In the history of religion and culture, the concept of god originated right after we human started worshiping various forces of natural phenomena. Such as stars, rain, rivers, and animals. In the pre-vedic time from 2,800 to 1,900 B.C. people from the great India (entire region of ancient Indian-subcontinent) had no such concept of gods or deities either.
They only used to worship these natural forces because of their nurturing qualities. Then as time passed by, the practice of nature-worshiping was slowly discarded.
Instead, they started re-imagining gods as human-like creatures where every part of their body symbolized a unique feature or characteristics of a natural phenomena. That’s why, you could see many types of gods and deities of various qualities and unique features in the entire hindu pantheon.
Some deities have multiple hands, while some have multiple wives, and a few are even depicted as half-human and half-animal beings. In the article, we are going to see some of them who have an animal head in a human body.
Nandi – The Gatekeeper Of Kailash
Nandi is said to be a sacred and divine bull in hindu mythology. The name actually originated from a Tamil word, “Nandhu”. It means to grow, or to flourish. The sanskrit meaning of the word also represents happiness, joy, and satisfaction. According to the Vayu Purana, Nandi is the son of Kasyapa and Surabhi. He is the gatekeeper of mount Kailash, which is recognized as the abode of lord Shiva in hindu beliefs.
Besides being the gatekeeper of mount Kailash, he also plays the role of the “Vahana” (vehicle of gods) and one of the chief attendants of lord Shiva. Almost all Shiva temples throughout India have at least one of his sculpture generally facing the main shrine. You can also find his sculpture in the half-human form at the entrance door of many Shaivite temples in south India.
His sculpture at the entrance of a temple represents the symbol of eternal waiting, as it is considered the greatest virtue of Hinduism. Sadhguru, one of the renowned mystics of India once said – “He is lord Shiva’s closest accomplice as he is the essence of receptivity. Because he is always ready to accept new suggestions or ideas.”
Gadura – The King Of All Birds
Garuda is a mythological character and is often seen with lord Vishnu as his vahana (mount or vehicle of a deity in hinduism). His earliest reference that we have found is in the Rig Veda, which was composed in approximately around the second millennium B.C.E. According to hindu believes, he 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 is often described as the king of all birds and the messenger of lord Vishnu. He had a golden body with a white face and red wings. There are some stories of him saying that he was born hungry and accidentally swallowed a brahmin of a higher class human who he was forbidden to touch. However, when realized the mistake, he quickly spit him out.
Traditionally as described in hindu texts, this bird creature has the body of a man with the head, and wings of an eagle. The color of his entire body was golden, while his face was white and the wings were red.
Hanuman – The Monkey God
Hanuman was first introduced in the epic of Ramayana as the chief commander of the monkey army, and then several times in the Mahabharata. He is mostly worshiped as a demigod of immense power and divine abilities. He is the son of Devi Anjana and Vayu (the primary deity of wind). Because of this, he is also widely known as Vayu Putra or the son of air.
In various texts, he is also mentioned to be the incarnation of lord Shiva who was a perfect exemplification of ultimate strength, devotion, and perseverance. If you analyze his entire life, you’ll find him with all the attributes of a deity, but he willingly never claimed his godly status and always kept calling himself the most faithful and devoted servant of lord Ram. This unique virtue of his personality made him one of the most loved gods among hindus.
Ganesha – The Elephant God
Lord Ganesha is extremely popular as the elephant-headed god around the globe. He is one of the most worshiped and loved deities in the entire hindu pantheon of gods. He is the first son of lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, also the elder brother of lord Karthikeya.
As per popular hindu beliefs, Ganesha is believed to be the god of intellect, and the remover of obstacles. Thus, he is mostly worshiped before the beginning of any auspicious work or during any religious procession or celebration.
According to mythological stories, Goddess Parvati (the wife of Shiva) once created an idol of a human boy out of clay and some turmeric paste. When she breathed life into it using her godly power, the idol came into life. Therefore, Ganesha was not born with an elephant head. Instead, he looked like a regular human being.
Once when appointed to safeguard the entrance of the abode of his mother, he took his job very seriously and did not even let Shiva (the husband of Parvati) enter the room. Outraged Shiva then beheaded him for his impertinence.
However upon request of Parvati, lord Shiva ordered his troops to bring a new head of an animal to bring back that decapitated body of Ganesha alive. Thus, he gained a new head and became the most distinctive of the hindu gods.
Kamadhenu – The Miraculous Cow
During the Vedic era, there was a divine cow mentioned in various hindu scriptures as the mother of all cows, called Kamadhenu. She is also known as Surabhi. Which is loosely translated as “the fragrant one”. She represents abundance and generosity in Hinduism. Becuase she was such a miraculous cow that could provide her owner whatever he desired.
I have included her in the list because unlike the other gods in this article, she had a human head on an animal body. In hindu beliefs, her complexion is more like a white cloud and every part of her body depicts some religious significance. However, being seen her as a goddess, she’s not worshiped independently in a temple or any ritual ceremony.
Instead, she is honored by the veneration of cows. There are many stories in hindu scriptures about the birth of Kamadhenu. While some scholars believe that she emerged from the churning of the cosmic ocean (Samudra-Manthan), others describe her to be the daughter of King Daksha.
Narasimha – The Lion Man
According to hindu mythology, Narasimha is the fourth avatar of lord Vishnu. In this avatar, he was incarnated himself with the body of a man and the head of a lion. Narasimha is also believed to be the symbol of great strength. The story of his incarnation was to kill the most furious demon of that time, called Hiranyakashipu.
Who became the most powerful demon because of a boon granted by lord Brahma. Under arrogance of the boon, he believed that no one could ever kill him. With no fear of death, he declared a full-scale war against all the gods of heaven. However contrary to Hiranya-kashipu, his son Prahlad was a great devotee of lord Vishnu.
The unconditional devotion of Prahlad for Vishnu was making him so angry that one day, he finally decided to kill his own son. However, when he was going to kill his son, the avatar of Narasimha appeared in front of him and put the evil Hiranya-kashipu to death.
Hayagriva – The Horse-necked One
In hinduism, Hayagriva is said to be an avatar of lord Vishnu. He is worshiped and known as the god of knowledge and wisdom. As with other avatars of lord Vishnu, this avatar was also not born from a mother’s womb. Instead, he manifested himself in this half-human and half-animal body. Particularly speaking, this avatar had a human body with a horse head on top.
He also had four arms with one in the mode of bestowing knowledge, another holds books of wisdom (the Vedas), and the other two hold the conch and a discus. Symbolically, this avatar represents the triumph of pure knowledge over the demonic forces of lust and darkness.
The scriptures or manuscripts, where the earliest mention of this avatar was found, can be dated back to 2,000 BCE; So, it proves horses to have been worshiped during the pre-vedic era for their speed, strength, and intelligence.