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Book on the Dog in Hindu Mythology and Sacred Texts

A new book titled ‘Sarama and Her Children: The Dog in Indian Myth’ by Bibek Debroy traces the role of dogs in Hindu scriptures like the Vedas, Epics, Puranas, Dharma Shastras and Niti Shastras. The most famous dog in the Hindu religion myths is the dog in the Mahabharata that accompanied the Pandavas. Yudhisthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, declined to enter heaven without the dog as he was not willing to ignore the loyalty of the dog that followed him till his death. There are also numerous other references to dogs in the classical texts. But still several Hindus consider dogs as inauspicious.

The widespread assumption is that dogs have always been looked down upon in Hinduism and a legacy of that attitude persists even now. Tracing the Indian attitude towards dogs in a chronological fashion, beginning with the pre-Vedic Indus Valley civilization, Bibek Debroy in ‘Sarama and Her Children: The Dog in Indian Myth’ discovers that the truth is more complicated.

Dog is mentioned for the first time in the Rig Veda, the oldest scripture in Hinduism. Sarama is the dog of the gods and the ancestor of all dogs.

Dogs had a utilitarian role in pre-Vedic and Vedic times. There were herd dogs, watchdogs and hunting dogs, and dogs were used as beasts of burden. But by the time of the Mahabharata, negative associations had begun to creep in. Debroy argues convincingly that the change in the status of the dog in India has to do with the progressive decline of the traditional Vedic gods Indra, Yama and Rudra (who were associated with dogs), and the accompanying elevation of Vishnu, associated with an increase in Brahmana influence.

Debroy demonstrates that outside the mainstream caste Hindu influence, as reflected in doctrines associated with Shiva and in Buddhist jataka tales, dogs did not become outcasts or outcastes.

Drawing references from high and low literature, folk tales and temple art, Sarama and Her Children dispels some myths and ensures that the Indian dog also has its day. (Excerpts from Penguin Flyer)

Sarama and Her Children: The Dog in Indian Myth
By Bibek Debroy
Published by: Penguin Books India
Published: August 2008
Special Price: Rupees 350/-