When we think of dogs, we often picture them as loyal companions or perhaps even skilled working animals. But did you know that in Hinduism, dogs are more than just pets? They are revered as sacred creatures with a deep spiritual significance. From their association with Lord Yama, the god of death, to their role in protecting ancient sages and their writings, the history of dogs in Hinduism is rich and fascinating.
#1. Watch Dogs of Yamaraja, the god of death
According to Rig Veda and Atharveda, the entrance to Yamaraj’s palace is guarded by two fierce dogs named Sharvara and Shyama. In order to be judged by Yama, the deceased must first get past these two dogs. They are known as Mithudrsa, which means that they do not have the ability to see at the same time.
The Yamasukta section of the Rigveda first mentions these dogs, describing them as the offspring of Sharama, the mother of all dogs. The departed souls are instructed to pass beyond the two four-eyed dogs with spots to join their pitrs. In the Atharvaveda, the dogs are depicted as the messengers of Yama, tasked with seeking out those who are destined to die. Sharvara and Shyama guarding the entrance to Yamaraj’s palace teaches us that even in death, we must face obstacles and challenges before we can be judged.
#2. Hunter God Muthappan
Sree Muthappan, a Hindu god worshiped in Kerala, is believed to be a manifestation of two prominent Hindu gods – Thiruvappan or Valiya Muttapan, who is associated with Vishnu, and Vellatom or Cheriya Muttapan, who is linked with Shiva. One of the distinguishing features of Sree Muthappan is his close association with dogs. In fact, dogs are held in high regard at the temple, and they can be seen in large numbers in and around the temple premises.
The entrance of the Muthappan temples have two bronze, which are believed to serve as the bodyguards of the deity. Interestingly, before serving the prasad (sacred food) to devotees, it is first offered to a dog that resides inside the temple complex.
There is an interesting story of how the Sri Muthappan regard dogs of utmost value. The incident took place in Parassininkadava Muthappan temple.
Once the temple authorities decided to reduce the number of dogs inside the temple, so they took some dogs and puppies away. It is said that from that very day, the performer of the Sree Muthappan Theyyam, a traditional dance form associated with the deity, was unable to perform. This is because it is believed that the spirit of Sree Muthappan enters the performer’s body during the ceremony, and he refused to enter the performer’s body because the dogs had been removed. Realizing their mistake, the temple authorities brought the dogs back, and the Theyyam performances returned to normal. (Source)
#3. Shvan: The Vahana of Bhairava
Lord Bhairava, a Hindu deity, is often depicted adorned with various twisted serpents serving as his earrings, bracelets, anklets, and sacred thread, known as yajnopavita. He wears a tiger skin and a ceremonial apron made from human bones. Bhairava has a vahana dog named Shvan. Bhairava is the one of the most fierce god of Hinduism and his Vahana Shvan adds more this feature.
Shvan is a black dog with a fierce and aggressive appearance, symbolizing Bhairava’s strength and power. Shvan is also sometimes shown with his tongue sticking out, signifying his loyalty and devotion to Bhairava. In some representations, Shvan is depicted with three heads, which are said to represent the three aspects of time – past, present, and future.
#4. Dog who followed Yudhisthira
Svargarohana Parva is the last chapter (book) of Hindu epic Mahabharat. Their journey to heaven started after the Kurukshetra war, in which the Pandavas emerged victorious, they decided to renounce their kingdom and live a life of penance. Yudhisthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, along with his brothers and wife, embarked on a journey towards the Himalayas. During the journey, a dog started following them and remained with them throughout the journey.
The journey was arduous, and one by one, Yudhisthira’s brothers and wife fell down and died. However, the dog remained with Yudhisthira till the end. When Yudhisthira reached the gates of heaven, he was informed that the dog could not accompany him as it was not worthy of entering heaven. But Yudhisthira refused to enter without the dog, saying that it had been his loyal companion throughout the journey, and he could not abandon it now.
Impressed by Yudhisthira’s sense of loyalty, the gods revealed that the dog was none other than Yamaraja, the god of righteousness, who had taken the form of a dog to test Yudhisthira’s devotion to righteousness. Yudhisthira was then allowed to enter heaven, along with the dog, who was restored to its original form as Dharma.
This incident highlights the importance of loyalty and righteousness in Hinduism and teaches us to treat all living beings with respect and compassion. The dog’s journey to heaven with Yudhisthira is considered a great example of how even animals can display qualities of devotion, loyalty, and righteousness, and how they deserve to be treated with kindness and love.
#5. Dattatreya’s 4 dogs
Dattatreya is an embodiment of the Hindu deities, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesha. He is often depicted in the company of dogs, who symbolize the Vedas. The portrayal of the four dogs moving around the Lord is only a superficial interpretation of their significance. Dogs are a powerful symbol in the Veda, representing the ability to listen keenly and attune to the subtle realms. They possess a superior sense of hearing compared to humans and remain attentive to even the faintest of sounds.
In esoteric practices, the art of listening is considered crucial, as it enables the student to develop clairaudience and ultimately attune to the Voice of the Silence. This process is associated with Anahata, the center of heart, where one can receive and perceive subtle sounds transmitted through the ether. Therefore, to cultivate the faculty of listening and attuning to the subtle realms is an essential aspect of spiritual development.
