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Our Global Neighbours: Bird with Hundred Eyes

By: Dr Stan Florek, Category: Science, Date: 15 Jan 2015

The Peacock and healing in Hindu and Buddhist tradition.

Mask - Sri Lanka: E78825 AA

Mask - Sri Lanka: E78825 AA
Photographer: Stan Florek © Australian Museum

Our Global Neighbours is a blog series containing stories from and about cultures around the world.

Once, a peacock helped the god Indra to escape the demonic king Ravana. The peacock opened his tail and Indra hid behind it. Grateful Indra said: Peacock, you will never be afraid of snakes and your tail will never be plain blue, but will have a hundred iridescent eyes, and when the rain falls you will dance with joy remembering our friendship.

The peacock frequently appears in the Hindu epic Ramayana, as in the story of hiding Indra. The peacock is a well-known character in Hindu and Buddhist tradition. He brings peace, harmony and wealth and it symbolises positive and comforting influences.

The electric blue of the peacock’s neck feathers is linked with the story of Shiva. In order to save the world, the god Shiva drank the deadly Kalakuta poison that emerged from the churning of the cosmic ocean. This poison was stuck in Shiva’s throat and turned it blue, bringing him an alternative name - the Blue-throated One.

The peacock is an enemy of poisonous creatures, such as scorpions and snakes. The striking colours and tail-plumage represent the transformation of the poisons into the nectar of wisdom and accomplishment. It is believed that the peacock can give protection from venomous creatures and heal those afflicted by poison.

It is not surprising that the peacock is an important character in the Raksha (devil) ceremonial dance in Sri Lanka. This performance shows the struggle between a cobra symbolising demonic forces and a bird standing for positive influence. The peacock mask is painted with arresting blue colours, to highlight its symbolic potency.

We are lucky to have a set of masks associated with the Raksha Devil Dance, acquired in the early 1980s through the Sri Lankan Ministry of Rural Industrial Development.

I hope and wish that with the new government led by President Sirisena (sworn in January 2015) the good luck and healing process will begin in Sri Lanka, after years of internal conflicts and horrific abuses of human rights. A lot of the peacock’s healing intervention is needed with his hundred eyes to scrutinise the process.