January 21, 2009
Animals rule India. Literally.
If you think it’s the holy cow and basta, think again. Sure, cows nonchalantly stroll up and down the streets, non-plussed by the surrounding chaos. You can’t molest them, and, sadly, you certainly can’t eat them: killing cows is strictly banned in India, except for Kerala and West Bengal. India, a secular nation, has a Hindu precept at the core of its founding documents. Why, then, may I just ask, is pork allowed?
Whatever. India I guess doesn’t do secularism well.
It would be alright if we just had to deal with cows in the traffic.
But what about monkeys? They’re everywhere, and they too, as incarnations of Lord Hanuman, are sacred. So they might storm your terrace, steal your food, terrify your children: no violence against them. No violence is fine with me. But what about an affectionate little stoning? Ok, no then.
After all, not all monkeys are nasty – only the black-faced ones, it seems. And as long as you don’t look at them in the eye, even the mean ones won’t attack.
I can’t say the same about rats. Nobody likes these dirty little bastards. Well. Some do. They worship them. In Rajasthan, they don’t kill rats. Rats are held to be the army of Karni Mata, or Mata-ji, who is worshipped as an incarnation of the goddess Parvati, Shiva’s wife. Mata-ji is the official deity of Jodhpur and Bikaner and one of her temples, in Deshnoke, is called the Rat Temple. Thousands of rats live there, looked after by the priests and the locals. More generally, in the rest of India, rats and mice are considered holy because that’s the animal Lord Ganesh rides.
Now, I have to say, even though I dislike rats, at least they are not lethal. They are dirty and ugly and they will eat through your house, but they can’t kill you. Snakes can.
And, yes, they are holy too. My favorite story says that snakes originated from Lord Brahma’s tears after he realized he couldn’t create the universe alone. I tried to remember that the day I found a black cobra in my hotel’s bathroom. The staff was a little alarmed but they gently lifted the snake on a stick and carried it outside. Very lucky, ma’am, they said.
Welcome to the holy zoo.