The Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) is a large non-migratory crane. It is found in parts of the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia and Australia. These cranes are the tallest of the flying birds, standing at a height of up to 6 feet and live and forage in the wetlands. The Sarus Crane is easily distinguished from other cranes in the region by the overall grey colour and the contrasting red head and upper neck.
In India these birds are held in great esteem. It is said that Ramayana was written by sage Valmiki was inspired by an painful incident which happened to him. He was going for taking a bath in the sacred river Tamsha near Allahabad in North India in the morning. He decided to take a walk before taking the bath. On his walk he spotted a pair of Sarus Crane in an inseparable pose and was rooted to their beauty. Suddenly a hunter suddenly killed the male bird leaving the female alone making heart rending cries. The sage cursed the hunter. This poignant scene catalyzed the beginning of writing of the epic poem.
It is believed in India that these birds are the most faithful to each other and for whole of their life cling to each other. If one of them dies, the other pines for the spouse rest of its life and sometimes refuses to take food and die. It is due to this reason, the newly wedded girls in Gujarat and many other parts of India are blessed by the elders to have a life like the Sarus cranes.
Incidentally, just as I was writing this entry, Kaun Banega Crorepati (variant of Who wants to be an millionaire) was being telecast on Sony TV channel by India’s iconic star Amitabh Bachchan and there he asked one question to a candidate about the name of river on whose shores sage Valmiki wrote the Ramayana which is of course Tamsha as noted above.
In a program about wetlands in India, it was noted that the numbers of these birds are on decline. It may be due to the bad condition of many wetlands due to mindless infusion of pollutants from industries into these bodies of water which support diverse kinds of fauna. For example, the wetland Harike in the Taran Tarn district of Punjab was in a very deplorable state few years back. It resembled a drain from a city. Only due to the efforts of the Sant Seechewal that many of the rivers and wetlands are breathing again and have been revived.