India and the Holy Cow

As a traveller and a blogger, I have travelled through the length of India – through the bylanes of Benaras, the hills of Uttarakhand to the desert sand dunes of Rajasthan. I have been there on foot or on a car, the most common view on the streets and muddy bylanes of India is that of the Holy Cow. By the way, it is also a title of a bestseller novel. The cow is omnipresent, urban or rural whatever the terrain, you will find the humble cow there. The holier the city, the greater the number of cows. Hrishikesh, Varanasi, Haridwar, to name a few, all the towns on the banks of the Ganges have cows loitering around. Only in India an animal and man have formed such deep bond of love, reverence and friendship. People offer them food and the passer-by lets them pass first, no one messes with the cow, she is the queen of the street. They can feel free to sit under the shade of a tree in a park or near a footpath, no sweat, no bother, we love our cows. Gau Mata, she is the mother to us all and is a very important symbol in the Hindu and Vedic religion.

She is the symbol of motherhood as she provides her milk and dung as fuel, she is innocent, white and thus, pure. The cow is also a potent symbol of non-violence. This philosophy of ahimsa is imbibed so much by the nature of the cow. In Hindu scripting, the cow was worshipped as part of holy Yagya. Kamdhenu is a special magical cow that came out during the samura manthan, the milk has magical and medicinal qualities. The cow has been part of our folk and religious stories for years. They were given away as gifts and, alas, to the poor Brahmins and are also a symbol of wealth and prestige in rural India. Most of the ashrams that I have visited in India have a cow breeding centre where cows are kept and looked after in return of milk and dung. Cow urine and it’s medicinal qualities have been used an Ayurveda to cure many ailments and diseases. Cow’s urine is also an ingredient used in many pujas and rituals in Indian Hindu homes.

The cow has also always been a controversial topic in mainstream Indian politics. The current ban on cow slaughter, the ban on beef in Maharashtra, that had the upper classes up in arms, not to mention all the five-star hotels who have to serve beef as part of their international menu. The cow has stood for Indians and her scared symbol means that she is to be worshipped, not to be killed for her flesh or hide. She has been part of the great divide between the Hindus and the rest of India. Her mystic is steeped into the cultures of RSS, BJP and the Hindu right. Was it not the bold tweets of Shobha Day who proclaimed “I eat beef now come and kill me.” as a figure up to the Hindu right?

She is the symbol of Dharma, righteousness, truth, compassion and above all, a sacred symbol of old and modern India. Embraced by its people for centuries, she will be part of our future and continue to live in harmony amongst us all. So next time you are on a trek through a busy Indian Bazaar and you spot a cow, just fold your hands and pay your respects with the Indian greeting of “Namaste Gau Mata”.

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