Worship and the Holy Dogs of modernity

From the pagan perspective, what one honors, dotes on, is worship. Hindus have “Holy Cows.” Western modernity has “Holy Dogs.”

One of the biggest strikes of Christianity and Islam against pagan and dharmic traditions is that of “blasphemy” or “shirk.” No bigger shirk than having companions for Allah or that of “idol worship”—that is of worshipping something other than the “One True God.” Worship is reserved for this “True God”, who is transcendent and must not be represented in physical form. The heathen, the kaffir, errs in precisely this—“worshipping stones” or “but parasti.” In the more fundamentalist variations, a whole host of behaviors natural to dharmics are rendered shirk, including touching the feet of one’s elder, saying “bharat mata ki jai,” and so on. The worst part is the heathen, in his blindness, takes the idol to be the Supreme Creator, and doesn’t know the difference. Thus, liberating the heathen from the worship of false gods becomes a holy war for Christianity and Islam.

The Abrahamic concept of worship is self-referential and incomprehensible from the Dharmic standpoint. Worship is reserved for the true god, and that which one does to the true god is worship. How does one know what proper worship is or even “worship” itself? Well, God himself has set this out through His revelation. Worship is thus theologically grounded in revelation; this concept is inaccessible from the outside. But, what kind of act is “worship” and what is not? Is bowing to a stone worship?  How about kissing it? How about kissing a baby’s feet? Touching an elder’s feet? How does one know that the pagans, the dharmics, are even engaged in worship, albeit to false gods?

There is a Hindu tradition of astra-puja, or ayudha-puja, translated as “worship of tools.” Tools are placed on high, vermillion is placed on them, hands are folded, mantras are chanted. Is this worship? From the Abrahamic point of view, it is, and is both shirk and foolish. Heathens are so stupid that they worship inanimate tools; and they mistake the tools for the Creator.  Touching the feet of parents is similarly rendered problematic. However, kissing the black stone in the Kaaba is apparently not “worship”, since worship is reserved for the creator in Islam, and therefore that act isn’t worship.  But they know that Hindus bowing to a black stone is worship. If that heathen is not worshipping, what else is she doing?

From the dharmic darshan, there is no “worship” which is distinct from “honor and respect.” Puja honors a relationship. A relationship with one’s parents is worthy of honor; they are pujaniya. That relationship is honored with a certain ritual, signified in the gesture of feet touching. A craftsman has a relationship with his tools. Just like moderns have “Mother’s day”, a “Tool’s day” is set aside to honor one’s tools. It is a reminder of the relationship with the tools, a reminder to use them wisely, to keep them properly maintained. The puja of tools is thus an important reminder and honoring of that relationship. A chainsaw is to be treated with a certain respect, as is a chisel. Similarly, the notion of the earth (or of one’s country) as a mother is to honor our relationship with it, and that honor may lead to protecting it ecologically, or from foreign elements. Rendering these acts as shirk by Abrahamic theology, since “worship” is reserved for the creator, is incomprehensible to the dharmic traditions. Abrahamic theology works on its own internal logic, not accessible from the outside.

There is another way in which astra-puja or murti puja is unproblematic for the dharmic traditions.  Ashtavakra Gita, for instance, says “everything that exists is Brahman.” Advaita implies that there are “no two.” That is, the sacred and the profane, the world and Brahman, the Self and the Paramatma are not “really” distinct. In that sense, the tools, one’s parents, the earth, the sun, a river, a tree, are all part of the divine and one can “worship” them just as one would worship the divine. That which is life-giving, life-supporting, is pujaniya, worthy of puja. The tree gives shade and fruit, the river brings life-sustaining water and carries away pollution, a cow gives milk, and even its dung is useful in the agrarian ecology. A cow is like the member of the family, much more important than the “pet” in modern life. It is honored, respected and loved. It is decorated and protected. Yet the “Holy Cow” is mocked as the “liberal-secular” ethos extends Christian theology in its distaste of “worship” of an animal. But the cow, like everything else, is also part of the divine, and as a life-supporting essence is worthy of honor, respect and love.

The modern paradox is this. While modernity mocks the Holy Cow, its action towards “pets” is similar.  A pet dog is treated as a family member in modernity, often kept inside the house—even “Holy Cows” rarely get that honor in India.  Dogs and cats are cuddled and kissed, decorated and doted upon and special beds and cushions (altars?) are kept for them. Horse meat is taboo. For pagan eyes, it is no different from acts that are labeled “worship.” Hindus have “Holy Cows.” The West has “Holy Dogs.” In the West, the human worshippers of the Holy Dog even follow the regal canines around scooping up holy shit—dog poop—so it can be properly disposed of. If an alien observed the behavior of rural Indians collecting cow-dung and a Westerner picking up dog-poop, their behaviors would be difficult to differentiate, except that the cow-dung is much more useful, while dog-poop is just thrown away.

