Sunday, 14 November 2010

Animals in Hinduism: Animal gods, Sacred Cows and Reincarnation.

"Avoiding harm to all creatures... this is true knowledge. All else is ignorance."
Hinduism contains a wide diversity of traditions, making it difficult to speak of a single religion common to all Hindus; nevertheless, there are many unique conceptions of animals in Hinduism, ranging from animal gods  to Sacred Cows and to the system of Reincarnation.
Animal gods
Many Hindu gods are represented as animals. Foremost among these include perhaps the two most famous gods of the entire Hindu pantheon; Ganesh, with an elephant's head and Hanuman as a monkey.
The following two videos show how Hindus worship Ganesh and Hanuman through devotional sayings known as Mantras. The third video is a cartoon for children describing how Ganesh came into existence:

Hindus thus have a great regard for animals. Many of the gods’ divine “make-up” resembles animal shapes; yet, there is no specific reason as to why Ganesh has the head of an elephant for example, it could just as easily have been a human head. In fact, as the cartoon shows, the head previously belonged to a demon!

Sacred Cows

No discussion about Hinduism and animals can afford to ignore the role of the cow. Cows are considered to be sacred; their blessings are invoked and it is illegal to kill a cow in India.

For this reason, many Hindus are vegetarian and cows are referred to as “mothers of the earth.” 

The cow is so significant, that recently, a Hindu Nationalist Group revealed that they were developing cow urine as a new soft drink.

But cows can also be left to their own devices, as the next video shows:

Hindus believe that souls can be re-born as humans, animals and plants, depending on how past lives were lived.  All species; therefore, have souls, but in order to achieve liberation, animals must reincarnate into human beings, for liberation is only possible for humans.

For more on this, click here.

It seems to me that the connection between animals and Hinduism is, in some cases, a very strong one; animals are not just seen as purposeless aspects of creation, but possess souls just as humans do.

However, this connection is controlled by humans. There is no specific, animal-intrinsic reason as to why some gods are portrayed as animals, and in order to be liberated, animals must cease to be animals and becoming something else; a human being.

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