The significance of the lion and bull figures in Indian mythology, art, and architecture.

India is a land of diverse cultures, traditions, and mythology. Its ancient texts, such as the Vedas, Puranas, and the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, are replete with tales of gods, goddesses, and mythical creatures. Among these creatures, two of the most significant are the lion and the bull, which have been depicted in Indian mythology, art, and architecture for centuries.

Popular Indian Epics

The Lion in Indian Mythology:

In Indian mythology, the lion is a symbol of power, strength, and courage. It is associated with various deities, such as Lord Vishnu, who is often depicted with a lion as his mount. Similarly, goddess Durga, the embodiment of feminine power, is depicted riding a lion or tiger. It is believed that the lion’s roar is so powerful that it can shake the foundations of the earth, and its strength can overpower any foe.

Lord Vishnu

One of the most famous stories involving a lion in Indian mythology is the tale of Narasimha, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The story goes that the demon king Hiranyakashipu had received a boon from Lord Brahma that made him invincible. He became arrogant and began to torment the gods and humans. However, his son, Prahlada, was a devotee of Lord Vishnu and refused to worship his father. This enraged Hiranyakashipu, and he tried to kill Prahlada several times.

Lord Narasimha

Finally, he challenged Prahlada to show him where his God was, and when Prahlada pointed to a pillar, Hiranyakashipu smashed it open. To his surprise, a half-man, half-lion creature emerged from the pillar and killed him. This creature was Narasimha, who had been created to defeat Hiranyakashipu and restore peace to the world.

Lord Narasimha killing Hiranyakashipu

The Bull in Indian Mythology:

The bull, or Nandi, is another significant creature in Indian mythology. It is considered to be the vehicle of Lord Shiva and is often depicted kneeling in front of him. The bull symbolizes strength, fertility, and prosperity and is worshipped in many parts of India.

Nandi, Lord Shiva’s vehicle

According to Hindu mythology, the bull is said to have been created by Lord Shiva himself. The story goes that once when Lord Shiva was meditating, a demon named Jalandhara appeared before him and began to attack him. To defeat the demon, Lord Shiva created a bull from his own body and sent it to fight Jalandhara. The bull was successful in defeating the demon, and Lord Shiva was able to continue his meditation in peace.

The Significance of Lion and Bull in Indian Art and Architecture:

The lion and the bull are not only significant in Indian mythology but also in Indian art and architecture. They can be found in various forms, from sculptures to paintings and even on currency notes. These figures are often depicted in temples, palaces, and other important buildings, symbolizing the power and strength of the gods and kings.

One of the most famous examples of the lion’s significance in Indian architecture is the Ashoka Pillar, which was erected by Emperor Ashoka in the third century BCE. The pillar features a sculpture of four lions standing back to back, with the wheel of dharma between them. This sculpture has become an iconic symbol of India and can be found on the Indian national emblem.

Ashok Pillar: Sarnath

Similarly, the bull is also a common feature in Indian architecture, particularly in temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. One of the most famous examples of this is the Nandi Bull sculpture at the Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. This sculpture is one of the largest in India, measuring over five meters in height and seven meters in length.

Brihadeeshwara temple: Thanjavur


In Indian mythology, the lion and the bull hold great significance as symbols of power, strength, and courage. These creatures have been depicted in Indian art and architecture for centuries, serving as reminders of the gods and kings who embody their qualities. From the Ashoka Pillar to the Brihadeeswarar Temple, the lion, and the bull continue to inspire and awe people with their majestic presence. They remain an integral part of India’s rich cultural heritage, reminding us of the enduring legacy of the country’s mythology and artistic traditions.