By Maneka Gandhi
India was not always this cruel. Inspite of the culture of animal
sacrifice and ritual hunts by tribals, it was, by and large, a peaceful country where people lived together with animals and respected their lives. All this has changed in the last 50 years. Now animals are either a nuisance, or a commodity, and hurting them is no longer something one thinks about. What can you say about a country whose government says, happily, that 52% of our exports are meat, fish and leather. And close on their heels are eggs.
Till a few decades ago, most villages and communities had a gramadev: a god or goddess who looked after the area, had his/her own little temple and was regularly prayed to. Many of them represented, or looked after, animals and so did the villagers.
Bhramari is the goddess of bees and wasps who cling to her body. An avatar of Durga, She is mentioned in the Devi Bhagvata Purana. Her main temples are in Trisrota, Jalpaiguri and in Nashik.
Arunasura meditated for thousands of years to Brahma. For the first ten thousand years, he lived by ingesting only dry leaves; for the second, he lived by drinking only drops of water; and, for the third, he lived by inhaling air alone. For the fourth ten thousand years, he did not consume anything. Light emitted from his body and began to burn the whole world. Lord Brahma appeared and granted him his wish: protection from all two or four-legged creatures. Thinking himself invincible, Arunasura assembled an army of asuras to vanquish the gods. Indra trembled with fear and went with the Gods to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Arunasura took the moon, the sun and then attacked the abode of the gods, Mount Kailash. Shiva brought his army but was unable to defeat him. He called out to Parvati, and the Shakti grew tall, wielding a mace, trident, long sword and shield, in her four hands. She closed her three eyes in concentration, summoning forth six legged creatures – bees, hornets, wasps, termites and spiders from the skies. They emanated from her as Bhramari Devi and both destroyed the asuras. They attacked Arunasura and ripped open each part of his body.
Scorpions are worshipped from time immemorial: seals with Scorpion images are discovered in Indus Valley, heaven is called ‘scorpion world’ (puth Thel Ulaku) in Tamil. In Urvasi, or Peacock Island, in the Brahmaputra River in Guwahati, the Devi in the Umananda temple is represented by a scorpion.
In Kandakoor village in Yadgir, Karnataka, the villagers celebrate Nagapanchami as Chelina Jatre (festival of the scorpion). The villagers worship the scorpion goddess Kondammai and play with live scorpions as well. Interestingly, there have been no cases of people being stung by these scorpions. People come from nearby districts, and the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, to be a part of this religious ceremony. Milk, coconut oil and sarees are offered to the Scorpion Goddess.
Chelamma is a Scorpion Goddess of southern Karnataka. Followers believe that by praying at the Chelamma shrine a person will be guarded from scorpion bites. She is the goddess of the Kolaramma temple in Kolar. There is an ancient Hundi which is carved down into the ground and people have been putting coins into it for the last 1,000 years.
Gogaji, also known as Jahar Veer Gogga, Gugga Vir, Gugga Rana, is a folk warrior-hero deity venerated as a ‘snake-god’ worshipped in the villages of Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Haryana and Jammu.
According to legend, Goga was born with the blessings of Guru Gorakhnath and was called Goga ji because of his service to cows. It is believed that he lived in the 12th Century and his kingdom was called Bagad Dedga, near Ganganagar. He was a member of the Chauhan clan.
Goga protects his followers from snakes, poisons and other evils. Although a Hindu, he has many Muslim devotees. His shrine is a one-room building with a minaret on each corner and a grave inside, marked by a bamboo stick with peacock plumes, a coconut, some coloured threads and a blue flag on the top.
His symbol, a black snake, is painted on a wall. Fairs are held at Gogamedi in Hanumangarh, Rajasthan. It is a common sight to see people with snakes lying around their necks. According to folklore in and around his birthplace, Dadrewa, it is believed that if someone picks up even a stick from Johra (a barren land which has a sacred pond in Dadrewa), it turns into a snake.
