Hindu Gods and VahanaPart 1
Let's talk about what makes up the 33 million Gods described in the ancient scriptures of Hinduism. Why Hindus worship so many gods and goddesses is a real mystery for most people. The interesting thing is that one culture can see this as fiction while most Hindus, without a second thought, can walk into a temple with multiple deities, bow down and offer prayer and worship with devotion treating that deity as much like a person as you and me.
Vahana or a mount, is an animal closely associated with a particular deity in Hinduism. Sometimes the deity is seen riding on the animal; other times, the animal is depicted at the deity's side in some other way. The goddess or god may be seen sitting or on, the animal. Although the concepts are not precisely the same, similarities may be found in the religious associations of Hindu vehicle animals to animal totems and familiars in non-Hindu belief systems.
In Hindu iconography, positive aspects of the vehicle are often emblematic of the deity that it carries. Nandi the bull, vehicle of Shiva, represents strength and virility. Parvani the peacock, vehicle of Skanda, represents splendor and majesty. The swan, mount of Saraswati, represents wisdom, grace and beauty.
However, the vehicle, animal also symbolizes the evil forces over which the deity dominates. Mounted on Parvani, Skanda reins in the peacock's vanity. Seated on Mushika, Ganesh crushes useless thoughts, which multiply like rats in the dark. Shani, protector of property, has a raven or crow in which he represses thieving tendencies. Under Shani's influence, the raven can make even malevolent events bring hope.
It has been suggested that the animal vehicles of the Hindu pantheon, which are clearly subservient to the gods they carry, but may also have divine powers of their own, or a divine history of their own as in the Nataraja, represent a triumphant conflation of Hindu gods with less powerful local gods, syncretizing their mythos as their territories began to overlap.
The Hindu tradition also says that every human being has the task of, and the destiny of, becoming the vahana of God.
The vahana and deity to which they support are in a reciprocal relationship. Vahana serve and are served in turn by those who engage them.
The supreme consciousness is beyond human comprehension, and we are only able to absorb various aspects, which have been represented as different deities, statues and other representations of these gods and goddesses are referred to as rupas, the sanskrit word for form, which are meditation aids and channels, that allow us to relate and communicate with the supreme consciousness.
Each rupa, or meditation aid, has various attributes and a specific vahana, that identifies specific aspects of supreme consciousness. These vahanas are very much like totem animals in other cultures, and the human forms probably evolved over time from each vahana. Most of the gods and goddesses have benevolent and malevolent representations, this apparent duality, is actually an illusion, the vahana and attributes will help you identify the various forms with a specific deity, god or goddess. The older Vedic gods and goddesses usually represent the elements and other aspects of the phenomenal world.
Here are some myths behind some vahanas:-
While Ganesh was still a child, a giant mouse began to terrorize all his friends. Ganesh trapped him with his lasso and made him his mount. Mushika was originally a gandharva, or celestial musician. After absent mindedly walking over the feet of a rishi (wise man) named Vamadeva, Mushika was cursed and transformed into a mouse. However, after the rishi recovered his temper, he promised Mushika that one day, the gods themselves would bow down before him. This came to pass, when Mushika's path crossed Ganesh's.
Before becoming the vehicle of Shiva, Nandi was a deity called Nandikeshvara, lord of joy and master of music and dance. Then, without warning, his name and his functions were transferred to the aspect of Shiva known as the deity Nataraja. From half-man, half-bull, he became simply a bull. Since that time, he has watched over each of Shiva's temples, always looking towards him.
Murugan, the first form of Skanda in Southern India, is also mounted on a peacock. This peacock was originally a demon called Surapadma. After provoking Murugan in combat, the demon repented at the moment his lance descended upon him. He took the form of a tree and began to pray. The tree was cut in two. From one half, Murugan pulled a rooster, which he made his emblem, and from the other, a peacock, which he made his mount.
Vahanas serve and are served in turn by those who engage them. Many vahanas may also have divine powers or a divine history of their own.
Here are some examples of ''vahana'' and their associated God or Goddess:-
Agni : ram
Brahma : hamsa / goose / swan
Budha : horse
Durga : lion or tiger named Manashtâla
Ganesh : rat named Kroncha / mouse named Mushika
Ganga : makara
Indra : Vimana (flying chariot) pulled by a horse named Uchchaisshravas / white elephant named Airavata
Shiva : white bull named Nandi or Vrishaba
Skanda : peacock named Parvani
Surya : chariot pulled by seven horses or by a seven-headed horse
Varuna : makara / crocodile / tortoise / swan
Vayu : antelope
Vishnu : human-headed beaked white eagle named Garuda
Yama : black water buffalo.