The idea of India is incomplete without understanding the relationship of its people with the natural world. From time immemorial, in Indian culture and civilization both human and the natural world have co-existed across religions and belief systems. Many of the familiar elements of natural world, such as trees, creepers, birds, mammals and reptiles are found integral to Indian culture. Indians have explored through these elements deeper meanings of life and its connection with earth and universe throughout history. As time progressed, some of these elements became subjects of Indian art as icons of wealth, divinity and royalty.
One of these natural elements is peacock, India’s national bird. Its majestic and graceful form and the charming colours of its plumage have always motivated artists of different faiths to depict it in a range of mediums, from clay to stone and wall to wood and metal.
Peacock is the vehicle of Lord Kartikeya, also known as Skanda in Hinduism, the commander-in-chief of Gods. When he was assigned to kill Tarakasura, the well-known gods assembled before him offering their powers and armies. Garuda presented him his own son, the first growing peacock. There are numerous temples spread all over India dated from the Gupta Period showing Kartikeya with peacock.
Peacock, especially its feathers is closely associated with Lord Krishna, one of the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu. According to a story, in Govardhana Hill at Braj, once when Lord Krishna was playing his flute, peacocks started dancing in joy and excitement listening to the sweet melody. After the dance they spread their feathers on the ground and the chief peacock offered them to Lord Krishna with humility. The lord accepted the gift and adorned himself with it.
It is believed that in Hinduism, when someone worships Lord Krishna with the feathers on his crown, he/she is blessed with auspiciousness, wealth, good health and transcendent knowledge. It is also believed that the feathers protect one from evil eyes and destroys all negativity, like anger, greed, and jealousy and remove poison.
Peacock has a deep connection with Islam as well. According to one story, the God created a peacock and it sat for 70,000 years on a tree. All these years it prayed God using prayer beads. Finally God put a mirror in front of the peacock who was so pleased at his own beauty that it prostrated itself to God five times. So the tradition of five prayers a day arose among the Muslims.
Peacock is also a symbol of royalty and therefore it was adopted by both Rajputs and Muslims in their royal courts.