Divine Origin and Nature of Cow:
The average Hindu accepts beyond doubt that the cow is a physical representative of the divine available to mankind bestowing all that is good both at the physical and spiritual levels. Although the cow may be placed as one of the mammals giving milk, it is more than that. It is said to be of divine origin. It accommodates many divinities in itself and also pervades through many divinities.
The very form of the cow is supposed to represent Holy Ganges and all the tῑrthas. The fine dust that emanates from the hoof of the cow is supposed to be capable of giving health and strength to mankind. Nothing is impure in the cow, for, even the cow dung is considered to be the residence of Goddess Lakṣmi who bestows wealth and all that is dhārmic. It is no wonder that the cow is considered to be a divinity available to mankind within easy reach.
The Holy Cow is eulogized in the Vedas, Purāṇas and later Smṛtis.
“Mātā rudrāṇām duhitā vasunām svādityānāmamṛutasya nābhiḥ
Praṇu ocham cikituṣe janāyapnā gamanāgāmiditim vajiṣṭe”
“The wise say that the cow should not be beaten or ill treated because it is the mother of Rudra, the daughter of the Vasus, sister of the Adityas and is a store house or source of ghee which is like a celestial nectar.”
Rg Veda – 8.10.15
Smṛtis contain detailed description of the names of the deities, the places in the physical body of the cow where they are supposed to reside, and the pure and divine nature of the cow due to the presence of these divinities in her body.
“Sṛṅgamūle stitho brahmā sṛṅga madhye tu kesavaḥ
Sarve devaḥ stithā dehe sarva deva mayῑ hi gau ”
“At the root of the horn styas Brahma, in the middle of the horn stays Kesava. She is the abode of all devas and she stays in all devas.”
Brhat Parasara Smrti – 3.32.35
“Gavām hi tῑrthe vasatῑ ha gaṅgā puṣṭi tatha tad rajasi pravṛddhā
Lakshmῑḥ karῑṣe pranatau ca dharmastāsām praṇāmam satatam ca kuryāt”
“The very form of the cow is the residence of the ganga and all other teerthas. The dust from the feet of the cow (go dhuli) is strength giving. Goddess Lakshmi resides in the dung of the cow and by saluting the cow, one gains all dharma and wealth and thus the cow is worth being worshipped by all.”
Vishnu Dharmottara – 2.42.58
The Aiteraya Brāhmana declares that the cow, by its association with Āditya, dispels all evils and demoniac forces. Even now, people who know the tradition keep their hand on the cow and walk by its side in places where they suspect the presence of any evil spirit.
Material Benefits derived from the Holy Cow:
The cow is a giver (dhenu) at different levels and a person who does not believe in the scriptures regarding the sacred nature of the cow can at least accept the material benefits that the cow gives to mankind.
Milk or kṣῑram from the cow is considered to be the valuable source of nutrition and a tonic used in combination with medicines. It is basically a suspension of fat in water which contains minerals like calcium, vitamins, sugars (milk sugar is used as a base in homeopathy) and hormones. Modern lifestyle has led to mothers denying milk even to their own children and it is cow which takes the place of the mother in providing children with her milk. The adults also depend upon the cow’s milk as a source of nutritious drink and in combination with coffee, tea etc. Even after the individual’s death, cow’s milk is used as part of the obsequies in feeding the departed ones. Consumption of cow’s milk is known for bestowing the individual with sāttvic character.
Curd is converted by fermenting milk and forms part of the daily meals of most of the Indians. Curd is very nutritious and has more nutritional values than meat. Even in the west a slightly flavoured form of fermented milk is used as Yoghurt that is consumed with relish. As per tradition, any visitor is entertained with a glass of butter milk during the summer. Butter milk is also nutritional, easily digested and is soothing to the system. Some of the beneficial bacteria present in the curds as well as butter milk are useful in driving away harmful bacteria from the intestinal system.
Butter is used as a nutrient in cooking and as a base in certain Ayurvedic preparations. Cheese, a form of butter is one of the favourite milk products in the west.
When butter is heated properly, it turns into ghee with high fat content. There is a story about emperor Purūravas who brought Ūrvasi from heaven, offering ghee when she asks for a celestial nectar. Ghee is very nutritious and is used in cooking and in medicine. When ghee is in liquid form, used as oblation, it is known as ājya. Burnt ghee in homas gives off a special type of carbon which absorbs poisonous agents in the atmosphere.
Cow Urine (Go Mūtram):
Cow’s urine is used in Ayurveda to remove toxins from the body and also for curing diseases. The ninth chapter of Vendidad of Avesta expounds the purificatory powers of cow’s urine and declares it as panacea. In order to achieve ritual purification on certain occasions, like for example, following birth or death, the cow urine is sprinkled all over.
Cow Dung (Go Mayam):
The traditional village economy is highly linked to the products of the cow, more so in the case of cow dung. Its common usage is in the form of cow dung cakes used as fuel. Even now, a loose suspension of cow dung in water is used as a plastering material for mud walls in villages. The average farmer is still dependent upon the cow dung which is used as manure in enriching the viability of the crops.