Just as cow-meat jolts the sensitivity of many rural Hindus, dog-meat, cat-meat or horse-meat often disturbs Western sensibility. Thus, we have the “modern liberal” Indians, often just ‘mini-me’s of Western pop-culture, lead campaigns against the Chinese Yulin dog-meat festival, while turning their nose at the “backward” Hindus protesting the killing of cows.  This liberal is not liberated, but an automaton following certain imported ideas, with little independent insight. They wouldn’t be able to explain why their sensibility gets exercised on dog-meat, but not on cow-meat, for instance. It just is.

It would still be workable, if the ChristoIslamic concept of “worship” and corresponding blasphemy and shirk would remain an internal concept. As something internal to their theology, it need not concern others. However, both Christianity and Islam are totalitarian and expansionist. They claim that the revelation they believe is not only for them, but for all mankind and all mankind must be evangelized to accept it. The heathen, the kaffir would not need to have an opinion on Christian and Islamic theology, if the latter did not have an opinion on her. But they do. And it is a derogatory opinion of the former’s belief motivating an erasure of the improper worship of “false gods” of the heathens.

If we use the pagan notion of “honor and respect” to replace “worship” we can have a fresh understanding of what pagan “gods” are. “Gods” are what that native culture honors and respects. This turns Christian and Islamic evangelism and expansion into a destructive force for native societies. Native rituals are attacked as “worship of false gods” and these must be denigrated and destroyed in the conversion process. But, what a native culture honors and respects, their “gods”, are intrinsically linked to native relationships, ecology, family and society. Abrahamic conversion disrupts this ecology and then aims to replace it with its “theologically correct” artificial institutions. The greater the disruption, the more the “service” provided by these institutions. This is perceptively captured in remarks by Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s first Zulu president:

“As Africans, long before the arrival of religion and [the] gospel, we had our own ways of doing things,” he said. “Those were times that the religious people refer to as dark days but we know that, during those times, there were no orphans or old-age homes. Christianity has brought along these things.”

Secular modernity, an expansion of Christian theology, has a similar impact. The liberal state must protect individuals and make human relationships- sons taking care of parents, parents looking after children- more and more redundant. The state must step in to ensure child support, prevent child abuse, provide old age homes and so on. Extended joint families also mean fewer houses to build and fewer gadgets to sell, so “freedom” must favor nuclear family and even further, single-parent families. Baby-sitters must replace mothers & fathers, who need to work outside. Parenting does not count towards GDP growth, atomized single-parent families do. And as natural relationships disrupt, a Westernized modernity hangs on even tighter to the one thing they can count on and worship. Their Holy Dogs.

Notes. This is not meant to target dog lovers, East or West, but meant as a cross-cultural examination of stereotypes and religion.  The phrase “The Heathen in His Blindess” is a bow towards Balu’s eponymous book, which has been a key influence. I’d tweeted Prof. R Vaidyanathan speaking of commercial interests driving push to nuclear families.
Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.
Sankrant Sanu is an entrepreneur, author and researcher based in Seattle and Gurgaon. His essays in the book “Invading the Sacred” contested Western academic writing on Hinduism. He is a graduate of IIT Kanpur and the University of Texas and holds six technology patents. His latest book is “The English Medium Myth.” He blogs at sankrant.org .
  • Pen

    गार्भिक चिंतन। अंतः दृष्टी से लिखा गया है ये।।

  • Pen

    आखैं खोलने वाला लेख।।

  • Radha Rajan

    This website for some reason has moved away from its original moorings and has become a voice for men worried about the shaking foundations of a man’s world which feels so threatened that they have to repeatedly obsess about women’s menstruation and now fulminate (however well disguised the fulmination may be) about Holy Dog modernity. I suggest these men stop insulting our intelligence. Animal activists are an urban phenomenon because modernity has destroyed the animal habitat, lost all sense of respect for all beings in Creation (Srishti if you want Hindu tokenism), the worst being dogs, cats, and cattle. Temple cows and cattle, temple elephants and camels fare no better in this Hindu nation which is yet to make all-India cow slaughter law. Gandhi best exemplified the Hindu hypocrisy – tall words but zero action. Gandhi paid lip service to the cow but refused to allow Hindus to make cow slaughter an issue. The author, instead of reflecting the dilemma of being poised on two worlds and two different civilizations, should look at all Srishti poised from a Hindu dharmic worldview. The Mahabharata begins and ends with a dog; Kaalbhairava has four dogs – the four vedas at his heels. One revered matahthipathi stated that feeding and caring for dogs is akin to protecting the vedas. Lastly, if the author wants to write about Hindu impotence in protecting the cow which generic for all non-human animals, he should do that without demeaning the Holy Dog; or the Vedic Dog as the case may be. And while Hindu men may still think it is a man’s world, some women have evolved to know that the Hindu world is not a man’s world and it was never a masculine worldview.

