In ancient times, dogs had spiritual roles – the three-headed hound Cerberus, guarded the underworld according to Greek mythology while Anubis, a jackel-headed god was the patron of Egyptian embalmers. The Mayans believed dogs led the deceased to their afterlife.
More interestingly, in Nepal to this day, dogs are worshipped during the autumn festival of Tihar. In Malaysia, we know this festival as Deepavali or Diwali, the Festival of Lights. ‘Kukur Puja’ or loosely translated, ‘Worship of the Dogs’ is held on the second day of this celebration in honour of the cherished bond that humans have had with their dogs throughout history.
On this day, man’s best friend is adorned with Tika, the holy vermillion powder of blessing and served an assortment of festive fare including popular sweet desserts like jalabis. He is also garlanded with bright marigolds.
This act of reverence is not only reserved for pet dogs or those that work in the country’s police force or search and rescue groups. Even stray dogs are garlanded, fed and treated specially.
The Nepalese believe dogs were the messengers of Lord Yamaraj, the God of Death. There is also a Hindu belief that dogs guard the doors of heaven and hell.
Taking this one-day ‘worship’ to a whole new level is Jan Salter. So deep was her love for dogs and so distressed was she at seeing the number of stray and injured dogs in Kathmandu that she set up the non-profit Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre or KAT.
As founder and advisor of KAT, she and her team deal with the humane management of street dogs, ensuring they are spayed and neutered and given a rabies vaccination before being released back into their environment.
KAT also deals with the rescue and treatment of sick and injured dogs (and cats) and engages in educational programmes that teach compassion and rabies awareness.