Sunday, November 2, 2008

Returning Souls

During my assignment for three years in Asia-Pacific, I was stationed in Singapore and the main attraction for any friends visiting was to take them to the Imax theatre to have a real visual treat. The very first film we saw there was on the migration of birds, animals and insects. A very impressive migration, given its stature, was the migration of the Monarch butterfly.

The Monarch butterfly, a beautiful insect known for its orange and black markings, is famous for its annual migration to the highland forests of Michoacan, deep in the heartland of Mexico.
Each year, hundreds of millions of butterflies travel from the United States and Canada, to winter in forests of Fir and Oyamel trees. Those butterflies that survive the journey, which in some cases amounts to a 2,000 mile trip, cluster profusely in trees, creating a marvellous sight.
Near Morelia, the capital of the state is the ‘Santuario Mariposa Monarca’ (Mariposa Monarch Sanctuary), a reserve dedicated to protecting their environment.

Each year, starting in late October to early November, the butterflies start to arrive. Incidentally, this time period coincides with the ‘Dia de los Muertos’ (Day of the Dead) holiday (Second day of the month of November). The indigenous peoples of the area believe the butterflies represent their departed loved ones souls, returning in the form of the butterfly. During the evening hours, the insects gather on tree trunks and branches. After morning arrives and the heat begins to rise, the butterflies begin flocking to the forest floor, creating a tapestry of orange and black as far as the eye can see.

The eternal return is a concept deeply embedded in various tribal cultures including that of the Aztecs in central Mexico. This has been carried into the Christian tradition.

But what does this return mean for us.
This is beautifully reflected in Tagore’s Gitanjali:

“The time that my journey takes is long and the way of it long.

I came out on the chariot of the first gleam of light, and pursued
my voyage through the wildernesses of worlds leaving my track on many a star and planet.
It is the most distant course that comes nearest to thyself,
and that training is the most intricate which leads to the utter simplicity of a tune.
The traveler has to knock at every alien door to come to his own,
and one has to wander through all the outer worlds to reach the innermost shrine at the end.
My eyes strayed far and wide before I shut them and said `Here art thou!'
The question and the cry `Oh, where?' melt into tears of a thousand
streams and deluge the world with the flood of the assurance `I am!'….”

Love to you all


  1. Hindus believe that crows represent their loved ones souls. A crow visits daily to our house, sits near the kitchen window during lunch time. My wife used to talk to the crow as if it is her father. Sometime she asks the crow to wait till the lunch gets ready. It is her belief, but fun for others.

  2. Chandrayaan, The integral nature of our Atma with that of the Paramatma can be perceived in all manifest intelligences, whether they are butterflies or crows. Carl Jung, the father of depth psychology, says that while archetypes exhibit in dreams they are externalized in lived experience in symbolic forms.
    Thanks for your comment and I appreciate every feedback you are posting.

  3. On the 2nd of Nov as i was walking on the terrace I saw a butterfly sitting quietly unperturbed by my movements. Remembering the monarch butterflies I thought may be this butterfly was the soul of my mother inlaw who died recently.