In Hindu Dharma, each deity has a vehicle which represents a divine attribute. Vah in Sanskrit means to ride along and Vahan is that which carries or pulls. Each divinity has an animal or a bird as his or her vehicle which symbolises the relation between them and also a special meaning as to why does the divinity chose the particular animal or bird as a vehicle.
Bhagwan Vishnu has the mighty Eagle Garud as his vehicle, which symbolises power. Garud pleases Bhagwan Vishnu with his mighty strength and Bhagwan Vishnu himself requests Garud to become his vehicle. Bhagwan Shiv’s vehicle is the Nandi, or the bull. Nandi is the foremost Gana and the disciple of Bhgawan Shiv who has mastered the art of dance and music under Shiv Ji too. He represents the cosmic force of Bhgawan Shiv and also the guard of Bhagwan Shiv at his entrance. Brahma Ji rides a swan which is an icon of wisdom. The swan represents Brahma Ji’s wisdom as the creator of the Universe.
The Goddess of knowledge Saraswathi too, rides a swan. Goddess Lakshmi is always represented as seated on a lotus. The lotus represents wealth and an elephants at the sides which are icons of purity and prosperity. Goddess Parvathi is seen on the lion as the Durga Mata. Riding the fearless lion, Goddess Parvathi is the representation of the bravery a woman should possess. The nine forms Godddess Paravthi have nine different Vahans on which she rides and depicts an individual attribute, which is especially worshipped during the Navaratri festival.
Bhagwan Ganesh, who is the remover of Obstacles rides on a mouse. Previously, the mouse has a demon named Mooshik who was subdued by Bhagwan Ganesh and the compassionate god makes him his vehicle. The mouse signifies arrogance crushed under Ganesha’s feet. Skanda, the younger brother of Bhagwan Ganesh rides a peacock, which is the king of the birds. Known for its beauty, the peacock represents swiftness through which Bhagwan Kartikeya destroys the evil forces.
The king of the celestials, Devraj Indr rides the Irivat, the white elephant obtained during the churning of the Milky Ocean. The elephant represents royal splendour of Dev Raj’s Indr as the King of the heavens. Yama, the god of death rides a black bull representing the life cycle of birth and death. The prime source of energy, the Sun god rides seven horses with great speed while balancing the day and night of the universe. The Chandr, the moon god rides an antelope.
The wind God, Vayu is the life giver. He rides white and purple coloured horses which symbolise the purity and sustenance as he is the breath giver of life. The Rain god, Varun rides a crocodile signifying the importance of life sustained by water. Agni dev rides a Ram which symbolises the wind needed to light the fire. Kuber is the God of wealth and he mounts a human, as wealth is the greatest weakness of human and it shows how wealth controls mankind.
The vehicles of our Vedic gods and goddess in our vast Sanatana Dharma are not just mounts for seating of the deity, but the Vahan represents the deity’s power and the significant role the deity plays in the balance of the good and the evil. Hence, it has been an age old custom in the Hindu Dharma to give respect to the animals and birds which are the carriers of the deities and worship them in equal reverence to God.