Why is the cow a sacred animal in India? What does the cow symbolize?

Since ancient times, the hoe has been revered as a sacred animal in India. In the Vedic scriptures, there are descriptions of respectful attitude towards cows and even deification of these peaceful animals.

A cow in India is a mother who provides milk and dairy products, fuel for cooking, fertilizer for fields where food also grows. The cow has been the main breadwinner of the Indian way of life since time immemorial.

Why is the cow a sacred animal in India?

Why did the cow become a sacred animal for the Indians?

The answer to this question can only be obtained by getting acquainted with the way of life of the inhabitants of India. Hindustan is a fertile place for agriculture; here, in most territories, three crops are harvested a year. For such frequent sowing and harvesting, pulling power is needed, a lot of fertilizer so that the soil is not depleted.

Therefore, cows and bulls are needed: bulls plow the land, transport crops and other goods, manure is used as fertilizer, cow's milk and dairy products are very high-calorie food. In industrial terms, a cow is a living "factory" for the production of food, fertilizer, fuel, building materials (houses are also built from manure), and a bull is an analogue of an ancient "tractor", and every villager knows that there is nothing to do without a tractor : neither plow the land, nor transport the crop.

But, according to Vedic scriptures, a cow is not only a way to survive and a nurse, she has a divine origin - she is the mother of all cows. Goddess Surabhi specially performed austerities so that the cows would become blissful and help everyone in need in different worlds. Cows even have a special paradise world called Goloka.1 .

Also, the cow gives milk, which according to the Vedic science of health - Ayurveda - is considered sattvic food, that is, food in the mode of goodness. This means that those who eat milk and dairy products have a calmer disposition, good thoughts, an adequate perception of reality around them.

The cows are full of goodness. Of all sacred creatures, they are the most sacred. Indeed, they are the ones who support all three worlds along with their gods, demons and humans. Serving them is worthy of respect and brings healing. The number of benefits grows every day for the one who feeds the cow every day.

 - Mahabharata . Anusasanaparva. Volume 13.133 chapter. Maheswara on the veneration of cows.


Even from a few lines of the Mahabharata it becomes clear why the cow is considered a sacred animal in India.

Of course, keep in mind that the Vedic texts were written in other eras, where cows were not killed, kept clean and in different conditions than now. Accordingly, milk was a completely different product when compared with the current milk production farms, which cannot be called anything other than concentration camps. For more on this topic, check out the 2005 films Earthlings and 2018 's Dominion.

Why did the cow become a sacred animal for the Indians?

What does the cow symbolize

  • A cow in Hinduism symbolizes:
  • a mother, because she basically gives, without demanding anything in return, feeds with milk, like a mother;
  • the nurse: the milk provided by the cow is converted into a variety of nutritious foods that literally save the lives of many people in India; there are about a billion people there, but you want to eat every day;
  • divine nature: described in sacred for Hindu texts as divine and holy, Shiva himself rides the Nandi bull , Krishna himself and his brother Balarama graze cows in childhood ;
  • purity and holiness: reflected in the disinterestedness of cows in relation to people; it is also described in the scriptures;
  • guna of goodness: everything that a cow produces is considered in India to be good products, healing, giving strength and enlightening consciousness;
  • prosperity, wealth, well-being: a cow from ancient times should be given to brahmanas; usually it was done by very wealthy people or kings, also according to the ancient ritual described in the Mahabharata, when they met, the kings always gave a cow to each other.


Why cows are revered

Cows in Hindustan are revered for altruism, calm disposition, an extremely useful function for society. Not a single religious holiday and ritual is complete without the use of ghee and cottage cheese. Rituals, sacrifices and pujas are the foundation of almost every Hindu's life. It is impossible to imagine an offering to the deities or serving in the Shiva temple without the libation of dairy products on the Shivalingam.

Also, a wedding according to religious canons is impossible without the libation of ghee in the sacrificial fire. Large sacrifices require a large expenditure of dairy products, including feeding all the invited brahmanas and guests.

