Are Cows Sacred in India? Evolution of our Beliefs

indian cow

 

The Unholy Cow

Long before they milked her to feed to their gods,
and before the sacrilege of her flesh and the oceans were churned,
Far before they revered her everlasting plenty,
her endless bounty,
her constant return.
Before they crowned her and winged her, and stamped her for the ages
as the eternal goddess mother of the poor and the sages,
Squeezed between minced oaths of Krishna and Christ, and everything nice,
and the manure of worship and the oblations of rice.
Stopping all traffic to salute her crossing
as the momentary master of stretches of road,
Before draping her neck with garlands of flowers
and smelling her birth in the belch of an abode.
Before they told stories of her divinity climb, before the passage of time–
They slaughtered and dissected her and mowed her apart,
Her meat eaten for chow,
Long before blessed,
She was The Unholy Cow.

Are Cows Sacred in India?  Why it Doesn”t Really Matter.

This poem that I wrote, and the inspiration for this blog, is to explain how beliefs change people and how people change beliefs.

It is a long held belief that the cow is a sacred animal in India.  It is (to a large extent).  But it is because it has been made to be one.  It was not always so.  (If anyone is interested in learning more, there is much written on the subject and I”d be happy to point you out to some good articles and books).  Below, I explain the references in the poem.

Long before they milked her to feed to their gods,
and before the sacrilege of her flesh and the oceans were churned,

Samudra-Manthan-The-Churning-of-the-Ocean-of-Milk

This is a reference to the birth of Kamadhenu, a divine cow and the everlasting giver of milk, who would grant the desires of he who owned her.  She was born from the great churning of the cosmic ocean, called Samudhra Manthan.

Far before they revered her everlasting plenty,
her endless bounty,
her constant return.

endless milk

Kamadhenu (also known as Surabhi) was ensured by the creator Brahma that she would give unending milk and ghee to those who owned her.  Many fights were dedicated over owning her, including the famous abduction of her through the battles of Jamadagni, Kartavirya Arjun and Parashuram.  Needless to say, she was hot property.

Before they crowned her and winged her, and stamped her for the ages
as the eternal goddess mother of the poor and the sages,

crowned

Another form of Kamadhenu shows her with the body of a white Zebu cow, and crowned with a woman”s head, with colorful wings and a peacock”s tail.  She was worshipped by the poor and rich alike, who quite literally could milk her for money.  She was the proverbial money growing on trees, udder, in this case.

Squeezed between minced oaths of Krishna and Christ, and everything nice,
and the manure of worship and the oblations of rice.

cow dung hillocks

We often hear the phrases “Holy Cow” as a minced expression (instead of “Holy Christ”).  Krishna”s defeat of Indra and the raising of Mt. Govardhan is celebrated by the creation of cow dung hillocks where Govardhan is recreated.  Rice is placed on the forehead as an offering to the holy cow.

Stopping all traffic to salute her crossing
as the momentary master of stretches of road,

traffic jam

Vehicles and traffic come to a grinding halt in India every day when the cow decides to cross.  In such instances, the cow is supreme.

Before draping her neck with garlands of flowers
and smelling her birth in the belch of an abode.

daksha garland

In a competing tale of the birth of Kamadhenu, Daksha, one of the sons of Brahma, was believed to have drank the amrit from the churning of the cosmic ocean.  Because the amrit was holy, when Daksha burped, from it came Kamadhenu.  In India, the cow is garlanded and worshiped daily in some parts.

Before they told stories of her divinity climb, before the passage of time–
They slaughtered and dissected her and mowed her apart,
Her meat eaten for chow,
Long before blessed,
She was The Unholy Cow.

beef eating ram hunting deer

Despite the cow worship of today, and the commonly held belief that the cow is a staple of everything that is holy in Hinduism, the ancient texts are replete with references to animal sacrifices, including those of the cow.  There were beef-eating brahmins as well.  That Lord Ram was willing to hunt the “golden deer” for the pleasure of his wife”s happiness alone is telling.  Yet the sycophants and sympathizers of Hinduism will reject these claims, and they already have, with well thought-out claims, some that are outright bogus and some that are even compelling.  I will defer that nonsensical debate to those foolish enough to fight over what, ultimately, is rather insignificant in my opinion.

What is more meaningful to me is not whether the cow (or any animal) should be eaten but, rather, what we base our thought processes on.  Why do we do what we do?  Is it custom?  Superstition?  Religion?  What if our concepts of religion are based on a faulty premise?  What then?  Do we change our beliefs?  Before painting with over broad strokes of morality and sin, we should understand the real history of our deeply held beliefs.  I think when we do that, we realize how insignificant most of what we do really is, and that what really matters is what we usually ignore.

“The Unholy Cow” sets out to dig a hole into the sands of those beliefs, churning the gravel for the treasures we can find.  Maybe we will not find the “cow of plenty” but we might take away something in the process.