Discover India’s cow and bull in History and Mythology and it’s use in traditional Indian medicine. Explore the varied meanings of the Sanskrit word Go गो
On the go – cows and bulls on Indian roads
On the bike staying focused is key. Traffic moves like water down a hillside, as in whichever way is most open, and functions seemingly on a loose agreement, the bigger goes first without to hit each other. No cars in the oncoming lane? Well then, that’s where the massive bus or truck is going in order to keep rolling. Our three year Indonesia adventure helped us adapt, and we feel quickly safe driving a bike in India.
We see them walking down the street or taking a nap right next to – or, sometimes in – busy roads. People are careful not to hurt them, Hindus regard bovine creatures as sacred. Motorcycles, rickshaws and cars maneuver around the gentle animals at top speeds, but at times, only a hair’s breadth away, of hitting them.
You’d think that honking horns and blasting engine brakes would scare the cows away, but they just sit there, unfazed and without so much as a flinch. Cows meandering through the streets can create an unbelievable traffic jam – a cow jam.
They are not scared of the traffic. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Revered, street-roaming cows, stray peacocks, feral monkeys, goats, bicycles, mangy dogs, cycle rickshaws, sheep, camels, elephants, mule-yoked carts, not to mention playing children and pedestrians, are only some roaming dangers of the highly populated Indian roads. Due to millions of sauntering cows, it is likely that India has the world’s greatest number of moving traffic impediments.
Cows and bulls are well protected in India despite the problems they create in urban areas, because Hindus do not like to see them being hurt or harmed in any way.
India’s cattle inventory amounted to over 305 million in 2021. The roads are incomplete in India if you don’t find animals roaming. This means: slow driving, traffic jams, accidents, carcasses and slippery dung do occur; and driving with the concern of being hit or hitting an animal.
MYTHOLOGY OF THE COW AND BULL IN INDIA
SACRED COWS AND BULLS IN HINDUISM
In Hinduism, God is visualized through various forms: elements, plants, animals, celestial bodies, artifacts, and geometrical artworks. So, it is not uncommon for a Hindu to worship fire or water, the tulsi plant, the banyan tree, the sun or the moon, a pot or a sword, a yantra made of intersecting triangles, circles and squares. Hindus don’t just worship cows. They also worship cobras and monkeys and elephants, as finite forms of the infinite divine.
The cow in India, is a Zebu. They have humps on the shoulders, large dewlaps, and droopy ears. Zebus are well adapted to the hot, dry environment of the tropics, including resistance to drought and tolerance of intense heat and sunlight.
The cow in Mythology
Among the various sacred Animals in Hinduism, the cow occupies a prominent position.
The symbolic meaning of cows relates to fertility, motherhood, sacrifice, nourishment, generosity life-giving qualities, like abundance and symbolizes the all-bountiful earth.
The cow appears as a goddess, as the embodiment of the earth – Prithivi Mata or Bhumi. In ancient pastoral communities, a cow was useful as its meat, milk and milk products provided nourishment and its dung served as fuel and plaster for the house and floor. Hence, cows were much prized commodities.
Till today, in rural areas, a mixture of dung and water is smeared onto hut floors as an insecticide and disinfectant. Cow dung is regularly collected and used for fuel; cow urine allegedly has medicinal qualities and is drunk after childbirth. Purification can also be achieved by bathing in cow’s urine, though according to Hindu rites, the most efficacious method is drinking the panchagavya (‘the five cows’), a mixture of milk, ghee – clarified butter, curd, dung and urine. Dust raised by cows, is also believed to have cleansing properties when collected and sprinkled on the body.
The female cow however, is worshiped only in her living form. There are rat, tiger, elephant and monkey temples – but no cow temples. Still, the cow occupies a special place in Hindu culture.
Cattle symbolizes dharma, the Law of Righteousness or moral and religious duty.
The bull in Mythology
While the cow is a sacred animal, the male cow or bull has been castrated for centuries, turned into a bullock and used as a beast of burden, to pull the plough or cart. The virility of the bull is still revered, as Shiva‘s vehicle; Nandi. However, in Hinduism bulls symbolically represent both positive and negative qualities. On the positive side they represent manliness, virility, manly strength, sexual prowess, and fighting spirit. On the negative side, they symbolize darkness, brute power, excessive sexuality, lust, anger, aggression, promiscuity, waywardness, ignorance, and delusion.
