Part One: Hindu Scripture and the Vedas: The Roots of Hindu beliefs towards animalsTo determine the influence of Hindu belief on the development of modern animal treatment in India, it is first imperative to look at where such Hindu beliefs developed. Animals are mentioned in several Hindu scriptures, including the Vedas, the Puranas and the Upanishads. As the Vedas are the most ancient of Hindu religious texts, originating in “their present form between 1200-200 BCE,” they define truth for Hindus (BBC Hinduism). Their introduction to India by the Aryans is of particular interest, as such peoples were farmers and relied on animals for survival and the daily conduct of life. Similarly, as Hindus believe the texts were “received by scholars direct from God” they hold authority in the Hindu faith (BBC Hinduism). The Upanishads, which developed from Vedic thought, express the central concept of Brahman, an important aspect of Hinduism in how it relates to animals. There are several common elements within these texts which demonstrate particular views towards animals.
Hindu gods each have vahanas (a vehicle or mount) which is most commonly in the form of an animal. The Hindu god Surya mounts a golden chariot, pulled by seven white horses, said to represent the seven major sins. Similarly, the Hindu god Lakshmi is depicted in Hindu art riding a wise old white owl and Indra mounts the white elephant Airavata. Despite the Hindu gods using animals as a mode of transportation, there is a clear respect for all life portrayed in Hinduism. The Hindu faith features animal deities, which is not present in many other faiths. The deity Ganesa is a deity whom bears an elephant head with a single tusk.
Garuda is king of the birds and possesses a great hatred for evil. Thus, animals in Hinduism are portrayed as important and intertwined in interactions with higher beings. One will find animals beautifying Hindu decorative art and in temple architecture. They adorn the outer walls and towers of temples and are found inside temples as objects of worship and veneration, such as the Holy Bull of Shiva. The reverence of animals in Hinduism is a clear root to what has developed into the cultural protection of some animals in India. The teachings of the Vedas are also imperative to understanding how ideals of animal treatment have developed in India.
According to the Vedas, the human body is the highest of all forms of bodies. “Every living being, from the animals down to the insects and tiny organisms, possesses souls”. All these creatures are also subject to the same laws of nature and its cycle of births and deaths, much in the same manner as humans. Although they appear ignorant, these living beings are also evolved and have their own level of intelligence and instinct as well as their individual language. This only reinforces the Vedic philosophy that animals are also in the same chain of development shared by man.However, not animals are viewed equally in Hinduism. Despite this view that Nature is part of the Divinity, some animals are moreso protected and revered than others.
The dog is depicted as more of a beastly creature, whereas a “cow’s horn” is a source of purification: “If someone is touched by a dog, he should bathe with his clothes on. Alternatively, he becomes pure by washing that spot, touching it with fire, washing it again, washing his feet, and sipping some water. Now, they also quote: If a Brahmin is bitten by a dog, he is purified by going into a river that flows into the sea, controlling his breath one hundred times, and consuming some ghee. Alternatively, he becomes pure at once by bathing with water from a golden or silver pot, from a cow’s horn, or from new earthen pots” (Dharmasutra of Baudhayana, 11.1-41). Similarly, snakes are more often depicted as a demon in the Vedas than as a benevolent animal. In the Vedas, animals have been treated with great compassion.
The scriptures have classified these living beings in three sub-sections depending upon whether they have taken birth through seeds or sprouts, from eggs and those who have taken birth through the womb. The scriptures have urged men to treat animals with fairness and not harm them or subject them to pain or cruelty. Therefore, according to the scriptures each animal has “a spark of the divine and is capable of becoming human and achieving salvation like the rest of us” (Frazier). Similarly, if “human beings choose to ignore the great opportunity earned by them through their previous karma and indulge in irresponsible actions, they may very likely regress into animal existence and have to start all over again” (Frazier).As described in the Vedas and depicted in Hindu art, Hinduism emphasizes a love for nature. The Hindu does not view nature as something that is subservient and meant for human use, but rather as part of the Divinity. Thus, both vedic era hinduism and current day hinduism are similar in that man is to treat nature and all its components as a part of the greater truth of which humans are an integral part.
Love and respect for animals is therefore born out of this awe and total respect for the environment. The close relationship of Vedic Gods and animals reflects a view of animals not seen in many other religions. Although animals do in many circumstances serve a purpose to many Gods, such as a mount, they are mostly treated will respect and in greater reverence. Part Two: Living Entities & Atman: Structure of Hinduism itself & Animal TreatmentSimilar to the Hindu texts discussed previously, the structure and basis of Hinduism lends itself to clear view on animals and how they should be treated. The ranking of existence, from Ultimate union with Brahman, to Humans closest to Brahman, to animals, to plant, and finally, objects such as rocks or water, is evident that not all life forms are equal in Hinduism. However, the element of the Atman in Hinduism is particularly important in understanding views towards non- human creatures. As Hindus believe that everything has an essential self or soul, there is level of equality in that all souls have the potential to achieve Union with Brahman.
