If you believe in God then you should automatically assume that everything he has created is divine and worthy of worship. You cannot accept and reject his creations – love a human, hate a snake, love a dog but eat a cow, pig or goat, filter your water yet toss filthy chemicals into rivers. If God is omnipresent then he /she is in all of them. This is such a simple concept but the people who go to temples, dargahs and churches so rarely understand it that it needs to be repeated again and again.
All the primal religions that worship the earth and all the beings on it, have slowly been forced into retreat. The only major ones left are Hinduism/Buddhism/Jainism and these have retreated from most of Asia to parts of our subcontinent where they are being destroyed by politicians who see gentle cultures as embarrassments.
I fear that much of Hinduism’s all encompassing wisdom which is filtered through mythology will be lost. All the wonderful tales that exist in the villages are receding from memory.
For me, the stories that involve the sentience of animals and their partnerships with man, even the regular changes of animal into man and vice versa, show how deeply Hinduism set out to prove the sameness, the oneness, of all beings. Animals appear in Hindu mythology as protectors, gods, companions, vehicles and devotees.
I have written about Shiva. But it is Vishnu the preserver who comes most frequently in different avatars to re-establish dharma or righteousness and destroy injustice.
In the first four of his ten avatars Vishnu is the fish, the tortoise, the boar and the lion.
The first of the ten forms is Matsya,the fish. Vishnu transformed himself into a fish to request King Satyavrata or Manu to build a huge boat and take on board the seven sages, the seed plants, and animals of each type to save them from the huge flood predicted to happen in seven days. The ship was towed by Matsya to Mt. Himavan and kept there, till the flood was over. This story has its parallel in all the religions with Manu as Noah/ Adam.
As the divine fish Matsya fought the demon Hayagriva who stole the Vedas when Brahma was asleep. Matsya tore him apart and collected the lost Vedas.
The second avatar of Vishnu is Kurma, the tortoise. While the earth was still under the oceans the Gods lost their immortality. Durvasas , one of the 7 rishis, was insulted by Indra the leader of the Gods. He cursed the gods to lose their power and the asuras or demons took advantage of this to rule. The Gods went to Vishnu to beg help. Vishnu told them to churn the ocean to procure amrita (ambrosia), which would make them strong and immortal. Ever practical, he also told them to make an alliance with the asuras
Vishnu became a tortoise. He dived to the bottom of the ocean and brought up the mountain Mandara on his back. Mandara, held in place by Vishnu, became the churning stick and the churning rope was Vasuki the king of snakes. The vessel with the ambrosia appeared and the gods outwitted the asuras to drink it and regain their powers.
The world is still under the vast oceans when the third avatara of Vishnu appears. The demon Hiranyaksha had imprisoned the earth under the waters. In order to rescue her, Vishnu took the form of a boar, Varaha, and dived into the ocean waters. He killed Hiranyaksha, gouged the earth out of the ocean bed and carried her above the water on his tusks. Varaha the boar mapped the earth’s geography, sculpted the mountains and valleys, divided the seven continents. The Varaha Avatar, like Matsya and Kurma Avatar, for me, means that the animals were here long before us. We are here because they made the earth. It also means that God can take any form to come to your rescue. True religious teaching means giving the essential education that each creature is a manifestation of God.
The massive Boar sculpture of Khajuraho carved out of a single piece of yellow sandstone says it all. The Boar carries more than 675 miniature figures on its body, the Hindu pantheon, the seven Mothers, the seven sages, the eight Guardians of Space, the nine planetary divinities, the river goddesses, the seas, the Rudras, the different forms of Vishnu and the Earth Goddess.
In his fourth avatar, Vishnu becomes the man- lion Narasimha. The King of demons Hiranyakashyapu was granted a boon that he could not be killed by man or beast, day or night , neither inside or outside, on earth or in sky. He declared himself God and forbade all other worship. His son Prahlada refused to stop the worship of Vishnu. Enraged, he asked Prahlad one evening to show him Vishnu. Prahlad answered, "He is everywhere". Hiranyakasyapu knocked down a pillar, and mockingly asked if Vishnu were present there. Vishnu emerged as half lion, half man from the pillar, and carrying him to the doorway threshold, put him on his thigh and killed him with his claws.
Do we respect any of Vishnu’s incarnations?
India ranks third in worldwide fish production. Fish have the largest number of pain receptors of all creatures. Yet we catch them in their millions every day, impale, crush, suffocate and gut them while they are fully conscious. Dolphins, turtles, sharks and other animals are caught along with the target fish and they are hurt and thrown dying overboard. 90% of our fish population has been killed , our coral reefs are damaged so the fish nurseries are almost gone, the rivers are poisoned so most fish have disappeared there as well. Now the government has mandated that fish should be grown in village ponds and fed human feces before being killed and sold. Small fish become zoo animals in tiny aquariums leading short miserable lives
Indian tortoises are sold to eat and trapped as pets. Trucks of stacked turtles are sent to Bengal and Kerala. Their stomachs are slit open and blood sold as aphrodisiacs. It takes them days to die. Socialites buy the small tent turtles for ‘good luck" and feed them lettuce till they die of hunger, All species are now critically endangered. More than 1 lakh Olive Ridley turtles have been killed in the last three years in Orissa.
The boar, creator of the world, is hunted even now on the excuse that it damages crops. It is shot, stabbed and snared. Its meat is eaten and pickled. Its hair is sold for bristles. There are such few boars now that your children will probably never see them. I don’t think you have ever seen one either. Its cousin the pig is reared in inhumane pig factories and cut into pieces while still alive. Pigs on the street are trussed and held underfoot while their hair is yanked out. Their humanlike screams go unheard.
There are 300 lions left in a tiny forest in Gujarat called Gir. They are under attack from villagers, miners and poachers. 30 were killed last year, supposedly from falling into open wells – a nonsensical story put out by forest guards. Severely inbred and chafing in these small spaces, they will not survive the next 20 years.
How can temples, prayers and agarbattis persuade Vishnu to maintain the earth? That is why it is dying.
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