Fun With Beasts: Riding Your Vahana

I’ve been painting steadily for months, often for hours at a time. The hands are stiff and weary but the mind remains open and reflective as ever. I’m continuing with the theme of women riding animals. The latest, “Virgin With Alligator,” is an example.

Ganga, Hindu Goddess of the Ganges

I began by returning to this little image of Ganga Ma, the Hindu Goddess of the sacred river Ganges. I’ve used this image before, most notably on the Hindu Map of Europe which graced the cover of Hinduism Today Magazine years ago.

Goddess detail “Hindu Map of Europe” by Lynda McClanahan

The addition of Ganga Ma to the magazine project was unasked for and formed the tiniest part of the project, but how I enjoyed its inclusion!

“Hindu Map of Europe” by Lynda McClanahan Cover Art for Hinduism Today

The new piece was at least partly inspired by a couple of small sturdy frames recently collected from thrift stores. Frames often determine the work which goes inside them. In this case, a compact image was required and the water goddess seemed not only interesting but doable.

“Virgin With Alligator” by Lynda McClanahan In Process

Once I’d decided on the general idea of a figure riding an alligator, one thing led to another and the piece pretty much designed itself. Since alligators live in Florida, I began researching what a native American Floridian lady might look like. To my surprise there were probably over 40 different pre-conquest groups in our southernmost state, some culturally related and some not. Many seem to have sported intricate tattoos and worn skirts made of Spanish moss. With the addition of crops grown by the more settled groups (sunflowers, pumpkins, beans and corn), it was off to the races. Here is the final result.

“Virgin With Alligator” by Lynda McClanahan

This painting is small, 7″Hx9″W, and almost broke my hands. It also has provoked a huge amount of unforeseen interest, inspiring the idea to do another, much larger version.

I’ve thought quite a bit about why these female/animal pairings have such resonance for myself and others. Perhaps we intuit that the animal nature which forms the foundation of everything else we are is also somehow holy.

Just like Hindu goddesses, we are all riding our own private mounts or “vahanas.” And just like them, every inch of us is sacred, from the very bottom of our lizard brain to the very top of cosmic consciousness. The animal nature deserves love, not amnesia. It is worthy of contemplation and neglected to our peril. Ride on!


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