Dogs are mankind’s first and most commonly domesticated animals. They have also had a noteworthy role in many religions and cultures across continents. However very few people are even aware of the significance of dogs in various religions. Thus they are still considered ungodly, unfortunately, out of sheer ignorance. But contrary to their belief these dogs’ godliness, disguised as selfless love and devotion has earned them their (much deserved) place on a high religious pedestal. Something sadly, most of us have no idea about. And in order to combat that, I have written this article.
A brief overview of what the article is about-
Here you will discover.. The historical value of man’s best friend, among indigenous men from various cultures.. The festivals that were and are still celebrated just to honor dogs for their unconditional love and contribution in our lives.. Deities who were dog-headed.. Gods who had dogs as their mounts and companions.. The popularity of dogs in ancient folklore and art.. Their role and purpose and the ideology behind dog burials and their presence beside humans in tombs (discovered much later during excavations).. The detailed instructions of the ideal treatment of dogs at our hands, as per different religious scriptures.. And so much more..
The significance of dogs in religions across the planet:
(sourced from Wikipedia among others)
The profoundness of dogs in Hinduism:
‘Shvan’, a Sanskrit word meaning a dog, has repeated references in Vedic and later Hindu mythologies. When it comes to ancient Hindu religious symbolism, dogs have always been associated with different forms of ‘Lord Shiva’, the most important god of the Hindus. ‘Sarama’, the (female) dog of the gods, first appears in one of Hinduism’s earliest texts, the Rig Veda, in which she helps ‘Indra’, (the god-king of heaven) to recover divine cows stolen by demons. She is said to be the mother of all dogs. A dog in the Rig Veda, named as ‘Vastospati’, guards the house of ‘Varuna’ (the god of oceans).
The dog is also the ‘vahana’ or mount of the Hindu Gods ‘Bhairava’ (a tantric deity, a manifestation of lord Shiva) and ‘Khandoba’ (the most popular family deity of Maharashtra). Another deity ‘Dattatreya’ (the lord of yoga) is surrounded by four dogs and a cow. Which is a symbolism of the four Vedas and mother earth that nourish all living beings. ‘Yudhishthira’ (of Mahabharata) had approached heaven with his dog. Therefore among many Hindus, exists a common belief, that caring for/adopting dogs can also pave the way to heaven. Dogs are also considered protectors of the gates of heaven as well as hell. ‘Yama’, (the Hindu god of death) also has four dogs guarding his abode.
Lord ‘Khandoba’, ‘Bhairava’ and ‘Dattatreya’ along with dogs, from left to right
The celebration of dogs in Nepal:
There exists a designated festival that falls annually in autumn and is known as ‘Kukur Tihar’, (literally translating to ‘dog festival’) dedicated solely to dogs. On this day, all dogs, whether pets or strays are honored, celebrated and worshiped for their unparalleled loyalty and unconditional love for man. They’re pampered with ‘teekas’ (religious red marks on their foreheads) and garlands of flowers and a variety of delicious food servings. Depending on the celebrant, the dog’s treats include homemade confectionery, milk, eggs, meat, or high-quality dog food.
Various dogs being worshiped on ‘Kukur Tihar’.
The patronage of dogs in Christianity:
The Catholic Church recognizes ‘Saint Roch’ (also called Saint Rocco), who lived in the early 14th century in France, as the ‘Patron saint of dogs’. It is said that he caught the plague while doing charitable work and went into the forest, expecting to die. There he was befriended by a dog who licked his sores and brought him food, and he was able to recover. The feast day of Saint Roch, August 16, is celebrated in Bolivia as the “birthday of all dogs.”
Saint Roch, The Patron Saint Of Dogs.
The symbolism of dogs in Egypt:
The Ancient Egyptians are often more associated with cats, yet here too, dogs are found to have a sacred role. And figure as an important symbol in religious iconography. Dogs were also associated with ‘Anubis’, the God of the underworld.
Anubis- the God of the underworld/death.
The gravity of dogs in Greek mythology:
The significance of dogs in ancient Greek religion/culture is unbounded. Dogs were closely associated with ‘Hecate’ (the goddess of magic) in the Classical world. Dogs were sacred to ‘Artemis’ (known as the goddess of the hunt and one of the most respected of all the ancient Greek deities) and ‘Ares’ (the Greek god of war).