This 900-year-old sculpture is the creation of Chola Architecture and is part of the Airavatesvara Hindu Temple in Tamil Nadu. In Hinduism, bull and elephant hold immense religious significance. The Elephant or the Airavat is revered as the vehicle of Indra, the Hindu god of lightning, thunder, rains, and river flows, and ancient king of the gods and Heaven. The Bull or the Nandi is worshiped as the vehicle of Lord Shiva.
On specific occasions, Hindus worship bulls and make them offerings of food. Since they are considered sacred, as in case of cows, hurting or harming them is strictly prohibited in Hinduism.
THE MYTHOLOGICAL GO गो – COW AND BULL IN HINDUISM
The cow and bull play a major part in Hindu mythology. Like the earth cow (Prithivi Mata – mother nature and goddesses) in Vedic creation myth and the wish cow Kamadhenu, for some named Surabhi, were sacred and owed by Gods, like Indra (the ruler of the gods in early Hinduism) or Rishis (saints).
In Hinduism, there’s a belief that Vishnu while the white bull belongs notably to Shiva, his steed (vahana) – Nandi. While Durga killed the male buffalo demon, Ayyappa of Kerala killed the female buffalo demon.
In Vaishnava (worship of Vishnu as a main god) mythology, the cow came to be seen as an embodiment of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. In the Bhagavata Purana, the earth takes the form of a cow and asks Vishnu to protect her. That is why Vishnu, her guardian, is called Go-pala, protector of the earth-cow.
The earth is visualized as being milked by all living creatures. And when kings plunder earth’s resources, they are described as cow killers, or cow tormentors, and Vishnu descends as Parashurama, Ram and Krishna, to kill the greedy king and let the earth drink their blood. A substantial part of the Krishna mythology is associated with cows, cowherds and pastoral life in general, and Goloka, ‘cow-region’, is the name given to Krishna’s paradise.
The cow is equated to one’s mother, because she gives milk, hence the expression ‘Gaumata’, cow mother.
In the Hindu mythology, the cow represents both the mother and the earth– mother, because cow’s milk is the first replacement for mother’s milk, and the earth because the cow is a symbol of fertility. In times of distress, the earth is believed to take on the form of a cow to pray for divine aid.
Etymology: History of the word Go गो
The importance of the cow in Indian culture may be seen from the number of words derived from Sanskrit, go गो gau. Go falls under the category of domesticated animals (grāmya-paśu) according to the Vāyu Purana.
- Feminine – cow, the earth (as the milk cow of kings);
- Masculine – bull, ox, ox-hide, leather, sinew;
- Plural – cattle, herds, the stars or rays of light (as the herds of the sky);
- Anything coming from or belonging to an ox or cow: milk, flesh, fat, skin, hide, leather, strap of leather, bow-string, sinew [Ṛig-Veda];
- To smear, clean with cow dung;
- A kind of sacrifice, the sacrifice of a cow.
One’s ancestral family name is the gotra (or cow pen), within which the family lived with its cattle. So sacred is the gotra, or the male lineage, that two people from the same gotra cannot intermarry, even if one belongs to Kashmir and the other to Kanyakumari.
The gateway to a temple is called gopuram, which means the village/town of the cow. Gorocha was the worship of the cow as the god of one’s choice. This was done by devoting oneself to many cows. Gauri or Parvati, earth goddess and consort of Shiva, is named after the Rig Vedic buffalo-cow (Rg Vda, I.164.41). Gauri is the Hindu goddess of power, energy, nourishment, harmony, love, beauty, devotion, and motherhood. She is a physical representation of Mahadevi in her complete form. She is also revered in her appearances as Durga and Kali. Read about Parvati in her cow form.
Rig Veda mentions many more cow – gau/go – related words:
|Ida||giver of material prosperity, source of inspiration||Kamya||Graceful, beautiful|
|Havya||to be revered||J- yoti||giver of strength and spiritual valor|
|Aditi||an integrated whole, not to be severed||Saraswati||giver of nectar in the form of milk|
Proto-Indo-European root meaning “ox, bull, cow,” perhaps ultimately imitative of lowing; similar to Sumerian gu, Chinese ngu, ngo “ox.”
