The story of Jatayu is from the Itihasa of Ramayana. Jatayu, the central character of this sub-story is an old, noble and mighty eagle.
In the story of Ramayana, when Jatayu saw the evil rakshasa king Ravana abducting Goddess Sita and when he heard Sita’s cry for help, he rushes towards the rakshasa king and begs him to desist from this unworthy act. Ravana refuses and a great aerial battle takes place between Ravana and Jatayu.
Jatayu fought valiantly, causing great damage to Ravana’s chariot and pierced his body with his sharp beak. Ravana was amazed by the bird’s strength but in a desperate move, took up his sword and sliced off both the wings of the bird. Jatayu came crashing to the ground. Rama and Lakshmana chanced upon the mortally wounded, dying Jatayu in the search for Sita. Jatayu explained to Ram, how Ravana carried away Sita and how he had tried to stop him and fought with him.
With all the pain and suffering, Jatayu consoles the distraught Rama and reassures him that no harm will come to Sita, and she will be restored soon. Hearing the comforting words from Jatayu, who is under excruciating pain, Rama hugs Jatayu with a sense of affection and gratitude and places his head on his lap. Lord Ram senses that his end is getting nearer. All along Rama had shown Himself as a normal human being in this avatar, but at this instance, he forgets himself and with his sankalpa and supremacy, brings forth Gaya teertha and feeds Jatayu. The blessed great bird touches Lord Rama’s feet with his beak and takes its last breath. Lord Ram considers Jatayu as equal to His father and proceeds to do the final rites for the bird as a son would do and grants him moksha.
Jatayu Moksham (salvation of Jatayu) shows the spiritual importance of association with the Lord and service to the Lord. It also represents some of the best ideals the Ramayana Itihasa has to offer – bravery against insurmountable odds, compassion towards the sufferings of the oppressed/weak and self-sacrifice in a fight for standing up for what’s right (Dharma).
The act of trying to protect Sita earned the grace of the Lord and Jatayu was instantly liberated. Asking for the boon of constant remembrance/uninterrupted devotion and touching the feet of the Lord at the last breath, Jatayu, a true devotee and bhakta ascended to Lord’s Abode and attained liberation (moksha) by the grace of God.
One of the local versions of Ramayana, states that Sri Rama in his infinite compassion, when granted Jatayu moksha uttered the words “Le Pakshi,” which means “Arise, O bird”. This word emphasizes a lot of spiritual wisdom and a deep inner meaning.
In most Indian languages, the word for death is “dehantam” which means “the end of body” but “not the end of life”. One of the core tenets of our Sanatana Dharma (a.k.a Hinduism, the oldest religion in the world) is the distinction between a body and a soul.
Hindus believe that the mortal body is a temporary vessel for an immortal soul. When we die, our physical body (made up of these pancha-boothas/five elements) perishes but our indestructible soul lives on. The soul continues its journey of birth, death and rebirth, in perpetuity (multi-life transmigratory journey) until an eternal/final liberation (Moksha). This is at the heart of the philosophy of detachment and learning to let go of desires. The ritual of liberating the soul of the dead from its attachments is also a reminder to those left behind to let go of the attachment of the dead, recognizing and realizing that this is not the end, but a tiny fragment in the bigger circle of life, from the perspective of multi-life transmigratory journey.
Om Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya |
Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya |
Mrtyor-Maa Amrtam Gamaya |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
“Lead me from darkness to light, from death to immortality.” This famed Vedic prayer proclaims the human urge to survive, to conquer death and to know the joys of Atma chaitanyam (illuminated consciousness). If simple ephemeral victories at our physical level make us believe and convince us that we are successful, happy and content in this world, and that we don’t have to raise our consciousness and proceed to higher spiritual levels – this worldly illusion (Maya) has scored a major victory over us, for we are now totally in her clutches, at her mercy. Though we may have an illusion that we won the battle in this world, we have sustained one more defeat and a step back from the grand scheme of life.
Jatayu lost the battle against Ravana, but he won the war against worldly illusion (Maya). He reached his destination and was victorious in defeat.
O mighty bird Arise.
Jatayu Moksham which is a part of Ramayana is read just before cremation and during post death rites.
– Shaji Krishnan