The tradition of feeding birds and animals

India has a popular tradition of feeding birds and animals.  On festive occasions like the Pongal, the cow, considered sacred by the Hindus, is worshipped and fed while coloured balls of rice are laid out for the crows.   Other animals affiliated with various Hindu gods and goddesses are worshipped and made offerings to.  Naag Panchmi is a Hindu festival dedicated to the workship of snakes that are affiliated with Lord Shiva.  The Karni Maata temple at Deshnoke in Bikaner, Rajasthan, is abode for ‘holy’ rats, associated with Lord Ganesha.  The Galtaji temple near Jaipur, Rajasthan, houses monkeys in large numbers.  Monkeys are believed to be the personification of Lord Hanuman and hence worshipped and offered food. 

However, the tradition of feeding animals and birds is not confined to temples or festivals.  It is also performed on a daily basis at or near homes.  Homeless dogs are fed rice or biscuits, stray cats given milk.  Grain is scattered on empty grounds for the pigeons.  And then there is the custom of setting aside rice for birds and small animals. This very tradition is followed primarily in southern India. 

At my parents’ home in Chennai, my mother scoops out a large spoonful of paruppu saadam, or lentil rice, on the outer ledge of the kitchen window every day.  She does this before serving the midday meal to the family.  My children love to wait and observe the ‘special guests’ from a distance. 

Each day there are either one or more partakers of the rice – a crow, squirrel, koel, and sometimes, a dove.  On rare occasions when our ‘guests’ do not finish up the food, a long queue of hardworking black ants can be observed carrying away the leftovers a few hours later. 

Interestingly one of my parents’ neighbours follows a similar practice of setting aside food on the boundary wall.  Then she bangs a steel plate against the wall - TUNG, TUNG, TUNG - her way of announcing to the birds and animals that lunch had been served!  Another neighbour calls out - “Caw-caw caw-caw” – an invitation to the crows that attracts other species as well!    

Why are Indians so obsessed with feeding these creatures?
‘Karma’ is important.  Do good and good things will happen to you.  Indians believe in life after death.  Hence, good deeds such as these are done to please the gods and ensure a good ‘next life’. 
The belief that some of these animals are our ancestors reborn in a non-human form also prompts such actions of feeding. To be kind and charitable gives one peace of mind and hope for a good ‘next life’.


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