Jatayu, also known as Jatayu the Divine Bird, is a prominent character in the Hindu epic poem, Ramayana. He is often referred to as the “King of Vultures“. Jatayu holds a special place in Hindu Dharma and is revered as a heroic figure for his valiant efforts in protecting Sita Mata, the wife of Lord Rama, from the clutches of the Lanka King Ravana.
The story of Jatayu is filled with intriguing details and rich symbolism, making it a fascinating tale that has captivated people for centuries.
Birth of Jatayu
Jatayu was born as a divine bird with the iconography of an eagle or vulture, blessed with immense strength and wisdom. He was the son of Aruna (the charioteer of the sun god Surya), the brother of Sampati, and the nephew of Garuda.
Jatayu was known for his majestic size, with a wingspan that stretched across hundreds of feet. He was revered by both humans and gods alike for his noble character and his unwavering devotion to dharma, the righteous path.
Young Jatayu’s flight toward Sun
During their youth, Jatayu and his elder brother, Sampati, engaged in a daring challenge to fly toward Surya. Jatayu, being young and carefree, outpaced his brother and ventured into the scorching orbit of the sun during noon, known as Surya Mandala. However, the intense heat of Surya’s rays began to burn Jatayu’s wings, putting him in grave danger.
In a desperate attempt to save his younger brother, Sampati bravely flew ahead of Jatayu, spreading his wings wide open to shield him from the searing heat. As a result, it was Sampati who bore the brunt of the blazing sun, and his wings were severely burnt.
He descended towards the Vindhya mountains, unable to fly anymore. Fortunately, Sampati found refuge under the protection of a sage named Nishakara, who lived in the mountains and performed penance.
Sadly, Jatayu and Sampati never crossed paths again after this incident. Jatayu continued his life with his wings intact, while Sampati remained incapacitated, living under the care of the sage in the Vindhya mountains.
The friendship between Jatayu and King Dasharatha
The Srirama Panchali (Bengali Version of Ramayana by Kritibas) has mentioned how King Dasharatha and Jatayu became friends.
It was of the time when King Dasharatha was enjoying his material pleasures and was unaware of the drought in his kingdom of Ayodhya. His subjects blamed him for it. Narada, the divine sage, came and informed Dasharatha that the drought was caused by Shani (the planet Saturn) affecting Rohini Nakshatra (a constellation).
Dasharatha, determined to solve the issue, challenged Indra, the king of gods, for war. But the gods advised Indra against fighting, and he instead offered water at Dasharatha’s feet and explained that the drought was caused by Shani’s influence. Indra suggested that Dasharatha confront Shani directly to resolve the issue, after which he would bring abundant rain to Ayodhya.
Dasharatha went to Shani’s abode and called him out. However, when Shani appeared, his gaze caused the reins of Dasharatha’s chariot to snap. The chariot and horses began to fall, and Jatayu, a bird flying by, came to the rescue. Jatayu saved Dasharatha’s life by stabilizing the chariot and tying the reins.
Dasharatha was grateful and asked Jatayu to introduce himself. Jatayu revealed that he was a bird, the son of Arjuna, and had come to Dasharatha’s aid when he saw him fall.
Dasharatha and Jatayu became friends and sealed their friendship with a fire ceremony. Dasharatha then returned to Shani, who granted his request and removed his influence from Rohini Nakshatra.
Indra kept his promise and brought seven days of incessant rain, filling up the water bodies in Ayodhya once again. This story of Jatayu’s friendship and bravery is said to be protected by the god Narayana, and it is sung by Krittibas in the Adi Kanda.
Jatayu’s Encounter with Ravana
In Aranya Kanda of Ramayana, The legend of Jatayu comes to the forefront when he encounters Ravana, the demon king of Lanka, who had abducted Goddess Sita, the wife of Lord Rama.
Jatayu, who was living in the forests of Panchavati, heard Sita’s cries for help as Ravana was carrying her away in his flying chariot. Filled with righteous anger, Jatayu immediately confronted Ravana and tried to rescue Sita from his clutches.
