The Anthill or The Valmikah?

Importance of Ants in India 

Kindness to the ant is regarded as the ultimate form of benevolence. Consideration for the ant means consideration for the tiniest of all creations. Thus, housewives in the South and East of India start their day by making beautiful designs out of rice flour on the ground outside their houses. These designs are called ‘kolam’ in Tamil Nadu and ‘alpana' in Bengal. Rice flour may be used in powder form or mixed with water, but the message is clear: even the smallest forms of creation must be fed. 

The fact that the ants are a part of karmic cycle is stressed by the tale of Indra and the Ants. Indra wanted Vishvakarma to build him the most magnificent of palaces.  When Brahma heard of it, he sent Vishnu in the form of a young boy who pointed out a parade of ants to Indra and said that they were all Indras who had risen from the lowest forms of existence to the highest. When consumed by pride, they went down again. Thus the onus of responsibility falls on higher life forms to appreciate and honor their status and live life accordingly. Most importantly, no life form should be killed, as they are all interrelated. 

The anthill is a specially sacred in rural India and dismantling one is said to bring bad luck. People leave left over food outside anthills for ants, and decorate it with red kumkum powder to establish its sanctity. Snakes make their homes in anthills, making the formation doubly sacred. The anthill is symbolic of how to species live together in peace. and is an example to be emulated. Poojas for the worship of snakes generally take place outside anthills and the food left over for snakes is not eaten by the snakes (who are carnivores). This becomes food for the ants.  

The anthill is called valmikah. The author of the Ramayana was Valmiki, so-called because he reappeared, after years of meditation, from an anthill. Today the Valmikis are a scheduled caste in India. 

The black ant is called Pillaiyar erumbu – or Ganesha ant- in Tamil. Killing it is a heinous sin.  

Jains are so wary of killing ants even by accident as they walk that monks and nuns sweep the ground before them before stepping forward.  

In Karnataka, ants are considered to be so sacred that people leave rice and sugar near anthills. It is believed that when children distribute rice and jaggery at an ant colony, they stop bed-wetting (Ardhya, 2005). 

In the sacred groves of Ratnagiri district of coastal Maharashtra, anthills abound. In some groves, the anthills are regarded as the abode of Lord Shiva and worshipped with reverence (Godbole and Sarnaik, 2006). 

The ant is revered in other cultures also. In parts of Africa, they are messengers of the Gods. While the bite of some ant species is believed to have curative properties, the bite of other species is used in male initiation ceremonies as a test of endurance.  

Ecological Role and Current Status 

There are more than 12,000 species of ants, with greater diversity in the tropics. They are known for their highly organised colonies and nests, which sometimes consist of millions of individuals. Ants are divided into sterile females (‘workers', ‘soldiers', and others), fertile males (‘drones’), and fertile females (‘queens'). Ant colonies can cover a wide area of land and operate as a unified entity. Ants are found in almost every landmass on earth, and probably constitute 15 to 25 per cent of the total terrestrial animal biomass.  

Ants are the ultimate ‘cleaners', removing dead insects, food, and other biodegradable bodies. They play an invaluable role in the ecology, by keeping down several pests populations and aerating the soil. Weaver ants are used for biological control in citrus plantations in China. 

(Extracts taken from ‘Sacred Animals of India' by Nanditha Krishna).  

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