A friend from New York is visiting me, and I’ve been showing her around Austin. Of course, stop number one had to be Radha Madhav Dham, now a top Tripadvisor pick for vacations in Central Texas, and my home away from home since I was a boy. Visitors to the ashram constantly find themselves marveling and exclaiming with great curiosity. Questions come up frequently: Who is the figure in blue, playing the flute? Where is the bathroom? Why does everyone wear yellow?
The most common subjects of questions, however, are the peacocks roaming the ashram with a supreme confidence unknown to most birds. There are only a handful of them, no more than twenty or so, and they range from chicks just maturing to shin height, to full grown males with tailfeathers taller than a small child. People love to take pictures of them, children love to chase them, and the peacocks love to give their singing, plaintive call. Their eyes are large and intelligent-looking. They have small crowns sticking out of their heads, like jeweled flowers. They can’t fly, but I have seen them make a six foot vertical jump into a tree or onto the roof. To say the least, they certainly are very unique birds.
But, to the questions: Where do you even get peacocks from? Who feeds them? Where do they sleep at night? What do they eat? Which ones are the males? Why can’t they fly? Can I buy one? Will they peck me if I get too close? What are their names? Where are the babies? Where are their nests? Can I have a feather?
My New York friend, however, asked a more fundamental question. Why are there peacocks here at all? What special significance do peacocks hold, for Indians, for Hindus?
When we look at Krishna, we see a great deal of variety in his attire. He wears lots of colors in his clothes, from his yellow peetambar to his pink kachni to his white flower garlands. But in his crown, he wears the most colorful ornament of them all – a peacock feather, jauntily askew between his hair and the headpiece. Of all the creatures of nature, Krishna chose the feathers of the bright blue flightless bird for his – pardon the pun – crowning glory. We can only surmise that he made this choice because he loves peacocks immensely.
So, the reason is simple. We love peacocks because Krishna loves peacocks. We care for them, feed them and play games with them out of our mutual love. The way the cowherds of Braj tended to their cows, knowing Krishna would soon come to take their butter, we shelter the peacocks and let them roam the grounds, hoping that one day, our Shyam Sundar will come and take a feather for his crown.
(click here to watch a short video, starring Radha Madhav Dham’s peacocks)