The Sacred Cow

This is an opportune moment to discuss the topic of cows with ‘maattu pongal‘ (festival of the cows) falling in this week.

There have been several civilizations in the world which have treated cattle with reverence. Cattle are considered sacred in several religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism etc. Of these, Hinduism elevates cattle to be on par with Gods. Gods have taken several animal forms such as the fish, the tortoise, the boar, the lion, the horse, the monkey, the elephant, the serpent and the dog to name a few. Some other animals such as the mouse, the eagle, the peacock, the tiger and even the mongoose are depicted as being the mount of Gods.

By doing so, our religion promotes the concept of Ahimsa (non-violence) towards all beings of the world. There are copious references to pashu-paalanam (protection of cattle) in the Vedas and our scriptures. The Chaandogya Upanishad names Ahimsa, along with Sathyam (truthfulness), Aarjavam (sincerity), Dhaanam (charity) and Tapas (meditation) as one of five essential virtues to be possessed by humans. The Mahabharata has multiple mentions of the phrase, Ahimsa Paramo Dharma:, meaning non-violence is the best virtue.

Cows in Scriptures

Among all the animals, the cow (and the bull) are considered the most sacred in our religion. There are numerous references in our scriptures that signify the importance of cows. Some are below:

  • As per Bhaagavata Purana, when there was a great famine in the world, King Prithu prayed to mother earth who then took the form a cow. The king then milked the cow and obtained crops and other wealth for humans.Thus, the cow is a symbol of divine bounty of the earth.
  • Kamadhenu, the miraculous “cow of plenty” is regarded as the source of all prosperity. Cow is also called ‘Gomaathaa’ (the Mother).
  • Lord Krishna is the most celebrated cow-herd in Hinduism. He is often depicted playing his flute among cows. He also goes by the names Govinda and Gopala, meaning friend and protector of cows.
  • It is believed that cow is the abode of 33 crore Devas (Gods) and is a symbol of compassion and piousness.
  • Shiva’s steed Nandhi, a bull is worshipped in his own right as the bearer of truth and righteousness.
  • According to Manusmriti, a teacher, a father, a mother, a learned person, a cow and a yogi should never be killed.
A social point-of-view

From a socio-economic standpoint, cows stand on the top of the cattle hierarchy. This is on account of their role in agriculture, generation of dairy products and usage of their waste as fuel and fertilizer. Cow’s milk serves as the cheapest and purest nourishment that can reach the lowest strata of society. They are also an integral part of rural agriculture starting with ploughing of the land using oxen, irrigation, transport, and fertilizing the land through manure.

Cow dung as fertilizer

Even today several farmers use fertilizer made from cow-dung and cow-urine to increase the quality and yield of crops which is literally free to make. Cow dung provides food for a wide range of animal and fungus species, which break it down and recycle it into the soil. It is recognized as an excellent source of the plant nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. In addition, manure returns organic matter and other nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and sulphur to the soil, building soil fertility and quality. Cattle manure also do not create the challenge of chemical waste and does not affect helpful insects that aid in farming and agriculture.

As fuel

Cow dung is used to produce bio-gas to generate electricity and heat. The gas is rich in methane and is used to provide a renewable and stable source of electricity. At home, it is odorless and burns without scorching, giving a slow, even heat. Cow dung is used as fuel in many parts of India as an effective substitute for coal. Scientific research has found that the ritual of burning cow dung and ghee as fuel during rituals can purify the air around the area due to its antiseptic properties.

Save cows

In a world with food shortage, it may be inevitable that some animals are consumed as food and are bred for that purpose. While any form of cruelty to animals is condemned in our tradition, cruelty to cows is considered as the utmost sin. Not only because it is mentioned in the scriptures but also because of their contribution to the society in several ways. Such animals when they get old should be accorded the same respect as our parents and to be taken care with dignity until their end.

Let’s contribute our mite towards maintaining goshaalaas (cow protection centres) so that these sacred animals get the respect they deserve.

Author Details

Rangarajan has been blogging for over 12 years now on various topics. With Thedal, he becomes one with the universe and he is hoping that his search will help him discover the eternal truth.  Please join him as he traverses through the universe across temples, philosophies and science!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *