Why do Indians Worship Animals, feed them

Junagarh Fort Bikaner. Pigeons collect for daily feed. Pic by S Nayyar
  • This article tells you why Indians worship and feed animals.

Food is a basic need for all living creatures. Be it the meek ant or the mighty lion, king of the jungle, every living creature needs food for their survival.


No wonder human beings welcome each other into our homes with food. We share whatever little or more we have with the ones we love and care for. And sometimes we share food with strangers, especially when the person is hungry or poor.  


The act of feeding is more than just an act of charity. It is considered a sukarma to feed the poor.


But it is not just fellow humans that we enjoy sharing food with. Feeding animals is probably an innate human instinct. We love feeding animals, be it animals in the zoo or pigeons. We enjoy when monkeys accept snacks and smile when they indicate yeah dil mange more.


In India most animals are considered sacred. They are treated with respect and are fed out of love and devotion.


In fact some rituals in Hindu tradition involve feeding birds and animals. An example is the ritual of Pitri Paksha that is performed to pay respect to one’s ancestors. Here it is not just the act of feeding which matters. People performing the ritual of Pitri Paksha wait for the crows to accept their offerings without which it is believed that the soul of ancestors are unhappy.


Throughout my India travels seen people feeding pigeons with grains, within and outside temples. This is essentially a Hindu and Jain tradition. My neighbor has a plate in the balcony that has bowls for grains and water.  


So why do we feed pigeons?


Some believe it brings good luck, others feed on instructions of their astrologer to counter negative karmas for e.g., “If the Mercury in the horoscope is sitting in an ominous location, then feed birds, grains and water on the verandah of your home or outside your home.” 1                             


Indophile E.M.Forster says, "Indians believe that birds, animals and human beings – as indeed everything else – are an integral part of divinity. This is the central belief of all Indian religious and cultural thought and thus, all forms of life must be respected equally. Thus human beings and elephants, horses, cattle and birds like the mynah, the peacock, the parrot and the koel are woven into many fables and religious treatises. Water creatures like the crocodile, the turtle and fish are considered sacred and are associated with sacred rivers like the Ganga and Yamuna. India’s belief that animals, birds and sea creatures are sacred is a dominant and beautiful aspect of Indian culture for millenniums. They are earthly and spiritual companions of human beings and thus equal sharers of the world and its resources.” 3

According to Hindu tradition most God and Goddess have animals associated with them for e.g. Karthika’s is peacock and Vishnu’s is Garuda. Here are reasons why the following animals are worshipped.  


Cow - is the best example of a selfless creature. It provides us more than what it takes. Hence called Gaumata, which gives it a meaning of mother.


According to Hindu tradition the cow is associated Sri Krishna and Aditi, the mother of Gods. Devotees feed cows to ward off the ill effects of planetary positions based on one’s horoscope. ‘People, who are facing delay in marriage due to the inauspicious effect of this planet in their birthplace house, must feed fodder to the cow and the elephant.’ 1


The cow helps in many ways because of which its importance has increased for e.g. India has used cow-dung as medicine for centuries. In a village near Bhuj, Kutch saw cow dung being used as manure. It is cheap and eco-friendly.


Read Benefits of Cow Dung as medicine.


In Kutch, traditional homes or Bhungas covered with cow dung to keep homes warm during the winter. Ditto in villages around Barmer & Jodhpur. “Cylindrical shaped mud walls helps protecting from direct sunrays and hence keep the home cool from inside in the summer. And the cow dung helps resisting the cold during winters.”


To see pictures of traditional homes, Bhungas, Kutch


Elephant - Ganesha is known as one with an elephant’s head. He is also known as Vinayaka and widely worshipped across India and Southeast Asia.


To see pictures of Ganesha pratima in different countries


It is in south India that the elephant is most revered. All important temples have a few elephants of their own. They are seen on festive occasions. Elephants are intrinsic to the celebrations of the Thrissur Pooram festival in Kerala. During the festival saw elephants being worshipped by devotees. The pavement was filled with food, payasam (sweet pudding), bananas etc for elephants. Elephants are decorated with ornaments during, an amazing sight to see displayed ornaments.


To see pictures of Elephants Ornaments during Thrissur Pooram


Fruits kept by devotees for elephants. Thrissur Pooram 2014. Pic S Nayyar.


Rat - it is primarily the vehicle (or Vaahana) of Ganesha.


“Ganesha sits on a rat, the rat is symbolic of an animal that is active in the darkness of the night who sniffs out food by smelling its way around the darkness. Smell in Sanskrit is translated as Vasna which in Sanskrit also means negative mental traits. Thus vasna has a dual meaning, i.e. it symbolizes our negative traits that dominate when ignorance (or darkness) exists.”

“When Ganesha sits on a rat it means use wisdom and intelligence to trounce and master all the negative mental attributes or vasnas, that take you into the darkness of ignorance and the resultant suffering that comes due to this ignorance.”

Read the Deeper Symbolic meaning of Ganesha


Karni Mata Mandir near Bikaner is the only temple where rats are worshipped. Devotees have prasad that was nibbled at by rats. If you see a white rat it is considered auspicious. During my visit was told that inspite of so many rats the town was never hit by plague.


To see pictures of Karni Mata Mandir


Crow - The crow is the vehicle of the Hindu god Shani, who is considered the bringer of bad luck. Crows are considered to be the link between the dead and the living. In fact, the belief is that our ancestors come in the form of crows.


This is the reason, as I mentioned before, it is considered to be part of the Pitra Paksha ritual. When the crow flies down & eats the offering we make in the ritual, it is believed our ancestors are happy.


Dog - Bhairava is the guardian to Shivji’s abode. The dog is considered to be Bhairava’s Vaahana.  Yama is the God of death. It is said that Yama’s abode is guarded by four dogs with four eyes. In some temples like in Gandgapur dogs are allowed to enter the temple. They are also allowed at the Dattatreya Mandir ie at Kalo Dungar Kutch.


“It is believed that offering chapatis to black dogs on Saturday ends the problems of Rahu, Ketu and Saturn.” 1


Ants - Though it is a very tiny creature, it is known for its hard work. To ward off the ill effects of Rahu, one should feed sugar and flour balls to ants. If you feed ants your wishes and desires might be fulfilled.


Snake - Nagaraja is the masculine form of a snake i.e. worshipped widely across India. Lord Shiva is depicted with a Nag (snake) around his neck. Lord Vishnu performs Yoga Nidra on the serpent Adishesha.


Nag Panchami is a festival dedicated to snakes. During this festival, snakes are offered milk. Snakes are associated with rebirth as they shed their skin and are “reborn”. Worshipping them is said to bring wealth and knowledge.


Fish – feeding fish in Sringeri is an offering to Matsya, the first avatar of Vishnu. “If the moon is giving an inauspicious effect, then its effect can be reversed by feed dough balls to sea creatures, like fishes and tortoise.” 1


Senior journalist & author Vimla Patilji wrote, “Apart from these major religious animal and bird symbols, Indians believe several birds and animals to be messengers of good luck. When a koel begins her song, romantic poetry is written to welcome the flowering of springtime. Her passionate cry heralds the much-awaited fragrant mango season. Parrots are used in literature as messengers of romance between lovers. Snakes are worshipped as holders of the earth’s treasures and symbols of fertility. The graceful swan represents the soul and its spiritual freedom.” 3


Also read

1 Astrological remedies, animals and birds can lower the negative effects of planets

2 Cow Dung Capitalism – milking the holy cow

3 Animals in Indian culture create an inclusive universe

Receive Site Updates