India and her tryst with Holy Cows
Mark Tully had once famously said, ‘The only thing common between a North Indian and a South India, is the passport.’
India is second largest populated country, largest democracy speaking more than 22 officially recognized languages, ruthlessly divided on caste vote between 4 major religions and over 500 religious sects. A country where human life is disposable as 16 Indians are killed every hour due to rash driving, but film stars and cricketers are revered as Gods. A land of spirituality and Ayurveda, the IT outsourcing hub for the world, India is indeed a country of many contrasts. However, if there is one thing that binds the entire nation with reverence and fear in equal measures, it is the Holy Cow!
During the ancient agriculturally dominated times, cattle rearing was the second largest source of income. The need to safeguard the economically significant resources might have led to giving a religious sanctity to both the Earth and the Cow. Since then both have been symbolically addressed as mother; ‘Gai Mata’ and ‘Bharat Mata’.
The Cow has been viewed as holy and sacrosanct, deserving love and protection, and connected with the various Hindu Gods since Vedic times. Lord Krishna is synonymous with a herd of cows, the male form Nandi is the steed of Lord Shiva, and Lord Vishnu is associated with the wish-granting cow Kamdhenu. Mahabharata and religious and ethical code of conduct in Manu-Smriti also forbade slaying of cow. Rig-Veda declared milking cows as un-slayable.
History speaks of killing a cow being equated with the killing of the highest rung Hindu, the learned Brahmin. Its’ slaughter attracted capital punishment during Guptas reign. With its’ docile nature and minimal resources needed to rear, cow personified dignity, strength, endurance and selfless service to all humanity.
The Cow has become a symbol of nourishment, healing, purification and penance of the human race through ‘Panchagavya’, the five products it produces. The poorest of families can survive with a single cow in the household. Nourishment from milk, buttermilk, curd and butter gives energy to work. Cow dung provides fuel to cook in the kitchen. Antiseptic agents in cow urine help produce organic manure for the farms. Grazing cows in the fields help clear unwanted weed growth. In a country where a lamp is lit by practically all religions to pray, it offered ghee.
Succinctly speaking, this is how a cow unifies this vast country socio-economically and politico-religiously.