Gwou can be used to say: beef; bovine; buffalo; butter; cow (n.); cowbell; cowboy; cowlick or/and cowslip.
Gwou is the hypothetical source of: Sanskrit gaus, Greek bous, Latin bos, Old Irish bo, Latvian guovs, Armenian gaus, Old English cu, German Kuh, Old Norse kyr, Slovak hovado all words for “cow, ox.”
The Sanskrit word for cow is also listed as a synonym of earth, heaven, rays of light, speech, and singer, while the classical lexicographer Hemachandra adds sun, water, eye, heavenly quarter, kine, and thunderbolt. This seemingly diverse cluster of meanings falls within a common myth of creation in which all of these things are first produced. The cosmic waters from whence all originates are seen as cows.
MYTH: THE EARTH COW
The divine hero, Indra, is sent to create order (rta) from the primordial, chaotic waters. They are being held captive in a cave guarded by Vritra. Indra slays Vritra and the waters gush forth like lowing cows. In the Rigveda (1.32.2) we read:
“Like lowing kine in rapid flow descending the waters glided downward to the ocean”.
I t just so happens that these cows are pregnant and give birth to the sun (= calf/vatsa). In this way, water, heat, and light are created. Law and order is established, and the rest of creation is completed.
All things, according to this myth, came into existence like lowing cows. Water in Bharat (India) is considered to be sacred and purifying, thus holy (Ganga), and because the cow is associated with its release, it too takes on this holiness.
The cow, so is a microcosm of the universe.
As a spatial symbol her legs stand implanted at the four corners of the universe. Firmly established on her four legs (catuhpdda), is seen as “complete and self-contained”. The cow represents perfection. This is a time when dharma (duty, law) is seen as functioning smoothly and efficiently. But such a condition is understood as only a temporary state of affairs, since the Hindu notion is that time is always moving through repetitive cycles-each of which consists of four yugas (ages) – one corresponding to each leg of the cow. As each yuga passes and dharma degenerates, one leg of the cosmic cow is lifted until she collapses. This collapse ends one major cycle. The universe is then renewed, dharma is restored, the cow regains her balance, and the process begins anew.
THE MOTHER COW
Many agrarian cultures throughout the world have created narratives relating to the origin of agriculture and plants. Such stories confer fecundity upon the earth through their ritual telling. Earth’s fertility is often identified as feminine, and in many cases the earth is described as mother. This is also true in India. But added to these ideas is the cow’s association with the earth. In the Vedas, as Prthivi Mata (Mother Earth) she is complementary to Dyaus Pita (‘Father Sky’). Prithu, an incarnation of Vishnu, milked her in cow’s form. This illustratin of the Bhagavata Purana shows how Prithu chases goddess earth, Prithvi, who fled in the form of a cow and eventually agreed to yield her milk as the world’s grain and vegetation. The epic Mahabharata, Vishnu Purana, and the Bhagavata Purana describe him as a part-avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu.
The Atharvaveda contains the earliest version of this myth, but a more complete version is contained in the Vishnupurana:
P rthu, son of Vena, having been constituted universal monarch, desired to recover for his subjects edible plants, which, during the preceding period of chaos, had all perished. He therefore assailed the earth, which, assuming the form of a cow, fled from him, and promised to fecundate the soil with her milk.
Thereupon Prithu flattened the surface of the earth with his bow, uprooting and thrusting away hundreds and thousands of mountains. Having made Svayarbhuva Manu, the calf, he milked the earth, and received the milk into his own hands, for the benefit of all mankind.
Thence proceeded all kinds of grain and vegetables upon which people subsist now and always. By granting life to the earth, Prthu was her father; and she thence derived the patronymic appellation Prthivi (daughter of Prithu). Then the gods, the sages, the demons, the Raksasas, the Gandharvas, Yaksas, Pitrs, serpents, mountains, and trees took a milking vessel suited to their kind, and milked the earth of appropriate milk. And the milker and the calf were both peculiar to their own species.
