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| Last Updated:: 29/08/2023

Sacred Animals of Karnataka








In nature, all animals are sacred as they play an important and unique role in the ecosystem. However human beings have considered some animals as sacred. It may be because those animals provide products and services for the human being or he has understood the importance of them in ecological balance.




In India animals have been at the centre stage of philosophy, culture and artistic traditions. Animals have the object of divinity and dignity in poetry, dance and day to day living. Some animals are given the status of sacredness considering their ecological role and are glorified as vehicles of gods or even as a god.




Some of the most recognized sacred animals in Karnataka are as follows:








In Karnataka most farmers have the practice of worshipping the cow every day. It is considered a good omen to have darshan of cow in the morning. Women worship them. Cow is taken to the warming ceremony of the newly constructed house. Kamadenu (Nandini) the holy cow, is believed to be the eternal provider. The dung of cow is believed to have antiseptic properties and is therefore used to clean the portico of the house. The dung is used as fuel and the burnt dung is used in the preparation of vibhuti, or sacred ash, which is smeared on one’s forehead. The slaughter of the cow is considered as crime and the dead ones are usually buried with the traditions that are followed for the human beings.




Bull – Vrushabha




Bulls are worshipped during Sankranthi and Basava jayanthi festivals. The cattle fairs are a very common sight in the villages. Some times they are offered as gift to temples. The temple bulls are considered holy and they have free access to the agriculture fields or plantation of people in the village. During the car procession or ratostava of the temple god, the bulls are worshipped. There is one tribe in Karnataka who takes decorated bulls to all the houses for paying respect by offering food, grains or clothes.



The use of cattle for ploughing or pulling the cart on Monday is prohibited in many villages as a mark of respect. The Nandi Bull is the vehicle of Shiva, and is worshipped in Shiva temples. The famous religious and social reformer of Karnataka, Basavanna, is considered as reincarnation of Nandi and hence the bulls are worshipped more in Karnataka than in other states of India.




Elephant – Gajaraja




Kings of Karnataka reared elephants as part of their military strength. Even today some of the temples like Kukke Subramanya temple and Dharmastala temple have elephants. Some of the religious institutions like mutts also have elephants. The Mysore Maharaja’s Dusshera procession starts with elephants. The basements of most temples show a row of elephants, which symbolizes strength. The elephants are indirectly worshipped in all functions as elephant’s head is present in Lord Ganesha. The story of ‘Gajendra moksha’ is very popular.




Lion – Vanaraja




Lion is considered as the king of the forest. It symbolizes majesty in Kannada literature. It is the vehicle of mother Goddess Chamundeswari or Durgamba. One of the dashavataras, the Narasimha has the head of a man and the body of a lion. The lion has been given an important role in the stories of Panchatantra and folk literature.




Tiger – Vyagra




It is the vehicle of Male Mahadeswara and Iyyappa. It was also the part of the emblem of Hoysala kings of Karnataka. The tiger is worshipped as betaraya in inland districts and as huliraya in many sacred groves of western Ghats region. The tradition of huli kunita (Tiger dance) during the holi festival procession is very popular in Karnataka.








All the different monkey species are considered holy. Hampi (Capital of Vijayanagara Empire and an international heritage center) in Karnataka is considered as native home of Lord Hanuman. Some tribal people rear monkeys and use them to entertain the people with kothiyata (monkeyplay). Most of the villages, towns and cities of Karnataka have Hanuman temples at the entrance. The monkeys also play important roles in the stories of panchatantra and other children stories.




In the village Naravi, Belthangadi taluk Dakshina Kannada district, Malekudiya tribals annually perform a ritual to propiate the monkeys in their surroundings. Every year Malekudiyas visit a place on the periphery of the forest called ‘Pingar koni’. They carry jaggery, beaten rice and coconut and spread the eatables on a flat rock over there and pray for the bonnet monkeys to come and have their eatables. The tribals believe that by doing so monkeys will not invade their orchards and will not trouble them for the rest of the year.








The boar has been give special status as Varaha avatar of Lord Vishnu. The Vijayanagara Empire had boar as their emblem. The tribals too offer worship to boar.