Greek gods- Hecate, Ares and Artemis (from left to right)
‘Cerberus’ was a three-faced guard dog of the Underworld. While ‘Laelaps’ was a Greek mythological dog who never failed to catch whatever she was hunting. Also a dog known only as “the Golden Hound” was charged with protecting ‘Zeus’ as a baby, who was to be the future king of gods.
Laelaps (in chase), the Golden Hound and Cerberus (from top to bottom)
The acknowledgement of dogs in Mesopotamia:
Dogs were greatly esteemed in Mesopotamia as companions, protectors and healers of the gods. The healing goddess ‘Gula’ was always depicted with a dog, as was ‘Inanna’, one of the most popular deities in the Mesopotamian pantheon. The dogs were associated with ‘Gula’ as well as healing. It was noted that the dog healed itself through licking it’s wounds. Hence it’s saliva was considered to have a medicinal property (a belief which has since been proven in modern times). In the case of ‘Inanna’/’Ishtar’, her dogs were seen as her companions and protectors. And since she was often invoked for protection, her dogs acquired the same reputation too. The natural inclination of dogs to protect their people, of course, further established the belief.
Dogs not only protected and healed one in life, but also assisted in the transition from their earthly existence to the afterlife. These dogs would also act as fierce guardians who would aid their people in transition, by protecting them from evil spirits and demons. Also in the ‘Gula’ cult, the dog was used in oaths as a divinity! Such ethereal was the significance of dogs in the Mesopotamian religion.
A Babylonian tarot card depicting Gula, invoked to cure illness along with her sacred animal, the dog.
Amulets, images, statuary, and engravings of dogs were regularly produced for a variety of reasons, and in most of these, the dog can be seen wearing a collar. In the modern times, then, the simple act of a dog’s person putting a collar and leash on him/her, is just a repetition of the practice. Which goes back to thousands of years to another time and place. Although the present dog collar is made of different materials, the basic design remains unchanged.
The discovery of more than 30 dog burials, numerous dog sculptures and drawings, during the excavation of the area around the ‘Ninisinna’ temple, further highlights on the dogs’ religious weightiness.
A glimpse of a few of the excavated dog sculptures mentioned above
The sacredness of dogs in Aztec religion:
Dogs have a major religious and symbolic significance in the religion of the Aztec people of central Mexico. They have thus occupied a powerful place in Mesoamerican folklore and myth as well. A common belief across the region is that a dog carries the newly deceased, across a body of water, in the afterlife.
The ‘Xoloitzcuintli’, or ‘Xolo’ in short is a hairless dog from Mesoamerica. Archaeological evidence has been found in the tombs of the Aztec Indians, dating back the breed to over 3500 years. Long regarded as guardians and protectors, the indigenous peoples believed that the Xolo would safeguard the home from evil spirits as well as intruders. In the ancient times, the Xolos were often sacrificed and then buried with their owners to act as a guide to the soul on it’s journey to the underworld.
Also ‘Xolotl’, an Aztec god of death, was depicted with a dog’s head as an embodiment of the association between dogs and death.
Xolotl- the dog god of fire, lightning and death.
The ceremony of dogs in Judaism:
Jewish law requires Jews to feed dogs that they own before themselves. And make arrangements for feeding them before obtaining them.
Another interesting fact: According to Jewish law, when a Jewish boy turns 13 years old, he becomes accountable for his actions and becomes a ‘bar mitzvah’. ‘Bar mitzvah’ hence, is a Jewish coming of age ritual for boys while ‘Bat mitzvah’ is what it’s called in case of girls. Similarly a ‘Bark Mitzvah’ is an observance and celebration of a dog’s coming of age. During some Bark Mitzvahs, dogs even wear a ‘tallit’ which is a prayer shawl, worn during Jewish religious services and ceremonies. A male dog also wears a ‘yarmulke’, which is a Jewish skullcap worn during prayers! The term has been in use since at least as early as 1958 and became increasingly popular in the early 2000s. As a result, specialty pet stores and dog bakeries now also offer special Bark Mitzvah party packages, favors and gifts.
