Monday, September 8, 2008

Dragonflies, Onathumpi

Do you remember chasing dragonflies as a child? Catching one and tying a string to its tail? Making it lift small stones and splinters? It is a fascinating childhood pastime.

There are so many interesting tales about the dragonfly from several parts of the world. In some areas it is considered sinister. Possibly because of the stone lifting capability, a Swedish folklore says that dragonflies are used by the devil to weigh the souls of people. In Kerala, India, there is a story that these insects belonging to the order of Odonata serve as a transit abode to the souls of the dead.

Can you imagine a connection or similarity between a dragonfly and a horse? Well, according to a Romanian legend, dragonfly was originally a horse which became possessed by the devil. There are similar Maltese tales as well. In some parts of the world it is believed that dragonflies follow snakes around with the objective of repairing any hurt the reptiles might sustain.

In Japan the dragonflies have a different status. They are considered as the mark of strength, courage and happiness. The Japanese and Chinese use them in traditional medicine also. It is said that the insect is a culinary delicacy in Indonesia.

Among some of the Native Americans too, dragonflies symbolize hope and revival. The Navajo Nation considers them as an icon of pure water.

But stories apart, the dragonflies render a great service to humanity. They are predators who thrive on mosquitoes, flies and other harmful

small insects, thereby controlling such pests.

Since this is the time of Onam in Kerala, I must make a mention of the connection between dragonflies and the great festival before concluding. ‘Onathumpi’ a specie of Odonata that appears around this time is an integral part of the lore linked to the festivities.

I wonder if any other language has so many songs about dragonflies (Onathumpi) as there is in Malayalam, the vernacular of Kerala. Here is the first stanza of one by Sreekumaran Thampi:

‘Poovili poovili


Nee varu nee varu


Photos: Top two from Wikimedia Commons. Last three from Olavipe. Copyright reserved. Click to enlarge.

Also see:

Photos: Vegetables for Onam

Kerala photos: Flowers for Onam

Kerala food: Aviyal, Bhima’s own dish, for Onam

Kerala food: banana aftermath of Onam

Flowers for Onam


The Logisitician said...

Nice work. Thanks for making me stop to think about something other than the complications of humankind. I remember dragonflies growing up here in North Carolina, but rarely saw them, or did not take the time to notice, while living in Los Angeles for the past 30 years.

I came across your blog while blog surfing using the “next blog” button on the Nav Bar of I am continually fascinated by the types of blogs that exist on the Internet, and the various, creative ways in which people all over the globe express themselves. Thanks for sharing.

My blog is dedicated simply to making people think differently about societal issues. As I often tell people, instead of encouraging people to believe that there are 2 or 3 ways to look at something, I want them to realize that there are at least 27. Hopefully such an approach will result in more creative, innovative solutions to societal ills. Have a visit should you like, and subscribe for updates should you like the substance:

Sunita said...

Beautiful photos of the dragonflies from Olavipe. I had no idea they came with such beautifully patterned wings ... so unlike the usual plain glassy, transparent ones!

Nebu said...

I always wondered whether there is a connection between the humble dragonfly and the Helicopter. They have similarities in structure. Did the inventor of helicopter get the idea from the dragonfly?

Abraham Tharakan said...

the logistician, thanks for the comment. Shall revert after visiting your site. I am traveling for the next few days.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Sunita, I am happy you liked the post. There are many more types of dragonflies and butterflies at Olavipe. But photographing them is a difficult task.

I plan to post on butterflies soon.

Abraham Tharakan said...

nebu, I had the same thought looking at some of the photos of dragonflies. Your idea seems worth looking up.