Prithivi Mata पृथ्वी
Prithvi or Bhudevi – is the Mother goddess of earth or earth mother as for Rig Veda and other texts including the Atharva-veda. Many Hindus worship Prthivi at dawn and before ploughing and sowing. In Punjab, the first milk from a cow is offered to the goddess by allowing it to soak into the earth. With similar sentiment a dying man may be laid on the earth to be received by Prthivi.
The relief depicts Varaha, the boar incarnation of Vishnu, rescuing the Earth Goddess ,Bhu devi or Prithvi from the engulfing ocean. Varaha lifts Bhu Devi on his massive shoulder, his foot subduing a naga who folds his hands in obeisance,while gods and sages surround Varaha in recognition of the miracle. A circular lotus flower appears above the god’s head.
Cattle and milk were very important to the Vedic people. The Rig Veda, VI.28.1, says,
‘The cattle have come and brought good fortune: let them rest in the cow pen and be happy near us. Here let them stay prolific, many coloured, and yield through many mornings their milk for Indra.’
Milk is sacrificed to the gods and used to wash holy statues and worship the Shiva Linga.
The Shatapatha Brahmana (IX.3.3.15–17) says that the
“shower of wealth, the (cow’s) body is the sky, the udder the cloud, the teat is the lightning, the shower (of milk) is the rain from the sky, and it comes to the cow.”
The sacred cow is worshiped as the cloud whose milk refreshes, as a form of Aditi and of Ila:
The free one – is an archaic mother goddess. According to the Rig Veda Aditi is said to be the wife of Kasyapa or of Brahma. Other myths account her as the mother of the rain god Indra or Vishnu. No human physical features are drawn, though she is sometimes identified in the guise of a cow. Aditi is also perceived as a guardian goddess who brings prosperity and who can free her devotees from problems and clear away obstacles. She disappears largely from later Hindu traditions.
O nce upon a time, Aditi, wife of rishi Kasyapa, nurtured Lord Vishnu in her womb. She stood on tip-toe and offered her penance. At that time, Surabhi (cow of plenty, also called Kamadhenu ) went to Kailasa and performed a penance for Brahma for ten thousand years. The Gods, pleased with Surabhi’s prayers, went to her accompanied by Brahma and said to her,
“O Surabhi, we bestow on you the powers of a goddess.
You will stay above heaven, earth, and hell.
That will come to be renowned as Goloka.
All the people will worship you. All the cattle will belong to you.”
The cow Surabhi (the wishing cow) is the mother of cows, bulls and buffaloes. (Chapter 99, Anusasanika parva, Mahabharatha).
Is a minor, vedic goddess of sacrifices. She is invoked to appear on the sacrificial field before a ritual. Usually associated with the goddess Saraswati, Ila is linked with the sacred cow and her epithets include “butter-handed” and “butter-footed.”
The mythology about the cow suggests that in primordial times the milk of the cow provided sustenance for all beings and fertilized the soil. Cow symbolism in Hinduism has a close connection with milk.
Jagat Mata Go-Laxmi is the world mother cow of good fortune. Based originally on the story of Rani Dhanadevi (doing puja while kneeling in front of the cow) in the Bhavisya Purdna (narrated around the border), this visual depiction narrates a national and political discourse; namely, that everyone benefits from the cow. We see Bharat Mata (Mother India) milking the cow, while a Hindu and a Muslim stand behind her. An Englishman and a Parsi are in front of her, all eagerly awaiting a glass of milk. Yama, the god of death, stands with folded hands in front of the cow, and emerging from her side is Lakshmi, telling Yama that he can make no claim upon anyone who worships the cow. Within the cow we witness the Hindu pantheon. The legs show the Himalayas.
Cows are sacred to India’s more than 800 million Hindus, and Hindu nationalist parties have often used cows as a symbol to further their political goals.
GODDESSES RELATED TO COWS
Cow – earth and mother Goddesses
the Vedic goddess of the dawn. The daughter of Dyaus and, according to some texts, the consort of the sun god Surya. An auspicious deity, Usas brings the dawn, heralding Surya, and drives away darkness. She is the all-seeing eye of the gods. In addition to being perceived as a sky goddess, she is also drawn as a mother goddess in the guise of a cow. Epithets include “mother of the gods” and “mother of cows.” She is invoked to give the boon of longevity, but a more malignant aspect reveals her as a huntress who wastes human life. Usas sometimes enjoys a domestic worship as a guardian hearth goddess who drives away darkness and evil spirits. She disappears, however, from the later traditions of Hinduism.
