How symbol/ animals are relevant to Sindhu Gods? The inner meaning
In Hinduism animals occupy an important place. It is said that when Brahma created the animals, he hid a specific secret in each of them to signify their spiritual importance to humans. It is also said that Shiva imparted to each of them specific states of yogic awareness. In ancient India, knowledge of the animals, or pasu vidya was considered an important subject of study. Hindus believe that animals may contain the souls of their ancestors or may be reborn as friends and family members. Therefore, animal abuse is not encouraged. India is probably the only country in the world where life in all forms is honoured and revered, and where you will find temples and rituals for animals. Hinduism also acknowledges the importance of animals in the transmigration of souls, since they facilitate ritual worship serving as sacrificial food (bali) or as the source of sacrificial offerings such as milk, butter, or ghee. By giving them an opportunity to serve them, they also enable humans to earn merit (punya) for their services and daily sacrifices (bhuta yajna).
Ancient civilizations: However, not all animals enjoy the same status in Hinduism. A few of them such as the elephant, horse, cow, bull, boar, tiger, and lion are considered sacred and spiritually evolved. Hence, they enjoy an exalted status, and share the honours during worship with major Hindu deities. Others represent mixed qualities or lower nature. Since they have the predominance of rajas and tamas and lack well-developed subtle bodies, they serve well as examples for humans to shape their own character and conduct and avoid an animal birth. Many animal seals were found in the Indus Valley excavations, which suggest to their importance in the ancient world. Vedic people gave a lot of importance to animals in their lives and associated them with the deities they worshipped. The Vedas mention several animals by name, such deer, boar, foxes, antelopes, boars, gazelles, jackals, lions, monkeys, rabbits, wolves, bears, beavers, rats, etc. They knew the importance of horses, elephants, cows, bulls, sheep, goats, and other domesticated animals in both religious and economic activity. The seers and sages of Vedic India lived in remote forests in harmony with wild animals. In no other part of the ancient world nonviolence and compassion to wild animals received so much emphasis and nowhere else animals were treated better or on par with humans than in India. Buddha’s compassion stemmed from the spiritual ethos of India. Hinduism distinguishes itself from other faiths with regard to the importance it gives to animals in God’s creation. In the following discussion we will present the ritual, spiritual and symbolic significance of a few important sacred animals of Hinduism and what roles they play in the evolution of life upon earth.
Elephants: In the religious traditions of India, elephants symbolize royalty, majesty, strength, divinity, abundance, fertility, intelligence, keenness, destructive power, and grasping power. The souls in elephants are said to be highly evolved and ripe for evolution. The Hindu Puranas suggest that elephants in the past had wings. Elephants appearing in dreams to mothers before the birth of an important person or sage is a common cultural theme of India. Even today, many Hindu temples maintain one or more elephants and use them during festivities, and public processions. Indra’s vehicle is a white, elephant known as Airavath, which according to the Puranas emerged during the churning of the oceans by gods and demons. It was given to Indra as a gift. Ganesha, the lord of the Shiva ganas, has the head of an elephant. His large head symbolizes knowledge, intelligence and thinking power. His trunk represents grasping power, while his large ears denote his attentiveness.
Horse: In a ritual sense, in the Vedic world, horses carried greater importance than the cows or any other animals. Horses were used in sacrifices, in warfare, travel, and probably trade and commerce. In the Vedic tradition, horses symbolize speed, beauty, purity, the expansive power of Brahman, freedom, grace, and strength. The Asvins, who symbolize the divinity of horses, are extolled in the Vedas as the gods who rescue people when they are caught in accessible places or lost in wilderness. In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the sacrificial horse is compared to Brahman, with each of its bodily parts representing a particular aspect of him. In the Hindu or Vedic calendar, the Star Asvini and the month Asyayuja are popular terms related to horses. The twin gods, Asvins, were excellent horsemen and proven physicians. They implanted a horse head on a sage to save him from a curse. During the churning of the oceans a white horse arose from the waters which was gifted to Indra. Indian folk tales refer to horses that could fly to heaven, and horses that possessed wings. The Sun god, Surya, goes on his daily tour of the heavens from the East to the West on a chariot driven by horses. The Horse sacrifice was an important Vedic ritual during the Vedic period, in which kings used to make offerings to gods, expressing their gratitude for their success and victories in wars and conquests. Wild horses were tamed and used in warfare, rather than agriculture since they were expensive and difficult to maintain.