Thus, to Hindus, all things, from trees to butterflies, are in some sense living entities. The idea of Karma arises from the concept of atman and its different stages in life. As karma is the force that determines the quality of each life, it is dependent on how well one behaved in the past life. The necessity of living a good life to create karma in Hinduism lends itself to the concept of non-violence.
Non-violence, or Ahimsa, is valued as a form of wisdom and good conduct of Hindu life: “The ascetic should live the life of a bee, accepting little alms from several homes, so that he does not burden any particular home too much, and take only that much which fulfills his hunger. A clever man takes the essence from multiple sources and scriptures, just as the bee extracts nectar from several flowers” (Bhagavata Purana 11.8.9-10). The prevalence of non-violence throughout Hinduism largely contributes to respect and caring treatment toward animals. Hindus treat animals well as a means to avoid bad karma: “He who injures harmless creatures from a wish to give himself pleasure, never finds happiness in this life or the next” (Manu-samhita 5.45).
Clear instructions to not harm other creatures are abundant in Hindu scripture: “Men gifted with intelligence and purified souls should always treat others as they themselves wish to be treated. It is seen that even those men who are endued with learning and who seek to acquire the greatest good in the shape of liberation, are not free of the fear of death” (Mahabharata, Anu 115.20). The concept of non-violence extends to all living beings: “He who does not seek to cause the sufferings of bonds and death to living creatures, (but) desires the good of all (beings), obtains endless bliss.
He who does not injure any (creature) attains without an effort what he thinks of, what he undertakes, and what he fixes his mind on” (Manu-samhita 5.46-47). For Hindus, non-violence is not only valued, but an integral part of life. Thus, good treatment of all living things is characteristic of the Hindu faith and the cultural practices which ensue from the faith. Part Three: Vegetarianism & Sacred Animals (Cultural Practices)From this concept of non-violence arises several cultural practices central to Hindu life.
The sacredness of animals, such as the cow, and practice of vegetarianism are indicative of how non-violence is integrated into everyday life. Thus, Hinduism directly influences the conduct of life in India. Although Hindus follow no single set of rules, reverence for cows can be found throughout the religion’s major texts. Some trace the cow’s sacred status back to Lord Krishna, one of the faith’s most important figures. He is said to have appeared 5,000 years ago as a cowherd, and is often described as bala-gopala, “the child who protects the cows.
” Another of Krishna’s holy names, Govinda, means “one who brings satisfaction to the cows.” Other scriptures identify the cow as the “mother” of all civilization, its milk nurturing the population.The origin of the veneration of the cow can be traced to the Vedic period (2nd millennium–7th century BCE). The Indo-European peoples who entered India in the 2nd millennium BCE were farmers and gatherers; cattle had major economic significance that was reflected in their religion. Though cattle were sacrificed and their flesh eaten in ancient India, the slaughter of milk-producing cows was increasingly prohibited. It is forbidden in parts of the Mahabharata, the great Sanskrit epic, and in the religious and ethical code known as the Manu-smriti (“Tradition of Manu”), and the milk cow was already in the Rigveda said to be “unslayable.” The degree of veneration afforded the cow is indicated by the use in rites of healing, purification, and penance of the panchagavya, the five products of the cow—milk, curd, butter, urine, and dung.
Similar to the sacredness of the cow, non-violence lends itself to the need for a vegetarian diet and lifestyle: “Meat cannot be obtained without injury to animals, and the slaughter of animals obstructs the way to Heaven; let him therefore shun the use of meat” (The Laws of Manu). In order to avoid bad karma, it is made clear to Hindus that partaking in acts of slaughter are not of good intention: “Having well considered the origin of flesh-foods, and the cruelty of fettering and slaying corporeal beings, let man entirely abstain from eating flesh” (Manusmriti 5.49). Vegetarianism has not always been characteristic of Hinduism, and moreso relates to current day Hinduism, specifically in India. The act of meat-eating, as well as animal sacrifice, is found in Vedic period scripture. However, the sacrifice of animals was an old Vedic tradition that was resorted to in order to appease the gods. This tradition is no longer acceptable to the Hindu society and it is both a legal offence as well as considered to be barbaric. Nepalese and Balinese Hindus still practice animal sacrifice whereas most Indian Hindus disapprove of the tradition, partly because many don’t eat meat and because of the belief in nonviolence.
