10 May 2008

The sacred squirrels of India


There is a beautiful story told in Indian mythology about brave and industrious little squirrels who mustered courage and strength to help build a bridge across the sea to save a king's beloved wife, who had been kidnapped by a monster.

Though monkeys loyal to the king immediately set to work carrying formidable rocks, the tiny squirrels could only carry pebbles, and for this they were disdained and cast aside - with one squirrel hurled, nearly to his death by one angry monkey working among the bridge-builders.

The squirrel's life was more than spared, however. Rama caught the little squirrel before any harm could come to him. And then he - and all squirrels since that time - were given a blessing by Rama, signified by the three stripes across the back - the gentle fingers of Rama's hand leaving their indelible marks.
I first learned of this story from my friend Arul, who was born in India and is there now on a fellowship, reacquainting himself with these sacred squirrels. They visit his apartment terrace, much to his delight (and theirs!) And I was reminded again of this story by fellow blogger Vineeth Sukumaran, who sent me links on the Flickr website to the beautiful photos you see here, the descendants of the blessed palm squirrels.

How fortunate that there is a place in this world that reveres these beautiful, intelligent animals - and protects them from harm.

I wish the western part of the United States could feel the same way about the squirrels' cousins, the prairie dogs, who are being poisoned and gassed daily. And I wish the United Kingdom could also rethink the way it is dealing with an admittedly problematic overpopulation of introduced greys.

I think we need more myths, and more realities born of such fine myths, to build a bridge of understanding between humans and animals often perceived as "pests" or "vermin." Perhaps can we can take our cue and our inspiration from the Indian striped squirrels, and help build that bridge ourselves, one strong pebble at a time.

15 comments:

Divyam - Trying to be strong... said...

i wish i was like her.... could go ne where...without ne burden of responsibilities.

Vineeth Sukumaran said...

Nice!
You've done it.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. Even though I have heard of that legend, I did not know the role of the squirrels in it.

squirrelmama said...

It is one of the more beautiful legends I have ever heard - and am so glad I finally have the opportunity to share it here. I will look around on my older computer where I still have photos stored. My friend Arul took pictures of the sacred squirrels on his terrace in India, where he will be living until his return to the States in November.

ambiguoushero said...

that is a great story..

i have a video on my myspace of a few little dudes i met:)

they were so cute...

www.myspace.com/joebarilla

best

ppjakaJim said...

The problem with praire dogs is that the holes they dig break the legs of horses and cattle.

squirrelmama said...

Oddly enough, that appears to be something of a myth...not sure how it got started. But I have some friends out West who do prairie dog rescue and relocation and they tell me this isn't really the case. In fact, I seem to recall National Wildlife Federation magazine about a year ago doing a story about ranchers whose properties are prairie dog friendly places. How neat is that!

Poetikat said...

What a charming story. Like you, Squirrelmama, I wish more people looked at the small rodents in a better light. I love them all - I haven't told you this, but I have pictures of squirrels, chipmunks and groundhogs (our prairie dog) up in my bedroom - right between Jesus and Mary! How's that for reverence?

Kat

squirrelmama said...

I think Jesus and Mary would heartily approve. :-)

Siddharth Soni said...

That's a lovely blog. Clicked an Indian Squirrel when I visited my native village in Rajasthan. Here's the picture http://www.flickr.com/photos/siddharthsoni/2461676426/

squirrelmama said...

The photo is beautiful - I left some comments there for you. I like the fact that the squirrel was so unself-conscious about being photographed by a human, just going on about its business. You are lucky to have such beautiful creatures gracing your property back home!

chrys said...

The image on this page is a chipmunk, not a squirrel? Or do squirrels in India have strips?

squirrelmama said...

The squirrels in Asia are very different from the ones we are accustomed to seeing in the U.S. and in Europe. These little striped guys may look like chipmunks (and they do, don't they?) but they are definitely classified as squirrels - and they are protected by the government. (Technically, though, even in other countries chipmunks ARE squirrels but.....we don't think of them that way.)

Captnkangaroo said...

We have these beautiful little creatures in Perth, WA bought across to the Perth Zoo many years ago. They escaped and now live free in the suburbs surrounding the Zoo. I often saw them in the trees as a child but had no idea of the wonderful story associated with them

squirrelmama said...

I am so glad that they live and thrive, Captnkangaroo, and that their release from the zoo, however unintended, didn't end in tragedy. I am sure these little guys are a joy, and that they have found appropriate food somewhere in the (I hope) friendly suburbs. Thanks for the story!!!