A collage of Bark Mitzvah celebrations with decked up pups, cakes and gifts.
The sanctity of dogs in Philistines:
A large dog cemetery was discovered at the archaeological diggings of Philistines in the city of Ashkelon, dating from when the city was part of the Persian Empire. This excavation was undertaken between 1986-1994, during which the team uncovered skeletal remains of more than 1,300 dogs! It is thus believed that the dogs must have had a sacred role.
Dog burials excavated at Ashkelon
The unparalleled significance of dogs in (the religion of the Parsees-) Zoroastrianism:
In Zoroastrianism, the dog is regarded as an especially beneficent, clean and righteous creature, which must be fed and taken care of. The dog is praised for the useful work it performs in the household. But it is also seen as having special spiritual virtues. A dog’s gaze is considered to be purifying to drive off ‘daevas’ (demons). It is also believed to have a special connection with the afterlife: the Chinwad Bridge to Heaven is said to be guarded by dogs in Zoroastrian scripture. And dogs are traditionally fed in commemoration of the dead.
Quotes from the Vendidad- the Zoroastrian holy book
The duties, penalties and sins with regard to dogs, as per their holy book:
“Ehtiram-i sag”, “respect for the dog”, is a common injunction or order among Iranian Zoroastrian villagers. Detailed prescriptions for the appropriate treatment of dogs are found in the ‘Vendidad’ (a subdivision of the Zoroastrian holy scripture ‘Avesta’). Especially in chapters 13, 14 and 15, where harsh punishments are imposed for harm inflicted upon a dog. And the faithful are required to assist dogs, both domestic and stray, in various ways. Also often, help or harm to a dog is equated with help and harm to a human. The killing of a dog (“a shepherd’s dog, or a house-dog, or a ‘Vohunazga’ [i.e. stray] dog, or a trained dog”) is considered to lead to damnation in the afterlife.
A homeowner is required to take care of a pregnant dog that lies near his home. At least until the puppies are born (and in some cases until the puppies are old enough to take care of themselves, namely six months). If the homeowner does not help the dog and the puppies come to harm as a result, “he shall pay for it the penalty for wilful murder”. Because “Atar (Fire), the son of ‘Ahura Mazda’, watches as well (over a pregnant dog) as he does over a woman”.
It is also a major sin if a man harms a dog by giving it bones that are too hard and get stuck in it’s throat. Or food that is too hot, so that it burns it’s throat. Giving bad food to a dog is as bad as serving bad food to a human. The believers are required to take care of a dog with a damaged sense. And try to heal it “in the same manner as they would do for one of the faithful”.
THE BOMBAY DOG RIOT:
In 1832, the British-administered magistrate of police in India decided to adopt measures to control Mumbai’s stray dog population. According to them, the city was filled with the so-called “Pariah dogs” which was considered a nuisance by the authorities.
But a backlash soon rose against this inhuman dog culling policy. The Parsee community was particularity offended, as the slaughter coincided with a Parsee holy day. Their beliefs/religion also esteemed dogs with high religious significance. Hence began the protests against the magistrate’s efforts.
A deputation of eminent citizens asked that the dogs don’t be killed but captured and released elsewhere. Heading them was Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, Baronet, who was a city father of colossal stature. Many in the Parsee community closed their businesses, causing economic chaos in the city. Lower class Parsees along with a collection of Hindus, Muslims and Jains went on strike, paralyzing more of the city’s day-to-day activities.
The British government then had no choice but to begin negotiating with the Parsee leaders, in an attempt to return order to the city. It was then decided that, rather than culling stray dogs on sight, the magistrate would instead try to relocate these dogs outside the city. They also agreed to the release of the imprisoned protesters.
A sketch, stamp and statue of Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, the leader behind the one of a kind ‘Bombay Dog Riot’.
And with this we mark the end of our brief overview of the significance of dogs in various religions and cultures, spread across Earth. Yes brief, compared to all that there is! Also, I did some extensive research working really hard to extract out the information in bits and pieces from the internet.. Edit it over and over again, to make the content compact yet informative, find and edit the most relevant images into collages, (and a lot more) before presenting it to you, the way it is right now.. Hope you found it useful and enjoyed reading through.. (Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section) And before we wrap it up for the day, I would like to request you for a small favor..