Sacred cow

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In the religion of Hinduism, the animal called a "cow" is thought to be sacred, or very holy. Among the Dashavataras of Lord Vishnu, the first three viz, Matysa (fish), Kurma (turtle), Varaha (pig), are not generally regarded as sacred and fish and pig are part of diet for some of the Hindus. The turtle is an endangered species and is illegal to possess or kill a turtle in India but are also traded illegally[1]. Most Hindus respect the cow for her gentle nature which represents the main teaching of Hinduism, non-injury (ahimsa). The male cow or the bull is generally abandoned to starve to death[2]. The cow also represents ghee and strength. The cow is very honored in society, and most upper caste Hindus do not eat beef (the meat that come from cows) However, lower caste poor Hindus have been consuming beef in Indian sub-continent[3]. By honoring this gentle animal (living thing that is not a plant) that gives more than it takes, Hindus honor all creatures and do take on hinsa if any other human tries to kill or eat the sacred cow. The cow was possibly revered because Hindus relied heavily on it for dairy products and for tilling the fields, and on cow dung as a source of fuel and fertilizer. Cow urine, one glass every morning, is supposed to cleanse the body of all hard minerals. Urine also acts as a spermicide if the woman washes her womb with it after intercourse, hence it forms part of punch-amrit. Upanishads also mention of "gomutra" consumptions for men for 60 days before intercourse to bear a male child. Thursday , the cow’s status as a 'caretaker' led to identifying it as an almost maternal figure (hence the term gau mata). In the olden days cattle being limited to select few fortunate folks, the cows enjoyed the status that gold or money enjoys today. In addition, it has been suggested by author and orator Terence McKenna that religious reverence for the cow is a result of early humankind's association of psilocybin mushroom with it, this association having developed as a result of the discovery of said mushrooms in the animal's excrement.[4]

Elaboration[change | change source]

In Hinduism, the cow is a symbol of wealth, strength, abundance, selfless giving and a full Earthly life.

It is evidently known that the cow was sacred and forbidden in the Hindu diet as was all slaughter and violence for food, from ancient Vedic times. Therefore, reverence for cows can be found in all the religion's major texts. However there are also references to other animals such as fish, tortoise, deer and explicit mention of not eating cow meat is not mentioned in any of the Hindu texts. So it is unclear why Hindus eat fish, deer and other animals mentioned in the text but not eat cow. Hinduism's greatest propagator Swami Vivekanand said, “You will be surprised to know that according to ancient Hindu rites and rituals, a man cannot be a good Hindu who does not eat beef”[5].

The cow gives milk and cream, yogurt and cheese, butter and ice cream, and ghee. The milk of a cow is believed to refine a person. However, controlled scientific studies show that milk in diet causes, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer[6] and type I diabetes[7]. The ghee (clarified butter) from the milk is used in ceremonies and in preparing religious food. Cow dung is used as fertilizer, as a fuel and as a disinfectant in homes. It is a common belief that the smoke from cow dung is a powerful disinfectant and is good against pollution.

The cow's urine is also used for religious ceremonies as well as for traditional medicine. Research has shown that drinking cow's urine alone is somewhat damaging.[8]

Cow as a symbol[change | change source]

To the Hindu, the cow represents all other creatures. Hindus believe that all living creatures are sacred—mammals, fishes, birds. The cow is more, a symbol of the Earth. It always gives and feeds, representing life and the support of life. Honoring the cow inspires in people the virtues of gentleness and connectedness with nature. The cow takes nothing but water, grass and grain, while it gives of its milk, as does the liberated soul give of his spiritual knowledge. [9]. A significant portion of this milk is offered back as offering to shivalingams and other Hindu rituals and are not consumed as dietary food.

In the Hindu tradition, the cow is honored, garlanded and given special feedings at festivals all over India, most importantly the annual Gopashtama festival. Its nature is represented in Kamadhenu, the divine, wish-fulfilling cow. In India, more than 3,000 institutions called Gaushalas care for old and infirm cows. The gift of a cow is applauded as the highest kind of gift. According to animal husbandry statistics there are about 45,150,000 cows in India, the highest in the world[10]. So while some old and infirm cows are treated in Gaushalas, the rest are generally abandoned at public places such as railway stations and bazaars where they can find food at garbage bins and dumpsters.

Quotes[change | change source]

“One can measure the greatness of a nation and its moral progress by the way it treats its animals. Cow protection to me is not mere protection of the cow. It means protection of all that lives and is helpless and weak in the world. The cow means the entire subhuman world.” Mahatma Gandhi.[11]

“The cows have come and have brought us good fortune. In our stalls, contented, may they stay! May they bring forth calves for us, many-colored, giving milk for Indra each day. You make, O cows, the thin man sleek; to the unlovely you bring beauty. Rejoice our homestead with pleasant lowing. In our assemblies we laud your vigor.” Rig Veda (4.28.1;6) In the Rig Veda, cows represent wealth and joyous Earthly life. Several hymns refer to ten thousand and more cattle.[12]

References[change | change source]