What does Hinduism teach about animal rights?

All life is sacred

Hindu scripture is full of stories which show animals as divine, eg Hanuman in the story of the Ramayana.

In the Hindu Declaration on Nature, Assisi 1986 it states:

The human role is not separate from nature. All objects in the universe, beings and non-beings, are pervaded by the same spiritual power.Hindu Declaration on Nature, Assisi 1986

Many Hindu gods also have animals as ‘vehicles’ on which they travel and they have a special connection with them. For example, Lord Shiva is associated with Nandi the bull, and Saraswati with a peacock. In this way, all creatures, not just humans, are seen to be important and deserving of respect.


Most Hindus believe the atman lives many lives on Earth, some of these (usually the earlier lives) in the form of animals. This belief is known as reincarnation. Because of this, many Hindus view all life as having equal status and deserving of respect.

Hindu scriptures explain the idea of karma. If people are violent or unkind, their actions will return to them in the future, this is called karmic debt.

Some Hindus believe that if they keep on repeating their mistakes or bad deeds, their atman may be reborn in an animal form, so that the atman 'works off' some karmic debt and eventually 'earns' another chance to act responsibly in a human body.

Respect for life

The main reason for Hindu respect for animal rights is the principle of ahimsa. According to the principle of ahimsa, no living thing should be harmed. This applies to humans and animals.

The Jains’ belief system takes the principle of ahimsa regarding animals so seriously that as well as being strict vegetarians, some followers wear masks to prevent them breathing in insects. They may also sweep paths with a small broom to make sure they do not tread on any living creatures.

Yajurveda states that:

No person should kill animals helpful to all. Rather, by serving them, one should attain happiness.Yajurveda 13:47

The natural world

Many Hindus believe that humans should use the world unselfishly in order to maintain the natural balance and to show respect for what the divine provides for us.

The Bhagavad Gita teaches:

…the gods will give you the food of your desire. Whoever enjoys their gift, yet gives nothing, is a thief, no more no less.Bhagavad Gita 3:12

The cow is a sacred animal

In Hinduism, the cow is a symbol of life and of the Earth, and thought of by many as a mother, because she gives food and nourishment through her milk.

Many Hindus perform worship rituals in praise of their own cows or using symbolic cows. This extends to bulls and calves as well as female cows because the bulls are used widely in rural India for farm work and pulling carts.

Lord Krishna is often pictured as a cow-herder and some Hindus try to follow his example by caring for cows in particular, as well as respecting other animals.

Mahatma Gandhi said that:

Cow Protection takes the human being beyond his species… (It) is the gift of Hinduism to the world; and Hinduism will live as long as there are Hindus to protect the cow.Mahatma Gandhi