In the modern world, vehicles are seen as the status or power symbol of the person riding it more than a mere means of transportation. For example, Airforce one, the most famous official aircraft of the American President is specially designed and built and also the most photographed aircraft in the world. The car specially built for him by Cadillac is called the “Beast”. There is this rich Indian business man who lives in his 27 story house with 168 cars including a Benz costing in excess of rupees five crores. Politicians in India, including MPs and MLAs are constantly fighting to get a red beacon (lal bathi) on top of their cars to signify their authority and position in the social milieu.
In Hindu iconography, positive aspects of the vehicle are often representative of the deity that it carries. The vehicle of a particular deity in Hinduism has symbolic and philosophical significance. The symbolic meaning varies from deity to deity. Some Vahana teach human beings the value and importance of selfless service, devotion to duty and patience. Often the Vahana of a Hindu God indicates a wrong or evil human quality which has been controlled by riding on it, or a good quality inherent in an animal or bird that needs to spread and adapted by all. Many vahana may also have divine powers as they serve the God/Goddess selflessly and remains in the presence of the lord all the time. And they will also have the power to grant boon or shower curses. The God/Goddess may be seen sitting, standing or riding the vahana or at times the vahana may be seen sitting near the God. These Vahana are the representation of the various energies (animal energies) that exists in the universe as well as in human beings and they need to be controlled and channel properly so as to transform ourselves spiritually. Each god or goddess is in-charge of a particular energy which he or she rides and controls at his or her will. These energies are present in man also, mostly as wild animal energies and they need to be controlled and channelled properly in order to transform the lower self and establish divine consciousness in him. For this he has to propitiate different gods who if satisfied with his supplication arise or descend into his consciousness and help him master them.
Below is a list of Hindu gods and goddesses and their respective ‘vahanas’
•Aditya (Sun God) – seven horses
•Agni – the Ram
•Brahma – Hamsa (swan)
•Durga – the lion
•Ganesha – the mouse
•Indra – the elephant
•Subramanya – the peacock
•Maha Lakshmi – the owl
•Saraswati – the swan or the peacock
•Shani – the crow
•Shiva – Nandi, the bull
•Varuna – seven swans
•Vayu – a thousand horses
•Vishnu – Garuda, the eagle & Adi Shesha, the serpent
•Yama – the male buffalo
Vishnu – According to various Puranas, Vishnu is the ultimate omnipresent reality and one of the most important Gods among the Trinity. Vishnu’s vahana is the eagle King named Garuda. Garuda is depicted as having the golden body of a strong man with a white face, red wings, and an eagle’s beak and with a crown on his head. This ancient deity was said to be massive, large enough to block out the sun. Throughout the Mahabharata, Garuda is invoked as a symbol of impetuous violent force, of speed, and of martial prowess. Garuda symbolises the space element and the power of the sun, which can dry up the water. Hence Garuda is the natural enemy of snakes and he devours or controls them. He represents the spiritual energy of which devours the delusions of jealousy and hatred, which are represented by the snake. Garuda is also the openness: he can stretch out his wings and soar into space. Garuda represents the human thoughts which can fly in all directions at incredible speed. Lord Vishnu can help us to control our thoughts.
Another name for Garuda is “Veda atma”; Soul of the Vedas. The flapping of his wings symbolizes the power of the Divine Truth of Vedic wisdom. Also the eagle represents the soul. Garuda carrying Vishnu symbolizes the soul or jiva-atma carrying the Super soul or Param atma within it.
Lord Vishnu is seated on Adi Shesha, the serpent god, who represents the desire consciousness in us. The serpent Anantha represents thoughts, endless thoughts that pass through our minds all the time. That is why it has thousand hoods symbolising thousands and thousands of thoughts passing through our minds at any given time. In many pictures, the serpent is shown with five hoods, which represents our five senses, hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and touching, based on which our thoughts are generated. Lord Vishnu can help us either to fulfil these desires or control them.
Vishnu is shown wearing two earrings: The earrings represent inherent opposites in creation — knowledge and ignorance; happiness and unhappiness; pleasure and pain. Similarly his vehicles also represent the inherent opposites in creation – Garuda and the snake sesha.
Lord Shiva represents the aspect of the Supreme Being that continuously dissolves to recreate in the cyclic process of creation, preservation, dissolution and recreation of the universe. Lord Shiva is the Lord of mercy and compassion. He protects devotees from evil forces such as lust, greed, and anger. He grants boons, bestows grace and awakens wisdom in His devotees. Lord Siva rides the Bull, Nandi, which stands for the bullying, aggressive, blind and brute power in man. The bull symbolizes both power and ignorance. It also stands for unbridled sexual energy, Kama. Only Lord Siva can help us control these and transform them. Lord Shiva’s use of the bull as a vehicle conveys the idea that He removes ignorance and bestows power of wisdom on His devotees. Have you seen villains in Hindi movies, they are generally shown as physically strong persons with lack of intelligence or thinking power. They are the bulls, if under control will do whatever the master wants, or else it can destroy you also.