The Holy Cow:- The sacred Ness of the cow is a central and crucial element in Hindu belief. The cow is supposed to be the living symbol of Mother Earth. For the early migrants the cow was an indispensable member of the family. As agriculture was the occupation of the migrants, the cow provided them with milk and its byproducts and also necessities of life such as fuel, manure for the farm, etc. During this time the Aryans prayed to their numerous gods through ‘yagna’ (from ‘yaj’, to worship). This was initially a simple way of private worship but became public in character and consisted of invoking the fire-god, ‘Agni’, by ritually kindling sacred wood on an altar, and keeping the fire alive by constantly feeding it with melted butter. It was through the instrumentality of ‘Agni’ (fire) that the offering of milk-pudding and a drink of milk, curds and honey (madhupeya) was conveyed to one’s chosen gods. Thus the cow supplied the major requirements of the yagna and this association soon made it sacred.
Cow-Related Practices:- The five products (pancagavya) of the cow — milk, curds, ghee butter, urine and dung — are all used in puja (worship) as well as in rites of extreme penance. The milk of the family cow nourishes children as they grow up, and cow dung (gobar) is a major source of energy for households throughout India. Cow dung is sometimes among the materials used for a tilak – a ritual mark on the forehead. Most Indians do not share the western revulsion at cow excrement, but instead consider it an earthy and useful natural product.
History of the “Sacred” Cow:- But if you cannot afford to give a cow in charity, you can certainly feed one. At an individual level, people routinely feed the cows–especially the wandering ones in the streets. But what is unique to india are several institutions that look after the cow, chief among them is the Gaushala or “House of the Cow.” Conceptually different from the dairy, the gaushalas, the gau sadaus, the the pinjara pols etc, maintain even the non-milking, old and sick cows along with those that are physically handicapped and need human care and attention for survival.
The eighth incarnation of Vishnu, Lord Krishna was a cowherd since his birth. This also helped in consolidating the importance and the religious glorification of the cow among the Vaisnavites (followers of Krishna). Some other factors which resulted in its sanctity were; its figurative usage in Vedic literature which later was taken literally; prohibitions against killing of cow.
Besides the religious factors, cow is a very useful animal, having special qualities in his milk, urine, and dung. Cow milk is considered to be easily digestible and good for mental health. Its urine is used in many medicines curing cold, cough, headache gastric-troubles, jaundice, prostrate, leucorrhoea, tuberculosis and even cancer.
Many villagers in india use cow dung regularly for cleansing the body at the time of bath. Very special bathing-soaps are also made with cow-dung, which are 100 percent result oriented.
While visiting villages, one can see many houses painted with cow-dung, which acts as repellant for mosquitoes and other insects, it is also very useful as powerful fertilizer for agriculture. In most of the Indian villages Kanda (dry dung-cakes) and Gobar Gas (gas produced, using cow dung) are used for fuel purpose. The other qualities of Indian cow dung are that it is highly anti-radioactive and protect from lightening surge. It is also very useful in removing snake poison, and all types of skin diseases completely.
What else is needed to worship this holy animal, which is so deeply related with the Hindu faith and serving the society selflessly?
Dharma is considered to have four pillars, like how a cow has four legs. Although many animals have four legs, it is a cow’s four legs that the four pillars of dharma are compared with. What is the reason? From the ancient age in India, people have been drinking cow’s milk, rather than the milk of other animals. Scientifically, it has been proven that cow’s milk can provide us with the greatest amount of health. For example, buffalo milk has a lot of fat and calories. Now, we consider the cow as mother who suckles milk, whether or not she has given birth to that which has her milk. This places the cow in the equivalent position of a mother, as it has been nourishing us with its milk from ancient times in India.
If we read the Upanishads or various Puranas (Hindu mythological texts), then we will find that mother earth has been represented as cow or Gau mata/mother cow. When the earth was polluted by the demons in the ancient time, and it became intolerable for the humans to continue their existence, mother earth represented herself as cow and went to the supreme lord and sought help, to save her and her sons and daughters. So, this is another reason for considering cows as sacred.
The sanctity of the cow is perhaps the foremost sentiment of Hindus for whom this sacred animal has far deeper nuances in Indian culture and ethos than is generally understood. For instance, in Sanskrit, the vocabulary used to mention the cow is indeed staggering, revealing the extraordinary importance that was once attached to it.
