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Why Animal worship in hinduism
Posted By Sarin on Jul 15, 2012     RSS Feeds     Latest Hinduism news

Well, it’s a very common belief that Hindus worship anything like animals, plants etc. So very often across the net you will find Hinduism termed as a pagan religion. It’s very sad that even before understanding the core reasons behind any particular belief, people just start targeting beliefs or culture of other religions. Whatever anyone does, there is a reason behind it. So, if Hindus are worshipping animals then there should be many reasons behind it and In this article, we will be digging up our religious scriptures and try to find out why animal worship became an inherent part of Hinduism.
Before digging up our scriptures, let’s first see history of animal worship. Animal worship was predominantly found in Egyptian and Greek mythology and even today, animal worship is an integral part of their life.

Beast worship in ancient Egypt.

Now, if we compare Greek and Egyptians with Hinduism, then you will find that animal worship is considerably less in Hinduism that other primitive religions like Norse, Greek, Zoroastrians, Egyptians etc.
Oldest culture of the Indian sub-continent, the Indus-Saraswati civilizaion had elements of animal worship as shown by the Zebu Bull, the Unicorn Seals and similar mythical animals depicted through painting, coins, statues etc around the Indus River.  

The Zebu Bull from an Indus-Saraswati Seal
Even in remote areas like the banks of the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar, in the backyard of a Rama-Janaki Temple, You will find such element of animal worship.
Since all living-beings are extensions of God Himself, True Hindus avoid hurting an insect, reptile, bird, animal or even a plant. This is the first step of realizing self-divinity and developing respect for each and every living-species on this planet and as a result, vegetarianism which involves less blood-shed is given a preference over non-vegetarian food.
Even the poisonous serpents or Nagas(Snakes) are recognized as divine species created by lord brahma-  
Vasuki, the youngest of Nagas volunteered to churn the ocean to obtain the Nectar of Immortality but did not touch even a drop of it.
Shesha, the elder brother of vasuki, spends most of his lifetime in the service of Lord Vishnu;  

Lord Vishnu resting on Shesha
Even the Buddhist legends as far away as China and Japan, also mention Eight Dragon-kings derived from the Hindu Nagas - Anavatapta, Takshak,  Sagar ,Vasuki ,Upananda, Balvan , Nanda, and Utpal who attended Buddha's discourse on the Lotus Sutra.  

Eight Dragon Kings (Guardians)

Hinduism is basically an amalgamation of cultures, ideas, traditions etc. So, if a group of Hindus believe that a certain thing should be worshipped and the other majority group agrees to it, then it becomes the part for the religion. For Example, hundreds of years back, there was no temple on Sai Baba. But After sai baba died, his followers who saw the magical powers of sai baba or who were blessed by sai baba, opened various temple of him all across India and portrayed him as the incarnation of some god. As a result, Sai baba today is revered and worshipped by all Hindus.

Sai Baba  

Similarly, many Hindus see the divine spark of the supreme creator in some of the animals and hence, worship that animal. Now, when they do so, they are actually not worshipping animal, but they are worshipping the divine spark of the supreme god they see in that animal.
Hinduism religious scriptures say that after thousand of rebirth in animal body, a soul gets the body of man. Our scriptures also say that god created animals before man. In a certain sense, animals are our ancestors and the same is also validated by science. So, how come worshipping your ancestors makes you a pagan given the fact that your first ancestor is the supreme creator (God).
Plants take in carbon dioxide and give us oxygen. It also gives food, wood, shelter etc. In short, without plants, not a single life can survives on earth. On the contrary, if all the humans die, other living beings will still co-exist as long as the plants exist. Doesn’t this mean that plants is one of the supreme creations of nature and hence, should be more revered than anything else?  
Hinduism also believes that the God is omnipresent and is present in each living beings of this universe including plants and animals. Almost all the deities in Hinduism have animals as their mode of transport (vehicle) or are associated with animals.  
For example, if we take the Holy Trinity, Brahma travels on a humongous swan Hamsa, Lord Shiva on the Divine Bull Nandi and Lord Vishnu travels on the Golden-Eagle Garuda

Lord Vishnu on Garuda (eagle)

Lord brahma on hamsa(swan)

Lord shiva on nandi(Bull)
Shiva is always identified with snakes because he has snake around his neck as shown above.  

