In Greek Orthrodox and Byzantine churches he became St. Christopher, the protector of travelers, and is depicted as a man with a dog's head. In Greek culture (originally) dogs were companions of Goddesses :Cybele, Artemis, Diana, Hecate, were all accompanied by dogs. In Egypt and Babylon also, dogs had featured as feminine symbols. In Babylon, four towns were given exemption from taxes in return for breeding Mastiffs for the army. Dogs were also venerated in Japan because of their connection with the god Omisoto. When dogs died, they were buried in a standing position, with their heads left above the ground so that for days afterwards, people would come and lay food offerings beside them.
In the Indian context and tradition, because India has an unparalleled tradition of deifying animals (being rapidly flouted now) let me draw your attention to the divine and mystical associations of dogs : Indra, Yama, Shiva. All have dogs as an integral part. The progeny of Indra?s bitch, Sarama, are guardians of Yamaloka (the abode of death) much like the Cerberus or Kerberos (demon of the pit) was the hound of Hades in Grecian tradition.
Bharat?s epic, the world?s longest and richest, the Mahabharata records a story of loyalty: After the terrible war, in the guise of a dog, Yama accompanied the Pandavas to the high Himalayas. The five plus one were headed for a pilgrimage. Along the way, each of the brothers and their polyandrous wife died. Yudhishtra remained, continuing the journey stoically. The dog behind him at each step. They arrived at destination. Indra was in reception. Now imagine the scene : Indra welcomes Yudhishtra to heaven, ushering him towards the divine aircraft. He fawns over Dharamraj (as Yudhishtra had come to be known because of his upholding the truth always, but once). Yudhishtra steps in and the dog follows. Indra says no dogs allowed in heaven. Yudhishtra says then, keep your heaven to yourself. This faithful chap has accompanied me with no eye on possible gain, and out of sheer loyalty. Everyone left me for death, but he stayed. Either we both go, or ?thanks, but no thanks?. At that point, Yama reveals himself and blesses Dharamraja Yudhishtra for being true to the cause of dharma (righteous duty).
Dogs are also associated with Shiva in his manifestation as the fierce Bhairava. The black Bhairava has a dog attendant. As Khanobha in Maharashtra, Shiva has a dog as vehicle. He is also called Svapati or Lord of the Dogs (interesting title). Let me tell you another story. This one is closer in time and is dated the 8th century C.E. or thereabouts. The great religious reformer and saint, Shankara is on the road. He comes across a Chandala (low caste scavenger) accompanied by four dogs, blocking his path. ?Dooram Gachha? (go away) yells Shankara. ?What do you want me to move away? asks the Chandala, ?This body, which is composed of the same five elements as yours ? Or the soul dwelling in it, which is a part of God ?? Shankara realizes his folly. Illusion evaporates. He supplicates before the Chandala and begs forgiveness. The Chandala forgives and Shankara becomes Shankaracharya (Shankara, the scholar). The Chandala was Shiva himself ; the dogs, the four Vedas. Lord Dattatreya, is regarded as the quintessence of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva. Teacher of all teachers. He is always accompanied by four dogs looking outwards at the four directions. They too, symbolize the four Vedas. Incidentally, the Vedas refer to the moon as the gate of death, ruled by the goddess Sarama and her two dogs. It is contestible, but the term "son-of-a-bitch" was coined to refer to a follower of the Goddess.
It became derogatory when male dominated religions surfaced. In the etymology of belief and co-option of the natural world, a community in Karnataka has established an unconventional temple to pay respects to the epitome of faithfulness - the dog. The common Indian dog has been raised to the status of God in Channapatna's Ramanagar district, where people not only have built a temple for the animal but are also conducting prayers to the dog-god. The worshippers believe that the dog has the capability of donning a far more grave and unplayful avatar, when needed, to stop any wrongdoing or to set things right. This aggressive animal is believed to work alongside the village deity. There are two idols in the temple representing the two faces of the animal. Dogs ruled all old cultures. The new world too.
Tribes like the Mohicans were the ?wolf people?. American Indians danced with the wolves (figuratively). The indigenous people of the Americas revered the wolf, coyote and the domestic dog. Numerous tribes had wolf divisions or bands. Animist wolf societies were very pervasive and widespread. A number of peoples in West and South Africa claim dogs as ancestors including one of the more prominent Bantu groups in southern Africa. Other peoples who held such beliefs include the Kyrgyz, the Nicobarese, the Pomotu islanders, and groups in Myanmar, Papua New Guinea and formerly in Finland.
Dogs were highly prized among most indigenous American peoples. Among some tribes an average family would have about 30 dogs. This may seem fantastic until one considers the economic value of dogs. They were used for hunting and for transporting the meat of kills either by backpack or pulling devices known as travois. The transport role of dogs was also important among the many nomadic Indian tribes. In most cases, dogs were treated like family members often living in the home and eating along with the family. The Inuit, in particular, accorded very special care for their dogs as their own survival rested largely on their canine friends.
