During our discussion about the sheaths, we have come across a reference to vedic bird. Let us now understand this vedic bird. I am calling this as vedic bird because this is mentioned in Rik and Yajur Vedas. The actual name used in Vedas is suparna or the golden bird. The shape of a bird is used as fire altar in agnisayana. Agnisayana is a huge vedic fire ritual spread over a period of twelve days. Why rishis have chosen the shape of a bird to perform this ritual? The shape of the bird is conceived to carry the yajamana of the ritual to the heavens. yajamana is the one for whom the ritual is performed. These rituals are highly expensive and the person who finances this ritual is called yajamana. Yajamana means the boss. He is the boss of the ritual. Mostly these types of rituals are performed for the benefit of the people in general, engaging several learned scholars well versed in all the four Vedas. Those days kings used to fund these types of rituals and such kings are called yajamana.
The construction of a huge altar for the agnisayana is mainly for the purpose of restoring Prajapati, the golden man supposed to be the creator of this universe. It is said that Prajapati sacrificed his life for the creation of the universe. Prajapati’s boey is said to be mortal and his breath – prana, apana, vyana, udana and samana are said to be immortal. The significance of this agnisayana is to resurrect Prajapati, who is initially manifested beneath the fire altar. The agnisayana altar is of five layers constructed with specially made bricks. The first, the third and the fifth layers are also filled with pebbles to enable Prajapati to breathe. From non-ritualistic point of view these three layers are considered as earth, air and akash. The second and the fourth layers represent fire and water. Now you can correlate the five sheaths or pancha koshas with these five layers. Prajapati, who is also called purusha is identified as the atman. We have seen that this atman is covered by the five sheaths or koshas representing the five basic elements. If you want to look at this bird from the non-ritualistic view, you can call this as your mind which is capable of taking you to higher planes. From the ritualistic point of view this bird is considered to carry the yajamana of the ritual to the heavens.
Yajur Veda says that the bird’s head is Trivrt or Stoma (the verses in the Vedas that give protection to the yajamana), its eye as Gayathri (the famous Gayatri mantra for seeking noble mind and thoughts), its body as Vamadeva Saman (verses of sama vdea), it’s both the wings as Brhat and Rathaantara (both are names of melodies in Sama Veda), its tail as the place for conducting this yajna, its limbs as meters (number of letters in a mantra. This is also called chantas and Gayatri meter is supposed to be the best), its hooves as the masters of knowledge, its name is Yajur mantras and the bird is called as garutman (possibly meaning the bird garuda. Garuda is one of the vahanas used by Lord Vishnu, who is the ultimate authority for any yajna.). One of the soma oblations in this yagna is Gayatri mantra. Interestingly the gayatri mantra finds a place in Yajur Veda next to the verses on Suparna, the vedic bird. Gayatri mantra finds a place both in Rik and yajur Vedas. Finally a request is made to this bird to go to the heaven and then fly to the world of light, carrying the yajamana. The five of its parts viz. its head, trunk, left wings, right wings and tail are mainly identified with five basic elements and manifestation of these five elements such as organs of action, sensory organs, organs of perception, five sheaths etc. Generally this bird is identified as purusha, a human form and the nature of the bird (flying) is identified as the mind. We can conclude by saying that the vedic bird is symbolic representation of a human being, and its activity as the manifestation of the five basic elements.