The vahana or vehicles of Hindu gods have mostly been animals. The variations of the vehicles are often seen with purposes behind each of them. It is interesting how each of them has its significance and meaning.
One of these vehicles is a Dog but which Hindu God rides on it? The Hindu deity Kala Bhairava’s vehicle is a dog. He is one of the eight attendants on Lord Shiva and also at times is thought of as one of his aspects. He is popularly worshipped among the Tantrikas and is also worshipped in Vajrayana Buddhism as Heruka Bhairava or Yamāntaka. His idol is located in mostly the Shiva temples.
He characterizes the damaging aspect of nature and also has the unfavourable innate in human psychology. The name of this deity is derived from bhīru which means to be fearful and also, he is the one who damages psychological anxiety and fear which is said to be one of the biggest hurdles to the spiritual path.
Furthermore, based on the principle which says that who one worships he becomes the ones who are naturally anxious, fearful and lack self-esteem are suggested to perform upāsana or worship him and in that way bring upon his nature into their character through the process of self-identification.
The reason for a dog being his vehicle is because dogs are popularly known for their bravery in protecting their masters. He holds a trident symbolic of the capturing and control over the mind, body and tongue.
Also, he is seen playing with a snake which shows the overcoming of fear, the mace portrays the overpowering of opposition, challenges and antagonists. Another deity linked intimately with dogs is Dattatreya who is a merged deity of the trinity of Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva.
Significance of the Dog in the Hindu mythology
The animal has been stated to as ‘Shvan’ in most of the Vedic verses and also has a deep meaning in Hindu mythology. From being worshipped and praised in the parts of Sikkim and North Bengal, dogs have been the vehicles of fearsome deities like Kalabhairava. They are also believed to be protectors of the gates of heaven and hell. The ancient Hindu religion symbolism says that dogs have always been linked with various forms of Lord Shiva who is the God of anguish and the eternal ascetic. Even Lord Dattatreya is linked with four dogs, which represent the four Vedas.
Sarama is the female dog, who is considered as the mother of all dogs. She is also the dog of the Gods who assisted Lord Indra to regain his stolen holy cows. Some ancient beliefs also say that black dogs are the rebirth of the fearsome god, Bhairava. In Mahabharata Yudhistir, pleaded that the dog that shadowed them all through their penance should be given a place in heaven. The name of this dog was Yama who took this form to examine the honesty of Yudhistir who was the oldest Pandava.
The Hindu god of death Yama has four dogs with four eyes protecting his house. At many events’ food offerings are given to dogs while performing certain ceremonies of death. Dogs are believed to have a link between the divine world and human beings on the Earth. According to astrology, humans suffering from the adverse effects of the planets, Rahu and Shani may find some relief when they give food to black dogs. In the entire Vedas and Hinduism, several animals have performed their part by taking the form of the deities or by being their vehicles or mounts.
Superstitions and beliefs
There are also a few beliefs and superstitions linked with dogs in India among the Hindus. In the country, a few women who have a powerful Mars in their horoscope are wedded to dogs. As shocking as it may sound, there are yet a few areas where people follow all of these superstitions concerning dogs.
The people who have faith in omens, it is said that anybody who takes sight of a dog holding a bone in is his mouth is thought of having a good omen. Also, if your pet dog sneezes when you are leaving your house it is said to be a good omen. These are some of the superstitions and beliefs linked with dogs in Hinduism.
In the sacred temple of Gandgapur in the state of Maharashtra, wherein Lord Dattatreya lives, dogs are not constrained from entering and staying inside the temple. Similarly, just like dogs’ humans too guard their emotional and material territories. Considering this part of dogs can give deep insights into our behavioral limitations.
Customs and traditions followed earlier
In the Vaidik dharma if the Brahmin even sees a dog it is believed to be impure. Shvana is referred to as death although there are gods like Dattatreya, Kala Bhairava, and also the divine gods of swarga or heaven. The Sarama is also found as the most faithful and honest animal. In the rig Vedic stories, Panis who is an asura or demon steals livestock of the heaven or svarga. After which Lord Indra sends a bird but the bird ends up cheating on him by telling that Panis does not have cows and then Sarama who is also the mother of Dogs and wolves goes to Panis and battles with them honestly.
This represents their vitality in progress and their role in guarding cattle. Dogs were used to hunt for protection and find ways. Hunting is believed to be a sin as per the Brahmanas. But the dogs were used by the Kings. The Dharma Sutras believe that the dogs are impure.
Although some of the religions and people across the globe consume dog meat according to Hinduism, it is considered as a sin and an impure activity. In India also because to colonialism dog meat is banned but the beef was not banned because of the British rule back then.
The primary reason for considering dogs to be impure is because they have meat and are carnivorous are mostly not seen as the pet animals for Brahmanas. And further also because they are linked with death. When a dog howls it is believed to be a bad omen. The Sarama is the mother of all the Dogs and she resides in Svarga but her son is related to Yamraj. He is the King of hell and Hindus believe it is not Lucifer or satan. He is also a god and deserves respect.
Even Dattatreya is linked with dogs. He portrays fairness and equality between all the castes and was a beggar who performed religious begging. He is respected as one of the mighty Guru of the Brahmanas. The Brahmanas do not keep dogs as their pets. Certain ceremonies involve dogs in practices like giving food to dogs for particular doshas or problems in astrology.
The other deity related is kalabhairava. He is not very popularly known amongst the Brahmanas and is mainly worshipped by non-brahmins or the lower castes and tribes. Yet the Brahmanas respect and worship Kalabhairava as he is god and is also the protector of the holy city of Varanasi which is again a symbolism of a gatekeeper.
However, in today’s culture, most of the people do not follow these customs and traditions. And treat animals with humanity and the utmost respect.