Vedic Goddess of the spoken word. She gives the boon of hearing, speech and sight and she can lead a man to become a Brahman. She also personifies truth and sustains soma – the liquid essence of vision and immortality. She is said to have created the four Vedas, the basis of the earliest Hindu mythology. Though she takes a prominent place in the Rig Veda, Vac largely disappears from later Hindu traditions. She may have become syncretized with the goddess of wisdom, Sarasvati. She is generally depicted as an elegant womanly figure dressed in gold, but in the secondary capacity of a mother goddess she is also drawn as a cow. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the equivalence of speech and the cow extends to an equation of her four teats with four important syllable pairs pronounced in fire rites: “One should venerate speech as a cow. It has four teats – Svāhā, Vas.at., Hanta, and Svadhā. The gods live on two of those teats – Svāhā and Vas.at..Humans live on Hantā, and the ancestors on Svadhā. The bull of this cow is the breath, and her calf is the mind.” Beyond the award of cattle for correctly performed ritual and correctly pronounced speech in the ritual was the award of freedom from death.
(divine) – Mother goddess. Hindu (Epic and Puranic). Daughter of Devaka and consort of the mythical king Vasudeva, Devaki bore eight sons, including Krishna and Balarama. Her brother Kamsa believed that the eighth child would kill him and he slaughtered the first six sons. In order to save the remaining two, Vishnu implanted the “seed” of his avataras in Devaki’s womb (in the form of hairs from his head), before transferring Balarama to the womb of the goddess Rohini and Krishna to Yasoda, the wife of a cowherd, Nanda.
(the nimble one) – Attendant goddess. Hindu (Vedic, Epic and Puranic). She acts as a messenger to the god Indra and guards his herds. In later Hindu texts Sarama is reputedly the mother of all dogs and is given the epithet the “bitch of heaven.” The Rg Veda accounts her as having punished the minor deity Panis for stealing cows.
is the primordial Vedic earth goddess. The so-called “dappled cow” of the Rig Veda. She is also perceived as the brightly colored soma stalk and is linked with a male counterpart, also Prsni, the dappled bull of the sun.
(lame cow) – Minor goddess of fortune. Hindu (Epic and Puranic). A benevolent Nakastra; daughter of Daksa and wife of Candra (Soma).
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE DOMESTICATION OF THE COW AND BULL IN INDIA
Archaeologists and biologists are agreed that there is strong evidence for two distinct domestication events from aurochs: Bos taurus in the near east about 10,500 years ago, and Bos indicus in the Indus valley of the Indian subcontinent about 7,000 years ago. There may have been a third auroch domesticate in Africa (tentatively called Bos africanus), about 8,500 years ago.
Indian, cattle descended from a sub-species of aurochs who lived at the edge of the Thar Desert, which lies across Bharat and Pakistan. Scholars at the Paleontologisk Museum, University of Oslo, believe that the aurochs first appeared in India two million years ago, and from there spread throughout the Middle East, Europe and Asia. or Bos indicus are thought to be derived from the Indian aurochs, Bos primigenius namadicus. Evidence of the transition of wild to domestic humped cattle, is found in Harappan sites such as Mehrgahr about 7,000 years ago.
Humped bull at Usgalimal Rock Carvings, Goa. Archaeologists believe these carvings can be anywhere from 8,000 – 9,000 years old, dating from the upper Paleolithic to Megalithic period.
Believed to be first bred in northwestern South Asia, between 7,000 – 6,000 BC, aurochs are understood to have been dispersed throughout northwestern South Asia by 4,000 BC, and spread across much of South Asia by 2,000 BC.
Archaeological evidence including depictions on pottery and rocks suggests that it was present in Egypt around 2.000 BC and thought to be imported from the Near East or south. It is thought to have first appeared in sub-Saharan Africa between 700 and 1,500 and was introduced to the Horn of Africa around 1,000.
