Where would India be without holy cows? Where would the world be without cows? You may be expecting a wise answer to these questions but I’m afraid I’m not that deep of a thinker and for that reason they’re rhetorical. Where would McDonalds be without cows? Now that one I can answer… McDonalds would be screwed.
I can tell you that my trip to India wouldn’t have been as much fun without numerous one-on-ones with holy cows. They certainly played a huge role in my navigating my way around Indian cities. I use the word huge because their huge selves often blocked my path giving me two choices:
- Keep going straight and risk getting gored Pamplona style.
- Turn around and go another way.
I attempted choice 1 once but decided nobody wants a holy cow’s left horn lodged up their butt and I didn’t attempt it again. Side shuffling along a wall with about 2 inches between yourself and a ginormous cow horn is not for the faint hearted. I’m faint hearted.
In India holy cows roam the streets, stop traffic just because they can, stick their heads into shops to see what’s on offer and sun themselves in groups on the beaches of Goa. When they start reserving the sun loungers at 6am and wearing socks with sandals then you know there’s a problem. Yes you will probably step in cow dung in India, yes they think they own the place and yes I’m still 100% crazy in love with them (except the scary one above). I find them absolutely gorgeous.
Holy Cows & Hindus
In Hinduism the status of Mother is raised to the level of Goddess and Hindus worship the cow as Gaumata (mother cow). The cow is the nourisher and non-demanding provider representing life and the sustenance of life. It’s considered a sacred animal because it provides life sustaining milk (and also cream, yogurt, cheese, butter, ice cream, ghee and buttermilk). You can see why many Hindu’s are vegetarian but not vegan.
So the cow is seen by Hindus as a maternal figure and symbolizes dignity, strength, endurance and selfless giving. The cow’s docile and tolerant nature exemplifies the cardinal virtue of Hinduism, non injury which is known as ahimsa.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “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.”
Wow. Maybe… I should go… vegetarian.
Holy Cows & Worship
Lord Krishna, perhaps the most well known Hindu deity, grew up as a cow herder and is often shown playing his flute and dancing amongst cows and milkmaids. Krishna also goes by the names Govinda and Gopala which mean friend and protector of cows. In Vedic scriptures there are many verses that emphasize how the cow must be protected and cared for at all costs. It’s considered a sin to kill a cow and it’s also illegal to do so in a lot of Indian states.
Random Recommendation: If you like India and you like cows you might want to read this aptly named book Holy Cow. It’s really very good, I read it by the pool when I was in El Paso.
Holy Cows & Festivals
At festivals Hindus decorate and honor holy cows but they don’t actually worship cows in the way that they worship the Deity. I wasn’t sure if I should use the title Bow Down To The Holy Cow for this reason but then as bow rhymes so well with cow how could I resist?
In the Hindu tradition the cow is honored with flower garlands and given special food at festivals all over India like at the annual Gopashtama festival. At the Hindu harvest festival of Sankranti people celebrate by dressing themselves up in their best holiday outfits and dressing their cows up too so that the cows actually steal the show with the wow factor and look more fancy than they do. Imagine being upstaged by a cow!
Interesting Holy Cow Facts
- In India more than 3,000 institutions called Gaushalas, maintained by charitable trusts, care for old and infirm cows… now that is adorable.
- Most Hindus worship the cow and don’t eat beef so it’s a surprise that India is the world’s second largest beef exporter… that is of buffalo beef!
- The acceptance of the cow’s sacredness is not completely throughout India and it is believed that cow meat is sneaking into the buffalo meat market.
- Many village homes in India are plastered with a mud and cow dung mixture which insulates the walls and floors from extreme hot and cold temperatures. Pot Pourri anyone? 😉
- Scientific research has found that the ritual of burning cow dung and ghee as fuel for sacred fires purifies the air and has anti-pollutant and anti-radiation qualities.
- A right-wing Hindu organization has actually launched cosmetics using cow pee and dung. Sorry Loreal but I’m done with you now.
Now you know this whole post was just an excuse to share pictures of funky cows right? Especially the psychedelic threesome above that I made hot pink in photoshop. Can’t help myself sorry!
Anyway, I would like to share some REAL COW ART with you that I absolutely can’t get enough of. If you wish to see the coolest cows in India then check out the work of fashion photographer Toni Meneguzzo. Here’s a taster…
Click here for HOLY COW ART
To conclude here’s some words from Mahabharata and Gavopanishad;
“Cows are my mother and bulls are my father. May they provide me heavenly bliss and eminence in the world… May I always have the vision of the cows and may the cows always have kind vision for me. Cows belong to us and we belong to the cows. Wherever the cows reside, may we always reside there.”
Burger anyone? Sorry, bad taste, well burgers taste good but… you know what I mean.
How did you find the cows in India? Did you love them or hate them? Feel free to share your experiences with holier than thou cows in the comments section below.
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Read more: A Baba Love Affair: Sadhus In India
Check out the Jetset Bunny Guide To India including the basics, things to do, eat, stay and plan: India Travel Tips
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