The hamsa (
Sanskrit (; attributively , ; nominally , , ) is a classical language belonging to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. It arose in South Asia after its predecessor languages had diffused there from the northwest in the l ...
: हंस ' or ''hansa'') is an aquatic migratory bird
, referred to in ancient Sanskrit texts which various scholars have interpreted as being based on the
A goose ( : geese) is a bird of any of several waterfowl species in the family Anatidae. This group comprises the genera ''Anser'' (the grey geese and white geese) and ''Branta'' (the black geese). Some other birds, mostly related to the ...
Swans are birds of the family Anatidae within the genus ''Cygnus''. The swans' closest relatives include the geese and ducks. Swans are grouped with the closely related geese in the subfamily Anserinae where they form the tribe Cygnini. Somet ...
or even the
Flamingos or flamingoes are a type of wading bird in the family Phoenicopteridae, which is the only extant family in the order Phoenicopteriformes. There are four flamingo species distributed throughout the Americas (including the Caribbean ...
Its image is used in
Indian or Indians may refer to:
Peoples South Asia
* Indian people, people of Indian nationality, or people who have an Indian ancestor
** Non-resident Indian, a citizen of India who has temporarily emigrated to another country
* South Asi ...
and Southeast Asian culture
as a spiritual symbol and a decorative element. It is also used in a metaphorical sense with the bird attributed with the mythical ability to extract milk from a mixture of milk and water or good from evil. In Hindu iconography
, ''hamsa'' is the vahana
(or ''vehicle'') of
Brahma ( sa, ब्रह्मा, Brahmā) is a Hindu god, referred to as "the Creator" within the Trimurti, the trinity of supreme divinity that includes Vishnu, and Shiva.Jan Gonda (1969)The Hindu Trinity Anthropos, Bd 63/64, H 1/2, pp. 2 ...
Gayatri (Sanskrit: गायत्री, IAST:Gāyatrī) is the personified form of the Gayatri Mantra, a popular hymn from Vedic texts. She is also known as Savitri, and bears the epithet of ''Vedamata'' (mother of the Vedas). Gayatri is ofte ...
Saraswati ( sa, सरस्वती, ) is the Hinduism, Hindu Devi, goddess of knowledge, music, art, speech, wisdom, and learning. She is one of the Tridevi, along with the goddesses Lakshmi and Parvati.
The earliest known mention of Sa ...
Vishvakarma or Vishvakarman ( sa, विश्वकर्मा, Viśvakarmā, all maker) is a craftsman deity and the divine architect of the devas in contemporary Hinduism. In the early texts, the craftsman deity was known as Tvastar and the ...
Asian language professor
Sir Monier Monier-Williams (; né Williams; 12 November 1819 – 11 April 1899) was a British scholar who was the second Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University, England. He studied, documented and taught Asian languages, especially ... translates the term from Sanskrit as "a goose, gander, swan, flamingo (or other aquatic bird, considered as a bird of passage igratory bird...)." The word is also used for a mythical or poetical bird with knowledge. In the Rig Veda, it is the bird which is able to separate Soma from water, when mixed; in later Indian literature, the bird separates milk from water when mixed. [ In Indian philosophical literature, ''hamsa'' represents the individual soul or spirit (typified by the pure sunlight-white like color of a goose or swan), or the "Universal Soul or Supreme Spirit".] [
The word ''Hamsa'' is ] cognate
In historical linguistics, cognates or lexical cognates are sets of words in different languages that have been inherited in direct descent from an etymological ancestor in a common parent language. Because language change can have radical ef ... with Latin "(h)anser", Greek "χήν", German "Gans", English "goose", Spanish "ganso" and Russian "гусь".
Swan or goose controversy
Jean Vogel, in 1952, questioned if ''hamsa'' is indeed a swan, because according to Dutch ornithologists
George Christoffel Alexander Junge (7 August 1905 – 3 February 1962) was a Dutch ornithologist who was an expert on the birds of Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia, and New Guinea. He was born in Haarlem and studied zoology at the University ... and E.D. van Oort he consulted, swans were rare in modern India while bar-headed geese ('' Anser indicus
The bar-headed goose (''Anser indicus'') is a goose that breeds in Central Asia in colonies of thousands near mountain lakes and winters in South Asia, as far south as peninsular India. It lays three to eight eggs at a time in a ground nest. It ...'') were common. [ According to Vogel, Western and Indian scholars may have preferred translating ''hamsa'' from Sanskrit to swan as the indigenous goose appears plump while the swan (and, Vogel adds, the flamingo) appears more graceful.]