Bear – Jambava




The bear is respected in villages because of the mythological role of Jambava in Ramayana. It is he who inspired the Hanuman to jump to cross the sea so as to reach the Srilanka. The hide of bears is used as crown by the tribals called Goravas. Traditionally they train the bears to entertain the children (karadi yata).








The squirrel is considered sacred because of its role in the Ramayana. It helped in bringing some grains of sand by rolling its wet body on the beach and then on the constructing bridge. It is mentioned that Lord Rama appreciated its effort by patting on its back and hence there are three stripes on its back. Considering its role in a small way in helping Lord Rama, the farmers do not kill the squirrels even if they destroy the crops or orchards.








The hares are considered as sacred animals. The hare is immortalized because of its sacrifice and it occupies a permanent place in the moon according to mythology. They were reared by the Rishis and Munis. Some temples like Dharmastala and some Mutts like Murugarajendra Mutt at Chitradurga rear hares.








In Hindu mythology, a demon called Mahishasura ruled the Mysore area. The Goddess Chamundeswari killed the demon and the Mysore city is named after him. The village goddess Mariamma is offered the blood of buffalo once in a year. The Sirsi Mariamma temple rears one male buffalo as a mark of respect. In some villages the male buffaloes are offered to local Mariamma temple and have free access to the fodder of all villagers. It will be worshipped during the annual car festival of Mariamma.








In some parts Karnataka the fruit bats are considered as sacred animals. The Indian fruit bat roosts are protected in the ‘Bawali vana’ sacred grove at village Koli, Belthangadi Taluk and the Lakshmi temple premises at Puttur, Dakshina Kannada District. The fruit bats are also protected at Belur in Hassan District.








The sheep is considered sacred by Kuruba community who solely depend on it for their livelihood. It is given the status of a constellation called Mesha rashi. It also figures in the Panchatantra and other folk stories. There was the practice of offering them to local deities and are worshipped before sacrifice. But this practice is now banned.




Brahmini kite – Garuda




The Garuda is believed as the most sacred of all birds as it is said to be the vehicle of Lord Vishnu. In all Vaishnava temples there is a pillar called Garuda gamba where the Garuda is also worshipped. It is believed that Garuda visits the temple of Vishnu during the car festival.








The parakeets are considered sacred because they are the birds present in the hands of Love God Manmatha. There is a tribe who use parakeets to forecast the future of people and it is popularly called Gilisastra. There was the practice of rearing them in the houses as they are good omen.








The Owlet is commonly called Halakki in Kannada. It is this bird, which is believed to foretell the future of people and the tribal people called Budubudike are the ones who can understand the language of these birds.





King Crow




The king crow is given special respect by the people of Karnataka because it is most favoured bird of National poet Kuvempu.








The cobra occupies a special place in the hearts of the people of Karnataka. It is believed that cobras have a separate world called nagaloka with a king called Nagendra. The cobra is the symbol of fertility and is therefore worshipped by those who do not have issues. Vidurashwatha is the best example of cobra worship. The mating cobras are worshipped as nagara kallu in almost all villages. There are many small temples of cobras called nagarakattes. During Nagapanchami festival, live cobras are worshipped in many villages of north Karnataka. The forests present around the nagara kallu are also considered sacred and are protected as sacred groves called Nagabanas. They are very common in Udupi, Dakshina Kannada and Uttara Kannada districts. The seven headed cobra forms the bed for Vishnu and the background for many gods.





King Cobra




It is believed in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts that citing of king cobra, Python or Cobra in the paddy fi elds before harvesting time will result in good harvest for the year and hence the species are protected by the local people.





Fish – Mahasheer




The fish is considered an avatar of Lord Vishnu called Mathsya avatar. The Mahasheers are given protection in sacred water bodies like the ones present near Shishila, Subramanya, Sringeri and Ramanathpura. On the coasts, fi shing is traditionally prohibited during the monsoon which is the breeding season for fish.









Termite mounds are considered sacred by many people. They are worshipped and sometimes people construct temples to the termite hills. The cobras are believed to live in the termite hills. In Ghati Subramanya temple the termite hills are worshipped.





Mythological animals





There are certain mythological animals, which are considered as sacred like Yeti, gandaberunda, Sharabha, Kinnara, Kimpurusha etc., Chataka, Chakora are sacred imaginary birds referred to in Kannada literature.