The universality of the Hindu consciousness is immense. The Supreme Being is in the inner psyche of all creatures. God is present in all things big and small – the living and the inert (read non-living). Man is not the best creation, sitting on the top of the ecological pyramid. There is equality in all living beings. As per the karmic cycle of the soul, it acquires a body. It could be of any animal. The relationship is cyclical. Here, Krishna explains the deep rooted reverence towards all animals – they are part of the Hindu iconography, in the form of vahanas (vehicles) of Gods. This is the first part of the narrative. The author will write a regular column, The Hindu Consciousness, every Monday, beginning this week, exclusively in Different Truths.
In most of the countries, we find that human beings are generally torn apart because of self-interest, competition, exploitation, war, violence and inequality. But, is that the final and total identity of man?
The Hindu holy book Srimad Bhagavat Gita says: “Iswara sarbabhutang hriddeshe tisthati” [18.61] (Supreme Being is in the inner psyche of all creatures). Thus, human beings are not just evil. Mankind has a divine part in the larger self that makes him peaceful, tolerant, and loving and inspires him to spread love and care to all. Every person has an inner life, which follows his conscience, where he is selfless, compassionate and peaceful in nature! Intimate human being can be found in his culture, his philosophy, arts and literature; culture is the reflection of the way people feel and want to live life. In culture of peoples, all over the world, love for peace and equality is very prominent.
Love all and spread the message of peace and co-existence, is the spirit of Hindu culture “Sarbe bhabatu sukhinah sarbe santu niramaya” (May all be happy and may all be cured).
Hinduism carries a message that all creatures are equal in essence. Man is not the ‘chosen being’ riding the ecological pyramid. Human birth is cyclical. Love and respect for all creatures is a natural tribute to God. “Sarbasya chaham hridi sannibisto” [Gita, 15.15] (I am gracefully existent in soul of all creatures) is the divine message of Lord Sri Krishna. This is the central theme of Hinduism. It is the golden key to the traditional practice of Hindu culture that includes all creatures in human life with love and respect. In modern terminology of Ecology this may be called as managing bio-diversity and natural life.
Divine Support to Animals
In the Hindu mind, there is a direct commitment to equality and love for animals is professed in the way Hindus worship God, the divine spirit. All the idols of Gods are prayed with an animal sitting by the side or at the feet of God. These as ‘vahana’ (vehicle); these vahana have spiritual significance and might be interpreted as God’s love to animals also.
The supreme god belonging to the Hindu trilogy, Sri Vishnu rides a Gadura, the ancient biggest bird. Relationship with Sri Vishnu and Gadura is also very interesting. Puranic tales mention that Gadura was devoted to the Lord, still he was very ambitious and he wanted to be greater than Lord Vishnu. All-knowing God Vishnu understood him and to make him happy told to Gadura “I will give you one vardan (wish fulfilment), you may ask for anything”. Gadura took this opportunity and instantly he told ‘I will sit on a seat upper than you’. Vishnu smiled and told ‘Yes, I agree’. Then He made one seat for Gadura on the roof of His chariot and told Gadura to seat there. Also, on His flag which flies higher than His head on the chariot He marked it with Gadura. Gadura was very happy. Vishnu is also described and worshipped as “Gaduradhvaja” (God with Gadura on Flag). This story tells gods not only have an animal companion, relationship with an animal might also be full of dynamism; animal is not a static pet or a follower.
Lord Shiva is accompanied by a great bull, Nandi. Loyalty and dedication of Nandi is well-mentioned in all Puranic stories. Countless snakes play on His body and Devi Ganga (river) flows from His matted hair. Also, Lord Shiva is called as Pashupati (Lord of animal kingdom) and many Shiva temples gives shelter to snakes.
Lord Ganesha is worshipped with a mouse, sitting and eating Laddu (sweet) right near his leg.
Goddess of wealth and peace, Goddess Laxmi is accompanied be a white owl and she sits on a lotus flower. Also, she holds one lotus flower in her hand.
Goddess of knowledge and music, Goddess Saraswati sits on beautiful white swan, which enhances her beauty.
Goddess of strength and energy, Goddess Durga is accompanied be the king of forest, the great lion.
Lord Kartik sits on a peacock. It’s an unusually beautiful bird, with resplendent plumes.
The Lord of Death, Yamaraja sits on a great buffalo.
Lord Krishna is accompanied with cow herds. Of these two were His greatest friend, Dhabali, Saoli. There are many images of Lord Krishna which depicts the Lord playing a flute, while Dhabali and Saoli sit close by, smug and comfortable, admiring the music.
Lord Viswakarma, the God of Engineering and Construction sits on an elephant.
Goddess Jagadhatri sits on Makara, an ancient sea-animal, whose face is like elephant and lower body is like fish.
Lord Brahma, the God of creation is also accompanied by Swans.
The Ten incarnations (Dus Avatar) of Supreme God Vishnu, the incarnations to save and recreate the universe after ‘mahaplaban’ the great Flood– very nicely included animals as His ‘avatar’ or incarnations. First four Avatars are described as Matsya (Fish), Kurma (Tortoise), Varaha (Wild Boar) and Narasinha (man-lion), and respected as incarnation of God Vishnu in Hinduism. In Odisha, India, tortoise is worshipped as an Avatar of Lord Jagannatha and thus protected from open killings.
These are few examples of how Gods in Hinduism are prayed along with animals that accompany Him / Her and sits beside like a friend or associate. For Hindus, this gives a very clear message. Animals are lovable. They are worth our respect and equality. In this way, a divine protection is granted to animals in the Hindu culture, especially most beautiful and vulnerable ones since ancient times. It is a wonder to notice that the animals and birds like owl, swan, peacock, lion, tiger, mouse, snake, elephant, etc. though susceptible to human attacks, were available in the ancient times. These are still available in India
Due to the materialism and the pressures of industrialisation, Hindu culture and its value system weakened under the influence of the British colonisation and education system. Now, some of these animals are facing extreme danger from human exploitation. Quite a few are in the list of endangered animals.
©Dr. Krishna Hota
Pix from Net.