#6. Festival of Dogs (Kukur Tihar)
Not only Hindu community believe on just knowing the dogs are supreme, they also worship them every year. The festival is commonly celebrated in Nepal, Sikkim and west Bengal but other countries like Mexico and London adopting and promoting the celebration of Dog.
Tihar, a festival that occurs annually in October or November, is a time when dogs are given special reverence. This includes bathing and decorating them with tilaka, a paste made from kumkuma or gulal powders mixed with rice and yoghurt. They are adorned with flower garlands and presented with food such as meat, milk, eggs, and dog food.
Not only are household dogs honored during this festival, but police dogs and stray dogs as well. Kukur Tihar, a specific day during Tihar, is especially dedicated to celebrating the bond between humans and dogs. It is considered highly sinful to treat a dog disrespectfully on this occasion.
#7. Lord Khandova
Worshiped mainly in the Deccan plateau of India, particularly in Maharashtra, Khandoba (also known as Martanda Bhairava, Malhari, or Malhar) is a revered Hindu deity, a manifestation of Shiva. He holds great significance as the most popular Kuladevata (family deity) in Maharashtra. Khandoba is commonly depicted as a warrior mounted on a horse along with his wives and one or more dogs.
His faithful dog is believed to be incarnation of Nandi. In a well-known representation of Khandoba, Khandoba’s wife Mhalsa is seen sitting in front of Khandoba on his white horse. Mhalsa is shown piercing a demon’s chest with a spear, while a dog bites his thigh and the horse strikes his head.
#8. Lord Rama giving justice to Dog
There is the story of Lord Rama providing justice to a dog in Valmiki’s Ramayana Uttara Khandha between chapters 59-60. This story was enunciated by Jaggi Vasudev regarding steadfastness of purpose. Sri Ram, the just king, devoted a significant portion of his time to presiding over open courts to settle disputes and dispense justice in his kingdom.
One day, a dog made a surprising appearance in the court, seeking justice. The dog recounted how it had been eating food on the street when it was suddenly assaulted by a saint wielding a stick, causing it great pain. Seeking justice, the dog had come to Sri Ram’s court to make its case.
Sri Rama summoned the saint and demanded an explanation for his heinous act. The saint, who had been begging for food every day and was hungry, said he had been unable to resist the sight of the dog enjoying food while people had been complaining about stray dogs. Sri Ram refused to pass judgment, saying he could not understand a dog’s feelings, and suggested that the dog should decide the saint’s punishment.
To everyone’s surprise, the dog promptly came up with a punishment for the saint – to be made the head of a nearby Kalinjar monastery for five years. Sri Rama was surprised, and the dog explained that in its previous life, it had been the head of the same monastery, and the power and fame had corrupted it, leading it to commit various selfish and dishonest acts.
When the saint had kicked the dog, it had felt like it was receiving the consequences of its past misdeeds. There could be no greater punishment for the saint than to serve as the head of the same monastery as he will punish himself out of anger and pride.
#9. Sarama, Goddess of the Dogs
Sarama is the goddess of the dogs (Devasuni) who is also mother of gatekeeper dogs of Yama’s palace. In Rig Veda (1.62.3), there is a story of group of Asuras, known as Panis, who stole the cattle that were being tended by the Angirasas – who were the ancestors of mankind and the sons of the sage Angiras. The Panis concealed the cows in a cave, but thanks to Sarama’s help, Indra was able to recover them. Sarama is said to have discovered the cows “by the path of truth,” as she followed the tracks of the thieves.
#10. Lord Rudra: the master of dogs
The Hindu Gods like Rudra, Nirrita and Veerabhadra are associated to dogs. The name ‘Rudra’ means to ‘to roar or howl’ in Sanskrit. The word ‘Shvapati’ often used to describe Rudra, the god of stroms and healings, means ‘masters of dog’.
#11. Nirriti and Sarama’s friendship
Sarama who often acted as the messenger of gods was able to cross over the boundaries between the world of the living and the dead. Nirriti being goddess of deads had a good friendship with Sarama. While Nirriti herself is not typically associated with dogs, Sarama’s association with the goddess acts as her linkage with dogs.
#12. The dogs who followed Veerabhadra
When Lord Shiva created Veerabhadra, he sent him to destroy the Daksha Yagna, a great sacrifice that was being performed by Daksha Prajapati, who was Lord Shiva’s father-in-law. As Veerabhadra approached the sacrificial site, he was accompanied by a pack of dogs who followed him and aided him in his mission. The dogs are said to have been fierce and powerful, and they played an important role in the destruction of the sacrifice.
For centuries, dogs have been an integral part of Hindu culture, serving as loyal companions, protectors, and even divine messengers. But beyond their symbolism, dogs hold a special place in the hearts of Hindus. They are considered to be not just pets, but family members, and their presence is believed to bring blessings and positive energy into the home.
What more we Hindu believe on,
जीवेषु करुणा चापि मैत्री तेषु विधीयताम् ।
Transliteration: jīveṣu karuṇā cāpi maitrī teṣu vidhīyatām ।
English Translation: Be compassionate and friendly to all living beings.
It is not just Dogs are our gods, every creatures on our planet is reflection of Gods and Goddesses for us Hindu. Every animals are more than pets for us. By treating animals and other living beings with kindness and respect, we not only fulfill our duty as human beings but also contribute towards creating a more peaceful and harmonious world. Therefore, let us take inspiration from this verse and strive to live a life filled with compassion, love, and friendliness towards all living beings.