Hinduism and animals

From Indpaedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Hindi English French German Italian Portuguese Russian Spanish

This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
Additional information may please be sent as messages to the Facebook
community, Indpaedia.com. All information used will be gratefully
acknowledged in your name.

In the holy texts

Yudhishtir on Human-Animal Ties

Aruna Narlikar, Yudhishtir’s Masterclass On Human-Animal Ties, July 1, 2021: The Speaking Tree

Whether the zoonotic jumping theory gets proven or the lab leak theory wins, one of the many sombre rethinks that the Covid-19 pandemic demands is on our relationship with nature and animals. India’s ancient epic, the ‘Mahabharat’ – always a reliable go-to source for solace -- also offers us some powerful lessons on the human-animal relationship.

Yudhishtir’s Dog

The great war was over. The Pandavas and Draupadi, having reigned in peace and prosperity for 36 years, decided to make the final voyage. On this arduous journey, one by one, members of the group fell lifeless to the ground, punished for the sins of their lifetimes. Ultimately only Yudhishtir, the eldest of the five brothers – the noble son of Dharma – survived, accompanied by a dog who had followed the group. Indra then arrived to carry Yudhishtir to heaven in his chariot. Yudhishtir asked that the dog be allowed to accompany him. Indra refused. A debate on morality, duty, and pragmatism followed.

Indra argued that there was no unkindness in leaving the dog behind. Yudhishtir disagreed. To abandon a faithful companion would be a most reprehensible act; instead he preferred to renounce eternal, heavenly bliss.

At this point, the dog revealed his true form as Yudhishtir’s father, Dharma himself. Praising his son for his magnanimous deeds, Dharma proclaimed:

‘Stating “This dog is devoted to me,” you declined the celestial chariot to heaven 
For this reason, there is no king comparable to you in paradise.’
Mahabharat, XVII.3.20

Yudhishtir was duly rewarded a place of honour with the celestials in heaven.

The Relevance

Yudhishtir’s choice shows us that he did not discriminate between human rights and animal rights. When Indra asked him, “Why do you insist on taking this dog, when you left your own brothers behind?” Yudhishtir answered that he could not bring his brothers back from the dead. He thus had no choice but to continue the journey alone. To abandon a loyal living being -- human or non-human -- in contrast, was as heinous a crime as killing a woman or injuring a friend.  

At a time when we continue to endure economic suffering – even as the second wave recedes and with the possibility of a third wave happening – let us not forget the plight of animals whose fates are bound with ours: abandoned pets and strays, the many we prey upon for food, and the great many whose habitats we have recklessly destroyed in the name of development.

Let us also never forget the possible anthropogenic origins of this pandemic. For far too long nature has endured horrific cruelties inflicted by human beings: wet markets, industrial farming, trophy game hunting, and gruesome laboratory experiments in many countries across the world. In India, the heart-rending death of an elephant (and her unborn child) in April 2020 provoked public outrage, and this incident is only the more recent of many such that have taken place over the years.

Why are we so surprised, then, when nature turns on us, when viruses jump and mutate, and pandemics occur -– and maybe recur? Perhaps if we treat all beings as Yudhishtir did that stray dog, we may have hope yet of achieving peaceful coexistence. 

Personal tools