge answers the plaintiff “cu-cooo-cu-cooo” of the Chātaka bird calling in the long night.

Literary References: The Chātaka bird finds its place in various Hindu scriptures and literature, where poets often employ its symbolism to convey deeper spiritual meanings. The bird’s song, according to poets, is a hymn of devotion to the divine, echoing across celestial realms. Below is a regaling of the Chātaka bird (also written as Chatak in Bengal) by Baul singer Parvathy Baul.

Chatak (Lalan Fakir)

Parvathy Baul sings of the lament of the Chātaka Bird

Poem by Lālan Faqīr

Parvathy Baul: vocals, ektārā, ḍugḍugi, nūpur, kartāl

Gilles Monfort: soundscape

Rabi Biswas & Jhumki Hembram: ālponā paintings and scenography

Stage lighting: Guillaume Tisseyre & Jean-Hervé Vidal

“Chātak” by the poet Lālan Faqīr.


সমুদ্রের কিনারে থেকে
জল বিনে চাতকি মরলো
হায়রে বিধি ওরে বিধি ।।
তোর মনে কি ইহাই ছিল
সমুদ্রের কিনারে থেকে
জল বিনে চাতকি মইলো

চাতক থাকে মেঘের আসে
মেঘ বর্ষাল অন্য দেশে ।।
বলো চাতক বাঁচে কিসে
ওষ্ঠা গত প্রাণ আকুল
হায়রে বিধি ওরে বিধি ।।
তোর মনে কি ইহাই ছিল
সমুদ্রের কিনারে থেকে
জল বিনে চাতকি মইলো

বিনে নব ঘন বারি
খায়না তারা অন্য বাড়ি
চাতকের প্রতিজ্ঞা ভারি ।।
যায় যাবে প্রান সেও ভাল
হায়রে বিধি ওরে বিধি ।।
তোর মনে কি ইহাই ছিল
সমুদ্রের কিনারে থেকে

লালন বলে বুঝলো না ক্ষন
হইল না মোর ভজন সাধন
ভুলে সিরাজ সাঁইজী’র চরন ।।
তাইতে জনম বৃথা গেল
হায়রে বিধি ওরে বিধি
বিধিরে………ওরে বিধি
হায়রে বিধি ওরে বিধি
তোর মনে কি ইহাই ছিল
সমুদ্রের কিনারে থেকে
জল বিনে চাতকি মইলো ।।

The song translates as follow:

“The rain bird sits by the sea
Alas! she is dying without water.
Is this what you intended my beloved?

The rain bird waits for the rain cloud
The rain clouds pass away
Shower rain in another land
Tell me friend, how that bird will survive?
Her breath is about to go out of her beck
For the last time,
She is yearning.

The rain bird
doesn’t drink any other water
Except the rain drops
Even if her life stops to breath
Her vow is so.

Lalan Faqir says,
Oh my heart
Did my inner seeking happen with that one mindedness?
I forgot the essence of Siraj shai
Now my life goes in vain. ”

(Translation by Parvathy Baul)


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