Kal Bhairav’s dog

Indian Mythology 30 Comments

First Published in Sunday Midday, Mumabi on 30 August 2009

In Hindu mythology, the dog is the most inauspicious of animals, to be kept away from wedding altars and holy sites. A howling dog becomes a harbinger of bad luck. Infact, even the sight of a dog is considered to bring bad luck. Why is it so? Dogs are such lovable creatures, obedient and affectionate. Even in the Rig Veda, the role of a dog as a protector, is acknowledged when Indra sends the mother of dogs, Sarama, in search of missing cows.

In narratives, dogs are associated with death which is why Sarama’s children, the Sarameya, are the companions of Yama, god of death. They are associated not with civilization but with the wilderness which is why they are associated with mendicants, like Dattatreya. The dog is the mount of Bhairava, the fearsome form of Shiva. A dog is considered so inauspicious that in the Mahabharata, Yudhishtira is not allowed to enter heaven with the dog.

Some would argue that dogs rummage through garbage which is why they are unclean, which is why they are not allowed to come near temples. But these rational explanations do not provide a satisfactory answer. Literal interpretations are convenient but not correct. Logically speaking, a dog should be the symbol of devotion in Hinduism; yet Hindus worship Hanuman, the monkey-god, as the perfect devotee. Mythology must never be taken literally; mythology is symbolic. Mythic stories and symbols are a code, a medium through which the ancestors are communicating profound messages. When the dog is considered inauspicious, it means the dog represents a thought that is inauspicious. What is this inauspicious thought?

In the Bhagavata Purana is the story of Bharata who is a hermit in the forest. He gives up everything but slowly gets attached to a deer. As a result, he is unable to attain moksha. He is reborn as a deer, trapped once more in the cycle of rebirth. Attachment entraps: this is a key maxim in Hindu philosophy.

Now visualize a dog looking at you with eagerness and affection – it adores you and its behavior melts your heart. If you have a pet dog, you will know that the dog constantly seeks validation from you. Give it that attention it craves and it will wag its tail, don’t give it and it will whine.

Now visualize a hermit surrounded by dogs. Does he surrender to the affection of the dog? Does he, like Bharata getting attached to a deer, get attached to these dogs? If he seeks to break free from the cycle of rebirths, he must transcend the urge to get attached. The dog is the ultimate temptation, because the dog gives its master absolute unconditional love and devotion. Nothing is more tempting, not even the dance of damsels known as Apsaras. When Dattatreya, the mendicant, walks with four dogs around him – it indicates his perfect detachment. The dogs follow him but he does not lead them.

The dog is a territorial animal. For the dog, even the master is territory that it will not share. Even when domesticated with all needs fulfilled, the dog needs to mark its territory by raising its legs and spraying its urine. Threaten this territory and the dog will turn on you. This behavior, the ancients realized, is not something to be celebrated in human beings.

Human beings are also territorial. Territory gives us our sense of identity and validation. It is the context that establishes who we are. A industrialist’s identity comes from the industries he owns; a bureaucrat’s identity comes from the position he holds; a politician’s identity comes from the power he holds in the party and the assembly. Any threat to the context that gives him identity, and he will react much in the same way a dog barks. We feel that if we lose our territory (not just physical but also intellectual and emotional) we will lose our identity. That frightens us. We become dogs – wagging tails when territory is reinforced, barking when territory is threatened, whining when territory is unacknowledged. At the root of dog-like behavior is fear, bhaya, fear of invalidation.

He who helps us overpower this fear is Bhairava. This form of Shiva terrifies us because it mocks our primal territorial instinct. In temples such as Kal Bhairav in Delhi and Varanasi, Bhairava is worshipped with alcohol. Alcohol clouds judgment.  From a clouded judgment comes this warped understanding that from territory comes identity. The industrialist forgets that even if he clings and fights for his territory, one day Yama, the god of death, and his Sarameyas, will take him away from his territory. So it will be with the politician and the bureaucrat and the writer and the artist.

Our material, intellectual and emotional territories that we jealously guard, whose loss makes us insecure, is no different from the bone of a dog. We cling and fight over it, until the day we die. And when we die and our bodies reach the crematorium, we find there an inebriated Bhairava seated on a dog laughing at us for a life wasted in a futile pursuit.

  • Ashutosh

    I read your article in Mid Day and then came to your website.

    I liked this article very much.

    The message that you have conveyed is that if we do not have “Bhaya” we can achieve anything including “Moksha”.

    This fact aligns with lines of Viargya Shatakam by Bhrthari.


  • rajat

    when Top class Police officer join duty in Varanasi usually they goes to Kal Bhairav Mandir,
    And in village people take off some part of their meal [aka “Kaura”] for the dog,and their is belief that Dog pray for family to increase cause kaura is directly propositional to number of family member :D

  • I think dogs ,amongst all animals are the most loving as they respond to your emotions without conditions. Also they are the most effective stress relievers and great companions and playmates to children. We as a mankind should think and write well of them.

