A Yoga Trainer, Therapist and Research Scholar, delving deep into the world of ancient knowledge.
Devotees are always welcomed by the animal statues at the entrance of the temple premises. In Hinduism all major gods and goddesses are associated with animals known as their vahanas or the vehicles. These animal companions are always in the service of their divine powers.
Here are some examples of this companionship of God and goddesses with their animals.
1. Vishnu with Garuda (eagle like bird).
2. Shiva with Nandi (bull) and Vauki (snake).
3. Ganesha with Mosak (rat).
4.Goddess Durga with Dawon (tiger).
5. Goddess Lakshmi with Gajalakshmi (elephants) and Ulluka (owl).
6. Indra with Airavat (white flying elephant)
The ancient Hindu texts were religious, social, spiritual and scientific guidebooks for living a balanced life. Unfortunately, due to foreign dominance over India for centuries, the Hindu philosophy was greatly undermined by the modern science.
1. Awareness of Ecological Pyramid
The ancient Hindu scholars were aware of the Ecological Pyramid where all living organisms are placed in a hierarchical manner in the form of a pyramid. Autotrophs or the food producing organisms like plants, are at the broad base followed by the primary, secondary and tertiary consumers on the top of the pyramid. This delicate balance of various life forms should not be disturbed. If number of plants are reduced, then animal kingdom will be adversely affected. This modern science concept of Ecological Pyramid was known to the ancient Indian sages. To save animals and plants from getting exploited by humans, Hindu scholars associated them with religion hence making them at par with humans. Their relationship with gods, made animals sacred beings and prevented their mindless killing.
2. Explanation of Human Evolution
The concept of Dasahavatara reveals the evolutionary past of homo sapiens sapiens or the modern man. It is said that god incarnated on earth ten times. God descended four times in form of animals and in five human forms. In the Matsya Avatar, God took birth as a fish in the ocean. Second was Kurma Avatar or the tortoise form and the third was the Varaha Avatar or the wild boar form.
It denotes that life originated in ocean and gradually came to land. This was the sequence of evolution of life - from the microscopic marine creatures, fish, reptiles and then mammals. This fact was validated by the Darwin's theory of evolution in modern times.
The Narsimbha Avatar was half human, half animal which means that there were other mammals before man evolved. This evolutionary sequence was told in a simplified story of Dashavatara for general people to understand it.
It also has the concept of evolution of consciousness. The fifth incarnation was the dwarf human known as Vamana Avatar followed by angry warrior sage Parsurama. Rama, Krishna and Buddha where subsequent Avatars. The tenth avatar Kalki is yet to come in the Kaliyuga period. The consciousness evolves from a normal, agitated and princely human psychology into meditative mind like Buddha to attain Nirvana. Humans must seek freedom from the cycle of birth and death and get merged into the Cosmic Divine forever.
Soul has to go through 84,00,000 yoni or life forms to finally get the human body. The intelligence of human mind helps soul to attain this final destination of Enlightenment. So every form of life is important and sacred in Hinduism.
3. The right of animals to live.
The theory of ahimsa or nonviolence comes from the ashtanga yoga of Patanjali. Yama is the first limb of this eightfold knowledge which says that one should practice ahimsa or non-violence. This theory of nonviolence is strictly followed by Buddhism and Jainism. Due to this concept, many Indians do not kill animals for food and prefer to be vegetarian. It is believed that all animals have the right to live on this earth.
Many Hindus generously donate to animal welfare organisations. Even snakes are fed and worshiped once a year on Nag Panchami. Many people feed ants, fish birds and stray animals on daily basis as their religious duty.
4. Peaceful existence of all living beings.
"Loka samastha sukhi na bhavantu". This is a popular Mantra of Rigveda sang as a part of Mangla Aarti Mantra. This means that all living being be happy and may peace be upon all the living creatures everywhere forever.
Inclusiveness is the basic principle of Hinduism which teaches all to be selfless. One should always think this world as one big family and live peacefully with all the living organisms.
But people now have forgotten these teachings resulting in mindless exploitation of the planet. Global warming, extinction of many animal and plant species, outbreak of pandemics, frequent natural calamities are some of the consequences of human greed.
5. Animal sacrifice - an exception or rule in Hinduism?
Some devotees of Shakti or goddess Kali /Durga do perform animal sacrifices on certain days of the religious calendar. However not all the temples and devotees follow this cruel practice. Some consider it as a part of tantrik devotion.
Most of the Hindu texts were translated by the westerners who had no idea of local rituals. They took the literal meaning of the verses. For example goddess Durga had killed half buffalo half demon named Mahishasura. This means that one should kill the demonic qualities within oneself and not the real buffalo to please the goddess. Even Natraj, the dancing Shiva, is shown crushing the demon of ignorance called Apasmara.
Adi Shankaracharya, the erudite Hindu Saint of mediaeval India, was against animal sacrifice. He is considered as the supreme authority on Hinduism. Wherever he went in India, he stopped the animal sacrifices because it was never mentioned in any religious Hindu text to kill animals. Even if there were verses in Vedas or Puranas they had deeper spiritual meaning.
Animal worship is not a sign of regressive mindset. It implies the scientific temperament of Hinduism to include living beings for a peaceful existence. It is time to revisit the ancient wisdom without any prejudice and imbibe the knowledge for making earth a better place for all to live.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Nidhi Gautam
Ishita on November 24, 2020:
Wow... So informative
Punam Sinha Shreyasi on November 23, 2020:
Preeti Shah from Delhi on November 23, 2020:
Great article Nidhi mam.
Nice coverage of the role and facts of animals in Hindu mythology.