Folklores and Beliefs Help Preserve Animals, Birds and Insects: Managing Biodiversity- III

The sages and seers of ancient India recognised the importance of animals. While laying down the mores of social codes, they ensured that ‘brotherhood’ status be given to animals and other creatures. And instead of sermonising about love all and share the planet with all creatures, they integrated this concept with daily mishmash life of the people in many wonderful ways. They brought about an integration of the belief systems and daily lives through folklores, proverbs, practices, beliefs and rituals. Krishna delves deeper into the respect for animal life form, in this third part, of the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

Hinduism is an ancient culture that is endowed with messages of peace, love and tolerance, practiced by millions of people throughout India and other countries.

For the common man, Hindu culture means practice of countless sanskar (traditional good practices); these practices are well known in Hindu society and practiced traditionally. We rarely pause and think about the underlying meaning of these practices. Often these appear as traditional rituals, with little or no meanings. It would not be proper to wish away all rituals as ‘meaningless humbug’.

During the British era, Hinduism was often considered as a ‘blind faith’ by the colonisers and the education (read bias) they spread pronounced that Hindu culture is full of ‘ku-sanskar’ (bad culture). Perhaps it stemmed from their distrust and dislike for everything pagan. The western point of view on Hinduism is certainly painted from the experiences of their own culture and religion that is largely materialistic. Due to their biased intervention, the true essence of Hindu culture was not studied well in past. Even today the western gaze on Hinduism is given much importance.

The study of Hindu culture by the Hindus, who belong to this culture, and practice it with all their heart and soul continues to be a rare phenomenon even today. Some academic writings are available, which reach a very selective intellectual audience only. For the common man, authentic books that can explain them the eternal value of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism), the meanings of the rituals they perform, the inner beauty of the tradition they live and love, its relevance to life in the modern world, and also its impact of the practices around the globe, is very rare.

The sages and seers of ancient India recognised the importance of animals. While laying down the mores of social codes, they ensured that ‘brotherhood’ status be given to animals and other creatures. And instead of sermonising about love all and share the planet with all creatures, they integrated this concept with daily mishmash life of the people in many wonderful ways. They brought about an integration of the belief systems and daily lives through folklores, proverbs, practices, beliefs and rituals.

Many festivals, like Pushkar Mela, in Rajasthan, and cattle fairs elsewhere, were created giving due respect to animals and their natural habitats. Fear of curse and promise of boon helped to preserve the flora and the fauna and thus save the environment from degradation. While some of these practices are mentioned in ancient Hindu scriptures, most are created with the passage of time – names or sources of creation of these rituals are not known. These have been a part of our rich oral tradition, becoming a part of the Hindu folklores. To this day, some of these beliefs and rituals (like ‘conventions’ in the British political system) are practiced by the Hindus for many generations. These have been assimilated with the identity of the Hindus. No doubt these traditional practices ensures practice of love, respect and equality toward all creatures and the peaceful co-existence of all lives in this universe, in the long journey of Hindu culture through the centuries.

Beliefs and faiths to Protect Animals

In Hindu culture cow is considered as very holy animal and honored as ‘Gaumata’ (cow-mother), because she feeds human with milk. This is an attitude of gratefulness and recognition and this makes animals equal to human being. Also, killing and eating cow is strictly prohibited in Hindu culture.

Sadhguru on Ban of Beef:

A mother cow is licking the calf and calf is sucking milk from her is considered a significantly good sign. This is a call to human to be humane and not to separate the calf while she is sucking and mother is caressing her as they are also just a like human mother and child.

Ox is the Vahana of Lord Shiva. Releasing the ox to freedom is considered as pious. The oxen are never killed by anyone and they work as buffer mate for cows kept naturally and bred naturally by people.

There are many folk sayings (proverbs) in India which says that improper treatment of animals is ‘Ashuba’ (bad omen) at home and for the lives of the human being.

One proverb says: if stray cat or dog wails moving around a home, it brings misfortune to the family. The deeper meaning of this proverb is that if a cat or a dog that moves near your home is not and given any care and food, and it wails, it will be bad for the family. One should give some food to stray dogs and cats as well. This has strong message to conserve the animals and treat them with loving care.