  • satish gundawar

    why kutte … kamine in Hindy movies … why do we use ‘dog’ for abusing?

  • Urban Turban

    Well then you havent met my dog ;). He’s not territorial, he enjoys the company I keep and doesnt care much for the bone if its snatched away from him. My stanuchly ‘Hindu’ grandmother adored dogs. She offered them food after every prayer.
    While I enjoy most your writing, I dont think this piece makes much sense.

  • Priyonkar

    Come to think of it, though I love dogs very much it is true some of their characteristics are outright lousy and quite base. Their faithfulness, love and courage is simply adorable to say the least, forget all the tail-wagging and such pity provoking stuff. However, your idea of territorial attitude of dogs when seen in humans or groups of humans is so strikingly similar and disgusting. When two or more humans quarrel or fight over trifles (regretfully a common occurrence among humans) they look just like fighting, barking, narrow-minded dogs.

  • iDot

    This was an exellent read.

    So much of our behavior is not just Dog-like but rather animal-like…automatic, instinctual, with no insight into what we are achieving, really. So much effort is put into blind action with no deep value.

    The ‘dog’ metaphor is a good reality check for everyday use.

  • Very good article.
    One of the spiritual theory is that Lord Dattareya is accompanied with 4 dogs and a cow. The 4 dogs, if we observed it is found that they are representing 4 Vedas and Trigunas.
    Dog is the symbol of Knowledge and wisdom.I feel they are not inauspicious either spiritually or worldly.
    The spiritual texts says that dog animal guards the earth. Dogs are the watch dogs but not the blood hunts, actually. – – –

    • dogs are lovable creatures…the idea that they are considered inauspicious disturbs many people….the ‘symbolic’ dog is not the same as the ‘real dog’….the former represents an idea….the idea of neediness…no other animal can symbolize that emotion better…..especially in contrast with the cow which relatively seems autonomous

      • The spiritual world is entirely different from our universe where we are living.

        when a tantrik sadhana started with a view to achieve success in the sadhana of FAR EARING or popularly called as a sadhana of KARNA PISHCHINI.

        All most all the Gurus and spiritual scholars, teachers strongly oppose, rather discourage to practice or to learn such black listed sadhana.
        Inspite of such warnings and cautions alerted by some people, I decided to learn and to achieve that sadhana.
        On the first day of trial by mantra chanting itself, I found horrible reaction , vibrating the deity or the goddess of that mantra or sadhana.. .
        Then a chain of horrifying experiences started.
        The mostly noted creature uses to encounterd with me is that ‘D O G’
        . . .
        As per my spiritual experiences, dog is a symbol & vehicle who represents THE LORD OF DEATH i.e, Yama or yamaraja or associate of shani or the security commandednt of ADIPARASHAKTHI, mahamaya or maa kali.
        whose vehicle is dog ?
        Dog is the vehicle of Mahakal or yama, i beleve.
        (to be continued).

  • Yoga

    An brilliant idea so well told. Kudo to Dr. DevDutta for presenting such a nice article.

    I do have one comment. I think few more lines on the symbolic need to use ‘Alcohol’ to pray ‘Kal Bhairav’ is essential as I did not get the complete picture of this act(praying using ‘Alcohol’).

  • Wonderful! Great piece

  • BhairavaShiva

    dogs are completed devoted to master. They represent the perfect disciple.
    Your comment is interesting take, but the contradictions must exist!
    Thing is, like Ramana Maharshi said once, “There is neither creation nor destruction, neither destiny nor free will, neither path nor achievement. This is the final truth”
    To all contradictions through mind, thoughts and language, there are billions of miny contradictions, but only silence stands as the one contradiction to all of them. It is silence of spirit and everything else.
    Om Namah Shivaya friends

    • Devdutt

      Dogs are attached….attachment is bondage…gurus exist to help people break bonds ….even a disciple’s dependence on guru is bondage that has to be broken eventually

      • everlastin

        The whole creation is attachment of a sort, physical and non physical. You are attached to eating food to get rid of your hunger. Sometimes you feel like eating certain food. you may get away from food by doing hard core yogic practices such as surya yog but then you will be attached to surya yog. You may get away from surya yog by going into deep samadhi. Then you will be attached to samadhi experience related knowledge and experience and finally one with creator. But all hindu holy scriptures says god is in every single particle of creation. That includes humans . Whether its daughter or guru ,girlfriend you, me….etc. So there is no real dissatachment. After all the detachment one wil realise all is one. Shiv or any other name you wish to give.

  • Rahul

    Very nice article!

  • Who is kalabairava …non sence..

    Dog is a nice friend..a nice friend is more thana god .kalabairava laughs at us after death na…..we are worried abt life before death

    • Kuljeet Chaudhary

      @bdcaf142107e4194d5c4e5115bf6e465:disqus its a request not to hurt sentiments of those who worship Lord Kal Bhairav. Please use your writing skills wisely.

