Kamat's Potpourri: Animals of Hindu Mythology

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Animals of Indian Mythology
Dr. Krishnanand Kamat
Last updated : October 28, 2001

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Ancient Indians had recognized the animals' right
to co-exist with man and therefore they were loved, nurtured and even worshipped. In order to impress upon the commoners about their importance, the animals were given the status of gods and goddesses. They declared that Almighty incarnates in different animal forms. The kings and the emperors opted different animals in their emblems. Many festivals were/are observed in honor of several animals. In order to inculcate love for animals among children, animals were made heroes in stories. The rulers gave them prime position in art and architecture. Unfortunately, today we are neither adopting ancient Indians' compassionate attitude, nor scientific approach of the westerners towards these animals and hence we are heading towards a catastrophe. The activities of ancient Indians were woven around the animals. Therefore, they knew the happenings of animal world as much as today's ardent student of zoology. This vast knowledge has been recorded in the scriptures of the time. The Upanishads contain detailed descriptions of horses and cattle. The Garudapurana contains life-histories of fishes and turtles. There are also religious books dedicated to a specific animal. Nagamahdimya, Nandi-purdoa, Mayiratrahimya and Pashu-puriltia are only a few of Animal Chain and the wondering Sadhu: Sculpture from Belur, Karnataka.

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The Satyayuga lasted for 17.64. in the same way as worm keeps on changing its resting place.28. will be for 4.000 years. 8. file:///C|/Documents%20and%20Settings/PrasannaB/Des.26.. Here are a few examples as how animal activities are effectively used to impress the abstract concepts to commoners. The Dwaparayuga was. Ultimately man has to seek eternal peace just as ever flying vulture has to rest for some time. this period is divided into four eras. Immortal soul lives in mortal body for some time and then is reborn in a new body. followed by Tretayuga which lasted for 12 96.924 years.000 years.000 years long. though it is part of the former. whereas Kaliyuga. origin of life.20. he cannot be separated from the latter just like pollens cannot be isolated from honey.000 years ago. the Indians calculated that the animals came into existence 43.htm (2 of 11)2/16/2005 7:44:07 PM . and will come to end in another 4.. organic evolution and environmental science. The Kaliyuga has commenced in the month of February 3102 B. Man has to attain moksha by continuously chanting of 'Om' mantra in the way a spider finds its salvation in the web it had woven. When man becomes united with cosmic God. q q q q q q q Almighty is present everywhere but he can't be detected easily just like a silk worm cannot be distinguished from the cocoon that his spun around itself.Kamat's Potpourri: Animals of Hindu Mythology them. These writings are older than other scriptures of the world. Without any scientific aids.000 years long. A fickle-minded person is like a wild horse whereas a wise man is like a well trained horse which pulls god's chariot.C. they contain very modern concept such as.%20Potpourri%20Animals%20of%20Hindu%20Mythology.33. Chanting of mantras has been compared with the croaking of frogs in the rainy season. On the basis of the major events that took place on the earth.

This is followed by an amphibious animal Kurma. In order to indicate the aquatic origin of the animals. the whole world was populated by evolving one group of animals into another. In Parashurama tremendous physical strength could be recognized. which is also the hypothesis on which organic evolution theory relies. Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras. Thus. goats and pigs. The concept of Dashavatara of Lord Vishnu. Narasimha represents a beast's attempt to attain a human form. as they did not believe of external forms in killing and dissecting the animals for their study. one of them acting like male and other the female. one can identify perfect human qualities. Krishna is a savior of our environment. donkey. It. the Lord incarnates in the form of a Mathsya. namely Arshean. a fish. Paleozoic. "Give us cows that have abundance of milk. a boar which is completely a terrestrial animal. is of great interest that the modern zoologists. As the time passed by. In Ramachandra.Kamat's Potpourri: Animals of Hindu Mythology followed by total destruction of our dear earth by unusual floods.. Ancient Indian people were aware of the role played by heredity and environment in the development of an individual. as ants. Third incarnation is Varaha. cattle. However their classification of animal world was on the basis alone. According to Brihaddraoyaka Upanishad. a pigmy human being is represented. In Yajurveda. a turtle. a prayer reads. bulls that have file:///C|/Documents%20and%20Settings/PrasannaB/Des. In Vamana avatar. in a way represents the organic evolution theory. The Indians also had the concept that any animal can be reproduced and evolved only from pre-existing animal. by using most Sophisticated equipment have come to the conclusion that the earth has passed through four zoological eras.htm (3 of 11)2/16/2005 7:44:07 PM ..%20Potpourri%20Animals%20of%20Hindu%20Mythology. these individuals assumed different animal forms such. Virdjan got bored of solitude and adopted binary division like an ameba and became two individuals. Kalki represents our own destruction of giving scant attention to our fauna and environment.