Cow: The cow symbolizes wealth, compassion, motherliness, righteousness (dharma), motherhood, divinity, sattvic nature, sacrifice, service, purity, and auspiciousness. In ancient India, a person’s social and economic status depended upon the number of cattle he possessed. One of the prime duties of the students in ancient India who studied the Vedas in the gurukulas was to help their teachers by looking after their cows. From the Upanishads we know that served their teachers by taking their cows into the forest for grazing and returned in the evening. Lord Krishna grew up in a family of cowherds and personally tended the cows and other domestic animals in his childhood. The Puranas suggest that the animals and friends around him were mesmerized by the melody of his flute and stayed calm. Shiva is known as Gorakhnath, means the lord of the cows. He is also known as, Pasupathinath, the lord of all animals. According to some scholars, Shiva’s association with cows and bulls might date back to the Indus Valley period. Cows have a special significance in Hinduism, as aspects of Mother Goddess and as symbols of selfless service. Mahatma Gandhi declared the protection of cows a central feature of Hinduism. Hindus worship cows as the Mother Goddess and symbol of motherhood, kindness and forbearance. Kamadhenu, the heavenly cow, is considered the mother of all cows and several gods. She is also considered the source of all abundance with the power to grant the wishes of her devotees. The killing of cows and eating cow meat are strictly prohibited in Hinduism and considered mortal sins with severe karmic consequences. The cows are mentioned in many Vedic rituals such as ashtaka, sulagava, vajapeya, arghya, etc. Cow milk is used in Hinduism in ritual worship as an offering, and for cleansing the ritual objects, and bathing the deities, besides in the preparation of sacrificial food, such as panchamritam, curd, paramannam, etc. Cow urine and cow dung are used in some Vedic rituals in expiation ceremonies to cleanse past sins and in Ayurveda to prepare traditional medicines. Because it is a sacred animal, gods do not use it as a vehicle, but only as the source of auspiciousness, peace, and prosperity. Kamadhenu is a celestial cow, which represents abundance and sacrifice.
Bull: Images of bulls were found in several Indus Valley seals. They suggest that since the earliest times bulls had a socio-religious significance in ancient India. In the Vedic world, the bull represented masculinity, virility, strength, aggression, and fighting power. The Sanskrit word vrishan, derived from the root world, vrish was originally used in the Vedas to denote all males, including men. However, another of its derivatives, Vrishabha was used to denote various types of bulls, including horse bulls and male boar. The Vedas describe Indra as a strong bull of manliness and mighty strength. They also signify the sexual prowess of the bulls by stating that Agni or Indra descend from the heaven to the earth roaring like a husband to his wives. The bull has a special significance in Shaivism and Hindu Tantra. Lord Shiva is known as Vrishabhanath, lord of the bulls. His vehicle is Nandi, the divine bull, also known as Basava, who is worshipped by devotees individually as a personal god and in association with Shiva as his vehicle. According to some, Nandi is not a bull in the ordinary sense, but a divine being, and a close confidant of Lord Shiva, whose anthropomorphic form is represented by a half human and half bull body. He is known for his knowledge, devotion, obedience, surrender, virtue, and dedication to Shiva and his devotees of Shiva, and fought many battles to protect the gods, slay the demons and uphold dharma. The images of Nandi are invariably found in every Shiva temple. There are also some famous temples in India which are exclusively dedicated to Nandi. As the vehicle of Shiva, Nandi represents knowledge, scholarship, devotion, surrender, renunciation, obedience, strength and virility. However, in Hinduism bulls symbolically represent both positive and negative qualities. On the positive side they represent manliness, virility, manly strength, sexual prowess, and fighting spirit. On the negative side, they symbolize darkness, brute power, excessive sexuality, lust, anger, aggression, promiscuity, waywardness, ignorance, and delusion. On specific occasions, Hindus worship bulls and make them offerings of food. Since they are considered sacred, as in case of cows, hurting or harming them is strictly prohibited in Hinduism.
Tiger: There are no references to tigers in the Rigveda. However, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda contain a few references to them. They contain prayers and spells to subdue tigers and protect people, cowherds and shepherds from the menace of tigers, besides invocations that extol gods by ascribing to them the power and the qualities of tigers. Lord Shiva is shown to wear a tiger skin. Tigers also figure prominently in many Indian folk-tales, Jataka-stories, and the Panchatantra. Tigers represent royalty, majesty, fearlessness, strength, and ferocity. On the negative side they represent death, aggression, anger, cruelty, and violence. The tiger is the most popular and well-known vehicle of Shakti and her numerous manifestations. In the images and sculpture she is shown as riding or sitting upon a tiger. Spiritually, tigers are considered advanced beings. Some of them might be humans in their past lives or may assume a human birth in their next lives.
