Annapakshi - The Queen of Motifs
Motif by definition is a recurring piece of idea that is reflected throughout in an artistic work. They are the narrative element reverberating the sole voice in a literature. Motifs could be any one or more of the following: a recurring imagery, music, structure, visual components, language, contrasts or physical movements. These motifs play a significant role in conveying the theme or mood of the literature or drama to the audience.
Motifs are the atoms; it defines the structure of the art. Just like in every art the soul of the motif is inspired by nature, culture, demographics, and life around us. Motifs are repeated in a way to create patterns which are in turn recurred to create a design. Ultimately, each motif is like a star rising from a unit or more geometrical shapes. They shine and steal the show either solely or as a group.
In India, the land of colors, faith, devotion and varied traditions motifs were inspired by culture, people, environment, war, religion, architecture, history, and even the ruler. They are then passed on over to their generations. Tales tell artisans were made to modify their motifs on the impulses of the ruler.
Annapakshi - The Tale
Annapakshi or the divine swan is a mythical bird that is often misread to be a peacock. Its body and beak resemble a swan whilst its elegant feathers and crest descend from the peacock. Legend says this mythical white bird flew down to the earth from the heaven. Widely known for its purity, Rigveda states this bird has said to have abilities that can separate pure milk from a solution of milk and water. The underlying theory of this thesis is that the bird has knowledge and wisdom to choose truth over falsehood, virtue over sin, real over make-believe.
Down the history, during the migratory season swans were one among the flock of birds that visited India. Our literature describes these birds to have to been enjoying the summer in the Manasarovar. Annapakshi is believed to be the vaahanam, vehicle, of Goddess Saraswathi representing the free spirit of Lord Brahma.
Journey to silk
Over time, annapakshi grew as the most loved and vogued motif the era ever witnessed. In Kanchipuram silks, the annams swayed their gracious place on the pallus and borders of the mulberry silk.
Birds were introduced in designs by Europe during the 17th century. The Chinese designers infused the patterns and figures of birds and flowers in their rice paper. Later when people started buying exotic bird cages to imply their prestige these bird motifs were viewed as a sign of elegance and fame. This is how these mythological birds soon were woven in silk.
Kanchipuram silk weavers saw annapakshi motif as the holy sign which draws a distinction between the good and the evil. They also acknowledged it to be an auspicious symbol that brings wealth and prosperity to the weaver and the wearer. A row of strutting annapakshis makes for a rich, vibrant, arresting border. Woven as a large zari motif on the sari pallu, the annapakshi is absolutely the queen of motifs!
A Cultural Icon
This ‘Swetha pakshi’ in its mystical white color is considered as a symbol of purity, prosperity, divinity and elegant beauty. Granted with extraordinary powers to discrete virtue and sin, annapakshi or annam as it's commonly called is perceived as the spirit of morality and is rated as the cultural icon of Tamil Nadu. Annapakshi has found its place in South Indian brass lamps, called as Kuthu Villaku. These lamps are a household item in every family and temples, they are also used as a holy sign to mark the start of any occasion or event.
In temples, the wooden carvings of annapakshi is a common sight. These birds which are rather curvy, round with a paisley shaped feather, though seems to resemble a peacock is not a ‘Mayura’ and it is an Annam holding a flowering vine in their beak. This flowering vine symbolises wealth. These wooden carvings are made by hand and painted with vegetable dyes.
Annams are observed to be sculptured in rock-cut temples manifesting their existence in history. These graceful birds have indeed shaped a way into our lives and our wardrobe.