By Swami Harshananda
Śakuna literally means ‘omen,’ ‘prognostic sign’.
Belief in the supernatural is a common trait of humanity all over the world, even from the most ancient times. Śakuna means a bird in general. Even in the Ṛgveda, the bird kapota has been regarded as a harbinger of impending evil and misfortune. Hence the word śakuna gradually came to mean premonition of evil conveyed by the cries, the sounds and the movements of birds and of other animals. This gradually developed into a science of prognostication.
There is a vast literature on this subject. Some of the works are:
Vasantarāja-śakuna is a comprehensive work belonging to the early part of the eighth century and has been quoted extensively by later writers on this subject. The details given in these works regarding the śakunas and their interpretations are mind-boggling. The following is a short consolidated list of birds, animals and other living beings whose sounds and movements are considered as śakunas, good or bad:
- Human beings
The prognostication differs from animal to animal and from case to case. In the case of crows and cats, it is their movement across our path that indicates the results. In the case of dogs, jackals and lizards it is their sound. In some cases, it may be the very sight of a person or an object. Results indicated may relate to travelling, success or otherwise of an important work, diseases and their cure, wealth and poverty, promotion or demotion in service, harmony or disharmony in the family, good rains or drought, welfare or danger to the country and so on.
Some other omens like the throbbing of one’s limbs or sneezing are also included in the list of śakunas. A sample of the śakunas may now be given just to give an idea of the subject:
- When a person has started on a journey and sees a cat moving across his path from left to the right, it is a bad sign. If he sees married ladies carrying water pots or milk, or an elephant or a horse, it is a good omen.
- When a person is thinking about some important work, and someone sneezes once in his presence, it indicates failure of that work. Similarly, if he finds that his right limbs are throbbing, it indicates success.
- By sincere prayer to God, the evil effects prognosticated may be eliminated or minimized.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore