Sacred Animals of India
A historian and environmentalist based in Chennai, Nanditha Krishna is the director of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation and founder-director of its constituents-C.P. Art Centre, C.P.R. Institute of Indological Research, Saraswati Kendra Learning Centre for Children, C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre and the Kanchi Heritage House and Museum of Folk Art, besides three schools and a women’s college. Her published works include The Art and Iconography of Vishnu-Narayana, The Arts and Crafts of Tamilnadu, Ganesha - The Auspisious…The Beginning, Balaji Venkateshwara-Lord and Tirumala-Tirupati, The Book of Vishnu, The Book of Demons, Madras-Chennai…Its History and Environment and Painted Manuscripts of the Saraswati Mahal Library, Tanjore, as well numerous research papers and newspaper articles. She is a professor and a research guide for the PhD programme of the University of Madras and has received several prestigious national and international awards.
‘Sacred Animals of India’ was planned for the Asia for Animals Conference held in January 2007 at Chennai. However, when I began researching the subject, I discovered a wealth of material that was impossible to ignore. So I decided to cover the subject in greater depth.
This book was first published as a limited edition by C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre (CPREEC), for release during the National Conference on the Environment and Indian History held at Chennai in January 2008. it has been expanded to include many more myths and legends involving animals, and rewritten for a more general readership.
My love for animals was instilled in me by my late father, A.R. Jagannathan, a wildlife enthusiast who took me to so many national parks and sanctuaries that I became an avid environmentalist. He was an ardent Hanuman devotee, while my late Ganesha-worshipping mother Shakunthala Jaganathan and I jointly wrote a book Ganesha - The Auspicious…The Beginning (Vakils, Feffer and Simons Ltd) in 1992. The seed for this book was probably sown long ago by my parents.
None of this would have been possible without the interest and involvement of Ravi Singh and Udayan Mitra of Penguin, who encouraged me to complete the book quickly, and Archana Shankar, my editor. Thank you. Ravi, Udayan and Archana.
Several people helped me in so many ways: M. Amirthalingam assisted me right through my research, especially in finding the correct names for each animal in various languages. Dr. T. Sundaramurthi and P. Sudhakar of C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre, Chennai, and Dr. A. Raman of Orange University, Australia, gave the zoological information and ecological role of each animal. G. Balaji searched for illustrations in the private collection of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation and H. Manikandan kept track of all the materials. My husband Dr. S. Chinny Krishna, who is also the chairman of the Blue Cross of India, updated me on animal welfare issues in India. He also read. Re-read, questioned and edited the book. My sincere thanks to all of them.
Once we decided to illustrate this book with drawings, Y. Venkatesh went through the ardous task of sketching each figure. It was a difficult task to make elaborate pictures of Ganesha and Gajalakshmi into simple sketches, but he did it, I believe, very successfully.
Every animal is introduced with the myths and legends that establish its religious status, followed by a short note on the ecological or social role of the animal, which made it important in people’s lives. the problems of its survival and treatment in today’s world have also been covered.
I have tried to provide the Hindi, Tamil and Sanskrit names for each animal and/or the local name in the state where it is specially revered, for many animals are restricted to specific geographic areas.
An appendix on Sacred Animals and Animal Divinities of Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt has been included. While all ancient civilizations and India require special emphasis. Further, although they may be of greater antiquity than the Indian examples, they have been restricted to an appendix so that they do not divert attention from the main topic of the book.
This book is dedicated to the many dogs and one cat who gave me so much love and companionship over the years, and to the many animals who have suffered and continue to suffer at human hands-bullocks pulling overloaded carts, cattle and goats trucked or walked for days without food or water, animals fattened and killed agonizingly to provide man with a plate of rich food, wildlife hunted from fast-moving vehicles with technically sophisticated weapons….the list is endless. May they find peace in their future lives.
This book does not whitewash the problems faced by animals. Rather, it is a timely reminder of traditions that once gave animals protection from human inhumanity. India had a rich heritage of respect for all life forms. This respect has been destroyed, without being replaced by anything similar or better. Unless we protect our wildlife from hunting and extinction, and our domestic animals from cruelty, we are not fit to call ourselves educated, or even a people who inherited the great legacy of ahimsa or non-violence.
Back of the Book
Belief in the sanctity of animals originated from ideas of karma and the transmigration of souls-thus an ant or a tiger could be one’s past or future identity.
Sacred Animals of India draws on the ancient religious traditions of India-Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism-to explore the customs and practices that engendered the veneration of animals in India.
Animals are worshipped in India as deities, as, for instance, the elephant-god Ganesha and the monkey-god Hanuman, or as the fish, tortoise and boar-forms or avatars that Vishnu is believed to have taken on earth. Some species, such as the swan, bull, lion and tiger, regarded as vahanas-vehicles of deities-developed sanctity by association. Others, such as the snake, are worshipped out of fear. Birds such as the crow are associated with the abode of the dead, or the souls of ancestors, while the cow’s sanctity may derive from its economic value.
There are also hero-animals, such as the vanaras, and animals that were totemic symbols of tribes that were assimilated into Vedic Hinduism.
This book also examines the traditions that gave animals in India protection, and is a reminder of the role of animal species in the earth’s biodiversity.
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