In Hinduism, you can find a God for everything; from love to wealth, strength to wisdom, there is no shortage of Gods who represent these qualities. Many of us might have heard of the term before that Hindus have over 33 million gods.
Even though it’s not entirely true as there’re not that many gods exist in Hinduism, the sheer number of deities in the entire Hindu pantheon is not small either. No wonder, in this vast sea of Gods and Goddesses, there are also Gods that are depicted in animal forms.
Animals are as much a part of nature as humans, so rejecting the idea that God cannot take on animal form would be foolish. Ultimately, all Hindus believe that there is only one supreme god who doesn’t have any form. It is actually we, the devotees, who imagine and depict the supreme god in various forms just to connect with it on a personal level.
Why Do Hindus Worship Animal Gods?
Many religions around the world, particularly the Abrahamic religions, find idol worshiping very strange, especially when it involves an animal god. To them, it is seen as a symbol of primitive culture, similar to paganism. However, in Hinduism animals have long played a significant role, both spiritually and economically.
Even in ancient times during the vedic period, the knowledge of animals (Pasu Vidya) has been considered an important subject of study. Thus, in the core practices of Hinduism, animal abuse is strongly prohibited. You may expect this given that India is home to the vast majority of the world’s vegetarians.
Maybe it is the only country where people genuinely acknowledge the importance of animals in the transmigration of souls since they facilitate ritual worship by serving as the source of sacrificial offerings such as milk, butter, ghee etc.
However, not all animals enjoy the same status. Elephants, horses, cows, bulls, boars, tigers, and lions are among those animals that’s deemed sacred and spiritually advanced.
Narashima – Avatar Of Vishnu
Lord Narashima is Lord Vishnu’s fourth and most opulent avatar among the Dashavatar. According to the Hindu texts, the objective of this violent avatar of Vishnu was to defeat Hiranyakashipu, the most fearsome demon of the time, and rescue Prahlada from his clutches.
Prahlada was, in fact, the demonic Hiranyakashipu’s son. However, despite being a demon by birth, Prahlada did not have any demonic traits; instead, he was the most ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu.
His father, Hiranyakashipu was so enraged by his son’s absolute devotion to Lord Vishnu that he vowed to kill him. However, when he was about to murder Prahlada, the avatar of Lord Narasimha appeared in front of him and killed him.
In this avatar, Vishnu incarnated himself in the body of a half-man and half-lion. In Hindu mythology, Narashima is believed to be the lord who protects the purest devotees from evil. He is also regarded as a symbol of great power and strength.
Hayagriva – Avatar Of Vishnu
Hayagriva is the horse-headed avatar of Lord Vishnu. He is primarily known and worshiped as the god of knowledge and wisdom. Like many incarnations of Vishnu, this avatar was also not born from a mother’s womb; instead he manifested himself in this form.
His detailed mention can be found in the Skanda Purana, where he is shown with four human arms, one for bestowing knowledge, another for holding the vedas (or, books of wisdom), and the other two for holding a conch and discus. This particular avatar of Lord Vishnu symbolizes the triumph of pure knowledge over demonic forces of lust and darkness.
According to puranas, a demon named Hayagriva once stole all of the Vedas and their knowledge.The demon was a hybrid of human and horse, meaning he had the body of a man and the head of a horse.
He had a boon from Lord Brahma that no one could defeat him except one of his kind. In other words, the demon could only be defeated by another Hayagriva. Therefore, Lord Vishnu finally took the avatar of Hayagriva upon the repeated requests of other gods and deities and killed the demon.
People in the Shatka tradition worship this avatar of Hayagriva ever since for its speed, strength, and intelligence.
Garuda – The King Of All Birds
Garuda is a hindu mythological bird creature best known as the vahana of lord Vishnu. His earliest mention can be found in the Rig Veda, which was composed in approximately around the second millennium BCE.
This particular god is believed to be the king of all birds, and its presence can be found in the culture of other southeast asian countries as well, like Indonesia, Myanmar etc. Even Indonesia’s airline is named after this god, Garuda Airlines.
According to the texts, this bird creature has the body of a man and the head of an eagle and wings. Hindu believe that Garuda represents birth and heaven. He is the son of Kashyapa who was a great sage of that time, and the younger brother of Aruna. Aruna was the charioteer of lord Surya, the sun god.
Garuda had a body of golden color, with a white face and red wings. According to the legends, he was born hungry and accidentally swallowed a brahmin of a higher class, whom he was forbidden to touch. However, as soon as he realized his mistake, he spit him out.
AdiShesha – The King Of All Snakes
Adishesha (also known as Shesha Naga) is a Hindu mythological creature who serves as the divine bed for Lord Vishnu. This large, five-hooded snake is also quite popular as the king of all Naga races and one of the primal beings of the cosmic creation. It holds an important position in the entire hindu mythology, and its influence can be seen in arts, culture, and literature as well.
The meaning of the word “AdiShesha” is very fascinating. It is made up of two words: “Adi” and “Shesha”. Literally, it means – who is eternal and remains even when all else ceases to exist. Lord Vishnu is frequently depicted in puranas as resting on this enormous large snake.
Adishesha is, therefore, known as the eternal devotee and companion of Lord Vishnu (aka, Narayana), helping him complete the purpose of his incarnations on earth. Lakhsmana is mentioned in the Ramayana as the incarnation of Adishesha, who assisted Lord Rama in establishing the Dharma and restoring prosperity to the land of great India.
Similarly, in the Mahabharata, Balarama is also described as the avatar of Adishesha, helping Lord Krishna restore the Dharma in society. According to ancient Hindu texts, Adishesha is the one who carries the entire universe and its planets on his hood.
Matsya – The First Avatar Of Vishnu
Matsya is the very first avatar among the dashavatara of Lord Vishnu, who incarnated to save the earth and its living beings from destruction. In this avatar, Vishnu took the form of a giant fish and helped Manu rescue other living beings on earth during the great flood.
According to the legends, once upon a time, a holy man named Manu discovered a small fish while bathing in a river. He found that other big fish were attacking a small fish. Seeing this, he brought the fish to his home and kept it in a water jar. But on the next day, the little fish had outgrown the jar and were struggling to move.
Manu then releases the fish into a pond, and the process repeats itself the next day. He found the fish had outgrown the pond too. He then understood the divinity of the fish and released it into the ocean.
The next day, when Manu went to check on the fish, he saw the small fish had grown again to a humongous size. Later, upon request of Manu, the fish revealed his identity as the Lord Vishnu and explained why he had incarnated in this Matsya (fish) body.