Indian scriptures tell us that the cow is a gift of the gods to the human race. It is a celestial being born of the churning of the cosmic ocean. Guias the cow is called in Hindi, is symbolic of Earth itself (similar to Gaia, the Greek goddess of earth). It follows that the cow represents the Divine Mother that sustains all human beings and brings them up as her very own offspring. Much as a mother shows the highest mark of affection for her young, the passion of the cow for her calf is just as legendary and often referred to in Indian literature. The ancient texts describe how the gods run to the succour of a devotee like a cow hastening to feed her calf. In fact, the cow is even more than a mother in the sense that it fulfills all the needs of her children as well. It is in this conception that the cow is understood as Kamdhenu, the wish filling mythical cow, abode of the 330 million Indian gods and goddesses.
But in Indian mythology and legend, it is with the cult of Krishna that the cow is closely connected. Among other deeds, Krishna is said to have lifted mount Govardhan to protect his group of cows, cowboys and milkmaids. In popular imagination it is Lord Krishna who symbolized the relationship man should have for the cow. Hence to take care of this innocent and self-sacrificing animal is a matter of virtue for Hindus who identify the act as dharma or moral duty.
Considerations of conscience aside, it was natural that in a predominantly agricultural and pastoral country like India, cows were and to some extent still are, considered to be the real wealth of the people. After all it is the cow that gives birth to the bulls, bulls that are harnessed to plough the fields and to provide transportation. And then of course, there is the mild–milk that is cultured to become yoghurt–yoghurt which is churned to produce butter–butter which is converted into ghee or clarified butter that in India is used as cooking medium. In addition to this, there is paneer or cottage cheese and buttermilk. Indians cannot forget khoya and mana— the other milk derivatives used in preparation of sweets. No wonder the cow is considered the backbone of rural society.
Cot of praise are res
erved for cow’s milk and ghee which is considered to be an elixir. Dr. D. Bhandari, the former Director of Animal Husbandry in Rajasthan said, “You see it is the wonderful bacterial flora of the cow’s stomach that imparts this matchless quality to its milk ideally balanced for humans. Buffalo milk may be richer but it is the cow’s milk that sharpens intellect, gives swiftness of body, stability of emotions and a serene nature to the one who drinks it.”
Also taken, but in measured quantities, is cow urine or gau mutra which has a unique place in Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine. Commenting on the chemistry of gau mutra, Dr. C.H.S. Sastry, Director of the National Institute of Ayurveda said, “Cow urine is used to produce a whole range of ayurvedic drugs, especially to treat skin diseases like eczema.” Besides, gau mutra is a well known disinfectant. Anti-septic property is also the attribute of cow dung or gobar which is mixed with clay to form a plastering medium for mud huts. It is a proven fact that mud huts plastered with gobar keeps insects and reptiles away. This is the reason why people in the countryside still store grain in huge earthen pots plastered with gobar and gau mutra to keep it free from insect manifestations.
Gobar and gau mutra is also mixed with mud and straw to make dried cakes that fuel kitchen fires. Traditional wisdom says that in burning these cow dung cakes, the temperature never rises beyond a certain point, ensuring the nutrients in the food are not destroyed by overheating. Besides, the smoke of gobar clears the air of germs. Gobar has also been successfully used to produce bio-gas and generate electricity for consumer use. Scientific studies show that gobar has been found to be resistant to solar radiation. And of course, gobar mixed with gau mutra makes for excellent manure and a natural pesticide. Modern day ecologists are saying that as compared to chemical fertilizer which damages the land in the long run, gobar actually improves the health of the soil. It isn’t hard to see why Indian mythology says that Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, resides in cow’s gobar.
But the romance of the cow is at dusk or what Indians call the hour of Gaudhuli — literally “cow dust.” There is a mystique in the tinkling of cow bells as herds return from the days for aging, kicking up a cloud of dust just when the sun is going down. This is a special time, considered auspicious especially for marriages. So intimate is the cow’s association with the lives of Hindus that in all the rites of passage of life, almost from conception to cremation, the cow is connected to ceremony and ritual.
Perhaps the most significant tribute to the cow is paid during havan or the formal fire ritual conducted by a priest. No havan is said to be complete without the presence of panchgavya or the five gifts of the cow, namely milk, yoghurt, ghee, gohar, and gau mutra. In the Hindu world view, to give cow clarity or gau daan is considered the highest act of piety.
“SARVE DEVAAH STHITA DEHE SARVA DEVAMAYEEHI GAOU”
The above shloka means that all the deities dwell in the body of a cow. Therefore the cow itself is as holier, as the deities.
The cow symbolizes the dharma itself. It is said to have stood steadily upon the earth with its four feet during the Satyug (world’s first age of truth), upon three feet during the Tretayug (the second stage of less than perfection), upon two feet during the Dwaparyug (the third stage of dwindling and disappearing perfection) and only on one leg during Kaliyug (the fourth and current age of decadence).
The name for cow in the Vedas is known asaghyna which means inviolable. Another name is “ahi” which means not to be killed and another is “aditi” which means never to be cut into pieces.