I’ve been thinking about frogs lately. Why, you may ask? I just finished writing a short story that features a frog as an important character, and I did a bit of research into frog symbolism. I found some truly interesting amphibian facts.
Frogs function as ecological barometers. Their skin is permeable, making them especially vulnerable to environmental changes. The health of frogs thus reflects the health of the ecosystem. An abundance of healthy frogs means the ecosystem is healthy too.
They also play a central role in the food chain, both as predators and as prey. Tadpoles eat algae, keeping water clean. Adult frogs eat insects like mosquitoes, keeping the population of potential disease vectors in control. In turn, frogs are a food source for a large variety of birds, fish, and animals.
Our ancestors understood the critical connection between frogs and ecological health. It’s not surprising that amphibians are important mythological symbols in cultures all over the world. They feature in our folklore, are assigned magical properties, and are thought to bring good luck, predict the weather and even cure diseases.
In Hinduism, they symbolize transformation and reincarnation. Just think about the lifecycle of a frog; they start as eggs, hatch into tadpoles with gills and a tail, and they lose that tail as they develop into adults with lungs and legs. No wonder they are regarded as guardians of transition.
One of the most popular Indian rural frog beliefs is that a marriage ceremony between two frogs will please Lord Indra and he will grant rain to parched lands. Such weddings are regularly organized during the hot summer in Assam, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh. Agriculture is very important in India, and farmers are still largely dependent on rains for good crops.
Of course, sometimes there is too much rain, and the frogs are then divorced to end the downpour. I am not joking.
On a more serious note, frogs even feature in ancient Vedic Sanskrit texts. The Sanskrit word for frog is Manduka. The title of the Upanishad Mandukya is derived from it. Why is there an Upanishad named after frogs? The ancient text teaches us to leap from the first to the fourth level of consciousness like a frog by reciting Om.
India also has what might be the only frog temple in the world in the town of Oel, Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh – not far from my hometown! How have I missed this all my life? Known as Manduk Mandir, it has the most fascinatingly ghastly sculpture of a frog, which looks as if it is carrying the entire temple on its back. The story goes that Raja Bakht Singh, the local landowner, desired a son. He was advised by a Tantric priest to build a temple to Shiva. But first he had to sacrifice a frog, frogs being symbols of fertility on top of everything else. The temple was built on the spot of the sacrifice.
Clearly, frogs are of critical importance, both in our physical world and our cultural one. Unfortunately, nearly a third of all amphibian species today are under threat of extinction because of climate change, loss of habitat, over-harvesting, invasive species, and pollution. In fact, they are the most threatened vertebrate class on the planet. It is a depressing thought. 😦