Ancient Indians acknowledged the animals' right to co-exist with man. Hence they were loved, nurtured and even worshipped. In order to make an impact upon the commoners about their importance, the animals were given the rank of gods and goddesses. They propagated the belief that the Almighty incarnates in different animal forms.
Many festivals were observed in honor of several animals some of which are observed till today. By making them heroes in stories, love for animals came to be inculcated among the children. The rulers also gave them key positions in art and architecture.
Cattle were considered to be the most important animal for the Indians. In fact, ancient Indians did not eat cows. This was because Hindus thought of cows as sacred. But people used cows to pull carts, for plowing fields, and also used cows' milk to make yoghurt. People also got a lot of their milk from water buffaloes.
Both boys as well as girls often went out with the buffaloes to take them out to their pastures and to water. Chickens reached India from Thailand or China around 2500 BC. Since then, they have been quite common in India. Sheep and goats also arrived from West Asia around the same time. However, camels were not common in India until the Islamic invasions around 1000 AD.
There were also a lot of wild animals in India. Tigers, monkeys and big snakes lived in the forests in some parts of India. Elephants were born in the wild. However sometimes men caught and tamed them. These elephants pulled trees for building houses, carried heavy loads, and fought in battles.
Almost all the activities of ancient Indians were woven around the animals. Hence, they were fully aware of all the happenings of the animal world. This vast knowledge has also been recorded in the scriptures of the time.
Like for instance, the Upanishads contained detailed descriptions of horses and cattle. The Garudapurana contained life-histories of fishes and turtles and so on. There were also religious books dedicated to a specific animal like the Nagamahdimya, Nandi-purdoa, Mayiratrahimya and Pashu-puriltia to name a few. These writings are older than any other scriptures of the world. These writings contained modern concept such as, origin of life, organic evolution and environmental science.
Some of the beliefs which were propagated to make a lasting impression on the commoners were as follows:
1. Almighty is present everywhere. But because he can't be detected easily just like a silk worm cannot be distinguished from the cocoon that his spun around itself.
2. When man becomes united with cosmic God, he cannot be separated from the latter. This is just like pollens which cannot be isolated from honey, though it is part of the former.
3. Man has to attain moksha by continuously chanting of 'Om' mantra in the way a spider finds its salvation in the web it had woven.
4. Immortal soul lives in mortal body for some time and then is reborn in a new body like the worm which keeps on changing its resting place.
5. A fickle-minded person is like a wild horse. On the other hand, a wise man is like a well trained horse which pulls god's chariot.
6. Ultimately man has to seek eternal peace just as ever flying vulture has to rest for some time.
7. Chanting of mantras has been compared with the croaking of frogs in the rainy season.
The Indians calculated that the animals came into existence as many as 43,20,000 years ago. This was calculated without employing any scientific methods. On the basis of the major events which took place on the earth, this period was divided into four eras.
These were namely The Satyayuga which lasted for 17,28,000 years; followed by Tretayuga which lasted for 12 96,000 years; the Dwaparayuga, 8,64,000 years long, whereas Kaliyuga, for 4,33,000 years long.