The Significance of Hamsa, the Majestic Swan

The swan has captured the imagination of Indian sages and poets for centuries. The mystique and gracefulness of the swan’s movement has a beautiful connection to Gurumayi’s Message for 2016.

A Sweet Surprise Satsang 2016 is replete with beautiful music that was composed by Gurumayi. In this satsang, we hear Gurumayi chanting the namasankirtana “Jaya Jaya Shri Guru,” reciting a mantra from the Mundakopanishad, and singing a bhajan by the poet-saint Kabir. The music for all of these was composed by Gurumayi for this satsang in the lively Indian raga hamsa-dhvani, which translates to “sound of the swan.”

The Sanskrit word for swan is hamsa. In the Indian scriptural tradition, hamsa is a classical icon of inner purity, grace in action, and viveka, or spiritual discernment. The swan is a visual representation of the teachings given by Gurumayi in her talk on the Message for 2016:

Move with steadfastness
toward becoming
in Supreme Joy

The Vedic seers, inspired by the hamsa’s serene comportment, described the radiant and solitary swan as the sun, floating gently across the blue sky. Many centuries later, the mystery and grace of the hamsa also spoke to the enlightened teachers of the Upanishads, who identified the swan with the individual soul. They based this connection on the natural congruity of the swan’s movements: just as the hamsa perennially migrates, gracefully taking flight from one abode and alighting in another, the individual soul moves from body to body in the course of many lifetimes.

Hamsa is also a symbol of the breath, and this connection is beautifully elaborated in many sacred scriptures of India. The Vijnana Bhairava, one of the scriptures of the philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism, describes hamsa as a mantra that constantly repeats itself in the form of each breath—ham on the in breath and sa on the out breath. Gurumayi has often imparted the hamsa mantra, which is also taught as so‘ham. The meaning of this mantra is “I am That.” Therefore, union with the divine Self—the awareness of “I am That”—naturally arises in one who becomes absorbed in the hamsa mantra as the flow of the breath.

The swan also holds great significance for its legendary ability to separate milk from water, which is likely connected to an ancient depiction in the Yajur Veda of a radiant swan extracting soma, the nectar of the gods, from water. This skill makes the hamsa the paradigmatic symbol of viveka, or discernment, which is a hallmark of a great being. Viveka is one of the practices Gurumayi highlights in her Message talk for this year. By cultivating this spiritual discernment, we can come to experience the nectar of the Self in each moment of our lives.

Paramahamsa, which means “supreme swan,” is another name for an enlightened being who can discern the all-pervasive and eternal Self amidst the ephemeral flow of worldly existence. Gurumayi, the Siddha Yoga Guru, is a paramahamsa who is dedicated to teaching the liberating awareness of viveka to seekers of the Truth.


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