Some have criticised Vogel's view as being over-reliant on artistic representations from south India and Sri Lanka, where the white swan is rare. American ornithologist Paul Johnsgard
Paul Austin Johnsgard (28 June 1931 – 28 May 2021) was an ornithologist, artist and emeritus professor at the University of Nebraska. His works include nearly fifty books including several monographs, principally about the waterfowl and cranes. ..., in 2010, stated that mute swans ( Cygnus Olor) do migrate to the northwestern Himalayan region of India every winter, migrating some 1000 miles each way. Similarly, the British ornithologist Peter Scott, in his ''Key to the Wildfowl of the World'' (1957), states that northwestern India is one of the winter migration homes for mute swans, the others being Korea
Korea ( ko, 한국, or , ) is a peninsular region in East Asia. Since 1945, it has been divided at or near the 38th parallel, with North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) comprising its northern half and South Korea (Republic ... and the Black Sea
The Black Sea is a marginal mediterranean sea of the Atlantic Ocean lying between Europe and Asia, east of the Balkans, south of the East European Plain, west of the Caucasus, and north of Anatolia. It is bounded by Bulgaria, Georgia, Ro .... Grewal, Harvey and Pfister, in 2003, state that the mute swan is "a vagrant mainly in Pakistan but also northwestern India" and include a map marking their distribution. Asad Rahmani and Zafar-ul Islam, in their 2009 book, describe the three species of swans and 39 species of ducks and geese found in India.
Dave stated, "the present position according to Hume is that Swans do not occur anywhere within Indian limits outside the Himalayas except in the extreme North-West", and suggested that they were perhaps more common in the "hoary past."
The Sanskrit and Pali languages, both have alternate words for goose such as ''Jalapada'', ''Dhamara'', ''Cakragki'', ''Majjugamana'', ''Shvetagaruta'' and others.
The hymns of Rigveda
The ''Rigveda'' or ''Rig Veda'' ( ', from ' "praise" and ' "knowledge") is an ancient Indian collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns (''sūktas''). It is one of the four sacred canonical Hindu texts (''śruti'') known as the Vedas. Only one ..., verses in Hindu epics and Puranas, as well as other early Indian texts, states KN Dave, mention a variety of birds with the root of ''hamsa'' (हंस), such as Maha-hamsa, Raj-hamsa, Kal-hamsa and others. These should be identified as members of the Anatidae
The Anatidae are the biological family of water birds that includes ducks, geese, and swans. The family has a cosmopolitan distribution, occurring on all the world's continents except Antarctica. These birds are adapted for swimming, floating on ... family, namely swans, geese or ducks. [ This identification is based on the details provided in the Sanskrit texts about the changes in plumage over the bird's life, described call, migratory habits, courtship rituals and flying patterns.] [KN Dave (2005), ''Birds in Sanskrit Literature'', Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120818422, pages 422-447 with footnotes.] Specific examples where ''"hamsa''" should be interpreted as "swan" include hymns 1.163, 3.8, 4.45, 8.35, 9.32 and others in the ''Rigveda'', verse 7.339 of ''Ramayana manjari'', chapter 30.56 of ''Skanda Purana'', chapter 101.27 of the ''Padma Purana'', and others. Dave also lists examples of Indian texts where "''hamsa''" should be interpreted as "goose". Some Sanskrit texts, states Dave, distinguish between ''"hamsa''" and ''"kadamb''", the former according to him being a swan and the latter a bar-headed goose. [
The Indian ornithologist Salim Ali stated in his Azad Memorial Lecture of 1979 that Sanskrit names for birds were based on their calls, coloration, habits, gait, method of feeding or other observed traits. However, these are sometimes difficult to assign unambiguously to species. He mentions 4th to 5th-century ] Kalidasa
Kālidāsa (''fl.'' 4th–5th century CE) was a Classical Sanskrit author who is often considered ancient India's greatest poet and playwright. His plays and poetry are primarily based on the Vedas, the Rāmāyaṇa, the Mahābhārata and ...'s poem about Lake Manasa. This Manasa, assumes Salim Ali, is Lake Manasarovar
Lake Manasarovar (Sanskrit: मानसरोवर), also called Mapam Yutso (;) locally, is a high altitude freshwater lake fed by the Kailash Glaciers near Mount Kailash in Burang County, Ngari Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. Th ... and then states that the ''hamsa'' birds therein should be interpreted as bar-headed geese that do migrate over the Himalayas from Tibet. The historic Sanskrit and Prakrit literature of India does not mention the location of the lake Manasa that they consider the natural abode of the ''hamsa''.