"Does this king come anywhere near wisdom of Raikva?" The king overheard this conversation. intellectual son and a wife who can take good care of the young and old". he overheard the conversation of a pair of birds nesting in his courtyard which made. in summer from tigers. him laugh. When the queen insisted to know the contents of the bird's conversation. snakes as main characters. Talkative turtle. In Chandogyaupanishat another interesting incident has been mentioned. children as well as adults find great excitement in reading these animal stories. There are many instances in our scriptures where ancient Indians had mastered animal languages. located Raikva who was relaxing under a bullock cart and learned Bramha-jnana from him. The court poets have written file:///C|/Documents%20and%20Settings/PrasannaB/Des. the talkative one said to the other that the king Janasbruthi is a very religious and learned person and therefore we must be extra careful while flying over his kingdom. One evening a pair of cranes were flying back to their place of rest . a ruler who is courageous and fearless.Kamat's Potpourri: Animals of Hindu Mythology full vigor and vitality.. sparrows. horses that can face challenges of any enemy.%20Potpourri%20Animals%20of%20Hindu%20Mythology.htm (4 of 11)2/16/2005 7:44:07 PM . This other crane reacted sharply and asked. in rainy season from ferocious boars and bison. While king Kekaya was with his queen.. Two thousand year old Panchatantra contains numerous stories in which the animals have been given prominence. This collection of stories is also the basis for 'Aesop's Fables'. rat and lion stories are too well known. Even today. lions and other man-eating animals" says the prayer. Their prayer in Bhiimi-siikta indicates that they had intimate knowledge of different animals . stupid frog. the king preferred to divorce her on the advice of his guru who had blessed this boon on the king than divulge the code. Similarly all grandma stories have crows. "In winter protect us from the scorpions and snakes that creep in our dark and moist caves. He admitted to the queen that he understood birds' talk but refused to share this with others which was a taboo.

two-headed mythical bird. The Gangas of Talkadu opted for an elephant. During his long vanavasa. forts and palaces. Kalidasa and Bana give a vivid picture of a variety of animals that lived together at ashrams. deers and monkeys. kings and queens adopted different animals as their emblems. Manu. The elephants and the monkeys come across a variety of animals in different re-births. In order to protect the animals that he loved.%20Potpourri%20Animals%20of%20Hindu%20Mythology. These emblems were printed on flags that were hoisted at the time of different religious functions. is a fossilized mollusk. A saligrama which is worshipped as a representative of Vishnu. Because of their minute size. Pearl oyster were collected from the sea bed. honey-bees.. Lord Rama developed special relations with different animals such as Jatayu. Hoysala's emblem has a tiger whereas the Vijayanagara kings settled for a boar. Coins of different denominations were minted by embossing these emblems. Buddhist Jathaka stories attach great importance to rebirth.Kamat's Potpourri: Animals of Hindu Mythology numerous collections in which the animal life has been described in minute details. Often fish are mentioned in our mythology. the invertebrates are not given much importance in olden days.htm (5 of 11)2/16/2005 7:44:07 PM . the Mollusk. Lord Krishna was also an animal lover. Kishkinda of Ramayana now known as Hampi has good population of monkeys even today. silk-worms and mud-wasps were very well known. finds a little golden fish in his folded palms while offering file:///C|/Documents%20and%20Settings/PrasannaB/Des. Hanuman. The emperors. from heavy rains and thunder storm he lifted a huge mountain and came to be known as Govardhana Giridhari. Our progenitor. Among insects. the soft bodied shell fishes were considered as very sacred. These emblems were also displayed prominently on temples. Lord Vishnu always carried a conch which is an exoskeleton of the animal. Sugriva. However. Mysore Maharajas went for Ganda-bherunda.. whereas a lion was Kadamba's choice.

a tortoise and an elephant fighting each other ferociously. To his great surprise he finds in the lake. Amritha. Silrya. deluge is inevitable and vanishes. Fascinated Manu rears the fish in his ashram. One day the fish brings a warning that. Once Garuda was accompanying his father to Chandraloka. He was at loss to know how to stop them from fighting and hence he feasted on both of them and solved the problem permanently! file:///C|/Documents%20and%20Settings/PrasannaB/Des. Chandra. Garuda visits a lake to quench his thirst. Rambha and Laxmi. day it will come to his rescue if he let it go now. The frightened fish promises Manu that some. They employed Vasuki. Shankha. At that moment the fish appears on the sea and drags the boat to a safe place. As a result of this churning. When a terrible torpedo hits the sea and land.htm (6 of 11)2/16/2005 7:44:07 PM . In order to prevent the mountain from sinking. Kamadhenu.. came out of the ocean. a huge poisonous serpent as a rope and Mandara mountain as a churner. On his way. Manu collects all the animals in a huge boat with an intention to protect them. Dhanwantri. very rare gems like. However frightened animals raise hue and cry and the boat is about to capsize. Churning of the ocean by the Suras and Asuras is a very interesting episode in Hindu mythology. When it grows up he first transfers it to a lake and then to the sea..Kamat's Potpourri: Animals of Hindu Mythology 'Arghya' to the sun god.%20Potpourri%20Animals%20of%20Hindu%20Mythology. in the Himalayas. Dhanushya. Lord Vishnu assumed the form of a turtle and supported it.

