The infamous “holy cow” in India. These fearless creatures freely meander along the streets and beaches of India, getting in the way and sometimes causing accidents.
Most foreigners are familiar with the concept of sacred cows in India. Indeed, spotting a cow on the road is like a right of passage for visitors to India. I still remember the excitement of seeing my first cow — at two in the morning on a dark Delhi street.
What many people don’t understand, however, is why cows are sacred in India. And why are they left to roam all over the place, and starve to death.
I’m very grateful to Ravi, one of the readers of this blog, for providing detailed answers to these questions.
1) Why are cows sacred in India?
In order to understand this, one needs to understand a little about Hinduism. Dharma is considered to have four pillars, like how a cow has four legs. Although many animals have four legs, it is a cow’s four legs that the four pillars of dharma are compared with. What is the reason? From the ancient age in India, people have been drinking cow’s milk, rather than the milk of other animals. Scientifically, it has been proven that cow’s milk can provide us with the greatest amount of health. For example, buffalo milk has a lot of fat and calories. Now, we consider the cow as mother who suckles milk, whether or not she has given birth to that which has her milk. This places the cow in the equivalent position of a mother, as it has been nourishing us with its milk from ancient times in India.
If we peruse the Upanishads or various Puranas (Hindu mythological texts), then we will find that mother earth has been represented as cow or Gau mata/mother cow. When the earth was polluted by the demons in the ancient time, and it became intolerable for the humans to continue their existence, mother earth represented herself as cow and went to the supreme lord and sought help, to save her and her sons and daughters. So, this is another reason for considering cows as sacred.
2) If cows are so sacred in India, why are they left to roam all over the place, and starve to death?
In answering this question, it’s necessary to keep in mind the socio-economic conditions of Indians. With the passing of time, the values and scriptural mandates have started to gather rust. As a result, they have started to fade away from our day-to-day lifestyle. Cows are holy, but nowadays only few people will come forward to provide them with shelter. People in the cities have no time and space for them. They don’t even have time and space for their old parents, and so thinking about cows would be utter foolishness.
In rural India, you will still find the flavour of ancient India, as cows are still used for agriculture. Certain Hindu religious organizations are also playing an active role in providing safe shelter for them. But still, very little has been done for these holy animals.