Thursday, September 3, 2009

The fable of double headed birds - two versions

In my last visit to Indonesia, I visited the great Buddhist temple Borobudu. In the hotel in JogyaKarta, one channel in the TV repeatedly broadcasts a documentary about the Borobudu temple. It was actually until after visiting the temple I found out this documentary. I left it repeated several times, and got to know quite a lot that I did not know while visiting the temple.

What was interesting to me the most in this documentary is the fables depicted according to thousands of narrative panels carved on the stone. Some are well known, like the mice gave the cat a bell to hung on his neck so that the cat was heard whenever he was close by. There was one fable was especially interesting to me: the double headed bird. Maybe it is because it was totally new to me.

The story is about a double headed bird: one head reach up, eating all the fine fruits, while the other one reach downwards, can only eat those falling bad ones. The upward one told the downward one, this is fine, anything I eat will go to the same stomach. You can just eat those falling ones. Thus the downward head kept eating those bad fruits fell on the ground. One day he ate a poison one and the double headed bird dies.

Today's Jakarta earthquake somehow reminded me of Indonesia, and also about this fable. I tried to look for a more complete story online, and it turns out that there is some interesting twist. The most common version of this story is like this paragraph found in William Shakespeare's The Tragedie of Coriolanus :
Once on a time on Mount Himavat there was a bird named Jivanjiva. It had one body and two heads, one of which used to eat fine fruits to give strength and vigor to the body. The other became jealous and thought, why should that head always eat fine fruits, of which I never taste one? Accordingly it ate a poisonous fruit and the two heads perished at the same time.

In this more common version of the story, the jealousy and revenge are the main theme. With the intention of revenge, you would more likely to destroy yourself. However, the twist in the documentary film is also inspiring. I remember the story teller gave a sudden twist after telling how the downward head happened to eat a poison fruit and the bird died:
Our society is like this double headed bird: the rich and the poor. It will totally collapse if it allows some to eat the good fruits and others only eat the bad ones.

What a metaphor for social equity statement! It is interesting... ...

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