When the -elephant seeks Lord Vishnu's intervention. The crocodile is given prime of place in Hindu religion. At times the couple takes a joy ride on this animal. The story of Gajendra Moksha is well known.. With great difficulty he drags the animal out of water.htm (7 of 11)2/16/2005 7:44:07 PM . It is believed that the river Ganga depends on a crocodile for her very frequent visits to Bay of Bengal from the Himalaya mountains.Kamat's Potpourri: Animals of Hindu Mythology Drawing based on a Lepakshi Sculpture. of a sudden a huge crocodile clasps his legs. Similarly. Kamadeva's emblem is Makara and hence his wife carries it whenever she goes.%20Potpourri%20Animals%20of%20Hindu%20Mythology.. when Hanuman was returning from Lanka his perspiration fell in the mouth of a Nakshtra and she gave birth to Makara Dhwaja. The cruel animal turns itself into a beautiful damsel and proclaims that because of Daksha's curse she became a crocodile and it is Hanuman's contact that revoked the curse. In one of the expeditions of Himalayas. a under-water crocodile claspses its sharp teeth into one of its hind legs. Hanuman was bathing in lake when all. When the elephant Gajendra visits a pool of water. the lord kills the crocodile and sets the file:///C|/Documents%20and%20Settings/PrasannaB/Des. The rain-god Varuna also rides on Makara.

L. wanted to eliminate all the snakes. © K. Herons are associated with Koushikamuni. his glowing face made the people think that he is God Agni Himself.htm (8 of 11)2/16/2005 7:44:07 PM . The crow is very well-versed with happening of the heaven and hence people who wish to go to paradise try to please it. Pigeons are favorite animals of Kamadeva and Yamaraja. When Vishnu incarnated as Krishna.. At the time of his birth. Goddess Saraswati always rides a swan. Karthikeya employed peacock for his transportation.Kamat's Potpourri: Animals of Hindu Mythology elephant free. Kamat file:///C|/Documents%20and%20Settings/PrasannaB/Des. the king of the serpents with the help of Astika prevented him from doing so. Garuda is an extraordinary son of Kashyapa and Vinata. gesha accompanied him as Balarama. The snakes are his favorite snacks.%20Potpourri%20Animals%20of%20Hindu%20Mythology. Nagapanchami is an annual festival celebrated in honor of the serpents. Visuki and Taksbaka are important representatives of the snake-world. Kashyapa muni populated the patalaloka. Sesha dedicated himself in the service of Lord Vishnu. Vasuki volunteered himself to be employed for churning of the ocean. Jatayu and Samprathi are Garuda's two offspring. It is a very old custom to instal Naga-stones in villages and towns and periodically worship them. Takshaka.. When Janamejaya. with a variety of snakes. Thus his wife Kadru is considered as the mother of all the snakes. Sesha.

the eight trunked Airavat More Examples of Animals from Indian Mythologies Deer is associated with innumerable stories. Lord Shiva gets wrapped up in deer skin.. kasturimriga. Maricha assumes the form of a golden deer in order to attract Sitadevi. is nearest relative of deer. a snow white file:///C|/Documents%20and%20Settings/PrasannaB/Des. she was in the custody of Jamadagni.%20Potpourri%20Animals%20of%20Hindu%20Mythology. all over the country. Kirtavirya captures her from Jamdagni. Mahishasuramardini is celebrated with all pomp and show. However later on Vishvamitra snatches Kamadhenu from Vashista.. Musk-deer.Kamat's Potpourri: Animals of Hindu Mythology Lord Indra and his vehicle. Yamadharmaraja always rides a male water-buffallo whenever he intends to visit the earth. Vayus chariot is pulled by a pair of deers. Vashistha gets Kamadhenu for supervising samudra manthana operation.htm (9 of 11)2/16/2005 7:44:07 PM . Rishyashringa was born to a deer which lapped up semen of Vibhandaka. Cows are Lord Krishna's favorites. Indra employs Ucchaishrava. During Parashurama's incarnation. Finally she lands with Indra.

Excerpted from The Quarterly Journal of the Mythic Society Vol.. Standard disclaimers apply Merchandise and Link Suggestions file:///C|/Documents%20and%20Settings/PrasannaB/De. Sun god's chariot is pulled by seven red horses.htm (10 of 11)2/16/2005 7:44:07 PM . Do not reproduce without prior permission.20Potpourri%20Animals%20of%20Hindu%20Mythology.. June 1994.Kamat's Potpourri: Animals of Hindu Mythology horse as his vehicle. Later he changed to Airavata. an elephant with multiple trunks (shown above). LXXXV Issue 2. All rights reserved. the eight trunked elephant Lord Krishna Rides the Bird Garuda Sports & Utility Vehicles from Heaven The Peacock Riding Karthikeyan Two Headed Deity Shani Rides a Crow Yama the Lord of Death and his Vehicle. the Water Buffalo Kamat's Potpourri Timeless Theater Animals © 1996-2004 Kamat's Potpourri. First published as "Attitude of our ancestors towards animals" See more mythological animals at Kamat's Potpourri q q q q q q q q q A Three Headed Mythological Figure Rides a Lion Animal Vehicles of Hindu Deities Lord Ganesh rides his favorite mouse to earth Lord Indra riding the Airavat.

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