Turko-Mongols and the Siberians regarded the wolf and the dog highly. Genghis Khan claimed part wolf lineage. Stripped of tradition during oppressive Communist rule, Mongolians call themselves Borjigin ? blue wolf. Across the great swath from Turkey to Kamchatka one after another, the wolf has been revered. Turkic people like the Kazakhs, Uygyrs and Uzbeks consider the gray wolf as the mother of all Turks. In accordance with these ancient traditions, Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern secular Turkey, is known affectionately as the "Gray Wolf." Among present-day Mongolians, the dog's place in the family is similar to that of the parents than that of the children. It is said that Mongolians often judge visitors by whether the family dog takes to the guest or not. I do too. Dogs can read auras. The widespread belief is that people reincarnate from dogs so one should never hit a dog as it may become one's own child. Genghis called his four great generals -- Zev, Subedei, Zelme and Khubilai -- the "dogs of war" long before Fredrick Forsyth penned his novel of the same name.
Tibetans believe that dogs are closest to humans in reincarnation and that high lamas especially often reincarnate as dogs. Tibetans used dogs like the Lhasa Apso as holy temple guards or good luck charms for monasteries. The Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama often kept dogs as pets and sent dogs as gifts to other kings. Two great sages in Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism were intimately associated with dogs -- Kukkuripa and Kukuraja.
The Indic tradition (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism) recognizes non-humans as sentient beings. It also is an early precursor of the multi-verse, with several planes of existence, states of being and stations of birth. The idea, therefore, not of heaven but of moksha, nirvana; Of non being. This postulation, which present day science is only now beginning to discover as true, and the cardinal of Karma are the bedrock of Ahimsa, Dana and Daya. The three fundamentals of kindred human life. The Jain path holds that all matter is endowed with sentience; there are degrees of sentience. It rests on the fundamental statement of mutual assistance of all beings. Regardless of form, all are souls who must help each other reach Siddha Loka- abode of the liberated soul. The belief resonates in their treatment of animals and the environment. The great Mahavira : ?There is no quality of soul more subtle than non-violence and no virtue of spirit greater than reverence for all life. Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture or kill any creature.?
I do not know of a loftier code of life. Early on, in his days as a renunciate, Gautama was returning after begging for alms. He came across a flock of sheep being driven towards Rajagriha. They were to be sacrificed. And religious sacrifice was endemic in Hinduism at that time. Part of the reason why Buddhism and Jainism arose was the repugnance of humane people at the bloody sacrifices the Brahmin priests and their self-serving ecosystem had perpetuated. It must have been horrific- this organized torture and killing on such a large scale. I know it continues in all religions excepting the Jain and the Buddhist. And I know it continues without exception by every human everywhere. Almost.
Anyway, back to the story : Amongst the herd was a little lamb which was hobbling painfully. The renunciate picked it up as he followed the herd into the great city. He implored Bimbisara (father of Ashoka) to cease killing. Gautama said : ?All beings tremble before danger, all fear death. When a man considers this, he does not kill or cause to kill. Life is dear to all.? The Dhammapada (54) tells us this. In Buddhism the highest and universal ideal is to continually work for a permanent end to the suffering of all creatures. Not just the human animal, all animals, all living beings without exception. According to Buddhism, sentient beings made of pure consciousness are possible. The fundamental of a Bodhisattva states: "Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to free them."
Dogs are Good for Health (including that of babies). The U.S. journal, Pediatrics, says that babies who spend time around animals, especially dogs and cats, which spend their time outdoors, have fewer ear infections and respiratory ailments compared to animal-free homes. The incidence of infections, especially respiratory infectious symptoms. Kuopio University Hospital in Finland researched a universe of 397 children to arrive at the study.
It does not take rocket science to comprehend the fact that animal contacts help in maturing the body?s immunological response system .The relationship of humans with beasts is fraught. They are our companions and chattels, family members and labourers, pets and pests. We love them, abuse them, cook and eat them. Our dodge for this : ?animals are ours do with as we please?? has held but no longer. We are not the only ones who use tools, animals craft them too (also birds). We are not the only ones with empathy and generosity. Animals are very considerate, altruistic and charitable too. We are no the only ones who enjoy the present and anticipate the future. Animals do too. And we are not unique in language or expression. Animals are just as rich. In 1975, the great bioethicist Peter Singer wrote Animal Liberation. ?the ability to suffer?, he argued ?is a great cross-species leveler.?Food for thought. Meanwhile, no more dog overdose, I promise. Next time, we?ll talk about something completely different.