Zebu breeds of India
A large variety of Indo-Pakistani zebu breeds and land races were described in the 19th century. For several breeds herd books were established in the early 20th century. Since the 19th century a few breeds were exported to Southeast Asia and the Americas. Most zebu breeds are developed as draught cattle, but Sahiwal, Red Sindhi and Gir are specialized dairy cattle and the Kankrej and Ongole are dairy-work cattle. The southern Bharat Mysore breeds were already bred in the 17th century for fast road transport.
Several factors contributed to the recent decrease of the Indo-Pakistani zebu populations:
- increase of mechanized agriculture,
- dwindling grazing areas in densely populated regions,
- exclusion of herds from forest grazing,
- crossbreeding programs,
- and increase of the number of dairy water buffaloes.
In India and Pakistan the vast majority of cattle are desi, local animals, also including the nadudana dwarf zebus. However, these countries also count 35 recognized zebu breeds.
Zebu – Indus Valley Civilisation (3,000 BC – 1,750 BC)
It is a fact that the cow, the buffalo and the elephant were domesticated in India long before 3,000 BC. and in the Pre-Aryan days the massive, long horned and humped form and a small form with short horns (humpless) were found in Bharat, the latter type in the upper strata of Mohenjadaro site. The zebu appears on Harappan seals, among the earliest terracotta figurines found in the subcontinent, and on rock paintings of central India.
Cattle were the main domestic animals of the Indus Valley Civilization, and their bones constitute half of those found in the archaeological sites. This bones bear marks of butchery and are often burnt or charred. Cows were domesticated for their milk, and bullocks were used for drawing carts, threshing, and raising water; also bulls were kept for breeding. Cattle were essential to the economy, also a medium of exchange. Wealth was estimated by the number of heads of cattle owned either by an individual or the community.
The Pashupati Seal
Pashu means cow and also represents the world of animals, Pashupati is the lord of all animals, of which the cow is the foremost. Pashu is cognate with the Latin pecu, from which are derived words pertaining to money, such as pecunia (Latin) and impecunious (English).
While the identity of the figure has been the subject of much debate, there is a consensus on its supposed associations with the divine. The interpretation of the main figure as Pashupati emerged from the iconography of Shiva – the trishula shape of the headdress (tricephalic, three-headed horned), the yogic pose, the encircling of the figure by animals – leading to its identification as a proto- Shiva or Rudra.
The bovine feature, led some scholars to claim that the figure represented a bovine deity, such as Mahishasura, or a divine bull-man. Other interpretations suggested identifications with the Vedic deities of Agni, Anila, Indra and Varuna, and with the sage Rishyasringa or the sage Kashyapa. As the inscriptions are yet to be deciphered, the identity of the principal character of the seal remains contested.
This and other archaeological evidence points to the existence of the cult of the bull in the Harappan civilization (3,000-1,750 BC) and, while worship of the cow was less popular then, it increased markedly during the Vedic period.
The cow – Zebu in Vedic times (1,500 BC — 600 BC)
Our knowledge about the Aryans is mostly drawn from Brahmanical sources from the Rig Veda onward. After their migration into the Indian subcontinent pastoralism, nomadism and animal sacrifice remained characteristic features of their life for several centuries until sedentary field agriculture became the mainstay of their livelihood. A man’s wealth was counted by the number of cattle he possessed. The sanctity of cattle may be derived from its economic value.
Milk, ghee, curd, fuel, fertilizer, medicines and disinfectants were all supplied by the cattle.
Even the dowry and bride price were paid in cattle. Also in death the cow will be there to help.
Several Puranas describe the way to the kingdom of Yama, lord of the dead and justice, as arduous. To cross the river Vaitarani the deceased must hold onto the tail of a gracious cow, formerly sacrificed, but in modern times simply rented for a ritual moment.
Not surprisingly, they prayed for cattle and sacrificed them to propitiate their gods. The Vedic gods had no marked dietary preferences. Milk, butter, barley, oxen, goats and sheep were their usual food, though some of them seem to have had their special preferences. Textual evidence reveals the custom of sacrificing oxen and bulls to the gods and herds of one hundred bulls were legendary offered to Indra. A share of the flesh was afterwards eaten by the people performing the sacrifice, sharing it, was then part of the celebration. Agni was not a tippler like Indra, but was fond of the flesh of horses, bulls and cows.
