Not Just a Chinese New Year: What do other cultures and religions think about animals?

By Michelle Kim —

[dropcaps]A[/dropcaps]lthough the date might change year after year, following the Chinese lunar calendar—2016 marks the Year of the Monkey on February 8th. Each year is characterized by one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, which cycles every 12 years. These animals hold significance not only in Chinese tradition, but have many different meanings for religions and cultures across the world.

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In the small city of Deshnoke located in India is a Hindu temple that is filled with as many rats as worshippers-numbering up to 20,000 or more. Dedicated to matriarch, Karni Mata, whom believers hold to be the incarnate of goddess, Durga. The story goes that the child of one of Karni Mata’s clansmen died and from then on all her clansmen were to be reincarnated as rats. Hence, at this temple, rats receive royal treatment.

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In Ancient Hebrew, the picture of an ox represented strength and power, just as how the animal is used to carry out work in the field with those characteristics. However, it also represented a chief or leader. Hence, when two oxen were working together to plow a field—one would be regarded as the leader or teacher who guides others.

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Tigers are regarded as majestic and royal animals, not only in China but in other Asian countries as well. In Tibet, tigers were thought to be linked to immortality, while in Korea, tigers were believed to be messengers sent by a mountain spirit.

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Many may be curious as to why a bunny is associated with Easter, which Christians celebrate as the resurrection of Jesus. The connection may have begun in ancient Mesopotamia and Syria, where hares, rabbits, and bunnies symbolized death and rebirth.

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These mythical creatures don’t just appear in fairy tales to be slain by a knight in shining armor, but also in the Bible. Recorded in the book of Revelation, is a dragon that is called an ancient serpent also known as Satan. Similar to most fairy tales, this dragon, too is locked into an abyss and prevented from coming out for a thousand years.

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Parshvanatha, the 23rd Tirthankara was known for his fondness for serpents. Before his birth, his mother had seen a black serpent, which could attribute to his connection to these creatures. Jain scriptures even record his endeavor to rescue a serpent.

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Throughout Sikh history, there have been several instances of a close bond between gurus and horses. Many songs have been written about Guru Gobind Singh Ji and his infamous blue horse, calling him the “rider of the blue horse”.

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At the sight of Jesus, John the Baptist cried, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus was described as a lamb, signifying not only his purity, but echoing the Old Testament, where the Israelites were required to sacrifice a lamb for the atonement of their sins. This was to foreshadow even the death he was to face later in his life.

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With the influence of Buddhism in Japan around the 6th century AD, monkeys were respected as messengers to the gods or even an actual physical manifestation of a god. Furthermore, in Japanese folklore, they symbolized fertility, safe childbirth, and harmonious marriages.

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During the papacy of Pope Nicholas I, statues of roosters were commanded to be built on top of churches. This was enacted as a reminder of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus, which Jesus forewarned would occur before the rooster crows.

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Hindus in Nepal hold a ceremony for dogs, called Kukur Tihar. This takes place during the Diwali period of October to November, and is celebrated by putting garlands and offering food to dogs as a form of thanks for guarding homes and protecting women and children.

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“He has only forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah”. (An-Naĥl 16:115). Many Muslims quote this verse as the reason for abstaining from eating pork, considering it impure or unholy. However, rather than just seeing it as a dietary restriction, Muslims refrain from consuming pork as a display of their faith and an act of obedience.


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