Man’s relationship with dog in our region has contradictory nature. Whether one is a Hindu or a Muslim or a Sikh for example, one’s attitude towards the dog is ambivalent, to say the least.

The history of the relationship is mired in the confusing notions of faith, spirituality and utilitarian culture. It’s one of the earliest animals domesticated by humans if we look at the evolution of human society. It’s generally considered either to be polluting or impure. The former in the Hindu religious culture and the latter in the Muslim religious culture. The earliest mention of dog is found in the Rig-Veda [composed/revealed in the Punjab, 1500 BC]. It’s in fact a bitch called Sarama that traces for Vedic god Indra the cows stolen and kept hidden in a cave by Pani, one of the prominent Harappa tribes demonised by Vedic Aryans for their resistance.

In the post-Vedic times, the famous epic Mahabharata tells us quite a few stories about dog and its complicated relationship with our ancient society. “When Janamejaya and his brothers were performing a sacrifice, a dog, son of the bitch Sarama, came near. The brothers beat the dog, who ran howling back to his mother and told her that they had beaten him though he had neither looked at nor licked the offerings. Sarama then went to the sacrificial grounds and said to Janamejaya, ‘since you beat my son when he had done nothing wrong, danger will befall you when you do not see it coming (translation; Wendy Doniger)”. Janamejaya, a Kuru king, as a result is bitten by a snake.

Manu also warns kings to be on their guard against dogs who could pollute the oblations by licking them. Contrary to treatment meted out to it here, there are other stories where the dog is rewarded for its loyalty. Mythical king Yudhishthira for example refuses to forsake his loyal dog because he cannot enter heaven without the dog who is devoted to him.

Some scholars think that dog in Indian mythology in some way also symbolically represents the marginalised; pariah and women.

In Muslim culture the clergy and the conservative treat dog as ‘Najas/ Paleet’, impure and filthy, not only to be undeserving of being a pet but also to be avoided for its polluting touch. Angels do not visit the house that has a dog, they declare. But at the same time we read in the Quran the story of As’haab e Kaaf [fellows of Kaaf] who slept in a cave for centuries with their dog and when woke up found the world unrecognisably changed. We find no adverse remark about the dog in the story. So an ambivalence regarding dog is found in both the religious communities despite the difference in their worldviews. Dog’s bad luck!

Dog has been an inseparable part of Punjab’s countryside and agrarian society spanning over thousands of years. It’s feared but loved more for what it can do for humans. For being small units with low density population villages are vulnerable to theft attacks and burglary. It is dogs who guard the houses and keep the intruders at bay with their nightly vigils. They also keep watch at pens and cattle sheds. They can be nastier than the nasty hustlers. During the day time dogs mind the herds and do not let them go astray. A line from folklore hints at long companionship of man and dog; “uth way kuttiya, jungle suttiya, jungle paee ladaai [Get up you sleeping dog/ strife has surfaced in the jungle]. It perhaps vaguely alludes to our coming out of primeval forests as a result of chaotic situation developed over there at some point in time in the distant past.

In our classical literature we find dog mentioned several times in the poetry of urbanite Madho Lal Husain [sixteenth century]. In his verses it stands for negative significance. “Dhund purani kuttiyan lukki, sraovar maanh dhuityasey [The dogs licked the stagnant pool /we washed ourselves in the fresh water stream]”. In another verse he says:”jis nagri Thakur jass nahi, so kaakar kookar basti hai [The town where one doesn’t hear the hymn, is the abode of crows and dogs]”. The meanings are abundantly clear. May be the poet has visceral dislike for pariah dog because of his urban upbringing. He is otherwise full of empathy and compassion.

Poet Khawja Farid likens himself to a loyal dog at the Lords’ door. When legendary Heer after her forced marriage spends time with Ranjha, her lover, in the garden, her friends celebrating the amorous encounter say: “Kherey Kabuli kuttian vaang ethey, wadhva ke kunn te dumb gae [Like Kabuli dogs the Khera ran away after having their nose and tail clipped]. Khera, the in-laws of Heer, are like Kabuli dogs who are known for being ferocious and nasty.

Bulleh Shah, the relentless defender of the defenseless, is the only one who dares to place dogs a few notches higher than most of men in his short poem “kuttey”: “You stay up all night to pray / but dogs are sleepless too /they are better than you / they will not leave their master’s house /though beaten black and blue/ they are better than you [trans: Taufiq Rafat]”.

In almost all cultures dog has been/is treated unfairly despite its loyalty to and love for humans. Just look at English language. It’s large number of phrases that demean dog. In our language we have similar expressions; kuttia kuttia hovan [ to be mistreated like a dog], kuttey di nasal [offspring of miserable/ filthy parents], Kuttey di maar [ born of a dog], kuttey vaang loor loor phiran [ to fool around like a dog], Kuttey khussi karan [ to castrate dogs/ it means doing most useless things] and innumerable other such phrases. You can seriously offend a man by calling him a dog. But if you call a woman a bitch [kutti], you would land in far more serious trouble. We humans have a disease called selfishness. Our care or love for an animal is proportionate to its utility for us. We are rigidly anthropocentric when it comes to animals. A dog is good as long as it barks at what we hate, the moment it barks at us, it’s nasty. And we can be nastier when animals are nasty. After all we animals with a developed brain. —

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2021



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