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Synopsis

Animals are worshipped in India in many ways: as deities—the elephant-god Ganesha and the monkey-god Hanuman; as avatars—like Vishnu’s fish, tortoise and boar forms; and as vahanas—the swan, bull, lion and tiger were all vehicles of major deities and are thus sacred by association. Some animals, like the snake, are worshipped out of fear. Birds such as the crow are associated with the abode of the dead, or the souls of ancestors, while the cow’s sanctity may derive from its economic value. There are also hero-animals, such as the vanaras, and animals which were totemic symbols of tribes that were assimilated into Vedic Hinduism. Sacred Animals of India draws on the ancient religious traditions of India—Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism—to explore the customs and practices that engendered the veneration of animals in India. This book also examines the traditions that gave animals in India protection, and is a reminder of the role of animal species in the earth’s biodiversity.

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