Similarly, we find various gods/goddesses associated with different birds and animals that enhance or signify one or the other qualities of the supreme divinity. For example:
  1)    Ganesha, God of wisdom riding Mushak (Rat), the symbol of Ignorance;
2)    Lord Shiva's bull represents virilit and strength;  
3)    Kartikeya/Murugan, rides Parvani, splendid peacock reigning its vanity;
4)    Ganga, rides a Alligator(makar) signifying the most dominant species of its waters;
5)    Lakshmi, the Goddess of Fortune has an Owl as her vehicle to remind people of using wealth wisely.
6)    Surya's chariot is pulled by seven steeds (Horses)
7)    Shani-deva represses the thieving tendencies symbolized by a Raven or Kak;

Lord Surya (Sun) on his seven horses.
Similarly, Kaushik Muni is associated with the Heron, Saraswati rides a swan, Chandra rides an antelope, and Lord Dattatreya is always surrounded by cute little doggies  
Although these animals are not a direct extension of the god in some spiritual form or anything, still they are part of that god's personality and in a way, resemble that god identity. So, worship is in the same mentality as praying to a statue of the god.  Animal worship is merely symbolism, and nothing else. I mean, cows will be cows and bulls will be bulls and they cannot replace the real deity
Also, Namaste and bowing down essentially doesn’t means worshipping. Another meaning of Namaste is giving respect. So, Hindus are just respecting all such animals and not really worshipping them.
Now let us see some more associations between animals and God
Out of the ten incarnations of lord Vishnu, first four are animal forms signifying evolution.  

First Avatar- Matsya Avatar of Lord Vishnu

Second Avatar- Kurma Avatar of Lord Vishnu

Third Avatar-Varaha Avatar of lord vishnu

Forth Avstar- Narsingh with Prahlad on his lap
Also, Seventh Avatar of Lord Vishnu-Rama developed a close relationship with various animals and Half- Humanoid species. The Vanaras(
an extinct race of intelligent Half-Monkey) especially Hanuman and Sugriv became his close allies. Birds like Jatayu and Sampaati and bear-men like Jambavant were irreplaceable in his search for Sita.

Bears and Apes helped Lord Rama get Lady Sita back to Ayodhya
Hanuman was the ideal devotee of ram and so, was blessed with immortality by lord ram. So, when any Hindus worships hanuman, then followers of other faith says Hindus worships monkeys. But in reality, Hindus worships the quality and bhakti of lord hanuman.

Lord Krishna was also an animal lover. He was the favorite of cows and adored them with great care. Lord Krishna was a cow herder and is shown as grazing cows or eating products of Cow (Butter).He grew up learning the traits of a cowherd and therefore exhibited deep love and affection to the animals around Him.

Nand baba and Yashoda maiya's Kanha with his cow
Krishna's all childhood pranks had animals in one form or another. As a kid, He would steal butter from his or neighbors houses and distribute it to all the monkeys around.

Makhan-chor(Butter-Thief) Krishna with his monkeys
When Angered Lord Indra Flooded mother earth to submerge Vrindavan (Krishna Town), Krishna lifted Mount Govardhan to keep all his animals and friends safe.

Pleasant music of his flute mesmerized not only human-beings but the entire flora and fauna of Vraja and Vrindavan area. The trees gave bigger fruits, flowers blossomed everywhere, cows produced more milk, crops yielded healthier crops and everyone was at peace with their environment.

  Krishna's flute mesmerized every living-soul
In Mahabharat there is an incident where in the middle of fierce battle, Krishna told Arjun that He would stop their chariot to rest his horses.
He asked Arjun to Create an enclosure with his arrows so that he could take care of the horses and revitalize them before continuing with the war again. This was the level of affection and compassion showed to us by the Lord and this is what everyone should imitate in their lives.

If we follow the above mentioned concepts in practice and abandon the killing of all animals just for our taste and greed, it can make this world a much better place to live in
Thus, this is the way; the ancient’s sages and gurus brought even the lowest of life forms worthy of reverence and therefore protection.
Winding Up the article by quoting Father of the nation (Mahatma Gandhi) Words:
Mahatma Gandhi said, "One can measure the greatness of a nation and its moral progress by the way it treats its animals.”
As always, a small poem to summarize and conclude
Animal worship is very ancient tradition
Followed by almost every old religion
Proof you found all across the globe
Adoring creation of the supreme lord
Before humans, Animals were created first
Refraining from killing animals is a must
Hindus don't worship any snakes or monkey
But Worship Gods inner divinity they see
Lord is present in every plant and animal
So, deities use animal as their vehicle  
Animals resembles Deities unique identity
Enhancing their beauty and personality
Lord ram made Animals his close allies
Love all creatures was his only advice
Lord Krishna was a great animal lover
Daily gave all monkeys stolen butter  
Krishna flute mesmerized every soul
Cows, deers etc. everyone he cajole
Such was lord love and compassion
Animals or humans, god loves everyone
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