By Sonia Dhami
Swans are the largest members of the duck family, Anatidae. There are six to seven different species of swans in the genus Cygnus. Three of their species – mute swan, trumpeter swan, and whooper swan are amongst the largest flying birds. They can reach a length of over 1.5 m (60 inches) and weigh over 15 kg (33 pounds). Their wingspans can be almost 3 m (10 ft). Compared to the closely related geese they are much larger in size and have proportionally larger feet and necks. They also have a patch of un-feathered skin between the eyes and bill in adults.
Swans feed in the water and on land.
They are almost entirely herbivorous, although small numbers of aquatic animals may be eaten. In the water, food is obtained by up-ending or dabbling, and their diet is composed of the roots, tubers, stems and leaves of aquatic and submerged plants.
Swans pairs last for many years, and in some cases even for life. The male and the female sexes are alike in plumage, but males are generally bigger and heavier than females. They nest in marshy areas near ponds. The nests are made of leaves, grass, water plants and lined with feathers. The number of eggs in each clutch ranges from three to eight. The cygnets can swim and follow the mother one day after hatching.
Several species are migratory, either wholly or partly e.g the Whooper swans migrates from Iceland, Scandinavia and Northern Russia to Europe, Central Asia, China and Japan. They are generally found in temperate environments, mostly in the northern hemispheres with only one species in Australia and New Zealand. They are absent from Central America, northern South America, the entirety of Africa and tropical Asia.
They are no longer found in India, even though they are revered in Hinduism and are compared to saintly persons whose chief characteristic is to be in the world without getting attached to it, just as a swan’s feather does not get wet although it is in water. The Punjabi word for swan is Hans derived from Sanskrit hansa. It is mentioned several times in the Guru Granth Sahib with reference to its spiritual qualities as extolled in Hindu mythology and Vedic literature. Swans are said to reside in the summer on Lake Man Sarovar, in the Himalayas and migrate to Indian lakes in the plains for the winter. They're believed to possess some powers such as the ability to eat pearls. Many other cultures too have stories associated with swans e.g. The Ugly Duckling and the ballet Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky which is among the often-performed classics of ballet.
In Gurbani, we find the following references to Swans
Sitting among the swans, the crane does not become one of them; sitting there, he keeps staring at the fish. And when the gathering of swans looks and sees, they realize that they can never form an alliance with the crane. The swans peck at the diamonds and pearls, while the crane chases after frogs. The poor crane flies away, so that his secret will not be exposed. Whatever the Lord attaches one to, to that he is attached. Who is to blame, when the Lord wills it so?
The True Guru is the ocean of pearls; one attains it according to his Writ. The Sikhs like swans gather together according to the Will of the True Guru. The ocean is full of gems and pearls, the swan eats them, but the ocean always remains full. The Lord wills that the ocean and the swans are not separated. Only that Sikh comes to the Guru, on whose forehead this Writ is recorded from the very beginning. Such a Gursikh not only ferries across the world-ocean, himself, but also saves his family and the whole world." (Guru Arjan Dev, Var Ramkali, pg. 960)
As rain is dear to the earth, and the flowers fragrance is dear to the bumble bee, and the mango is dear to the Cuckoo, so is God dear to my mind.
As the sun is dear to the duck, and the lake of Man Sarover is dear to the swan, and the husband is dear to the wife, so is God dear to my mind.