Cats in Indian Tradition and Historical past: The place Do They Match In?

Close up of cheerful Indian young couple with a cat

At first look, India’s pet possession charges could make it appear to be cats aren’t a lot of a cultural issue. Numbers have risen up to now few years, however cats solely seem in 20% of Indian properties1. Even on the streets, you’re much less prone to spot a roaming feline than a stray canine, though cats multiply extra rapidly.

However a relative lack of home cats will not be a coincidence. As a substitute, it might be a long-standing product of the animal’s place in Indian custom. Cats have appeared within the nation’s historic document for over two millennia, taking part in pivotal elements in important Indian literature and lore. Their affect is wealthy, and a deeper look into their historical past may also help demystify the attitudes and beliefs, each constructive and destructive, that persist within the tradition.


Cats in Early Indian Tradition

The cat’s place in Indian historical past begins with the origins of organized society on the subcontinent. Courting again to 2500–1700 BCE, the Indus valley civilization, or Harappan civilization, was one of many first three civilizations, alongside Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Though the early Indian cultures didn’t deify cats like Egyptians, felines have been nonetheless a notable presence. The sprawling civilization centered on strong, well-planned agriculture practices, and domesticated animals finally discovered their method into the equation.

Cattle, buffalo, camels, and presumably even Asian elephants have been important for meat, transportation, and dealing in Harappan grain fields. Canines and cats have been frequent, defending communities and their livelihood. Home cats might have advanced from a commensal relationship. As rodents got here to invade grain fields and shops, cats naturally had causes to reside among the many inhabitants, offering free pest management.

Black cat with white spots standing on a rural street with raised paw
Picture Credit score: Oleg Elkov, Shutterstock

divider-catCat Depictions in Indian Literature

Over the centuries, cats turned central figures in numerous sides of Indian tradition. Most notable is their look within the Ramayana and the Mahabharata round 4–5 BCE. The 2 historical epics, which many regard as historic texts, are essential influences in Indian society and the Hindu faith, with their important classes on life, morality, and ethics guiding the nation’s residents to at the present time.

Ramayana and Mahabharata

The Ramayana references cats as disguises, with key figures benefiting from the animal’s stealth. Hanuman makes an attempt to rescue Sita, Rama’s spouse, from Lanka, reworking right into a black cat to maneuver among the many shadows undetected. In retellings of the lore, the god Indra, a necessary a part of Vedic and Hindu religions, additionally turned into a cat. Upon being caught having an affair with Ahalya, the king of the gods reworked to keep away from seize.

The Mahabharata gave the cat a extra instructional position within the story of Lomash and Palita, a cat and mouse. Regardless of being enemies, Palita helped Lomash escape after the cat fell right into a trapper’s palms. In trade, Lomash provided safety from different close by predators. However when Lomash was not at risk, intuition took again over, and the 2 turned enemies as soon as extra, a cautionary story of energy dynamics and motivations in relationships.


The Panchatantra is a group of animal fables from historical India that includes a number of references to cats. One story describes a gaggle of mice who plan to bell a shopkeeper’s cat to elude hazard however fall quick when no one volunteers. One other known as “The Cat’s Judgment” casts the cat in a treacherous gentle. Performing like a devoutly holy creature, the cat tips a partridge and hare into trusting and approaching him. Once they do, he swiftly kills them.

Stray cats in a street of india
Picture Credit score: Scott Biales DitchTheMap, Shutterstock


The Cat’s Position in Indian Faith

Hindu mythology makes sparing point out of the cat. Nevertheless it does play a necessary half for the goddess Shashti, a determine of worship, significantly in North India. The goddess of fertility and protector of kids makes use of a cat as her mount. One notable story facilities on the black cat wrongly taking the blame for lacking meals and struggling punishment for it. In retaliation, the cat steals the kids of its accuser and brings them to Shashti till the girl makes amends.

Legal guidelines of Manu

Across the first century, the Legal guidelines of Manu, or Manu-smriti, turned the authorized code of the Hindu religion. Coping with a number of facets of Indian life, together with the caste system and secular regulation, the Sanskrit textual content continues to affect the tradition.

Whereas cats don’t issue into any essential tales, one regulation surrounding the well-lived lifetime of a Brahman outlines pretty distinct attitudes towards the creatures. In keeping with the textual content, Brahman mustn’t honor, not even by greeting, males who reside like cats.

divider-catTrendy Tradition and Cats

Cats don’t take pleasure in the identical reputation in Indian households as in lots of different international locations. Contemplating their historical past in Indian storytelling and faith, it’s straightforward to see how they might get a repute for being sneaky and untrustworthy. And since they don’t occupy a distinguished place inside Hinduism, Indians might not have a robust pure affinity for cats.

A number of theories persist about why cat possession is so low in India. The misleading persona that many attribute to them absolutely doesn’t assist. And superstitions surrounding black cats nonetheless abound, as they do across the globe. In India, many view the black cat as a warning from Lord Shani, a Hindu deity of retribution. If a black cat crosses your path, you need to keep away and let another person proceed first, successfully transferring any unhealthy luck to them.

Outdoors of folklore, some might consider that cats don’t align with Indian values. For instance, cats are carnivores. In a rustic the place eight in ten people limit meat consumption, and almost 40% determine as vegetarians, it might not depart a lot room for opposing diets.

California Spangled cat
Picture Credit score: Burhan Oral GUDU, Shutterstock

Rising Cat Possession

Pet possession opened up in unexpected methods throughout the globe in recent times, thanks primarily to COVID. When individuals stayed caught at dwelling, loneliness seeped in, alternative struck, and pet gross sales have been in a position to surge. And whereas canine have been, by far, the popular selection for many pet house owners, curiosity in cats exploded.

With the growth in pet ownership, the variety of pet cats in India in 2023 is anticipated to be more than double the quantity from 2014. For youthful generations in any case, practicality is changing into extra essential than cultural stigmas. Cats are low upkeep and simple to boost, particularly as a primary pet. And in smaller flats, their compact dimension makes them excellent housemates.



Last Thought

There’s extra to India’s cat culture than the big species you’ll see within the wild. Cats have made their mark within the richest Indian traditions, however their standing is shifting considerably with the instances. Because the pet market grows and India’s residents take contemporary views on their place within the dwelling, cats could also be redefining their position in India’s tradition.

Featured Picture Credit score: VAKS-Inventory Company, Shutterstock


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