The World Wildlife Day, observed on March 3rd since 2014, was instituted by the United Nations to raise awareness about world’s wild animals and plants. And, especially those endangered flora and fauna that are disappearing each day, with man’s so called “development” that has erased many a forest cover, making way for concrete jungles.
In Indian ethos, these animals or plants are not referred with the negative connotation ‘wild’, as they are very much part of our ecosystem, who help in maintaining a balance in Nature. The so called wilds, were places of peace in ancient India, where forests were known as Aranya.
Ran, means battle, and A-Ran, or Aranya is a place where there is no battle. Dandakaranya and Naimisharanya are the popular names of forests that come up in our Purana.
Forests are literally places ‘for rest’. They were places of quietude and tranquility, for undertaking a journey into spirit, away from noises of the concrete jungles. The kings who wanted a break from daily activities and battles, always retired to the deep jungles.
In ancient times, the Rishi chose forests for setting up their Ashrama. It is in these ‘wilds’ that the Rishi were able to dwell deep into the spirit and discover the mysteries of Creation.
Rishi Ashrama in Naimisharanya
The so called ‘wild animals’
Forests are a home to more than 80% of terrestrial animals and plants. The so called wild animals like lions, tigers, leopards and cheetahs play an important role in the health and diversity of the ecosystem by keeping in the numbers of wild ungulates in check, maintaining the ratio of the herbivorus and the vegetation that they feed on. All other ‘wild’ animals are part of the food chain. If any one of them disappears, then the whole system is affected.
The Food Chain
Tiger is the national animal of India. Tigers have been admired in this land since many centuries for its royal grace and majesty.
Shiva Parivar and food chain
The interesting case of food chain in our Purana is that of Shiva Parivar, the family of Shiva. Shiva’s Vahana, Bull is food to Parvati’s Vahana, lion and tiger. Ganesha’s Vahana, mouse is food to Shiva’s ornament, the snake, which in turn is food to Karthikeya’s Vahana, the peacock. Thus we see a complete food chain within one family. The family of Shiva also represents harmony in diversity.
Vishnu – Contrast
Similarly, Vishnu’s bed snake is a prey for His Vahana, the eagle.
The connect between eagle and snake can be read in our article – Naga Panchami / Garuda Panchami.
Vishnu, Adi Shesha and Garuda
Revered in this land
Most of the ‘wild’ animals are revered in this land, as Vahana, Vehicle and adornments of the Divinities.The English word vehicle has its root in Samskrt word Vahana.
Lion and tiger are Vahana of Devi Durga, Parvati. Swan is the Vahana of Devi Sarasvati. Mouse is the Vahana of Lord Ganesha. Elephant is the Vahana of Lord Indra. Antelope is the Vahana of Lord Chandra. Owl is the Vahana of Avala Lakshmi. And, Lord Yama has a wild buffalo as his Vahana.
Goddess Durga on a tiger Lord Shiva with snake as his ornament
Lord Vishnu on his snake bed
Lord Ganesha travelling on a mouse Lord Indra on his vehicle elephant
Lord Yama on his Vahana, Buffalo
Thus, in the Indian thought, every aspect of Creation is suffused with divinity and is to be revered and venerated.
Our Purana, mention about many zoomorphic creatures. Narasimha, an avatar of Vishnu has the form of a man lion. Varaha, another avatar of Vishnu has a boar head. The Matsya and Kurma avatars of Vishnu also have animal forms.
Hayagriva, one more avatar of Vishnu has a horse head with the limbs and trunk of a man, and who represents knowledge. Ashvini devas, are two twin divinities, who also have horse heads, and are representative of the science of medicine.
One horse – 3 representations
Hayagriva, one more avatar of Vishnu has a horse head with the limbs and trunk of a man, and who represents knowledge.
Ashvini devas, are two twin divinities, who also have horse heads, and are representative of the science of medicine.
The Ashvini twins
Among other avatars of Vishnu, Kalki, who is yet to come, is depicted as seated on a horse. This symbol of Kalki gives us the message that excessive power and speed lead to destruction.
The Wild nature of Man
Unfortunately, these animals are being killed every day for sport and also for their teeth, fur and other body parts for commercial purposes. Their numbers are dwindling with each day. The habitats of these animals have also being taken over and destroyed in the name of development, bringing to fore the wild nature of humans.
If urgent steps are not taken to save our fauna, then many of them may well become extinct in the coming years. This will affect the whole food chain, as also humans. Man should desist from interfering with the lives of these animals and their habitat, the forests, as only this will augur well for his own survival in the coming years.