Showing posts with label Anisoptera. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Anisoptera. Show all posts

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

Ponnonamayee

Nee varu nee varu

Ponnonathumpi’






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