# Day 203 (What’s ‘owl’ the fuss about?!)

When we were small kids, the word was bandied about as an abuse ~ “ullu kahin ka!”, or if you wanted to raise the level there was “ullu ka pathaa!” The nuns at the convent school had drilled into us that the latter was strictly taboo and people with good breeding did not mouth such expletives, ever. Children will be children and every once in a while someone would muster up all the mock horror they could and put in a complaint, “Sister so-and-so called me a ‘ukp’!”, even as they took perverse delight in saying that forbidden word. (The abbreviation of course was coined by the more ingenious amongst us!) And so the association was formed…an owl could only be related to a ‘fool’ or an ‘idiot’.
Then my father qualified for a one year training course at the army’s prestigious Defence Services Staff College located at Wellington amidst the beautiful Nilgiri Hills. The crest of the college was an owl and it caused considerable confusion in my childish mind…why would the the adults choose an ‘idiot’ bird for a place they made such a big deal about?! All officers who completed the course were presented a tie with the owl-crest speckled like dots over it. It was a proud possession to be flaunted on special occasions. Yet every time our Dad wore it, there would be an amused inner smile about his “ullu wali tie”!
Many years later when my husband was attending the same course the topic came up for discussion at a social gathering. A senior instructor at the College then clarified that in many ancient cultures across the world the owl represents wisdom. The owl is the emblem of Minerva, the Greek Goddess of wisdom. In our own Indian mythology, Goddess Saraswati (the goddess of learning) is occasionally shown riding a chariot drawn by a team of owls. In the Bhagavad Gita (Chap 2, verse 69), the owl is likened to an enlightened ‘sthita prajna’ or ’one who remains unwavering any situation, be it happy or sad’. Hence, the white owl (or ‘ulooka’ in sanskrit) is also the ‘vahaan’ or vehicle of Goddess Lakshmi who is considered not just the goddess of wealth but the repository of all spiritual wisdom. In light of all this it became easy to understand the crest of the college which was an owl perched on crossed swords with the motto “Yuddham Pragayya” meaning ~ “To war with wisdom”. He further explained that it was the British who perpetrated the contradictory belief about the bird during the colonial era. During the Middle Ages in Europe the owl had come to be associated with witchcraft and was considered a foolish but feared spectre; and when the Britishers came to India they brought this derogatory outlook towards owls with them.
Indeed if you read further you discover that throughout history and across various cultures people have regarded the owl with fascination and awe. There are so many contradictory beliefs about them ~ they have been both feared and venerated despised and admired, considered wise and foolish, besides being associated with witchcraft and medicine, the weather and seasons, even birth and death. Over the last couple of decades the West has rediscovered the sagacious aspect of the owl and it has returned to its position as a symbol of wisdom. Suddenly it is ‘cool’ to be sporting owl-inspired jewellery and clothes. You even have them on phone covers and on all kinds of bags ~ those ‘owl-knowing’ eyes exhorting you to
“Stay focussed
Be ‘Hoo’ you are
Trust in a wise friend
Be observant
Live off the land
Glide through the dark times
And remember life is actually a Hoot!!”


About sunsur81

A gatherer of thoughts...exploring myths,metaphors and expressions of life...
This entry was posted in 365 Days Blog-roll, Thought snippets and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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