According to the ancient sacred texts of India, everything in the universe is created by one infinite, divine consciousness known as Brahman. Consequently, Hindus see divinity in all living creatures, including animals. In fact, in Indian cosmology, each deity is associated with a particular animal or bird that serves as a vahana or vehicle, transporting the gods and goddesses wherever they need to go. For example, Saraswati’s vahana is a beautiful, graceful peacock, emblematic of her role as the goddess of beauty and the arts.
Ganesha, a distinctive god with a large elephant’s head and a corpulent human body, rides on a mouse, which can gnaw through all barriers. The mouse also extends Ganesha’s powers because it can slide into crevices too tiny for Ganesha to enter. Together the elephant deity and his vahana ensure that obstacles of all sizes can be removed.
In Hindu tradition, all of the animals and birds that transport the deities play an essential role. Without their vahanas, the gods and goddesses would be unable to carry out their missions. Durga the warrior, for instance, couldn’t have destroyed the demon Mahishasura without the help of her lion vahana, Manasthala. And Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and good fortune, relies on Uluka the owl to carry her wherever she disperses her material and spiritual riches.
Clearly, there is a close relationship between the deities and their animal vahanas, who are deeply revered by practioners of the Hindu faith. However, it’s important to keep in mind that despite the popular misconception, Hindus don’t worship a variety of gods and goddesses or their animal companions, and Hinduism isn’t a polytheistic faith.
As mentioned above, Brahman is considered the one divine Being responsible for all creation and manifestation. The individual deities simply represent particular aspects of the one consciousness, such as beauty, valor, wisdom, and strength. Since it’s difficult to meditate or focus on such abstract qualities, the deities provide an image or form that people can more easily visualize and hold in their mind. Whether in the form of deities or flesh-and-blood beings, animals and birds are greatly respected as aspects of the infinite god Brahman.
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