In Ayurveda, cow dung cakes are used un calcinating certain chemicals. As a powerful detoxifying agent it is used in combination with ghee while performing Agnihotra or ritual fire. The detoxifying effect of combination of ghee and cow dung cake saved a family in Bhopal from the lethal effects of a chemical leakage accident. Regular performance of Agnihotra saves people from many ailments and also purifies the atmosphere thereby saving the environment from pollution. Holy ash (vibhūti) is prepared out of cow dung that is highly medicinal and at the same time worn on the forehead by the devout.
To make a barren land fertile, horns of the dead cows are removed, stuffed with cow dung and buried in the barren land for a specific periods of time depending upon the level of barrenness. This traditional procedure has now been recognized by people all over the world in general and in Australia this procedure has become part of promoting organic farming.
It is a special preparation of a mixture of cow’s milk, curd, urine, ghee and cow dung. Ayur Veda recognizes the importance of consumption of this mixture of products from Holy Cow in promoting the overall health of a person.
“Gavyam pavitram ca rasāyanam ca patyam ca hṛdayam bala vṛddhi dhenu syāt
Ayuḥ pradam rakta vikāra hari tridoṣa hṛdroga vishāpaham syāt”
“Pancha Gavyam is a Holy chemical, is a diet, gives of strength, develops the heart, promotes longevity, purifies blood, eliminates the imbalances in the three basic principles, cures the diseases of the heart and removes the toxins.”
Agriculturalists and farmers also nowadays use pancha gavyam in strengthening and rejuvenating the soil to increase the productivity of the crops.
Religious and Spiritual Benefits of Goseva:
The cow should not be viewed merely from the commercial and monetary perspectives. Even a small service rendered to the cow is praised in the sacred scriptures of Hinduism. It is declared in the scriptures that one should offer a handful of grass every day to the cow before taking one’s meals. This act is as good as performing Aśwamedha Yajña.
“Tṛṇodakādi samyuktam yaḥ pradadyāt gavāhnikam
So a śmeda samam puṇyam labhate nātra samśayah”
“Whoever feeds the cow with grass and water every day derives the benefit equivalent performing Ashwamedha Yajna. There is nothing to doubt about this.”
– Brhat Paraasara Smrti 5.26-27.
In the Mahabharata it is stated that places where cows are at ease and roam around in a relaxed and peaceful manner, one’s sins are dispelled and those places get purified.
“Nirviṣṭam gokulam yatra swāsam muñchati nirbhayam
Virājeti tam deśam pāpam cāsyāpa karṣati”
“Wherever a group of cows stay breathing fearlessely such a place is full of peace and beauty will reign in that place and all sins dispelled.”
– The Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva 5.1.32.
The Holy Cow is indeed Mother of all, for she not only helps humanity with the products from her body, but also helps one and all in salvation. According to Hindu traditions cows also play important part in the progress of the manes.
“Gāvaḥ swargasya sopānam gāvaḥ swargepi pūjitāḥ
Gāvaḥ kāmaduho devyo nānyat kincit param smṛtam.”
“Cow is the means or step leading us to heaven. Even in heaven cow is worshipped by the divinites. Cow fulfils all our desires completely.”
– The Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva 5.1.33.
“Kῑrtanam śravaṇam dānam darśanam cāpi pārthiva
Gavām praśasyate vῑra sarva pāpa haram śivam”
“O Parthiva! One who praises the cow and its qualities by singing, listening to its glories, giving the cow in charity (go dahanam), looking at it with reverence is worthy of praise and one is free from all sins by this act and such an act is auspicious.”
– The Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva 5.1.27.
The cow helps mankind from the cradle to the grave yard and even beyond. No wonder then that the cow is called as the Mother of All, for, she retains all that is bad in her body and gives out the best through her products. Ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, Jews of Sinai respected and worshipped cows. In Egypt the cow was considered sacred to the Goddess Hathor. The golden calf made by Aaron was worshipped by the Jews of Sinai. The Chinese declare that beef should not find a place in the kitchen as it retains unwanted toxins found in the body.
Present day plight of the cows:
Due to deforestation and industrialization grazing grounds for the cows are getting depleted. The health of the cow does not depend merely upon feeding. They require wide spaces for stretching the muscles and for maintenance of their good health.
At present, with the advent of mechanized farming and impact of utilization of chemicals, life styles have changed. Even in villages, the Holy Cow is losing importance. Commercial interests have taken over. As a result of which the spiritual benefits of the cows are disregarded and people think the cow that does not yield milk is a burden.
The urban societies do not care for the cows but are interested only the cow products. So, the cows are transported under humiliating conditions with no regard for their sensitivities and are mercilessly killed in the abators.
To reverse this plight, people should come forward and arrange for the donation of more grazing lands, fodder and other necessary veterinary assistance for good health of the cows.