Power of Dog
Sacred animals are a common site in Hindu temples around the world – not only the obligatory cow, but also monkeys, rats, crows and so forth.
Nepalese Hindus have an annual five-day festival called Tihar. It is part of their lunar calendar, so the exact date varies from year to year. In 2015 it was the second week of November. The second day of this festivity is called Kukur Tihat and is dedicated to the reverencing of dogs. Canines are regarded as messengers of the god of the dead, Yamaraj. As well as their mythical function, dogs are generally thanked on this holy day for their service to humanity – as guard dogs, helpers for the blind and disabled, rescue dogs, helpers to the police, companions for people of all ages, and so forth.
Naturally dogs attend the actual ceremony itself, and are garlanded with flowers and anointed with oils and coloured paste. Owners and well-wishers give dogs their favourite treats, pet and fuss them. Within Hinduism Sarama is considered the mother of all canines. Two of her sons are loyal servants of the god of death. Some scholars regard her as an embodiment of light, which curiously echoes the Irish myth of Failinis (the blindingly bright dog of Lugh, who dazzles his enemies).
The two sons of Sarama are described as four-eyed. This phrase is also used within Zoroastrianism to describe dogs with spots or coloured patches above their eyes. Within that religion such spotted dogs are brought into the room where a recently dead person has been laid out, partly to confer a blessing and partly in case they could detect any faint signs of life which a doctor might have missed.
A number of other cultures have considered dogs sufficiently sacred to warrant their own festivals. The Ancient Egyptians mummified dogs, considering these bundles to be a sort of talisman that would guarantee the beneficence of the jackal-headed Anpu (whom the Greeks called Anubis). Vast numbers of mummified dogs were buried near his temple complex at Hardai. It is uncertain if these were all family pets, farm dogs, or even animals kept by the temple itself. Herodotus alleged that, such was the Egyptian devotion to canines that, when the family pet died the mourners would shave their whole bodies for the funeral procession.
There are no surviving accounts of an Egyptian dog day to parallel the Hindu festival, though dogs might have featured in the Going Forth of Anpu, held in the month of Pamenot. He also had a festival at the summer solstice where he visited burial grounds, which could have featured dogs in their funereal capacity.
Maybe one day the local pagan dog owners would like to form their own impromptu festivity to honour the dogs in their lives and to help those canines in dire circumstances around the world? An outdoor venue might be best, in case of any unexpected “libations”! There are numerous deities whose auspices extend to the four-legged and furry that could be called upon. Paws for thought.
In the meantime here's a recording of a poem, The Power of Dog, which was written by Rudyard Kipling - inspired by his own love of dogs and the sense of loss he felt over them.