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Decoding Hindu Mythology
Secrets of the Parrot

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The parrot (or the Indian parakeet) is a recurring motif in Indian mythology and folk tales.

The parrot in Hindu mythology is associated with Kama, the god of love. The reason was this could be its green feathers and red beak which associates it with fertility. Red beak represents the red earth before the rain and the green feathers represent the green earth after the rains. Red represents unfulfilled desire, full of yearning while green represents fulfilled desire, full of joy.

In many South Indian temples, the Goddess holds a parrot in her hand. This is the gentle form of Devi, a contrast from her more fierce form where she is associated with tigers and lions.

Both Kamakshi of Kanchi and Meenakshi of Madurai hold parrots. These goddesses are various forms of Parvathi, wife of Shiva. In this form she is the love - goddess or enchantress who charms Shiva and transforms the hermit - god into a householder, thus ensuring a participation of god in worldly life. Thus, parrot or Suka has very strong sexual and romantic connotations. Little wonder then that one of the earliest collections of erotic stories in India is known as Suka - Saptati or 70 tales of the parrot.

Before leaving on a trading expedition across the sea, a merchant leaves a wise parrot in the care of his wife, more so that the parrot takes care of the wife for he was a very wise parrot. As soon as he is gone, the wife, Padmavati becomes extremely lonely and influenced by wanton woman decides to take a lover. As she prepares to leave the house, her pet mynah admonishes her for behaving so. Enraged, the wife wrings the mynah's neck. In some versions, the mynah flies away.

The parrot, determined to stop Padmavati, decides to use a different tactic. He begins by approving her intention, saying that pleasure or Kama was indeed a goal of life and in absence of her husband it is perfectly valid for her to go to another lover. But then he asks should she be caught with her lover, did she have enough wits to get out of troublesome situation.

Padmavati naturally has no clue about this and asks the parrot what she should do. In response, the parrot tells her a story about adulteresses. At the end of the narration, Padmavati would change her mind and stay home. The next evening the same series of events would occur. This would continue over seventy nights, until the merchant's son returns.

Typically the stories are of wife being caught by her husband while she is in the act of committing adultery. In one episode, she has to prove her innocence by passing between the legs of a Yaksha. The clever adulteress asks her paramour to behave like a lunatic and grab her in public. When that is done she tells the Yaksha there are two men who have touched her since marriage: one is her husband and second is the lunatic. In a way she is right, and therefore Yaksha is unable to crush her in between his legs.

In another story, the wife discovers her husband hiding under her bed while she is with her lover and has to think fast how to save herself from the situation. She then shouts loudly at her lover, winking as she does, "The only reason I am doing this terrible thing with you is because an astrologer said that unless I do this, my husband will die in a week's time of a snake - bite. I don't mind going to hell for being an unchaste wife so long as my husband is safe from that cruel snake."

The husband hears this and is convinced that his wife is actually a great soul, totally devoted to him. He even goes to the extent of praising her conduct before his neighbours. One adulteress gets her lover inside the house by introducing him as her cousin but when the lover refuses to have sex with her on the basis that they are now 'cousins,' she threatens to accuse him of incest and rape.

In these stories, husbands are typically shown as fools who are easily cuckolded by cunning wives.

At the end, prompted by the parrot, Padmavati confesses to her husband, who forgives her. Thus at the end of the story Parrot extols the virtue of understanding and forgiveness.

The story Suka-Saptati has been translated in many languages. In Persian, it is called Tuti Nama or parrot - tales. In one version, the husband returns after being informed of her adultery by the self - righteous and vengeful mynah. He kills his wife, not realising that, thanks to the parrot, she has never cheated on him. In despair, he becomes an ascetic. The stories even reached Europe. In one Italian version it is said that the parrot turns into a prince and seduces the merchant's wife.

Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik
Author, Speaker, Illustrator, Mythologist
Courtesy: Star of Mysore

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