However, Ravana, who possessed immense power, was not easily deterred. He engaged in a fierce battle with Jatayu, using his celestial weapons to attack the mighty bird. Despite his valiant efforts, Jatayu was overpowered by Ravana’s strength and was severely wounded. Nevertheless, he continued to fight bravely, determined to protect Sita at any cost.
Jatayu’s Sacrifice for Dharma
The battle between Jatayu and Ravana raged on for hours, with the divine bird putting up a valiant fight. He fought with all his might, using his sharp talons and beak to counter Ravana’s attacks. Despite the injuries he sustained, Jatayu refused to give up, driven by his unwavering commitment to upholding dharma and protecting Sita.
In a moment of desperation, Jatayu managed to seize Ravana’s chariot with his beak, trying to bring it down to the ground. But Ravana, in his fury, cut off one of Jatayu’s wings, causing the bird to plummet to the earth below.
Devi Sita couldn’t look at the sight of Jatayu being dismembered and covered her eyes in fright. Jatayu’s enormous body crashed onto the rocky terrain, and he lay there, gravely injured and on the verge of death.
As Lord Rama and his brother, Lakshmana, searched for Sita Devi in the forest, they came across the dying Jatayu. The noble bird, with his last breath, narrated the sequence of events and informed Lord Rama about Sita Devi’s abduction by Ravana.
Touched by Jatayu’s sacrifice and bravery, Lord Rama performed the last rites for the fallen bird and bestowed upon him the honor of being treated like a noble warrior.
Jatayu’s selfless sacrifice for dharma and his valiant efforts to protect Sita have made him a revered figure in Hindu Dharma. He is often hailed as a symbol of courage, loyalty, and selflessness. Jatayu Vadh’s story is often cited as an example of the importance of upholding righteousness and protecting the weak, regardless of the obstacles or personal sacrifices involved.
Did Killing a Bird Decide Ravana’s Fate?
This may sound like a nonlogical point as it has not been mentioned in Ramayana. But there is a sloka in Ramayana that tells what happens if you killed a bird.
मानिषाद प्रतिष्ठां त्वं अगमः शाश्वतीः समाः ।
यत् क्रौंचमिथुनादेकं अवधीः काममोहितः ॥
mā niṣāda pratiṣṭhāṁ tvam agamaḥ śāśvatīḥ samāḥ
yat krauñcamithunādekam avadhīḥ kāmamohitam
You will find no rest for the long years of Eternity, for you killed a bird in love and unsuspecting.
The actions we do have consequences and one’s actions in this life may affect their future life or afterlife. The prophecy served as a warning to Ravana that his act of killing a bird would have repercussions and haunt him for eternity, denying him rest and peace.
While it was not the sole reason for Ravana’s eventual downfall, it was considered one of the many consequences of his immoral actions and a reflection of the moral and ethical principles upheld in Hindu Dharma.
Jatayu Earth’s Center: A Gigantic Sculpture
Jatayu Earth’s Center is a unique and awe-inspiring destination located in the Indian state of Kerala. It is home to the world’s largest bird sculpture, a magnificent depiction of Jatayu.
This gigantic sculpture, with a wingspan of 150 feet wide and a length of 200 feet, is an architectural marvel that stands tall on a hill, overlooking the surrounding natural beauty.
The sculpture of Jatayu is a splendid work of art, intricately carved to capture the essence of this divine bird. It is made of concrete and steel, and its sheer size and grandeur make it a sight to behold. The sculpture is surrounded by lush greenery and offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, making it a popular tourist destination.
The surrounding sculpture has a small water body (pond) which is believed to be made from the impact of Jatayu’s beak.
Jatayu’s story has also been retold and depicted in various forms of art and literature across India and other parts of the world. His bravery and selflessness continue to inspire people to uphold noble values and fight against injustice.
Jatayu is a divine bird who fought fearlessly for righteousness and sacrificed his life to protect Sita from the demon king Ravana. His story serves as a reminder of the timeless values of courage, loyalty, and selflessness, and continues to inspire people to stand up for what is right, even in the face of overwhelming challenges.