Monkey: Monkeys do not have that much ritual or spiritual importance in Hinduism as cows, bulls, tigers, horses, or elephants have, but they do enjoy a prominent place in public perception because of their association with lord Rama and their mischievous antics. The Panchatantra and the Jataka tales contain many stories with the monkeys as the principal characters. In the Ramayana they played a prominent role in assisting Rama in searching for his queen, Sita, who was held in captivity by the demon Ravana and rescue her. They helped him to cross the ocean by building a bridge across the waters and participate in a war under his command against the demon’s army. From the epic we learn that the monkeys, were not just monkey but monkey faced humans, known as Vidyadharas or Vanaras, with the ability to understand the spoken language, even Sanskrit and follow the commands of their generals. There is a monkey temple at Varanasi where they are even worshipped, and allowed to have their way. Symbolically, they personify such positive qualities as obedience, loyalty, duty, divinity, righteousness, courage, and selflessness. However, even the Ramayana does not gloss over the easy-going lifestyles of the monkeys, and their lack of discipline and focus in accomplishing tasks. Hindu scriptures compare the instability of the mind to monkeys who are easily distracted and prone to mischief. In the past, there used to be northern school of Hinduism, known as the Monkey school, which believed that devotees were required to make an effort to achieve liberation. Monkeys also appear in several Hindu folktales, and stories from the Panchatantra and Jataka tales. Hanuman is one of the most popular deities of Hinduism who exemplifies exemplary courage, immense strength, humility and the highest devotion. Monkeys are well protected in India despite the problems they create in urban areas, because Hindus do not like to see monkeys being hurt or harmed in any way.
Snakes: In Hinduism, serpents represent both death and infinity. Many gods are associated with serpents. Serpents are worshipped in their own right as gods and demigods. The Vedas contain numerous invocations and spell to protect both humans and animals from snake bites. Snakes occupy an important place in Hindu pantheon as celestial beings as well as subterraneous beings. Both Shiva and Vishnu have a close affinity with them. Vishnu rests in the ocean upon a bed made by the coils of the infinite primal serpent, Adi Shesha. Shiva is the lord of the snakes with the ability to cure snake bites and heal people. A snake adorns his neck with his hood raised, while his throat appears blue because of the snake poison (halahal) he consumed during the churning of the oceans, and held it there to save the worlds. Snake worship is an important feature of Hinduism.
Rat: The rat is a symbol of destruction, timidity, nervousness, ignorance, fear, and confusion. It is no wonder that Hindus have long tradition of worshiping them both, the anthropomorphic form of elephant as Ganesha, and the rat, known as Krauncha as his vehicle. In the worship of Ganesha, his vehicle is not directly worshipped, but he gets his due share from the offerings that are made to his master.
Lion: One of the ten incarnations of Vishnu is Narasimha, who has the head and shoulders of a lion, but the torso of a human. Narasimha is one of the fiercest forms of Vishnu in his aspect of Kala, or Death. He manifested as a lion to destroy the demon king, Hiranyakasipu and save his son Prahlada from his father’s abuse. Many Shaktis have either a lion or a tiger, or both as their vehicles, suggesting that from a symbolic perspective they represent the same qualities and energies. Lions are mentioned in the Vedas and the Puranas. Goddess Durga, a fierce form of Parvathi or Shakti, has a golden lion as her vehicle, while Rahu is seen riding a black lion.
Other Animals: Owl (uluka), the vehicle of goddess Lakshmi. It symbolizes adversity or misfortune, which only the goddess can remove as she is the goddess of wealth and abundance. On the positive side, it symbolizes discretion, or discerning wisdom, since it can stay in control and penetrate through darkness. In many cultures, the owl represents wisdom. Fish, which represents an incarnation of Vishnu and a special class of water fairies. Indus seals contain pictograms that resemble fish. Images of fish are also found in the paintings on the Indus pottery. The Vedas contain references to fish. Hindu cosmology refers to a world inhabited by fish. In tantric tradition, offerings of fish to the deities are allowed. In Hindu iconography, ancient sculptors often combined the bodies of crocodiles and fish and showed them as one animal. Garuda, the celestial half bird and half human, which is the vehicle of Vishnu. Symbolically, Garuda represents keenness, swiftness, service, divinity, and devotion. Images of Garuda are invariably found in the Vishnu temples or temples dedicated to the aspects, manifestations, and incarnations of Vishnu. Peacock, the vehicle of Skanda, which represents aggression, ferocity, and war like qualities. In Hindu tradition peacocks represent the contradictory qualities of both purity and impurity. In association with Saraswathi, they represent grace, beauty, artistic ability, agility, and harmony.
So Sindhu Culture is one of the few cultures who teach people to respect all the animals as spiritual beings and part of God’s creation, whose existence and services are vital to the order and regularity of the worlds.