    • Ramesh

      While as you rightly pointed out that there are holy references about dogs in Mahabharata etc, somewhere in this book it is also mentioned that people should avoid raising dogs and roosters inside ones’ homes.(eg it is mentioned in Cho’s version of Mahabharata) Thus dogs cannot be equated with cows

      • Radha Rajan

        I would no more equate dog with cow than men would equate men with women. But whether men like the author likes it or not we are all manifestations of the same paramatma .So I would never demean the dog to showcase the divinity of the cow. And while cow worshippers, not cow lovers mind you, are on top of the author’s pecking order, dog lovers, not dog worshippers mind you, are at the very bottom like dogs themselves. This is the pervasive level of public discourse on animal activism. But as I said, I don’t live in a man’s world and reject masculine worldview. In my home, a rat and rooster are as welcome as a cat, caterpillar, cow or camel.

      • Radha Rajan

        Cho’s version? Seriously?

        • Radha Rajan

          What next? Jeyamohan’s version of Aparokshaanubhuti?

          • BvB09

            Nice one! I am still smiling.

            As for dogs and roosters, I haven’t come across that particular quote in the Mbh which Sri. Ramesh mentions (and I don’t claim to have read the Mbh in its entirety) but there is a line in one of the poems in the pattuppATTu (the cankam literature of early Tamil) which describes the dwellings of Brahmanas as being devoid of dogs and roosters.

            For the record, watching the suffering that dogs and cats in my home and the neighborhood endure during Deepavali, has made me totally anti-fire crackers. At one point we also had cows in our garden and an idiot neighbor almost set fire to the cow shed by firing a rocket from his terrace towards the shed; apparently, he thought it was “fun”.

        • Ramesh

          Yes.I remember seeing a line on (under “things to be avoided”, somewhere in that book)-it was serialised in Thuglak-I read it in that

    • Vineet Menon

      Gosh! What’s your problem with ‘men’?

      • Radha Rajan

        Man’s world and masculine worldview which determines the place and role of animals and women in a world determined by men.

  • Ananth Sethuraman

    These sentences are perceptive:

    Abrahamic conversion disrupts this ecology and then aims to replace it with its “theologically correct” artificial institutions. The greater the disruption, the more the “service” provided by these institutions.

  • The West has “Holy Dogs.”

    Using only dogs to target the West is a mistake because
    1. The main reason being Killing dogs and cats for meat is still legal in 44 U.S. states..
    While the USA has its Holy Cow in Holy Horse.

    2. with the present situation of dogs in India where the Hindus living in states with sizeable muslim population are targeting dogs

    In the United States, horse meat was outlawed in pet food in the 1970s. Horse meat is generally not eaten in the United States and holds a taboo in American culture.

    In 2007, the Illinois General Assembly enacted Public Act 95-02, amending Chapter 225, Section 635 of the state’s compiled statutes to prohibit both the act of slaughtering equines for human consumption as well as the trade of any horse meat similarly to Texas Agriculture Code’s Chapter 149.

    So if US laws reflect American Values and Culture then similarly in India, India laws should reflect the Values and Culture of Hindus and not the values of the 2 Abrahamic parasites residing in India as it is presently now otherwise Hindus will become pseudo-Hindus with those same parasitic qualities.

    From the Abrahamic point of view, only their god is worshippable and worship of anything else is both shirk and foolish.

    Basically it indirectly insinuates there is nothing holy, respectable other than their god.

    First of all, this belief should be first applied to their god’s words which are written in their so-called holy book. So the belief dictates that even the words and commands spoken by their god are of no special significance and therefore even christians and muslims should not pay any heed to what their god says.

    That core fundamental belief also insinuates their god is not omnipresent.

    Now let us stretch this core fundamental ideological belief to the logical extremes and you will find that muslims will find each of these offensive and followed closely by Christians.

    If only their god is worshippable and nothing else then Hindus can play football with quran, bible, the black stone of kabba, cross and it should not offend them. They can be used as Toilet paper.

    Even the abuse, humiliation and comical caricature as done by Charlie Hebdo of Muhammad and his 6-year old wife Aisha or even abuse of mother Mary of Jesus should not offend their sensibilities.

    Even abusing their religious clerics and saints like popes, “saint” Teresa, priests, clerics, maulanas along with their ancestors, parents and nation should not offend them.

    Even desecrating their house of worship should not offend them.

    Even any kind of transgression on their land should not offend them.