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Sukapani Meenakshi and her parrot.
Shuka means tropical bird, particularly, parrot.This bird has the special privilege of resting on the right shoulder of Goddess Meenakshi, who is none other than Goddess Raja Mathangi also known as Raja Shyamala.
This Goddess is the upasana murthi for fine arts,especially music and dance.
Meenakshi is identified with Raja Mathangi or manthrini,the minister of SriLalitha Tripura Sundari.The parrot resting on Her shoulder is certainly not a decorative bird,but the celestial partner of the Goddess,imparting knowledge of all the 64 arts to Devi.
The saint composer,Sri Syama Sasthri in many of his compositions on Goddess Meenakshi has mentioned Shuka Shyamala(Meenakshi with the parrot). There are many versions of the 64 arts (chatushashti kalas).The abhyantara kalas or secret 64 arts are detailed in the manuals regarding love.
The 64 bahyakalas(practical arts )are as follows(excerpts from "Experience Festival"):-
1.Singing,2.Instrumental music,3.Dancing,4.Painting,5.Forehead adornments,6.Making decorative floral and grain designs on the floor,7.Home and temple flower arranging,8.Personal grooming,9.Mosaic tiling,10.Bedroom arrangements,11.Creating music with water,12.Splashing and squirting with water,13.Secret mantras,14.Making flower garlands,15.Head adornments,16.Dressing,17.Costume decorations,18.Perfumery,19.Jewellery making,20.Magic and illusions,21.Ointments for charm and virility,22.Manual dexterity,23.Skills of cooking ,eating and drinking,24.Beverage and dessert preparation,25.Sewing(making and mending garments)26.Embroidery,27.Playing veena and drums,28Riddles and rhymes,29.Poetry and games,30.Tongue-twisters and difficult recitations,31.Literary recitation,32.Drama and story telling 33.Verse composition game,34.Furniture caning,35.Sexual arts,36.Crafting wooden furniture,37.Architecture and house construction,38.Distinguishing between ordinary and precious stones and metals,39.Metal-working,40.Gems and mining,41.Gardening and horticulture,42.Games involving animals,43.Training parrots and mynas to speak,44.Hair dressing,45.Coding messages,46.Speaking in code,47.Knowledge of foreign languages and dialects,48.Making flower carriages,49.Spells,charms and omens,50.Making simple mechanical devices,51.Memory training,52.Game of reciting verses from hearing,53.Decoding messages,54.Meaning of words,55.Dictionary studies,56.Prosody and rhetoric,57.Impersonation,58.Artful dressing,59.Games of dice,60.The game of 'akarsha'(a dice game played on a board),61.Making dolls and toys for children,62.Personal etiquette and animal training,63.Knowledge of dharmic warfare and victory,64.Physical culture. long train wedding dresses
After slaying of Kamsa and the thread ceremony,Lord Krishna and Lord Balarama went to the ashram of Guru Sandipani in the city of Avanthi.There within a span of 64 days,Lord Krishna learnt fourteen types of sciences(vidyas) and sixty-four arts(kalas).Generally to learn one science one requires two to two and a half years.Due to the Lord's knowledge of all the sixty-four arts,He probably blessed Sri Shuka Maharishi as thus (while He spoke to the sage's father,Sri Vyasa Maharishi):-"O Sage!Your son is talking like a Shuka(parrot).Hence name this boy as Shukadeva."What prompted the Lord to bless Sri Shuka Maharishi in such a manner?
The extraordinary level of Gnana and wisdom of the sage and his knowledge of the sublime made Lord Krishna to draw the comparison between him and the Shuka(parrot).Sage Shuka's divine gnana was evident while he was in his mother's womb itself. At the beginning
Sage Vedavyasa approached sage Jabali, seeking the hand of his daughter,Vatika, in matrimony.After the wedding,Sage Vyasa and his wife Vatika lived amidst forests ,in a lovely hermitage,enjoying marital bliss.
Vatika became pregnant and the foetus began to grow in her womb for nearly twelve years without any child being born.
As shastras and vedas were being discussed in the hermitage,the foetus,in the womb of Vatika,used to listen to the discussions and absorb all the information.Not only that,the foetus could also retain all the knowledge within itself.The child gained expertise of Sanga,Vedas,Smriti,Puranas and all the Mukti-shastras .The child used to analyse all the scriptures within the womb itself.
The mother,Vatika ,used to experience extreme pain and discomfort due to the growing womb and no amount of cajoling or coaxing from the father,sage Vyasa, could prompt the child to come out.The foetus declared from the womb that it wanted to attain salvation from within the womb itself, fearing that all the knowledge would dissolve (due to maya)once it takes birth and comes into the world.
The foetus said,"I have taken nearly 84 lakhs of births and am determined to make this my last birth.I am practising yoga and meditation here itself(in the womb) and have no wish to yield to worldly maya by taking birth.Please get Lord Krishna's assurance that I would be unaffected by the maya and I will come out!"Sage Vyasa rushed to bring Lord Krishna to the hermitage and Lord Krishna assured the foetus that He would protect the foetus from illusion (maya).
After birth,the twelve year old boy started walking towards the forests.When sage Vyasa tried to stop him pleading that he needed to perform certain rituals for the welfare of his son,the boy replied-"O great among sages,thousands of rituals were carried out in many of my births.These bondages of rituals submereged me in the illusions of the world"It was then that Lord Krishna named the boy as Shukadeva,because he spoke with the knowledge of a Shuka (parrot).
Lord Krishna who was proficient in the 64 arts,compared the twelve year old boy (who had gained knowledge of all the vidyas and kalas while in his mother's womb itself),to a Shuka,conveying the greatness and significance of a parrot.Such a parrot is held on the right side of Goddess Raja Mathangi,who resides as Goddess Meenakshi in Madurai.
The parrot is positioned in such a way that its beak is aligned with Devi's right ear.The parrot imparts its knowledge of the 64 kalas to the Goddess.While having darshan of the Goddess in Madurai,it is essential to seek the blessings of the parrot for upliftment in the knowledge of fine arts.I always make it a point to drink in the sight of the dazzling Goddess from head to toe along with Her parrot.I would never miss the parrot, taking a long ,hard look at it before retreating from the sanctum-santorum of the temple.
While interacting with a religiously well-informed practioner,I learnt that there was this mantra (after proper initiation) that could actually materialise the celestial parrot after a few crores of japam(recitation) of the same.Itseems,the parrot would fly around the musician,sit on his-her shoulder,fly on to the veena,dance on the strings, fly back to the player,(even its wings could touch the cheeks of the musician) all the while enhancing the knowledge of the practitioner's art to celestial heights!