When lord Krishna plays the flute, the world dances in a complete trance, so my mother says.
Even the animals cannot help but sway and move with divine pleasure. Among all the animals, his favourite is the cow. If you look at the pictures of the lord with his instrument, a mesmerised cow is always there leaning on him with her eyes closed. When you shift your gaze to other gods (and goddesses), you can observe that each and every deity has an animal or two in his/her entourage.
All animals are treated as totems, and have significant roles and interpretations that are linked to the existence of the deities themselves.
My mother is a good storyteller.
She tells of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, the Ganesh Puran and the Devi Puran. Nandi, the bull, is the epitome of loyalty and strength. He is the vehicle of Lord Shiva. Goddess Durga, the symbol of of strength, tramples on all evil while her lion’s roar makes the demons tremble. Goddesses Saraswati, the bestow-er of knowledge seeks her wisdom through the grit of her owl.
Throughout time, animals have played a major role in our mythology. Hinduism has been very kind to animals. Whether it is praising their strength, wisdom, loyalty and guile or worshiping them for what they symbolise, all of our holy books mention the animals with respect and awe.
The fundamental thinking of this religion, thereby, is to embed its philosophy of compassion and mutual respect in everyday life. This level of compassion incorporates humans and animals alike. It comes as a huge disappointment for me when I see such compassion being so limited.
Throughout time, animals have played a major role in our mythology. Hinduism has been kind to animals. Whether by praising their strength, wisdom, loyalty and guile or by worshiping them for what they symbolise, our holy books respect animals.
Take for instance the fierce yet compassionate God of annihilation, the Bhairava. He is accompanied by a dog who is considered to be the guard to the gate of heaven.
According to local lore, when you get to the gate of heaven, the dog will decide whether you can enter or not. This is one of the main reasons along with the indispensable traits of a dog that every year on Tihar, we worship these faithful animals with so much importance.
For the rest of the year though most of the dogs are chained and caged. Street dogs are kicked and starved and lead despaired lives.
I have seen cars running over these dogs without stopping to help. I have seen dogs battered with sticks and iron rods left to die, some morbidly attacked with acid and boiling water and others ignored, abandoned and in plain words, betrayed.
We have held elephants captive, while we worship Lord Ganesh, the elephant God whose head is said to have once belonged to the Aerawat, the elephant of Indra. Elephants are thereby considered to be sacred and are worshiped physically and symbolically in many cultures around the world.
In Nepal though, wild elephants are being limited to specific areas due to encroachment of their habitat. Also, every year, a number of people come in conflict with wild elephants when these animals come to feed on local produce of maize and home made raksi or alcohol.
These settlements fall on the migration route of the elephants.
Elephants are kept captive by private owners, resorts and government. The government uses these elephants for the purpose of data collection and research while resort owners have elephant rides as the major source of income. Besides the small number of elephants protected under the recent chain free project by Carol Buckley, most captive elephants are chained when they are not working.
Most of the elephants have tuberculosis and are worked even when they are old and in many cases sick. The training they receive is not humane, there is no retirement facilities and most importantly no protocol for their welfare.
One of the most inhumane treatments is meted out to the donkey. Donkeys have been ridiculed and called names for a long time now. Shitala Devi, one of the incarnation of Goddess Durga and worshiped during Navaratri is the medicinal goddess who cures the diseases of mortals. The donkey is her vehicle.
The essence of our faith that revolves around love and compassion cannot be found anywhere. By worshiping few animals once a year, and then being completely apathetic towards them for the rest of the year doesn’t bring auspiciousness. It rather contradicts our whole belief system.
Every year hundreds of donkeys make their way to Kathmandu from the plains. Their destination is the brick factories, where they are worked till death. Most of the donkeys develop back sores and spinal injuries but as they are investments, it is made sure that maximum benefit is extracted for them. There has been considerable change brought by few organizations working for their welfare but the overall state of donkeys is excruciating and heart breaking.
These is only a prelude to what actually goes on in Nepal.
Monkeys are trapped in mini zoos, tigers killed for their beautiful skin, snakes are defanged and subjected to slow death, vultures are poisoned. We have failed.
We have forgotten the roots of our faith and religion. Hinduism followed by a majority of Nepali people has turned into utter hypocrisy.
This makes me cringe when I see people with vermilion on their forehead singing chants and praises of deities, spending money and time to organize huge gatherings and services. At the same time, the essence of our faith that revolves around love and compassion cannot be found anywhere.
By worshiping few animals once a year and being completely apathetic rest of the year doesn’t bring auspiciousness but rather contradicts the whole belief system. By preaching stories and rigidly following rituals doesn’t make you a Hindu if you do not have respect for all living beings especially when so many of them are vividly mentioned in the same scriptures being followed.
We still have time to understand and realise the importance and majesty of the animals who surround us. The whole concept of coexistence and compassionate can actually change the way the world is becoming, ruthless and indifferent.
So the next time when you come across a street dog, a goat, an elephant, or any other animal, try to find the same soul in their eyes that is in us. That will make us or anyone the true children of the almighty, no matter the religion you follow.
Or else in the land of Pashupatinath (the lord and protector of all creatures), no good will turn out from the chant, “Shri Pashupati nathle haami Sabai ko raksha garun.”
(Shrestha is an animal right activist based in Kathmandu. Views are personal.)
Opening image: Aama by Saipal/Flickr