Animals have always fascinated us as humans and we all feel at least some connection to at least one type of animal. In india, animal worship is widely practiced, animals have always been linked to the divine. Hindus believe that most gods have an animal as a symbol of themselves and their connection to it. For example, Shiva is always identified with snakes because he has snakes all around his body. He is also seen with his companion bull, Nandi. Ganesh is represented by the mouse and Krishna is always seen as the cow herder so naturally, cow. Although these animals are not a direct extension of the god in some spiritual form or anything, they are part of that god’s personality. When people want to pay homage to a god, not necessarily worship, they can usually do it to the animal. The devotion is in the same mentality as praying to a statue of the god. It’s merely symbolism, more then anything. I mean, we all know that cows will be cows and bulls will be bulls and they can not replace the real deity. Also, what’s more important then worshiping these animals is the behavior and the lifestyle of the individual. This is also another reflection of the piety of the devotee.
Animal worship is not uniquely Hindu. In fact, many of the world religions regard animals in a spiritual sense. The ancient Egyptians were notorious for animal worship, going as far as having priests with heads of animals. The Native Americans in particular were deeply attached to their animals, especially the buffalo, and other animals of nature. They considered them brothers and sisters and often referred to them in that context. Hindus do not go as far as getting possessed by animal spirits as some religions did but the feeling of affection and connection still remains. Also, another perspective that remains very strong is that the cow is also seen as a mother to Hindus. I say this because cows give milk and since milk is used for a variety of purposes, the animal is very sustaining. It gives a lot so naturally Hindus feel very close to it. It has been this way since long ago when the number of cows you had usually was an indicator of your wealth as well.
Therefore, animal worship is really not unique to Hindus but is unique in it’s symbolism and significance. So, next time you see an Indian cow, maybe you will understand why it has such significance.
~ John Silver