The love and affection for dogs is not a new concept around the world. There is a reason it is called a man’s best friend, the friendship and loyalty it shows can be a food for the soul. As Colleen Paige said, “Dogs have both an outer and inner beauty, an ability to love and a spirit that connects with humans in a way that cannot be replicated by any other living thing”. So, it is only natural that there are countless events and even religious festivals around the world that honor dogs, either it be family dogs or the dogs that work selflessly to save lives, keep us safe and bring comfort.
Being from a country which celebrates the existence of dogs like no other, I myself have a very strong affection towards them. My home country Nepal celebrates the festival of lights “Tihar”, with a very special whole day dedicated to worshipping dogs called “Kukur Puja”. On this special day, dogs with and without homes are thanked for their friendship and offered delicious treats/food as well as marked with a ‘tika’ on the forehead as a sign of a sacred being.
In ancient Hindu texts, dogs are depicted as loyal companions, helpers of humans and most importantly, as guardians and messengers. For example, in the Hindu text ‘Mahabharata’, the great King Yudhisthira refused to enter heaven without his dog. That means all the dogs go to heaven in the Hindu mythology. Also, Bhairabha, an avatar of Lord Shiva has a dog as his vahana(vehicle). Additionally, Yamraj, the God of death is believed to have two dogs guarding the gates of hell. So, as we can see, dogs are pretty significant in the Hindu culture who are believed to be able to sense impending danger and even death.
Here is a video which was recommended by my mentor, Bijay Niraula, which talks further about the dog worship in Hindu culture, this one specifically in India where there is a dog statue for worship which is believed to be set up by a nomad who killed a dog once and then felt sad about it later. Although this video is in Hindi, we can see the images that reflect the importance of dogs conveyed in this temple.
Now, moving on to other parts of the world, let’s take a look at the Chinese celebration of dogs. In honor of the Year of the Dog according to the Lunar calendar, it is only fair to shed light on this beautiful tradition that the estimated one-fifth of the world’s population takes part in. The 2nd day of the new year is considered to be a birthday of dogs. According a Chinese myth, the Jade Emperor once decided the order of the zodiac animals by the order they arrived to his party. Monkey, Rooster and Dog were in another country helping a god defeat evil spirits, and they arrived at the party together and the dog became the eleventh. The Year of the Dog signals a fortunate 12 months ahead for most of those born in the dog years. It signifies dependability, building loyalty at work and in relationships and building material wealth, i.e. all of the attributes that dogs are known for. The celebration is done around the world which includes parades, dancing, music, fireworks and ends with a lantern festival. China even has a local tradition in Jiaobang village where dogs are carried on a wooden throne as a respect because of the legend that a dog saved the first settlers dying of thirst in the area.
Adding to the festivals that glorifies dogs, there is The Feast of Saint Roch celebrated in Bolivia and The Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi around the world by the Catholics in honor of the dogs, which makes sense because Saint Roch is believed to be a patron saint of dogs whose plague was healed by a dog and St. Francis of Assisi was known for his love of animals and living creatures.
Saint Roch, Patron of Dogs
In her article “Holiday Celebrations Around the World Honoring Dogs!”, leading pet lifestyle expert Wendy Diamond mentions various ancient religions where dogs were treated as deities, like the Mesopotamian religion where a group worshipped ‘dog-deity’ in a temple reffered to as the ‘dog house’; or the Egyptian religion where Anubis, the god of afterlife, had the head of a jackal – thus, a messenger to God. There are many other religions like Aztec, Islam, Greek, Judaism, Philistines and so on, that justify the worshipping and significance of dogs in their civilizations. So, the aspect of worshipping and honoring dogs goes way beyond our modern-day religions.
Fast-forwarding to today’s modern world, we are living in a society where dogs have their own voice, especially in more modern, urban areas. All this has been made possible by the countless animal rights organizations and agencies, which take part in ensuring the well being and protection of dogs. One of such examples is an organization called National Dog Day, which advocates dog rescue & adoption and celebrates all breeds of dogs. In more prominent places for dog owners, especially in big cities, there are things like Dog Lovers’ Conventions and Dog Shows. For example, earlier this year in March, Purina invited dog lovers and pet lovers across the globe to the second annual Beverly Hills Dog Show which also included Hollywood stars as well as the ‘star dogs’ in their own world, and even has some competition between the dogs in some skill-areas for the top prize. All this was done to celebrate the positive impact dogs make in our lives. Now these ‘dog-loving’ events are even more prominent in high profile societies. In a very interesting read from Vanity Fair, Jamie Johnson tried to explain why rich people worship dogs in this day and age. From that observation, the extra care, training and kindness (even more than the humans are offered) for dogs stems out from their “struggle to relate to friends, family, and acquaintances on matters that inspire basic human feelings”.
Therefore, we can all agree to the conclusion that dogs really are food for our soul, and there is nothing comparable to the ‘mute devotion’ that comes from a dog, coupled with a degree of selfless-ness and humility that comes out of it. All they have to do is simply ‘exist’ and that alone can be more fulfilling to humans, based on what we see in today’s society.