Ethno-ornithologists Sonia Tidemann and Andrew Gosler in ''Ethno-ornithology: Birds, Indigenous Peoples, Culture and Society'' state that ''hamsa'' has been identified as "swans" in early Indian texts, and that titles such as Raja-hamsa were applied to ascetics
Asceticism (; from the el, ἄσκησις, áskesis, exercise', 'training) is a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from sensual pleasures, often for the purpose of pursuing spiritual goals. Ascetics may withdraw from the world for their p ... and holy-men in Indian culture because ancient Hindu and Buddhist stories ascribed the ability to separate good from evil to the ''hamsa''.
The birds painted at the Ajanta Caves in central India ( Maharashtra
Maharashtra (; , abbr. MH or Maha) is a state in the western peninsular region of India occupying a substantial portion of the Deccan Plateau. Maharashtra is the second-most populous state in India and the second-most populous country subd ...) on the Hamsa Jataka, as well as those in Sanchi
Sanchi is a Buddhist complex, famous for its Great Stupa, on a hilltop at Sanchi Town in Raisen District of the State of Madhya Pradesh, India. It is located, about 23 kilometres from Raisen town, district headquarter and north-east of Bho ... resemble a swan (and a series of swans in one panel), states the art historian
Art history is the study of aesthetic objects and visual expression in historical and stylistic context. Traditionally, the discipline of art history emphasized painting, drawing, sculpture, architecture, ceramics and decorative arts; yet today, ... C. Sivaramamurti. These early Buddhist arts can be dated between the 3rd century BCE and 5th century CE. The text of the Jataka itself clearly describes white swans that are like clouds in a blue sky.
According to Nandhita Krishna, the ''hamsa'' in the early north Indian tradition is best identified as a swan as the mythical symbol of wisdom. However, the ''hamsa'' became a popular motif included in temple artwork, textile prints and other artworks. It became a highly stylized mythical bird, with a plump body and short neck, along with flowery beak and tail, one that looks more like a goose.
The hamsa is often identified with the Supreme Spirit, Ultimate Reality or Brahman in
Hinduism () is an Indian religion or '' dharma'', a religious and universal order or way of life by which followers abide. As a religion, it is the world's third-largest, with over 1.2–1.35 billion followers, or 15–16% of the global po .... [ The flight of the hamsa symbolizes moksha, the release from the cycle of birth, death, and. reincarnation known as samsara.] [John Bowker (1998), Picturing God, Series Editor: Jean Holm, Bloomsbury Academic, , pp 99-101]
The hamsa is also the vahana of Saraswati
Saraswati ( sa, सरस्वती, ) is the Hinduism, Hindu Devi, goddess of knowledge, music, art, speech, wisdom, and learning. She is one of the Tridevi, along with the goddesses Lakshmi and Parvati.
