Friday 26 April 2013

Carriers of Gods- vahanas

What is the common factor across almost every, if not every Shiva temple of India? Which one common element, or factor would you find across all of these temples, be it in any nook or corner of the country?
Before someone starts contemplating the various symbolism of Mahadev, what if I add that the same common element is present in almost every Goddess Laxmi temple across the Indian subcontinent? That the same element is also present in almost every Ganesha temple, Saraswati temple, Durga temple, Vishnu Temple...

The common factor binding all the deities, the factor with which they are quite inseparable, and shall I say incomplete in their imagery, is their carriers, the Vahanas of Gods.

Barring a few Hindu deities, most of the major ones are always shown riding their Vahanas, their carriers. Such is the complete imagery of God-Vahana pairing, the Vahana becomes completely entwined with the God, and though seldom talked about, they become a compulsary part of every temple of that particular deity. Such is the strong relationship between them, that at times when analyzing the attributes of a deity, the Vahanas that the deity rides in turn become an indivisible part of those attributes.

As per legends, it is believed, that if you need your message to reach across to the Lord you are offering your prayers to, just speak it into the ears of the Vahana, and your message will be delivered.

Ever wondered, what made these particular deities choose these specific Vahanas. Or for the realists, what made the ancient Vedic men assign those particular Vahanas to the specific deities?  Time to have a closer look at one of the lesser thought about and even lesser talked about part of our daily worship.

The Shiva Family: Who better to start with than the entire Shiva family. The Shiva family is indeed unique in a way, for if you consider all members to be living somewhere in Kailash, and Kartikeya(who as per many texts, lives in Mount Krouncha) visits his parents and siblings, then the Shiva-ganas would be witnessing a mystical combination of a lion, a bull, a peacock, a rat and a snake(though not a Vahana) living together at one place. The combination is indeed unique, as it signifies peaceful co-existence and harmony between archetypal enemies, symbolic of the powerful and lordly attribute of the Shiva family.

Shiva and Nandi: Symbolically, Nandi represents strength, faith and consistency in belief. Unlike other Vahanas, Nandi is the only one, who is even worshipped separately as a complete divine figure. The divinity of Nandi finds its traces even in Indus Valley Civilization, dairy farming being the chief occupation then and Nandi being given a supreme position. Nandi is considered a guard or a protector of all Shiva temples, the reason why he is placed outside the temple. Scientifically, the divinity of Nandi is resplendent of intuition and instinct, thus it is said that one should look at Shiva from in between Nandi's horns, when one can view the Lord maximizing one's instinctive abilities.

Durga and Dawon: Shakti represents the complete cosmic energy, and Durga is known to be the complete embodiment of Shakti, symbolizing not only the cosmic energy but being the mother of all beings in world and beyond. The lion, Dawon was gifted to Parvati, the calmer aspect of Durga, by her father, Himalaya. The lion represents ferocity and aggression, attributing to Durga's form. Interestingly. the roar of Dawon is said to be another voice of Durga, which is the proclamation of silence, forcing one to listen.

On another interesting note, the white haired Dawon represents day, while the black Nandi represents night, them representing Shiva-Shakti embodiment of the entire creation.

Ganesha and Mooshika: The name Mooshika is derived from Sanskrit term Moosh, which means to rob or to steal. Rat, being a notorious creature, robs people of food and clothes. Symbolically, human mind is akin to a rat, the mind being wavering and selfish. Ganesha sitting on a mouse depicts all such thoughts being crushed if a devotee surrenders himself to him. A mouse sitting still near Ganesha's feet denote him to be able to guide your thoughts to absolute serenity.

Kartikeya and Parvani: As per legends, Kartikeya who defeated Tarakasura in a heavenly battle was about to kill him when he asked for forgiveness. Kartikeya transformed the demon to Parvani, a peacock and made it his Vahana. Peacock, is known to be the nemesis of snakes, a symbol for ego in ancient times, Kartikey's Vahana thus symbolizing him as the destructor of ego.

Vishnu and Garuda: An eagle like creature, with a shiny golden body, red wings a sharp eagle's beak and a human body. Another Vahana, after Nandi, who is given a special place in Indian mythology. As per legends, during the legendary Samudra Manthan, when Amrit was churned out, Vishnu handed the pitcher(Kumbh) to Garuda to fly it over to heavens. The four places where the nectar fell, viz. Allahabad, Haridwar, Nashik and Ujjain, now we celebrate the Kumbh Mela after every 3 years at each place. The emblem of Thailand, interestingly, has an image of Garuda in the center, symbolizing divine power and authority.

Lakshmi and Uluka:  Owls are known to be associate with auspiciousness and good wealth. Further, owls are known for their penetrating sights and sharp sense. Also known as Pechaka in some parts of the country, Uluka, the owl at times is not even considered as the Vahana of Lakshmi. A few ancient texts suggest Uluka to be representing Lakshmi's twin sister, Alakshmi, who represents everything opposite of what Lakshmi stands for. In a bid to defame her, they started depicting her as an owl.

And thats not even half done. The more I write the more there is left unexplored, as always. The swan of Sarasvati, the horses of Sun, the elephant Airavat of Indra, the buffalo of Yamraj, each having its specific set of symbolism and attributes remaining to be explored, uncovered, the list is endless. Why each of the individual deity was attributed to their respective carriers, and why were these carriers not chosen for the other deities, perhaps has got something to do with the individual attributes of those deities. Like, Vishnu has always been attributed with heavenly attributes, unlike Shiva who has more of earthly attributes, so Garuda has wings that can even cover the sun, while Nandi is more of an earthly creature. Similarly, Indra is the king of devas, hence his carrier is an elephant, and a ferocious lion for Durga, unlike a swan for Sarasvati who is much calmer.

I would like to end the post as of now, and would like to know what did you think about it.
Coming up with a book based on Indian history/mythology.
Please join the Facebook page and invite others as well to do the same.
Please help me promote the book and the page and make it a huge success.

Please click here and like the page which comes up - Finders, Keepers

 If you are on Facebook and are interested in such topics, please click on the link below and like the page which comes up.Khoj-In Search of Lost Signs


  1. Vahana and their association with the God in our ancient history are seldom talked about but yes, it's an interesting take on their it at surface we find divinity in all living god is for all,
    and taking to the deeper level, it means a lot more of the world , it's functioning and what it stands for.

    1. Someone told me how Greek mythology also places animals at a higher position, and the symbolism has got to do with how we should respect each and every living being equally.

      Surprisingly, where Greek mythology is now related more with Satanic worship, in India, the symbolism hit the target perfectly

  2. Replies
    1. Namaste Kiran
      Thanks a lot for the appreciation. Do keep reading the blogs