Sacred cow

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In the oldest religion of the world, Hinduism, the cow is thought to be sacred, or deeply respected. Hindus do not worship cows, although they are held in high esteem. The reason has to do with the cow's agricultural uses and gentle nature. Hindus rely heavily on cows for dairy products, for tilling fields, and for dung as a source of fuel and fertilizer. So, the cow is seen as a 'caretaker' or maternal figure. One Hindu goddess is usually shown in the form of a cow: Bhoomi (ভূমি). She represents the Earth.

Most Hindus respect the cow for her gentle nature which represents the main teaching of Hinduism, non-injury (ahimsa). The cow also represents butter (ghee) and strength. The cow is very honored in society, and Hindus do not eat beef (cow meat), however beef consumption is widely prevalent amongst Hindus in the larger Indian subcontinent, for example Tamil Hindus in Malaysia. In majority of Indian states (27 out of 29 Sates), it is illegal to eat or possess cow meat. In the olden days cattle being limited to select few fortunate folks, the cows enjoyed the status that gold or money enjoys today.

More information[change | change source]

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

Since ancient Vedic times, the Hindus revere and respect cows. Reverence for cows can be found in all of 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 texts but do not eat cows. Hinduism's greatest propagator Swami Vivekanand said, “You will be astonished if I tell you, that according to old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat beef. On certain occasions he must sacrifice a bull and eat it. That is disgusting now. However they may differ from each other in India, in that they are all one - they never eat beef. The ancient sacrifices and the ancient gods, they are all gone; modern India belongs to the spiritual part of the Vedas.”[1].

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. 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.

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 connects them 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. [2]. 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 44,900,000 cows in India, the highest in the world.[3] 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.

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.[4]

“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.[5]

References[change | change source]

  1. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekanand, vol.3, p. 536
  2. Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, "Ten Questions people ask About Hinduism …and ten terrific answers!" (p. 6)
  5. Rig Veda e.g. RV 8.1.33; 8.2.41; 8.4.20; 8.5.37; 8.6.47; 8.21.18; 5.27.1; 1.126.3