“It is among the woven nests (of the Baya weaver) that we find the highest examples of avian architecture.”­ – Douglas Dewar, Jungle Folk: Indian Natural History Sketches

It has been an unusually rainy summer. The view outside the window has transformed dramatically into a vivid shade of green that no artificial sprinklers or garden hoses seem able to produce quite like the rain. I wonder if the rains will stick long enough to trick the munias and the baya weavers to start their annual nest-building.

My earliest memory of the weaver bird nests was on a holiday around Dasara, driving through the rock-strewn landscape of north Karnataka towards the ancient Hampi. As the clouds and wind chased each other around the Palm trees, the long helmet like nests dangled from the fronds, giving the trees an animated puppeteer-like appearance, as though their arms juggled dolls stringing from their fingertips. It’s funny how some images imprint themselves on our minds to remain forever intertwined with a context: in this case, weaver nests always appear in my mind’s eye juxtaposed with the glorious rock sculptures of Hampi.

Achyutaraya Temple – Photograph: Gowri Subramanya

 

The colonies of weaver nests are not unlike the Queen’s Enclosure in the ancient city, I’d imagine. As the male weaver bird builds nest after nest, not entirely in strict order of completion, inviting a female to inspect and eventually accept it as her own, an entire complex of intricate structures forms its own private enclave. As the rains give way to winter and the young batch of weavers leave the city, full of hope and dreams, the nests invite other birds and creatures to take shelter. The tree mouse finds a comfortable roosting bed in them. Munias repurpose nests rejected and abandoned (by an unimpressed Baya female) to start their own families and one day they leave too. The nests hang as mere artefacts, things of beauty devoid of any utility except to induce aesthetic arrest in the eyes of a passerby; illustrations of how beauty could turn the mundane into sacred, like rocks carved into temples.

A year later, the whole cycle begins again. The now ravaged nests, worn out by the heat, and torn by jealous crows serve as a reminder of what could be. With a renewed effort a new city emerges. A new generation of architects and weavers, a new tree raising its arms to carry the new families to safety. 

Baya Weavers – Photograph: Gowri Subramanya

 

The life cycle of the talented and industrious weaver bird, the pattern of its efforts every season, over and over, building anew, never ruing over the efforts of the past now laid waste, renews hope within me. The monuments of Hampi are known to induce lament that what was in the past may remain there, never to be renewed or rediscovered again. We feel a sense of permanent loss even as the solid, seemingly indestructible structures stand testament to the impermanence of the world. Close at hand, in nature, in the trees, over the ever-flowing river, we are reminded that all impermanence follows a cycle — of renewal and rebirth right on the heels of apparent destruction.