The earliest known mention of Sa ... – the goddess of knowledge and creative arts, and her husband Brahma
Brahma ( sa, ब्रह्मा, Brahmā) is a Hindu god, referred to as "the Creator" within the Trimurti, the trinity of supreme divinity that includes Vishnu, and Shiva.Jan Gonda (1969)The Hindu Trinity Anthropos, Bd 63/64, H 1/2, pp. 2 ... – the god with powers of creation, in Hindu trinity and his other wife Gayatri
Gayatri (Sanskrit: गायत्री, IAST:Gāyatrī) is the personified form of the Gayatri Mantra, a popular hymn from Vedic texts. She is also known as Savitri, and bears the epithet of ''Vedamata'' (mother of the Vedas). Gayatri is ofte ... - the goddess of vedas (vedmata), one of Adi shakti. [
In view of the association of the hamsa with several attributes as indicated above, Hindu
''Rishi'' () is a term for an accomplished and enlightened person. They find mentions in various Vedic texts. Rishis are believed to have composed hymns of the Vedas. The Post-Vedic tradition of Hinduism regards the rishis as "great yogis" or ...s (sages) and sadhu
''Sadhu'' ( sa, साधु, IAST: ' (male), ''sādhvī'' or ''sādhvīne'' (female)), also spelled ''saddhu'', is a religious ascetic, mendicant or any holy person in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism who has renounced the worldly life. Th ...s (Hindu ascetic or holy person) have been given the title of ''paramahamsa'', that is, the ''supreme hamsa''. It connotes a particular person who has reached a high level of spirituality.
For example, '' Paramahamsa Upanishad'' calls that yogi
A yogi is a practitioner of Yoga, including a sannyasin or practitioner of meditation in Indian religions.A. K. Banerjea (2014), ''Philosophy of Gorakhnath with Goraksha-Vacana-Sangraha'', Motilal Banarsidass, , pp. xxiii, 297-299, 331 Th ... a Paramahamsa who is neither opinionated nor affected by defamation, nor jealous, not a show off, is humble, and is oblivious to all the human frailties. He is immune to the existence of his body, which he treats as a corpse. He is beyond false pretensions and lives realizing the Brahman. In chapter 3, the ''Paramahamsa Upanishad'' states that the one who understands the difference between "staff of knowledge" and "staff of wood", is a Paramahamsa.
Hamsa, or hansa, are part of Indian mythology. ''Arayanna'', or heavenly hamsa (swans), are said to live in ''Manasasaras'' in the
The Himalayas, or Himalaya (; ; ), is a mountain range in Asia, separating the plains of the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau. The range has some of the planet's highest peaks, including the very highest, Mount Everest. Over .... [ They are mentioned in the Hindu epic, the ] Ramayana
The ''Rāmāyana'' (; sa, रामायणम्, ) is a Sanskrit epic composed over a period of nearly a millennium, with scholars' estimates for the earliest stage of the text ranging from the 8th to 4th centuries BCE, and later stages .... [ Hamsa, the swan, is part of the mythical love story of Nala and ] Damayanti
''Damayanti'' (Sanskrit: दमयंती) is a character in a love story found in the Vana Parva book of the Mahabharata. She was the daughter of Bhima (not the Pandava one) and a princess of the Vidarbha Kingdom, who married King Nala of th ..., where it carries the stories, historical information and messages between the two strangers.
In Indian mythology, it is said to eat pearls and separate milk from water from a mixture of the two. Charles Lanman states that the references to ''hamsa'' being able to separate or discriminate is used primarily in a metaphorical sense in Sanskrit poetry. This likely has some basis in mythology or nature. One possibility is the belief that the milk refers to the sap exuded from the stems of lotuses (''kshira''). The other, states Lanman, is that "the swan, goose, duck and flamingo have a series of lamellae which serve as a sieve for straining their food from the water that they take in". Thus, it may be referring to the bird's ability to extract the nourishing part from a mixture.
The hamsa was also used extensively in the art of
Gandhāra is the name of an ancient region located in the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent, more precisely in present-day north-west Pakistan and parts of south-east Afghanistan. The region centered around the Peshawar V ..., in conjunction with images of the Shakyamuni Buddha. Nandhita Krishna translates this as swan, in the Gandharan context. Martin Lerner and Steven Kossak identify a 2nd-century BCE Gandharan relief now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City, colloquially "the Met", is the List of largest art museums, largest art museum in the Americas. Its permanent collection contains over two million works, divided among 17 curatorial departments. ... (New York, item 1987.142.212) that shows a swan with a rider.
