In ancient era, knowledge was imparted through verses or songs or “geet” (Gita), folktales and short plays (puranas) and epics.
The depictions in puranas of Gods and Goddesses was probably to convey some meaning for examples, the vahans or vehicles used by Gods and Goddesses symbolize tendencies, which need to be controlled.
The deity or God denotes positive behavior. According to the Advait philosophy, the deity represents ‘you’ and the vahan denotes the control. Gods and their Vahans represent the path to control the animal tendencies and live a more positive life.
Following are a few examples.
- Lord Ganesha rides a Mouse. Mouse in mythology denotes greed and Ganesha as ‘vighnaharta’, the one who removes obstacles. This means that one should learn to control greed to tackle obstacles in life.
- Lord Shiva rides Nandi. The bull symbolizes uncontrolled sexual desires and the duo signifies that sexual desires must be first controlled to learn meditation.
- Saraswati (the Goddesses of knowledge) sitting on a swan symbolizes viveka, which means that one must learn to control the power of discrimination or viveka to acquire knowledge. A swan can drink milk and leave water from a mixture of milk and water.
- Indra (the one who has a complete control over the intellect) riding on the elephant Airavat symbolizes that for its development the intellect (Indra) requires control over masti and madness (elephant).
- Durga (the perfect woman) riding a lion symbolizes that to become a perfect woman, she must learn to control agitation or aggression (lion).
- Lakshmi (wealth) rides an owl. In mythology, owl denotes ignorance or foolishness. This means that to earn righteously, these owl-like characteristics within us must be controlled.
- Lord Vishnu (the doer) riding the eagle or Garuda means controlling your desires to eat an unbalanced diet. Eagles are opportunistic predators i.e. they eat almost anything they can find.
- Krishna riding five horses indicates the need to control our five senses. The five horses are the Indriyas or senses, such as sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.
- Peacock is the vehicle of Kartikeya; it represents conquest of one’s ego or pride (vanity).
- The vehicle of Goddess Kali is a black goat. Agni rides Mesha, a ram. Kubera, the God of wealth, also has a ram as his vehicle. A ram is an un-castrated adult male sheep. Goat also signifies uncontrolled sexual desires but to a lesser extent than the bull.
- Yamraj rides a buffalo, which is known for its rampant destruction. Lord Yama or Yamraja is referred to as the God of death. He is the twin brother of Dharma Raja, the God of justice. Justice can be done only if one has control over anger and aggressive behavior.
In mythology, apart from Vahans, animals are also shown to be sacrificed, which means to kill the animal tendency within ourselves. In Kali Pooja, a buffalo is sacrificed, which again means that in extreme situations, you may need to kill your ego or anger.