In the Punjab region, Guggaji is worshiped in shrines known as marris. The shrines can range from ant holes to structures that resemble a Sikh Gurdwara, or a Mosque. People bring food offerings and also leave them in places where snakes reside.
Nagnachiya Ma, the snake goddess, is the Kuldevi of the Rathore Rajput clan. Her upper half is a woman and her lower half is a snake. Her main temple is in village Nagana near Jodhpur. She was originally established by Rao Dhuhad under a Neem tree, which makes that tree also holy for the Rathores. She is also worshipped in Khakharechi in Gujarat, where the Rathores built a lake. In all villages where Rathores live, they have a shrine of Nagnachiya Mata.
Manasa Devi, the folk goddess of snakes, is worshipped, mainly in Bengal and north-eastern India, for the prevention and cure of snakebite, smallpox and chicken pox, and for fertility and prosperity. She is also known as Vishahara (the destroyer of poison), Nitya (eternal) and Padmavati.
Originally a tribal goddess, Manasa was accepted in the Hindu pantheon by the 14th century. Manasa is depicted as a woman covered with snakes, sitting on a lotus or a snake. Her canopy is the hoods of seven cobras. Sometimes she is depicted with a child on her lap. She is often called “the one-eyed goddess” and, among the Hajong tribe of northeastern India, she is called Kani Diya? (Blind Goddess).
The Puranas are the first scriptures to speak about her birth. Once, when serpents and reptiles had created chaos on the Earth, Kashyapa created the Goddess Manasa from his mind (mana). Brahma made her the presiding deity of snakes and reptiles. In other myths, she is the daughter of Sage Kashyapa and Kadru, the mother of all Nagas. Myths glorified her by describing that she saved Shiva after he drank the poison, and venerated her as the “remover of poison”.
Generally, Manasa is worshipped without an image. A branch of a tree, an earthen pot, or an earthen snake image is worshipped as the Goddess. In North Bengal, her shrine is found in the courtyard of almost every agrarian household.
Manasa is also worshipped in Assam, and a kind of Oja-Pali (musical folk theatre) is dedicated to her. Manasa is ceremonially worshipped on Nag Panchami – a festival of snake worship in the Hindu month of Shravan (July–August). Bengali women observe a fast on this day and offer milk at snake holes. In South India, people worship her at the Manasa Devi Temple in Mukkamala, West Godavari, Andhra Pradesh.
Bagalamukhi is a crane-headed Goddess in Hindu legend. Bagala controls black magic, poisons and disguised forms of death. She rules over the perception that makes us feel, at a distance, the death or misery of those we know. She incites men to torture one another. She revels in suffering. She wears yellow and her left hand carries torture instruments, while the right hand holds the tongues of adversaries. Her hair hang freely about her back and shoulders, and her tiara is sealed with a crescent moon, two small golden cranes, while a large white crane with outspread wings rests upon the crown of her head.
Her legend relates how an asura named Madan, ‘The Seducer’, once gained the boon of omniscient speech, whereby everything he said came to pass. Intoxicated with this power, Madan began to use it to defeat all his opponents. The gods petitioned Bagalamukhi. Seizing Madan by his tongue, she paralysed his power of speech. She is often evoked to win lawsuits, to gain power, to render opponents speechless, to block or paralyse enemies, and to increase eloquence, memory, and knowledge.
The main temple of Bagalamukhi is located in the Newar city of Patan, in the Kangra Valley, and in Datiya in Madhya Pradesh.
Airy, whose eyes are on his head, is the Gramdeva of Kumaon and the protector of animals. His two attendants, Sau and Bhau, ride on dogs. His main temple is Byandhura, Champawat.
Chaumu is worshipped as the protector of animals in the Jhulaghat-Pancheshwar region. Bells and milk are offered. His main temples are in Chaupakhia in Pithoragarh, and Chamdeval in Champawat.
There are hundreds more. If you know of any do send the details to me.
(To join the animal welfare movement contact email@example.com, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)