Cows in Hinduism


Hinduism is based upon the belief in the omnipresence of the divine and the presence of a soul in all living creatures, animals and plants alike.

The Sanskrit word for the cow is ‘Gau’, and for cattle is ‘Pashu’.

Such are the benefits the cow provides to humanity, that the ancient Hindu scriptures define the cow as the “Mother of all civilizations”, her milk nurturing the whole population. Cow milk is believed to promote ‘Sattvik’ qualities associated with wisdom, producing a calming effect and improving meditation.

Ghee, or clarified butter is used in all religious food and ceremonies, including “Yajna” or Fire Worship, which is stated to be the highest form of physical worship in Hindu samskars.

Cow dung is useful in the form of fertilizers, fuels, and disinfectants in homes. Recent research even shows that the effects of radiation from a nuclear explosion can be partially nullified if the mud or brick walls of a building are covered by cow dung.

Cow urine is used for both religious and medicinal purposes. Scientific investigations also show that cow urine contains traces of gold in amounts of up to 10 milligrams per litre.

In Vedic texts, the supreme purificatory material is called the ‘Panchagavya” which is a mixture of five products, namely cow milk, ghee, curd, urine and dung. The Puranas tell the story of when the Mother Earth, Goddess Prithvi, came in the form of a cow, and King Prithu milked her to generate crops for humanity in order to end a famine.

Kamadhenu, the miraculous cow of the Devtas, is said to be a source of all prosperity.

In Hinduism, Sanatana Dharma is a divine code of conduct prescribed by the Lord. There are Shrutis, Smritis, and Dharma Shastra that glorify cows and the fruits of serving them.

The body of the sacred cow Gomata is depicted with Hindu gods and goddesses. Texts describe the Rigveda to be the back of the cow, Yajurveda the middle portion, Samaveda the stomach, Tatakas the horns, Veda Sukta the body hair, and Shantikarma and Pushtikarma to be the dung and the urine.

Brahma and Vishnu are depicted on the roots of the two horns, sacred reservoirs on the tip of the horns, Lord Shiva on the centre of the head, Goddess Parvati on the edge of the head, Kartikeya Swamy on the nose, the Sun and Moon in the eyes, Vayu in the teeth, Varuna on the tongue, Godess Saraswati in the cow’s sounds, Dharma on the thigh, Sadhya Deva in the heart, Ganga in the urine, Saraswati in milk, Narmada in curd, Agni in ghee, 33 crore [330 million] gods in the hair, and fragrant flowers on the body.

The Vedas, considered to have arisen from Lord Brahma himself, prohibit the slaughter and promote the divinity of cows.

The Rigveda refers to the cow as “Aghanya”, or that which cannot be killed under any circumstance.

The Atharva Veda states that those who eat cooked or uncooked flesh of the cow should be put to an end, and that as long as the sun shines shall the world have cows.

The Yajurveda states that cows and bulls must never be killed and always deserve to be protected.

The Gods are depicted to be cows’ protectors. Lord Shiva rides the Nandi bull, and Lord Krishna epitomizes cow protection in his role of ‘Gopala’.

Doing service for the cow is considered equivalent to service for the Lord. By serving cows, one not only attains transcendental delight in the eternal oblivion of the other world, but also in their present living context as visible truth and conscious reality.

Considering not only the religious importance, but also the economic, physical and scientific benefits of protecting cows, it is the responsibility of all humans to contribute to the mighty task of cattle protection in today’s world.


(Featured image: cow grazing near stone shrines in Himachal Pradesh, India. Credit shantishakti7, CC BY-ND 2.0)

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