Also, cow urine and dung are constantly used in Indian medicine in the form of ointments and other healing elements. A great contribution to the veneration of the cow, of course, was made by the course of Vaishnavism, which is very widespread and strong in India. In this religion, milk, without exaggeration, is considered the most valuable product in the universe. And since the supreme deity of the Vaishnavas Vasudeva Krishna tended cows and loved them very much, the cows in this spiritual current were elevated to a cult.

Sacred texts about cows

Sacred texts about cows

In the Vedic texts, cows are present in one way or another, they are glorified, endowed with good qualities, making them the most sacred animals in India:


Cows are sacred. They are the foremost of all beings in the world. They are truly a refuge in the universe. They are the mothers of many deities. They are truly incomparable.

Mahabharata. Anushasanaparva. Volume 13. Chapter 80.


Cows of past eras are described as intelligent beings who were able to engage in self-development and severe austerities for the benefit of beings.


Vasishtha said: “Cows created in past ages have practiced strict self-denial for one hundred thousand years in order to achieve superiority. Indeed, O destroyer of enemies, they themselves said: “We want to become the best of all dakshin in sacrifice and not succumb to any contamination. People are sanctified by bathing in water mixed with our urine. Gods and people should use our manure to cleanse all living and nonliving creatures. And the one who gives us as a gift will go to the abode of eternal good, which also belong to us. "

Mahabharata. Anushasanaparva. Volume 13.Chapter 79.


But there is a paradox: for many centuries the most sacred animal in India - a cow - was sacrificed, that is, they committed murder, despite the fact that they were revered. This paradox can be explained by lines from the Mahabharata:


Hear me, O bull among the Bharatas! I will tell you about what the world will face when the dark days come. During Krita (yuga), dharma is like a bull with four legs - it rules over people completely, without trickery and deception. (It arrives) Treta (yuga), and then (dharma) retains only three (quarters) of its strength, while the fourth part is defeated by lawlessness. And during Dvapara (yuga), dharma is already half-supplanted by lawlessness. Then three (fourth) injustice reigns in the world, and human virtue accounts for only one fourth.

Mahabharata. Aranyakaparva. Volume 3.9-19.


We also heard that in the last kalpa, people who desired worthy abodes made sacrifices with plant seeds instead of sacrificing dedicated animals for this. Filled with doubts about the influence of meat, the rishis questioned Vasu, the lord of the Chhedya. Even though King Vasu knew that meat should be avoided, he replied that it was edible, O monarch. At the same moment, because of this opinion, Vasu lost the ability to ascend to heaven and fell to the ground. And, since he repeated his opinion there, he was still forced to sink into the ground.

Mahabharata. Anushasanaparva. Volume 13. Chapter 115.


Now, according to the Vedic scriptures, there is just the darkest (from the point of view of spirituality) era - Kali Yuga . In more advanced eras, animal sacrifice was not practiced or very few separate groups were involved, because spiritual knowledge prevailed, but gradually, due to the cyclical nature of the times of obscuration, people began to predominate, and they began to justify the addiction to eating meat with "sacred" rituals.


We have also heard that the merit of not consuming meat is greater than the gifts of gold, cows and land. Therefore, you should not eat the meat of animals that were not dedicated to the gods and ancestors in sacrifices in accordance with the sacred precepts, and which, thus, died without meaning. Without a doubt, such a person will go to hell. He who, on the other hand, eats meat that has been dedicated in sacrifice and presented as a gift to the brahmanas as food, accumulates only a few vices.

Mahabharata. Anushasanaparva. Volume 13. Chapter 115.


That is, the vices still remain, even in the Mahabharata it is said about it. One should always remember about the law of cause and effect: what you sow is what you reap. If someone is sacrificed for their own benefit, the donors will also end up on the altar in one of the next incarnations.


Whoever eats the meat of animals that want to live will be eaten by the animals himself. I have no doubt about that. This is where the word meat (Sanskrit "mansa") originated with the meaning: he ("sa") will eat me ("mam"), just as I ate it. This, O Bharata, is the deeper meaning of meat-eating. Whoever kills will be killed. This is the fate that repeats itself in the circle of rebirth.

Mahabharata. Anushasanaparva. Volume 13. Chapter 116.