Beliefs and Sayings to Protect Fragile Creatures

House-sparrows are considered as associate of Laxmi Devi (Goddess of prosperity and peace) in the popular Hindu way of life. House-sparrows nest in human houses, they fly inside with straws in mouth and make nest to lay eggs. In Odisha, a belief is that if one who destroys this birds’ nest they would suffer acute headaches for a long time without any relief. No medicine works to heal it! Nowadays, some people call it as ‘blind belief’ and destroy the nests and drive away the birds. But the inner meanings of this proverb is to conserve the birds with love and tolerance.

This is same for pigeons. Pigeons are considered as messengers of Goddess Laxmi. In houses of pre-independence era, in urban places, roofs were designed to give shelter to them. Small rooms were built in lines and the birds used to live there happily. Children and adults went to the terrace to feed these birds. Now, in rural areas people hang bamboo- baskets from roof of the cottages, to give a room to pigeons and birds to live there.

A beautiful blue bird, Nilakantha (Indian roller bird) is revered as incarnation of Lord Vishnu or Lord Shiva in many regions of India. This gives it protection against catching or caging. In the countryside, during spring season Nilakantha is seen.

A small insect called as kumor poka (potter insect) makes small earthen pot like nests in our homes. There is a faith among people that if it comes to make a nest in a house, it means someone in the family or the clan will be pregnant. Mothers always teach children not to break their nests, as it will have bad effect on the woman who has conceived! This is a wonderful way to empathise with the small creature that is pregnant and going to lay egg in the home she is building.

If bumble bees suddenly enter a home and goes out, it is believed that some good news especially of marriage of someone near and dear is in the offing.

If butterfly sits on a person, love is coming to him/her. In Hindu culture, butterfly is considered an auspicious symbol of marriage. They are never allowed to be caught by children.

The glowworm with cool blue-green light twinkle on grasses and fields at night, making the open grassland in the rural areas or the lawns in the urban areas look beautiful. It’s like stars on earth. But, these are rarely seen these days. Sometimes, suddenly these insects might come inside the house too. Children are cautioned not to catch these to protect the species. They are told that if they caught these, then they would suffer stomach problems and get up at midnight for defecation. These small, harmless lies showed our deeper concern for these beautiful, fragile insects and helped save them. But, due to indiscriminate use of pesticides in the farms and field in the rural area and insecticides in urban area, these glowworms are almost lost now from our habitats.

Squirrels are considered as pet of Sri Ramachandra. When Sri Rama was building a bridge over the ocean to reach Lanka, a squirrel was helping him to her utmost capacity. She was getting wet in the water and then rolling on the sand and then shaking off the sands at the bridge. Sri Rama acknowledged her good work and blessed her. Even today, a Hindu will not kill squirrel rather will admire her. Now-a- days squirrels are killed for their skin and tail for making fashionable items. Poaching are normally done by tribes living in the forests and this is most unfortunate.

Tortoise is considered as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and killing or eating of tortoise is totally banned in Hindu culture. No doubt it is an effort to save a very important chain in the evolution of life.

Killing of frogs is prohibited in Hindu culture. The faith is that frogs initiate rain and if frogs are killed there would be no rain. Marriage of frogs is a way to evade draughts and initiate rains.

A proverb says, if an owl by chance enters one’s house, the house-owner will have a sudden rise of fortune. Owl is the Vahana of Devi Laxmi, the Goddess of prosperity, thus her vehicle brings wealth in the family. The deeper meaning of this proverb is that if by chance an owl comes into one’s house or is seen by one, it should not be caught or confined. This valuable bird eats lots of insect in the paddy fields during night and keep the crops pest free, no one should kill or confine them but let them fly away.

If a small species of the bat darts inside and flies around in a room, one must understand that there shall be a windfall (money is going to drop from the heavens!).

These small, harmless faiths and mysteries about creatures have protected the animals, birds and insects in our country. Sadly, we have trashed our age old culture and have become prey to the biases and prejudices spread by the western world.

Sometimes, silly superstitions (as we term it) are helpful to preserve and protect the animals. Scrape the surface paint to understand the deeper scientific temperaments of our wise sages and seers.

©Dr. Krishna Hota

Pix sourced by author and Net.

Dr. Krishna Hota

Dr. Krishna Hota

Dr. Krishna Hota did her post graduation and Ph.D from Jadavpur University and PG Diploma in Human Rights from IIHR, New Delhi, in Social Development. She is associated with the NGO sector for 22 years. She has authored two books, occasionally write articles for various publications.
Dr. Krishna Hota