Vedic Roots of the Partridge in a Pear Tree


Dec 24, 2010 — CANADA (SUN) —

No matter how mundane they may become over the years, so many religious and cultural traditions from around the world can be traced back to their Vedic roots. On this Christmas Eve, we're happy to share with our Sun readers the Vedic origins of the well known Christmas carol, 'Partridge In a Pear Tree'.

In Middle English, much of which came from the Greek, pertriche, or "partridge," was derived from the Greek work perdix. Perdix was one of Athene's sacred kings, who was thrown into the sea from a high tower, then carried to heaven in the form of a bird by his goddess. He was the partridge, she the pear tree.

In Sanskrit, the word cakora refers to the Greek partridge, Perdix rufa, who is fabled to subsist on moonbeams, hence the phrase, "an eye drinking the nectar of a moon-like face". In Kannada, the term visha-sucaka also refers to the Greek partridge, Perdix.

The pear tree had both feminine and masculine significance throughout Eurasia. In Russia, pears were used as protective charms for cows. The pear tree was associated with the goddess Hera, whose oldest image at Heraeum in Mycenae is made of pear wood. At some point, the early Christians borrowed the symbolic partridge and pear tree of Greek fame, making it their own as a symbol of Christ. Christ represented Perdix, the partridge, and the Virgin Mother became the feminine representation, once the goddess Athene, or the pear tree. Years later, the symbols were memorialized into the well known Christmas carol, and the original meanings were quite forgotten.

By tracing the origins of the original Greek references to the partridge and the pear tree, we find our way back to the Vedic roots. The goddess Athena was once worshipped in Boeotia, a region of ancient Greece, as the pear tree, or 'Mother of all Pear Trees'. In Greek, the word for partridge, perdix originally meant "The Lost One". And the personality referred to as 'The Lost One' was none other than Lord Visnu-Narayana.

Badrinath Temple at Night

In the holy Himalayan dhama of Badrinath, Lord Visnu became known as the Lord of the Pear Trees. The word 'badri' means 'pear tree', and Indian pear trees once grew very abundantly in the region of Badrinath. These pears, also known as 'Indian apples', come from the tree commonly known as jujube, or ziziphus tree. In Teluga, they are known as regi pandu. The jujube is a fruit with a small seed, and its outer skin resembles the western pear in color, as the fruit sets and begins to ripen.

There are said to be references in the Puranas to a pastime performed by Mahavishnu, who came to the sacred site of Bararinath in order to perform tapas. This long period of austerities is referenced in the Greek name, 'the lost one'. Lord Visnu had apparently been chastised by a sage, who had observed the Lord's consort, Laksmi Devi, massaging His feet. In respect of the sage's admonishments, Vishnu went to Badrinath to perform austerities, meditating for a very long time in padmasana, rather than in His typical reclining posture.

Jujube fruits, or badari pears

The Lord engaged in his meditations under a badari tree, or pear tree, and that tree itself was Mahalaksmi, who came to attend the Lord, sustaining Him with her badari fruits. Because of this pastime, the holy dhama got its name: badri, for the pear tree, and nath, meaning 'the Lord of'. In the Bhagavata Purana it states:

    "There in Badrikashram the Personality of Godhead (Vishnu), in his incarnation as the sages Nara and Narayana, had been undergoing great penance since time immemorial for the welfare of all living entities." (Bhagavata Purana 3.4.22)

At Badrinath, the idol of Badari Narayan is in saligram form. Badari Narayan is seen under the badari tree, with Kuber and Garuda, Narada Muni, and Nara and Narayan in attendance. Mahalaksmi also has a sanctum outside the temple, along the parikrama path. Among the 15 deities residing in the temple, sculpted in black stone, Shiva, Parvati, and Ganesh are also present.

Badrinath Temple, which sits more than 3,000 feet above sea level, is situated on the right bank of the holy river Alaknanda. The temple is dated to a time prior to the Vedic age, although the current structure was erected by Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century. It is thought that the original Deity of Lord Badrinath was once thrown into the Alaknanda river by the Buddhists, and was later retrieved and reinstalled by Shankaracharya.


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