O King, listen to me, I will explain to you what a vice is inherent in the consumption of meat. The meat of other animals is nothing more than the meat of your own son. Whoever ate it in his madness would be considered the most vile among people. Just as the union of father and mother produces offspring, so harming other beings brings about multiple births full of suffering.

Mahabharata. Anushasanaparva. Volume 13. Chapter 114.


The role of cows in the sacred rituals of India

In India, rituals, sacrifices or yagyas are given one of the paramount values ​​in the life of every person. Yagyas are held for any more or less important occasion. Cow's milk and its derivatives are directly involved in almost all rituals.


No sacrifice can be made without curds and ghee. The very essence of the sacrifice depends on the ghee. Therefore, ghee (or the cow that produces butter) is considered the basis of the sacrifice. Of all types of gifts, the cow's gift is valued as the highest. The cow is the most primitive of all things. Holy cows, they are the best of cleansing and sanctifying. People need to protect cows in order to thrive and live in abundance. Milk, cottage cheese and ghee given by cows can cleanse from all sin. Cows are said to represent the highest energy in both this and the higher world. Nothing is more sacred than a cow, O foremost of the lineage of Bharata.

Mahabharata. Anushasanaparva. Volume 13.Chapter 83.


Yagyas and pujas were and are being held in India, pujas can be performed several times a day, and many pujas use dairy products, yagya as a more serious event is held less often, but it is also impossible without ghee and other variations of milk and its derivatives. It happens that a cow, a sacred animal in India, herself becomes a victim at the yajna, but these days this happens much less often than in past centuries.

Shakyamuni Buddha, who lived about 500 BC NS. preached non-violence to all living beings and for a while helped to stop the tradition of slaughtering animals, but then it gradually returned.


Bull Nandi - Vahana (mount) of the great god Shiva

Bull Nandi - Vahana (mount) of the great god Shiva

Nandi is the servant of the god Shiva, his mount, personifies severity, purity of mind and body, compassion and truth. He is also a symbol of courage and devotion. In the Vayu Purana it is described that Nandi is the son of the sage Kashyapa and Surabhi (divine cow). The alternative Puranas describe the origin of Nandi from the right side of the god Vishnu, he was given as a son for the sage Shalankayana, but in the end he left to serve the god Shiva, since he was initially inclined towards devotion to Shiva. Nandi cursed Ravana's rakshasa that the cause of Ravana's death would be a monkey (Hanuman, who is also an imanation of Shiva) because Ravana called Nandi a monkey. In the end, it happened: Hanuman provided key assistance to the army of Rama in the victory over Lanka.

There are statues of Nandi in every Shivaite temple, usually Nandi is depicted bowing to the altar with Shivalingam. During the dance of Shiva (Tandava), Nandi plays along with Shiva with his music.


Indian sacred animal laws

The cult of the cow in India has the most obvious consequences for the cows themselves: they give way everywhere, cows are allowed to walk anywhere and at any time, even on the roads everyone stops to let the cow go about their business.

The mass reclining of cows with a peaceful look in the middle of a busy intersection is common. It is very beneficial to feed the cow.

But, despite all the veneration and cult of the cow, in India there are about 3,600 legal slaughterhouses and 30,000 illegal ones, according to some sources 2 . Despite the fact that killing a cow is prohibited in all of India, except for West Bengal and Kerala, nevertheless, the law is violated, cows are transported to these states and slaughtered already there, while the transport of cows across state borders is also prohibited3 .

This is the whole point of Kali Yuga: people try to follow spiritual traditions that clearly speak of non-violence, compassion and humanism. You can't kill, but when you really want to, you can. If you read the text of the 5,000-year-old Mahabharata, which predicts the current state of affairs, then this can be considered a “normal” development of events that repeat themselves cyclically from time to time.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to strive for compassion, patience, enlightenment of the mind with the help of self-development practices, so as not to succumb to the views: "So that we have everything, and we have nothing for it." Such views inevitably lead to the suffering of those who profess them and the world around. Have the wisdom to show compassion to those who are weaker than you and be happy!

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