Animals and birds play an important role in Hindu religion. The representation of animals are Lord Ganesha (Elephant God)and Hanuman, (Monkey God). Hindus are known to respect cow as it is considered to be extremely sacred. Cow is also known as Aditi, meaning 'Mother of Gods'. In Hindu mythology, the cow is considered the mother of all including Gods and humans. Every part of the cow holds religious symbolism; the horns symbolize the Gods, legs represent each of the Himalayan mountains and her face represents the sun and the moon.
The Gopuras or the tower in South-Indian temples are often carved with the deities and animals. Great reverence is given to the animals in Hindu mythology either with direct representation or as God themselves. Animals are often mentioned in Hindu mythology holds a prominent role in the Hinduism. Usually these animals are often mentioned to be the vehicles of the Hindu Gods. Some may think that they just act as a means of transportation. But they are symbolic representative of something immaterial and formless. The vehicles of the gods and goddesses are always depicted that is related to the humans.
Some of the animals and birds which are popularly known to be the vehicles of the Hindu deities are:
Lord Shiva's guardian and vehicle is a bull, popularly known as Nandi. The nandi statue is often seen over the main shrine of the temple. The bull is said to embody sexual energy and fertility. Riding on its back, Shiva is in control of these impulses.
Vehicle of Goddess Durga, the destroyer of evil. Though
usually depicted as a tiger, the vahana is sometimes drawn as a lion, appearing without stripes which symbolizes mercilessness, anger and pride.
Vehicle of Goddess Saraswathi, the peacock represents arrogance and pride over its beauty, and by having a peacock as her mount, the Goddess teaches not to be concerned with external appearance and to be wise regarding the eternal truth.
Vehicle of Goddess Lakshmi, the owl represents spiritual wisdom, the blindness associated with seeking worldly rather than spiritual wealth. The owl is also a good avian match for Garuda, Lord Vishu's vehicle.
Hamsa, also known as swan is the vehicle of Lord Brahma. It is said to have the power to separate milk and water. This bird symbolises intelligence and discrimination.
Garuda is the lord of all birds. Garuda is a remover of obstacles and a fanatic enemy of serpents. He once stole and hid the moon, prompting all of the gods to attack him. He overcame them all except Vishnu, and henceforth served
as his mount.
Also known as 'airavat'. The elephant is the vehicle of Lord Indra, the Storm God and bringer of rains. It symbolises reliability, dignity, power, royalty and pride.
Lord Varuna, God of Rain rides on a crocodile. The Sanskrit word for crocodile is makara. The crocodile symbolises dignity, power, speed, strength, cunning and bravery.
Lord Surya or the Sun God is the chief of the 'Navagrahas'. He rides upon seven horses which symbolises the seven rainbow colours.