for ISKCON News on Feb. 21, 2013
True essence of Hinduism is equality: equality and respect to all human being, animal even immobile natural beings. Srimad Bhagavat Gita says much ardently: “Iswara sarbabhutang hriddeshe tisthanti”—Supreme Being is in inner psyche of all being ---human, animal even immobile creations.
If we look to the idols of Hindu divinities we can find this attitude of equality is very much prominent and alive there. A direct commitment to equality and love to animals is shown in the way Hindu divinities is worshiped -- all the Gods and other divinities are prayed with an animal by side as accompany. Every image of God accompanies one animal of different type. This animal is known as ‘bahana’, God ride on them. God is infinite powerful; still God is imagined and worshipped with an animal as assistant. Spiritually this hints that animals are also a part of His divine spirit, they are neither inferior in spirit nor to be hated. In other way this image also means that Gods demonstrate love and equality to animals.
Supreme God Vishnu rides on Gadura (or Garuda), an ancient biggest bird. Relationship with Vishnu and Gadura is also very interesting. Gadura was devoted to Lord, still he was very ambitious and he wanted to be greater than Lord Vishnu. God Vishnu understood his mentality and to make him happy he told I will give you one bara (grant), 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 of Gadura on the roof of His chariot and told Gadura to seat there. Also in His flag which fly higher on His head on chariot He marked it with Gadura. Gadura was very happy on this. Vishnu is also described and worshipped as “Gaduradhvaja” (God with Gadura on Flag). This story tells Gods not only have an animal as carriage or assistant, animal is a friend, and relationship with this animal is also full of dynamism, His animal bahana is not a static follower only.
Lord Shiva is accompanied by a great Bull, Nandi. Loyalty and dedication of Nandi is well-mentioned in all ‘Purana’ stories. Snakes roam on His whole body and Devi Ganga (river) stays in His hair dough and flows from there. Also Lord Shiva is called as ‘Pashupati” (Lord of animals) and many Shiva temples gives shelter to snakes.
Lord Ganesha is worshipped with Mouse, mouse sits and eats Laddu (sweet) right near his leg.
Goddess of wealth & peace Goddess Laxmi is accompanied with white Owl and she sits in Lotus garden on Lotus Flower. Also she holds one lotus flower on hand.
Goddess of knowledge & Fine Arts Devi Saraswati sits on beautiful while swan, which enhances her beautiful image also.
Goddess of Strength Devi Durga is accompanied with the king of forest great Lion.
God Kartik sits on Peacock; Peacock is an unusual bird, big and beautiful.
Lord Krishna is associated with herds of Cows, and two are His greatest friend-- Dhabali, Saoli. There are many images of Lord Krishna which depicts Lord blowing a flute, while Dhabali and Saoli sit close to Him very comfortable and with great admiration to the music.
Deva Viswakarma, God of Engineering & Construction is imagined sitting on Elephant. Devi Laxmi is also depicted in many places sitting on Elephant. King of Gods (Deva) Indra is accompanied by Oirabat the biggest elephant.
Goddess Jagadhatri sits on Makara, an ancient sea-animal, whose face is like elephant and lower body is like fish.
Lord Brahma, God of creation is also accompanied by lyrical white Swans.
The Ten incarnations (Dasa 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 Tortoise is worshipped as Avatar of Lord Jagannatha and thus protected from killings. Many scientists have observed that scientific meaning of this ‘avatar’ is same as the theory of evolution.
There are many more examples of how Gods in Hinduism is imagined and prayed along with animal, who accompanies Him. The animal assistant of God does not mar the divinity of God rather they stand there as a symbol of natural beauty and strength. This gives very clear Message—that animals are not lower being, they are also very important creature and they worth love, friendship, respect and equality. This also implies co-existence and sharing space with all animals, birds and natural beings is an ideal practice-- practiced by God the supreme divine spirit.
In this way also Hindu culture has protected and preserved animals, especially most vulnerable one since ancient times. It is a wonder to notice that all the animals most beautiful, strong and peculiar those are much susceptible to human attacks are placed as assistant to Gods: bird like white owl, Swan, Peacock, animals like Elephant, Cow, Bull, Buffalo, Lion, Tiger even small ones like Mouse, Snake, are kept under direct protection of Gods.
This is a wonderful example how Gods have demonstrated Equality and friendship to animals and bird and recognized their spirit as holy as the divine assistance and support.
Now it is up to us whether we understand inner meaning of this God-animal-bird association-- follow this with honor, deal them with love and respect and share the world with them or we just overlook it-- while cry foul over lack of Bio-diversity management and perishing climate!