By Swami Harshananda
Vāhana literally means ‘mount’, ‘vehicle’.
Deities and Their Vehicles
There are many deities in the religious pantheon who have a vāhana or carrier vehicle which are usually animals or birds. These deities are supposed to ride or be seated on them. The following is a list of the important deities and associated vāhanas with them:
Vāhana as per Kālikāpurāṇa
A particular vāhana for a particular deity has not only a legendary association, generally as depicted in the purāṇas, but also a symbolical meaning. According to the Kālikāpurāṇa, the vāhanas are only transformations of the deities themselves. Iconographically, a deity is not necessarily represented as riding the vāhana. The latter may be merely indicated on the pedestal of the image.
Vāhana as per Festivals
Sometimes the vāhanas are independently installed in front of the main icon outside the sanctum facing it or even in separate pavilions. During the festivals in the big temples, especially during the rathotsava, gorgeously decorated utsavamurtis, gorgeously decorated, may be seated on a vāhana and taken round the streets in a colorful procession. On such occasions, there may not be any specific association of the vāhana with the deity. The vāhanas made of wood or metal or both, may be anyone of the following:
- Gaja - elephant
- Vṛṣabha - bull
- Aśva - horse
- Śeṣa - serpent
- Śibikā - palanquin
- Hañisa - swan
- Simha - lion
- Ratha - chariot
- ↑ Kālikāpurāṇa Chapter 57
- ↑ Rathotsava means car- festival.
- ↑ Utsavamurtis means processional images.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore