New Year, New Beginning and the Phoenix

On the traditional Bengali New Year dubbed as Poila Baishak, I was reading an article on the Phoenix. This may sound not only weird but for many completely off the beaten path. Where’s the connection? I understood the allegory and though it was not a conscious decision to read about Phoenix on the evening of Bengali New Year, (it was very much a coincidence), I enjoyed reading the piece.

Phoenix - a new beginning

Phoenix – a new beginning

Just like the New Year, that marks a new beginning, the Phoenix as explained in Greek mythology also signifies a new epoch, as we all know. The mythological bird was offered in sacrifice to Ra, the Sun god in ancient Egypt. The Phoenix was the symbolic representation of the death and rebirth of the sun. This is said to be a living manifestation of Osiris, springing forth from its heart. The bird, which was similar to an eagle, possessed a splendid golden-red plumage that made it look like as if it was wrapped in flames.

According to some versions, the Phoenix was shown in flames rather than in feathers. The Phoenix lived in Arabia. Some legends say that only one Phoenix lived at one time and lived for 500 years. At the end of its life-cycle, the Phoenix built a nest as it was dying and set the nest on fire and was consumed by the flames. After its death, a new Phoenix would then arise from the ashes and thus the Phoenix was reborn. This cycle was repeated over and over again.

According to other sources, the ‘Thunderbird’, a powerful spirit bird in Native America, is represented as the ‘Phoenix’. It is said that in China, Feng-huang (a bird) symbolises the union of Yin and Yang, a sign of both Peace and Disharmony. The Greek poet Herodotus wrote in one of his passages from his writings of The Phoenix’s legend that the Phoenix comes back every 500 years in order to search the body of its predecessor. After making a myrrh egg, the Phoenix puts the body of its predecessor inside it, and takes it to the Temple of the Sun located in Egypt.

Nearly 500 years later, Tacitus and Plinius agreed that many of the ancient myths were confusing so they investigated the chronology of The Phoenix. Through their studies, they concluded that The Phoenix lived an equivalent to a Platonic year; calculations determined by the alignment of the Sun, the Moon and the five planets known at that time needed to return to their original positions which in our time represent a period of 12.994 years.

The ancient ones believed that this enormous astronomical cycle was complete provided, all conditions of the planetary influence were the same. In other words, The Phoenix was considered similar to a mirror of the universe. By the end of the 4th century, Claudianus had written some verses about an immortal bird, able to reborn from its ashes, an heir to itself, and a witness of that time.

The Phoenix from another of the Chinese Mythology offers another description. Under another name, Feng – it’s depicted as a bird of shining colors, very much like a pheasant. In remote times, The Feng supposedly frequented the gardens and palaces of righteous Emperors. As with all mythological creatures the versions, significance and the characters tend to vary according to culture and their belief.

As far as its astronomical significance goes, Phe (Phoenix) is a constellation in the Southern Hemisphere of Earth near Toucana and Sculptor named by John Bayer in 1603. This constellation is almost universally recognized as a bird. The Phoenix cluster is a dense expanse of unexplored stars, named for the Phoenix Asteroids in the 20th Century film “Dark Star”, by John Carpenter.

The Phoenix in Future History – Aside from the name “Phoenix”, a city in the south-western portion of the former United States, The Phoenix’s future history begins on April 4th, 2063. The day Zephram Cochrane first launched his Phoenix, an old Titan V nuclear missile modified with small crew cabin and twin warp nacelle engines into history. Rising from the ashes of World III, from an abandoned missile complex in central Montana, the Phoenix was the first vessel to break the warp barrier, precipitating the First Contact with a group of Vulcans on a survey mission and as a result, a rebirth of prosperity for Earth was created as it spread its wings out into the stars.

With a name steeped in Mythology, Astronomy, History and Tradition, Phoenix remains legendary. And so the famous saying goes: It’s best to have failure happen early in life. It wakes up the Phoenix bird in you so you rise from the ashes. The beginning of a new year is also an excellent time for a fresh new start and just like the Phoenix that marks a renaissance. With this faith, I wish a very happy New Year to all those in India and abroad not only have their New Year calendar starting today, but to anyone who is setting out to start afresh!

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