5 common pest references in Indian religions you didn’t know!
Symbolic, personified or shamanistic use of insects in religions around the world and especially in India, the oldest mythogenic centre, is undoubted and well documented by mythologists, researched by biologists and explored by entomologists alike. How well do you know of them?
Let me put your knowledge to test and see if these references to common household pests in Indian religions are a surprise to you or were just to me!
Lord Ganesha and his mount
Ganesha is Mangala-Murti, the embodiment of auspiciousness. Why then does he have as his mount something so inauspicious as a rat? What is the message there?
In the words of Devdutt Pattnaik – “Imagine someone who gets rid of all those irritating rat-like problems of your life. That someone, for Hindus, is Ganesha. Around Ganesha’s giant belly is a serpent – that friend of the farmer – who eats the rats, controls pilferage and thus protects the harvest. With the grace of Ganesha, problems disappear and prosperity and power appear.”
You can very well imagine your pest exterminator expertly navigating his instruments as an embodiment of Ganesha catching hold of a problem (rat/mouse/bandicoot) by its tail, dragging it away, sitting on it, so that it troubles you no more. In that sense, Pest exterminator is remover of the rats that plague our existence and the popular Lord Ganesha is the remover of obstacles, remover of hurdles. Vighna-harta.
Locusts and the great Yogi
So says the lore of yogis that Shiva stood in millions of poses, giving rise to millions of different kinds of animals. When Shiva, the great yogi, was at peace with himself in his joy, he assumed many poses, known as asanas. Many of these poses resembled animals. For example, the ustra-asana resembled a camel. From the matsya-asana, fishes came into being. From the bhujang-asana, snakes came into being. From the salabh-asana, locusts came into being. From the go-mukha-asana, cows came into being. Evidently so, insects and pests inform the understanding of bettering human lives and inspired Lord Shiva so deeply.
Karma and reincarnation in Buddhism
The belief in karma and reincarnation in Buddhism extends even to insects. If one’s bad deeds surpass good deeds, one will be reborn as a shudra (the lowest of the traditional social classes), a foreigner, an animal, a bird, or even a reptile or insect. Thus, one may even speculate that in the past, an insect was a more “advanced” animal — possibly a human being. In fact, Young prince Gautam in his search for enlightenment empathized with the sufferings of young of insects and it shaped his teachings and principles on all life forms.
Bees and Goddesses
The association of our reverence to the Holy Mother and observance of the nature of honeybees is quite unique and a true reflection of the unquestionable religious significance of the powerful feminine form. An apt depiction of Goddess Kali as a ferocious world ruler is sometimes extolled with the epithet “The Bee”, who leaves death and destruction in her wake.
Another fascinating example is the reverence of Bhramari Devi as the goddess of the black bees. Bhramara means “relating to the bee,” and this goddess is one aspect of Devi, the Universal Mother.
Ten million fireflies in the Owl City?
We have all enjoyed the beautiful lyrics of the fireflies song by Owl City. In Indian mythology, the firefly is called kita-mani (gem among insects) and feted for its self-shining power. This is yet another example of the reference of a unique feature of the anthropods that mythology has captured and preserved for us to appreciate and learn from. In fact you will be further surprised with the detailing in the Chandogya Upanishad which calls the glow-worm khadyota, a seemingly small ember or spark that, when fed, can become a great fire.
These are just five of the innumerable references that intertwine our lives with pests. Some good and some not so much – but fascinating nonetheless!
I leave you with some uncanny iconographic similarities between the notorious insects that disrupt our everyday lives and how revered characters have been depicted characters in mythology –
1) A six-armed (or more) anatomy like urban arthropods — spiders and ants;
2) Gods sitting on flowers like pollinator bees;
3) Wielding sharp instruments, not unlike claws and pincers of a crab or beetle;
4) Hard, metallic ornaments like an arthropod’s exoskeleton, and
5) The ability to fly, or hover in the air.
Somil is Co-Founder and CEO of PWI. Somil enjoys reading economics and fintech literature. Somil is driven to create a sustainable and eco-friendly pest-free future for the country with the help of the team at PWI.