The colourful blue and green plumage and graceful elegance of the peacock mean that it is often considered to be one of the most beautiful animals on earth. But do you know how the peacock came to have these beautiful feathers?
Peacocks are native to India but over time their populations have spread throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, and Australia. They are revered and even worshipped in many cultures and religions, and the legends surrounding their origins and symbolic meaning varies between these traditions. Discover how four different groups believe the peacock got his stunning feathers.
The peaceful essence of the beautiful Bodhisattva Kwan Yin is captured perfectly in this limited edition piece from Lladró.
Peacocks are very symbolic in the Buddhist religion. Because they display their feathers by opening their tails they are associated with openness and purity, and their feathers are even used in Buddhist purification rituals. They also consume poisonous plants which some people believe to be symbolic of the Buddhist concept of accepting and overcoming suffering. In the Buddhist tradition, it is believed that the peacock got his beautiful plumage through the sacrifice of the princess Miao Shan, or Kwan Yin. The story tells that long ago Miao Shan was a Chinese princess, the youngest child of a cruel king. The king wanted Miao Shan to marry, but she wanted to pursue a life of religious study, and after enduring many punishments she escaped into the mountains where she studied for nine years. During this time, the king fell very ill from all the bad Karma he had acquired and was told by the monks that the only way to cure him was to drink a tonic made from “the eye of one who is without anger”. His men had heard of a spiritual woman in the mountains, and when they went to her she was happy to sacrifice her own eye to end the suffering of another person. When the king recovered, he went to thank the woman and was shocked to discover that it was his own daughter who had helped him even after all his cruelty. In front of the king, Miao Shan was transformed into the beautiful Bodhisattva Kwan Yin and was given the gift of immortality and 100 eyes. She chose to remain on earth to continue to spread kindness and end suffering but realised she could not see the suffering of the whole world, so instead, she took her hundred eyes and attached them to the feathers of the peacock so that he could fly above the earth and report back to her the suffering that needed to be healed. This is how the peacock got his beautiful eye-like tail feathers.
Like Hinduism, peacocks originated in India. The birds are strongly associated with many of the Hindu gods and goddesses, such as Lakshmi, Saraswati, and even Lord Krishna. Many Hindu people keep peacock feathers in their homes, as their association with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, means they are thought to bring prosperity to their owners. One Hindu legend behind the peacock’s stunning feathers says that long ago there was a great battle between Lord Indra, the king of the gods, and the asura Ravana, king of the demons. During the battle, the peacock stepped in front of Indra and opened up his tail feathers, creating a shelter from which he could wage his war. As a result, Indra defeated Ravana and as repayment for the peacock’s help, made his feathers colourful and iridescent as we know them to be today. The peacock has since then been associated with Lord Indra, and the god is often portrayed sitting on a peacock throne or even riding on a peacock.
Peacocks are often associated with the Hindu goddess of wealth, Lakshmi.
Lladró’s Saraswati sculpture (Ltd Edn) features a peacock alongside the goddess and her dove.
Hindu god Krishna wears a peacock feather in his crown as a symbol of his holiness.
Lladró’s Peacock Dome Light is decorated with ornate peacock and feather motifs and 24k gold lustre (left).
Peacocks were brought to Latin America by foreign explorers and their armies, but the Mayan people soon developed their own stories and beliefs about how the stunning bird came to be. One legend says that Chaac, the Mayan rain god who was in charge of the animals, created the peacock with a beautiful singing voice but with plain feathers, like the female peahen. When the birds gathered to decide who would be their new king, the peacock was sure that his heavenly voice and graceful elegance would make him the perfect candidate, but soon realised that he would need physical beauty to capture the other birds’ attention. The peacock went to his friend the roadrunner and told him that in exchange for the loan of his feathers, he would share the rewards of becoming king with him. The roadrunner agreed to give up his feathers and the peacock won the competition, but he was so busy with the new role that he soon forgot his promise to share his rewards. The other birds found the roadrunner curled under a bush in the forest, freezing without his feathers. He was given feathers by the other birds to keep him warm, and the peacock was punished by the gods for his mistreatment of his friend. He was allowed to keep his colourful new feathers but in exchange Chaac took back his beautiful voice, leaving him with the squawk we associate with peacocks today.
WEST AFRICAN CULTURE
Lladró’s Peacock figurine captures the grandeur of this elegant bird through the use of green, blue, and ochre enamels.
For the Yoruba people of West Africa, the peacock is a sacred bird and is considered to be the messenger between the people of Africa and the supreme god Olodumare. The tale of the peacock tells that long ago the Orishas (gods) became tired of following the rules of Olodumare so they began to plot to overthrow him. In response, the supreme god stopped the rains from falling, and the earth was plunged into a long and cruel drought. Feeling the effects of the drought, the Orishas decided to beg for Olodumare’s forgiveness but he was too far away in the heavens for them to reach him. Eventually, the Orisha Oshun volunteered to fly to him and beg on their behalf. The other Orishas didn’t believe that she would be able to make it, but Oshun persisted, and, transforming herself into a peacock, began to fly toward the heavens. As she climbed higher, the sun began to burn her, but she kept going and finally reached Olodumare, with her skin burnt and what few feathers remained charred to a crisp. Olodumare was so moved by her compassion, determination, and persistence that he not only granted her wish to bring back the rains but also healed her burns and restored her feathers, making them even more beautiful than before. He also assigned her the honour of being his personal messenger to the other Orishas, and since then the peacock has been associated by the Yoruba people with holiness and the gods.
The opulent 24kt gold lustre and enamel finishes on Lladró’s Winged Fantasy showcase the regal beauty of her peacock feather wings, demonstrating why they are so often associated with gods and royalty.
The peacock has been honoured and worshipped by people around the world for thousands of years, including the Hindu and Buddhist religions and the Mayan and Yoruba cultures. Lladró’s many beautiful pieces featuring peacocks capture the essential elegance and beauty of these stunning birds that have made them the centre of so many cultures’ spiritual practices. The use of elaborate decorative patterns and motifs as well as smooth enamel and striking 24kt gold lustre finishes truly shows why these gorgeous birds are consistently Lladró's most wondrous birds.