    • everlastin

      Kal bhairav is shiv. Now you will ask who is shiv. Shiv is all you can imagine and all that you cant imagine. All that u see and all that u cant see.

  • Abhishek Ghosh

    A slight correction. Dogs are considered very auspicious according to Hindi mythology. It was only the dog who was allowed to enter the heaven and not even Yudishthir.
    Another fact is that those who are aware of the importance of a dog in Hindu mythology they pray to Bhairav and Shani on Saturdays and feed dogs after the puja.
    Also, dog is a Vahana of Bhairav the Guru of Shani. This is why black dogs are quite sought after by those with knowledge of our Hindu mythology and culture.
    So for all those who do not like dogs can think about it whether they would want to ill treat these guardians.

    • Kuljeet Chaudhary

      gud post abhishek

  • Ria

    Half of the indians are sick and mad thats why outer indian peoples are spitting at us…Oh!aweful indians please shake away this shackles of insanity and blind beliefs from your mind or else you will regret one day..Dog is a very faithful animal as well.they are innocent creations of god…although dog is not the only victim in the hands of superstitions but indians also assume cat as an inauspicious animal…This are all fake…

    • Devdutt

      this comment is a CLASSIC case of taking things literally and not symbolically…..this is idol-worship in all its grandeur – all about form/package with no appreciation of the underlying thought/meaning/message….the seed of all Right-wing, fundamentalist, violent ideologies

  • Kuljeet Chaudhary

    Dogs are most loyal animals, they are completely devoted to there masters. I strongly disagree you saying dogs bring ill luck. Rather they intimate us if something negative is about to happen.

  • Kuljeet Chaudhary

    About Dog and Yudhishthir:

    Yudhishthir had a dog with him when he was going to Swarg (in
    Swargaarohan Parv of Mahaabhaarat). He did not leave this dog in spite
    of Indra’s threat that he would not be able to go to Swarg because the
    dogs were allowed in Swarg. When he did not get ready to go to Swarg at
    any cost leaving the dog behind,, the dog showed his real form and
    blessed him. In reality that dog was the father of Yudhishthir – Dharm
    Raaj himself, although he did not now it.

  • Miss I Have some brains

    you are one big dumb fuck… are a disgrace to hindus….you should be shot with your own shit…every living this is a God’s gift apart from you cause your interpretation of the whole story is fucked up….go get laid dude…..have some good sex…..your mind will free up….dont know shit about dogs…ASSHOLE…..and next time keep your interpretation of hindu texts and scriptures to yourself and stop spreading nonsense….and i cant believe the people who are reading this or read this including me…

  • Miss I Have some brains

    all animals are beautiful and good……its when u use your screwed up brains to understand everything u fuck up like human beings….and you are one of them…..and Yudhishtira was to enter the heaven with a dog…..cause Lord Krishna had asked him to say make the announcement of the death of the elephant Ashwathama and Ashwathama was also the son of DronAcharya…. since Yudhishtir never lied in his life Lord Krishna asked him to make the announcement ” Ashwathama Haatho, eethi Gaaja”the eethi gaaja part which means the elephant was said at a very low tone. So due to that he was said he would have to enter the heavens with a dog as a punishment. And if Yudhishtir hadn’t listened to Lord Krishna….you and i wouldnt be here arguing about it. So please do read the text and scriptures but keep your interpretation to your self…..we all have opinions we dont all go blogging about it….yes its free to do so….do something useful in that time than giving people wrong interpretations

  • Aswathi Razak

    I’m surprised by how many people don’t understand the intention of this post. I think it proves further how people are getting all territorial about their opinions. I think it’s dogs are a perfect metaphor for worldly attachment, and this post is brilliant in exploring why it’s considered (partly) inauspicious.

    I just had one doubt, In Jaya, Yudhistira’s attachment to Svana doesn’t obstruct his passage to heavan. In fact, he is praised for it by Yama (who was disguised as svana). I don’t understand why the climax of the mahabharatha would contradict itself, when is it alright to have worldly attachments? Why is it that yudhistira can’t be attached to his brothers but can be attached to svana?

  • tino

    If you understand why shiva roamed the earth as bhairava then you will understand what the meaning of the dog is , and for me it is the same as hanumans devotion to ram & sita..

  • Mudiyawala Subodhchandra

    ” In Hindu mythology, the dog is the most inauspicious of animals, to be kept away from wedding altars and holy sites.” – For describing above, merely because BHAIRAV is sitting on Dog, it is inauspicious; then why not mouse on which LORD GANESH is sitting, on EVERY AUSPICIOUS CELEBRATION S. It is expected that some more needs made known.

    Further there is also narration that ” ALL EIGHT BHAIRAV ” PROTECTS earth from Evils and Provides Prosperity, duty being assigned by LORD SHIVA. How Dog on which BHAIRAV is sitting would become inauspicious. To keep a Dog as Pet would be inauspicious ?