Article of the Month - Jan 2024

This article by Anviti Sohla

(Viewed 426 times since Jan 2024)

There are many unique qualities about the Hindu religion and one of them is the advocacy of compassion towards animals and in fact, all creatures in the world. Animals are considered sacred in Hinduism. Not only do Hindus worship various animals but they also show their compassion and respect towards them by following practices like pure vegetarianism and non-violence towards animals.

They hold a lot of significance and are associated with various Gods and Goddesses as their mounts. For instance, the mouse is considered to be Lord Ganesha’s mount while the lion is considered to be the mount of Goddess Durga.

The Dashavatara of Lord Vishnu also sheds special emphasis on the significance of animal forms. Lord Vishnu took many avataras like the Matsya Avatara which was the fish form, the Kurma Avatara which was the tortoise form, and the Varaha Avatara which was the boar form to restore order on earth.

Hindu epics like Ramayana mention the significance of birds and animals in various forms like Jatayu who not only tried to stop Ravana from abducting Mata Sita but also informed Lord Rama about the incident. Also, creatures as tiny as squirrels helped Lord Rama build the Rama Setu to Lanka.

Let’s take a look at the animals that are significant in Hinduism. 

Elephants -

  • The elephants are considered sacred because Lord Ganesha has the head of an elephant which symbolizes knowledge and intelligence. He is considered to be the remover of all obstacles.
    • Even Lord Indra’s mount is an elephant that is white and is named Airavata who emerged from the ocean when it was being churned by the Devas and Asuras.
    • They stand as symbols of intelligence, strength, and royalty and used to be the emblems of many popular dynasties in ancient India.

Horses -

  • The Ashvamedha Yagna was associated with horses and was even performed by Lord Ram according to the Hindu epic, Ramayana. The Sun God, Lord Surya’s chariot is also pulled by 7 celestial horses. These horses symbolize speed, power, and abundance. 
    • It is believed that the 10th avatar of Lord Vishnu, the Kalki Avatar will emerge in the Kalyuga riding on a horse with a sword in his hand.
    • In order to save the Vedas from Asuras Madhu and Kaitabha, Lord Vishnu incarnated as Hayagriva, a being with the head of a horse.

Cow -

  • The holy cow is considered to be the most sacred and is given the status of the mother. That is why harming a cow in any way is considered to be a sin in Hinduism. She is an embodiment of Sattvic qualities and motherliness. In ancient times, a person’s social status was gauged from the number of cows they owned.
    • Kamadhenu who is believed to be the mother of all cows was the holy cow that emerged from the churning of the ocean by the devas and asuras.
    • Lord Krishna was a gopa and tended to cows and they are considered to be very dear to him. Cow milk is also considered to be very sacred.

Bull -

  • Bulls are also revered in Hinduism. They symbolize strength and masculinity.
    • Lord Shiva who is considered to be the Lord of bulls or Vrishabhnatha is said to be closely associated with them because he has a divine bull Nandi as his vahana whose statues are found in every temple of Lord Shiva. Not only is he the mount of Lord Shiva but he is also his most ardent devotee. It is believed that he stands guard at the gates of Mount Kailash which is the abode of Lord Shiva. He represents qualities like complete devotion and obedience. 

Monkey -

  • Monkeys are treated with a lot of respect because of their mention in the Hindu epic Ramayana. Lord Hanuman and the vanara sena helped Lord Rama defeat Ravana and rescue Mata Sita from his clutches. Lord Hanuman was the biggest and most loyal devotee of Lord Rama and dedicated his life to his service. 
    • A temple in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, called the Jakhu Temple is dedicated to Lord Hanuman and monkeys roam freely in the premises of the temple and are even fed by devotees who come to visit the temple.

Snake -

  • Snakes are also considered to be sacred in Hinduism because of their association with two of the Gods of the Holy Trinity i.e. Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. While Lord Vishnu rests on the divine serpent Sheshnaag in Ksheer Sagar, Lord Shiva is considered to be the Lord of Snakes. Not only does he have a snake coiled around his neck but he also drank snake poison which came out of the churning of the ocean.
  • People worship snakes and offer milk to them at the festival of Nag Panchami.
  • It is also believed that Sage Patanjali who authored the Yoga Sutras was a divine being with the body that was partly of a serpent’s.

Rats -

  • Rats and mice are also considered to be sacred since Lord Ganesha is known to have Krauncha, a mouse as his mount. This symbolizes a person’s control over ego and desires and the importance of humility.
  • A sculpture of a mouse is housed in the Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai which is dedicated to Lord Ganesha. It is believed that when devotees make a wish and whisper it in the mouse’s ear, it comes true.
  • Also in Rajasthan in Karni Mata Temple rats are considered to be very auspicious and roam freely in the temple’s premises. They are even given food by the devotees who visit the premises.  

Lions and Tigers -

  • Lions and tigers are also of importance in the Hindu religion because Goddess Durga who is a form of Devi Shakti sits on the lion or sometimes a tiger and they are revered specially by the followers of Shaktism, a sect that worships Goddess Durga as the supreme deity.
  • Even Lord Vishnu incarnated on earth as Narasimha who has the face and arms of a lion and the lower body of a man. He took this avatar to save his devotee Prahalad from the atrocities of his father Hiranyakashyap.
  • Lions symbolize strength, courage, power, and ferocity. In fact, the national animal of India is also the royal Bengal tiger. 

Wrapping Up - 

Hinduism is one of the religions that advocates kindness towards all living beings. Hinduism encourages people to show compassion towards animals and treat them with kindness.

Practices like consuming a vegetarian diet are encouraged in the Hindu religion. In addition to this, animals like cows and horses have a lot of ritual importance in the Hindu religion. Various animals are also revered because either they are the mounts of Gods and Goddesses or because they are incarnations of certain deities. Many animals are also part of Hindu epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana as pivotal characters as well.

According to beliefs in Hinduism, God resides within every living being and that is why harming any creature no matter how big or small is considered a sin in the Hindu religion. 

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