The hamsa is deemed sacred in the Buddhism
Buddhism ( , ), also known as Buddha Dharma and Dharmavinaya (), is an Indian religion or philosophical tradition based on teachings attributed to the Buddha. It originated in northern India as a -movement in the 5th century BCE, and ..., as a symbol of wisdom. Some scholars such as Donald Swearer translate it as swan, others such as Thien Chou as goose. In historic Nepalese art
Nepali or Nepalese may refer to :
* Anything of, from, or related to Nepal
* Nepali people, citizens of Nepal
* Nepali language, an Indo-Aryan language found in Nepal, the current official national language and a language spoken ..., hamsa are either sketched as a swan or goose-like bird, while in historic Tibetan artwork it appears as goose-like bird likely reflecting the Indian region from where the Tibetan monks borrowed their iconography.
The name in other languages in which it is culturally important are
Hindi ( Devanāgarī: or , ), or more precisely Modern Standard Hindi (Devanagari: ), is an Indo-Aryan language spoken chiefly in the Hindi Belt region encompassing parts of northern, central, eastern, and western India. Hindi has been ...: ''hans'', Telugu: హంస, ''hamsa'' Tamil
Tamil may refer to:
* Tamils, an ethnic group native to India and some other parts of Asia
**Sri Lankan Tamils, Tamil people native to Sri Lanka also called ilankai tamils
** Tamil Malaysians, Tamil people native to Malaysia
* Tamil language, nati ...: ''அன்னப்பறவை''; km, ហង្ស, ''hong''; my, ဟင်္သာ, , and commonly spelt ''hintha'' or ''hinthar''; mnw, ဟံသာ (ၜိုပ်), or ''hongsa''; Shan: , or ''hangsa''; Thai: ''hong'' (หงส์), ; Malay: ''angsa'' (اڠسا). ''Angsa'' in Malay language is specifically referred to '' Anser albifrons''.
The hintha (equivalent to hamsa) is widely depicted in Burmese art, considered to be a ruddy shelduck in its culture, and has been adopted as the symbol of the Mon people
The Mon ( mnw, ဂကူမည်; my, မွန်လူမျိုး, ; th, มอญ, ) are an ethnic group who inhabit Lower Myanmar's Mon State, Kayin State, Kayah State, Tanintharyi Region, Bago Region, the Irrawaddy Delta, and .... In parts of Myanmar
Myanmar, ; UK pronunciations: US pronunciations incl. . Note: Wikipedia's IPA conventions require indicating /r/ even in British English although only some British English speakers pronounce r at the end of syllables. As John Wells explai ..., the ''hintha'' iconography is more like a hen than a duck, reflecting the local fauna. [Pascal Christel (2020), Splendour of Buddhism in Burma, Patridge Singapore, , pages 79–84 with figures]
File:KanishkaCasket.JPG, Hamsa border on the Kanishka casket, 2nd century CE
File:BimaranCasket.JPG, Hamsa birds between the architectural spires on the Bimaran casket, 1st century CE
File:1895 CE Saraswati on hamsa सरस्वती हंस painting 2.jpg, Saraswati with a hamsa (c. 1895, British Library)
File:1895 CE Saraswati on hamsa सरस्वती हंस painting.jpg, Sarasvati with a hamsa (19th-century, British Library)
File:2 Hindu deity Sarasvati Saraswati on ceramic tile in Munnar Kerala India March 2014.jpg, Sarasvati and a hamsa (Kerala tile)
File:Mahabharata01ramauoft 0024 01.jpg, A hamsa with the goddess Saraswati (Indian painting, 19th century)
File:Ravi Varma-Princess Damayanthi talking with Royal Swan about Nala.jpg, Hamsa talking to
''Damayanti'' (Sanskrit: दमयंती) is a character in a love story found in the Vana Parva book of the Mahabharata. She was the daughter of Bhima (not the Pandava one) and a princess of the Vidarbha Kingdom, who married King Nala of th ... as depicted by Raja Ravi Varma
Raja Ravi Varma ( ml, രാജാ രവിവർമ്മ; 29 April 1848 – 2 October 1906) was an Indian painter and artist. He is considered among the greatest painters in the history of Indian art. His works are one of the best examples ... (19th century)
* ''Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend'' () by Anna Dallapiccola
Hindu legendary creatures
Avatars of Vishnu