Vahanas - the Mounts of the Hindu Deities
The Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts and wisdom has a swan as her vahana.

Vahanas - the Mounts of the Hindu Deities

The 'Vah' in vahana means 'to transport or to carry' and a vahana is a being - typically a mythical entity or an animal - which carries or pulls. Each particular god is believed to use a particular vahana. In this context, a vahana is generally called a god's mount. Upon this divine partnership between a god and his vahana, much mythology and iconography is woven. Often, the god is pictured mounted upon his vahana. The vahanas are also depicted at the god's side and symbolically represent the divine attributes. The mounts are also considered an accoutrement of the god. Although the vahana may work independently, they are symbiotic with the respective god or even functionally emblematic. The gods or goddesses may be seen standing beside or sitting upon their mounts.

Among the early Aryan gods to receive mounts were Agni, the god of fire (whose vahana was a sheep), Varuna, the god of water (naturally mounted on a crocodile), Vayu, the god of wind (appropriately astride an antelope) and the Moon who rides through the heavens on a deer.

Carnivores, the dreaded enemy of man and his cattle, came to be the mounts of the goddesses Durga and Kali. Such creatures' ferocity and strength made them an obvious accessory to the goddessess' destructive and demonic aspect and established their supreme power. Herbivores on the other hand, were associated with male gods. Nandi the bull is the vahana of Shiva and reflects his legendary virility.

The deer, consistently associated with Brahma, were also seen with Shiva who is frequently depicted holding a deer to signify his status as Pashupati, Lord of the Beasts.

Lord Vishnu soars above the earth on Garuda, the golden eagle-hawk, who is swifter than the wind and the sworn enemy of snakes. He has the head, wings and talons of a bird but the body of a man. A sense of power and strength is always evident in a depiction of Garuda.

Brahma's mount is the hamsa, variously interpreted as a swan or a goose. The bird was later also associated with Saraswati, the goddess of learning. Its veneration was believed to ensure success in every enterprise. Apart from its depiction with the deity, the hamsa also frequently adorns lamps, symbolising the goddess's capacity to dispel the darkness of ignorance.

Kartikeya, god of war, has a peacock for his vahana. This apparently incongruous relationship has been traced to the bird's formidable ability to destroy snakes.

Indra, king of the lesser gods and lord of rain, rides the elephant Airavata. Also allied with Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity, elephants were widely represented.

The river goddesses, Ganga and Yamuna, were appropriately mounted on a tortoise and a crocodile respectively. The fish, a symbol of fertility, (as are all aquatic creatures) was related to the god of love, Kama, and was often emblazoned on his banner. His consort, Rati (passion), was usually represented with a parrot. Commonly portrayed in erotic sculpture, this bird also indicated the mood of love.

Who is the vahana of Lord Vishnu?
Bunda, lord of apes
Garuda, lord of birds
Nag, lord of serpents
Akila, lord of wolves
Garuda is a fanatic enemy of snakes and also a ferocious warrior. Once he defeated all the gods, only to be defeated himself by Vishnu. He served as Vishnu's mount thereafter
Who is the vahana of Lord Shiva?
Shaitaan, the black panther
Ganga, the crocodile
Nandi, the bull
Kadru, the serpent
Long ago, Nandi was the 'Lord of Joy' but he transferred his divine prerogatives to Lord Shiva
What is the vahana of Parvati?
Parvati is the consort of Lord Shiva, who rides a bull. It is highly interesting that Parvati rides a lion, almost the only animal that can hunt a bull
What animal is the vahana of the river goddess Yamuna?
Yes, a land dwelling tortoise rather than a water dwelling turtle. Kurma is always translated as tortoise
Who is the mount of Indra, king among the demigods?
Airavat, lord of elephants
Daaman, lord of mountain goats
Sitam, lord of lions
Khodi, lord of peacocks
Airavat was formed out of the primordial ocean, churned by the gods. His name itself means 'produced by water'. He is depicted with four tusks and eight trunks. Airavat's wife is Abharamu
Who is the vahana of Lord Brahma?
Singam, the lion
Humaa, the kite
Talaash, the whale
Hamsa, the swan
Hamsa symbolises intelligence and the ability to classify every being as it is considered to be a bird which can separate water from milk
Who bears the considerable weight of Lord Ganesh?
Musaka, the mouse
Zhiyaan, the bear
Taqaat, the bull
Hathi, the elephant
It is a great paradox that a mouse bears an elephantine god like Ganesh. It is a source of much theological explanation and discussion. Ganesh is popular among the devotees of Vishnu and Shiva alike. He is a very friendly god
Another aspect of Parvati is Sherowali. As Sherowali, what is the goddess' vahana?
It is the fearlessness of the tiger that qualifies it to be the vahana of Durga, the goddess who exists to destroy evil. Though usually depicted as a tiger, the vahana is sometimes drawn as a lion, appearing without stripes
What animal is the vehicle of Lakshmi?
The owl represents spiritual wisdom, rather than the blindness associated with seeking worldly rather than spiritual wealth. The owl is also a good avian match for Garuda, since Lakshmi is Vishnu's consort
What animal is the vehicle of Saraswati?
Saraswati, consort of Lord Brahma, is usually associated with the god's vahana. She is also often accompanied by a peacock


Author:  Siddarth Bhattacharjee

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