However, even where it does exist, its practice is confined to special occasions.Vegetarianism gradually established itself in Hinduism. At first, eating meat and fish was tolerated as long as the animal was sacrificed to the gods, the sacrifice justifying the killing. Then, in a religion which was increasingly marked by ahimsa, the ‘absence of the desire to kill’, abstaining from meat and fish became commendable and vegetarianism established itself as a model respecting the principle of non-violence. At the same time, fish and meat were perceived as particularly impure, soiled by the act of slaughter: “One who partakes of human flesh, the flesh of a horse or of another animal, and deprives others of milk by slaughtering cows, O King, if such a fiend does not desist by other means, then you should not hesitate to cut off his head” (Rig-veda 10.87.16). Vegetarianism was practiced by the Brahmin caste (the highest Hindu caste made up of priests) and was at the top of the hierarchy of dietary regimes: “A man who does not behave like the flesh-eating ghouls and does not eat meat becomes dear to people and is not tortured by diseases.
The one who gives permission, the one who butchers, the one who slaughters, and the one who buys and sells, the one who prepares it, the one who serves it, and the eater- they are all killers” (Laws of Manu 5.11-44). The practice of vegetarianism varies, however, depending on the region, family and social class.
There are differences even within the same caste. Brahmins from Kashmir, for example, (a state in the north of India) eat meat whereas Brahmins from Bengal (a state in the east of India) eat fish.In the U.
S., animals raised for meat consumption are not only killed, but are treated inhumanely throughout their ill-fated lives. Animals are regarded as simply food which, in turn, allows one to handle the animals as objects, rather than living beings with divine souls. Objectifying animals thus leads to the justification of treating animals disrespectfully because they are simply objects “owned” by humans. As such, both the inhumane treatment of animals being raised for consumption as well as the actual slaughter of the animal would be considered violations of ahimsa and dharma.
While vegetarianism is not required of all Hindus, some branches of Hinduism consider vegetarianism a core virtue. In general, abstaining from meat consumption is widely encouraged.Despite the presence of animal sacrifice and killings in old Hindu practices and literature, evolution of the religion, specifically in India, has led to the exclusion of these practices from most modern day practitioners of the religion. Hindus in India thus lead a life of nonviolence and vegetarianism, a distinct lifestyle difference in comparison to other world religions.
Part Four: Indian Legislature Regarding AnimalsHinduism is an open religion and believes in the concept of evolution in a wide scope. Evolution in Hinduism is an integral and natural aspect of the religion. Thus, Hindus are not opposed to change, and both the faith and the cultural practices that are a result of the faith can and have changed over time. Therefore, Indian Legislature is not only greatly influenced by Hinduism and its modern practice, but has changed as the religion has changed.
India imposed its first national animal welfare law, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, which made cruelty to animals a criminal act. However, there were exceptions made for the treatment of animals used for food and scientific experiments. The 1960 law also created the Animal Welfare Board of India to ensure the anti-cruelty provisions were enforced and promote the cause of animal welfare. Subsequent laws have placed regulations and restrictions on the use of draught animals, the use of performing animals, animal transport, animal slaughter, and animal experimentation.The Government of India enacted Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 with the objective to effectively protect the wildlife of this country and to control poaching, smuggling and illegal trade in wildlife and its derivatives.
The Act was amended in January 2003 and punishment and penalty for offences under the Act have been made more stringent. It has been proposed to further amend the law by introducing more rigid measures to strengthen the Act. The objective was to provide protection to the listed endangered flora and fauna and ecologically important protected areas. The Breeding of and Experiments on Animals Rules, 1998, set general requirements for breeding and using animals for research.
A 2013 amendment bans the use of live animal experiments in medical education. In 2014 India became the first country in Asia to ban all testing of cosmetics on animals and the import of cosmetics tested on animals. Similarly, the HAF (Hindu Animal Foundation) clarifies and promotes the ethical treatment of animals in India. According to the foundation, “The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) and the vast majority of Hinduism’s leading sampradayas (traditions) regard the ethical treatment of animals as fundamental to the core Hindu belief that the Divine exists in all living beings, both human and non-human, and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the whole world is one family. Animals and plants are not regarded as mere objects for wanton human use and consumption in the Hindu tradition. Rather, they are equally embodied with the existence of the Divine and are fully deserving of respect and human compassion” (HAF Policy Brief). In spite of such legislation to prevent animal cruelty, there are still problems India faces in enforcing this.
There are instances in which the prevention of harming animals is more difficult: “The problem is faced by all developing countries about what to do with the large number of scavenging animals on the roads. It’s not a kind of problem which has been created by nature” (Gauri Maulekhi). Although hurting animals in India is considered a punishable offence, there is a lack of effective laws, which indirectly encourages the occurrence of violence towards animals. The maximum punishment under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 is a fine of 50 rupees (about US 70 cents) or imprisonment up to three months or both. Though this does demonstrates an attempt to better treatment for animals, it is not substantial enough. Thus, legislation to promote non-violence and the ethical treatment of animals in India continues to progress. Like the religion of Hinduism itself, animal treatment in India is constantly evolving and continues to change. Despite the need for more progress, there is a clear relationship between Hindu belief and its effect not only on cultural practices, but also on animal treatment itself.