Soma was the name of an intoxicant but, equally important, of a god, and killing animals (including cattle) for him was basic to most of the Rgvedic yajnas – sacrifice, devotion, worship and offering.
Indra’s companions, the Maruts – storm deities, and the Asvins – gods associated with medicine, health, dawn and sciences, were also offered animals. Maruts or marutagana are the offspring of Rudra and the earth goddess, they had assumed the form of a bull and a cow respectively to create them.
The Vedas mention about 250 animals out of which at least 50 were deemed fit for sacrifice, by implication for divine as well as human consumption. In various legends the gods fight the demons for control of cows (rain clouds).
Cattle are respected by pastoral societies that rely on the animal for their sustenance. The pastoral Vedic Aryans considered cattle as a major source of wealth, and therefore sacred.
Many cultures gave special reverence to the cow. In Zoroastrianism there is a specific term “geush urva” which has the meaning the spirit of the cow. So honored was this animal it was considered the soul of the earth.
Ancient Egyptians associated the cow with goddess Isis and would not sacrifice it.
In China, as far back as the Tang dynasty (618-907) it was customary to line the banks of rivers with oxen to prevent flooding.
In Bali – Indonesia Animal sacrifice is still practiced, learn more.
The sacred cow
Though cattle were sacrificed and their flesh eaten in ancient Bharat, the slaughter of milk-producing cows was increasingly prohibited. According to the Atharva Veda (12.1.15), the earth was created for the enjoyment of not only human beings but also for bipeds and quadrupeds, birds, animals and all other creatures. The emergence of all life forms from the Supreme Being is expressed in the Mundakopanishad (2.1.7):
From Him, too, gods are produced manyfold,
The celestials, men, cattle, birds.
These ideas led to the concept of ahimsa, non-violence or non injury – the absence of the desire to harm living creatures, the cow came to symbolize a life of nonviolent generosity. Although Sanatana Dharma did not require its adherents to be vegetarians, vegetarianism was recognized as a higher form of living, a belief that continues in contemporary Hinduism where vegetarianism is considered essential for spiritualism.
Around the sixth century BC, two great religious preachers were born, who took the Upanishadic philosophy of good conduct and non-killing to the people in the common language: Mahavira the Jina (founder of Jainism), and Gautama the Buddha (founder of Buddhism). Both emphasized that ahimsa was essential for a good life.
The degree of veneration afforded the cow is indicated by the use in rites of healing, purification, and penance of the panchagavya. In addition, because her products supplied nourishment, the cow was associated with motherhood and Mother Earth. The cow was also identified early on with the Brahman priest, and killing the cow was sometimes equated (by Brahmans) with the heinous crime of killing a Brahman.
In the middle of the 1st millennium CE, cow killing was made a capital offense by the Gupta kings. It is forbidden in parts of the Mahabharata, the Sanskrit epic, and in the religious and ethical code known as the Manu-smirti (“Tradition of Manu”). Vegetarianism, along with a taboo against beef, became a well accepted mainstream Hindu tradition. This practice was inspired by the beliefs in Hinduism that a soul is present in all living beings, life in all its forms is interconnected, and non-violence towards all creatures is the highest ethical value.
Vegetarianism is a part of Hindu culture, not all Hindus are vegetarians though.
The sanctity of the cow was so great that Babur, the first Mughal emperor, in his will to his son Humayun, advised him to respect the cow and avoid cow slaughter. The Mughal king Akbar chose to ban cow slaughter and thus endeared himself to his Hindu subjects. Legislation against cow killing persisted into the 20th century in many princely states where the monarch was Hindu.
The Constitution Of India 1949, states, in Article 48. Organisation of agriculture and animal husbandry:
The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving.
Today, several State Governments and Union Territories (UTs) have enacted cattle preservation laws in one form or the other. Arunachal Pradesh, Kerala, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, Lakshadweep, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have no legislation. All other states/UTs have enacted legislation to prevent the slaughter of cows and calves and draught cattle. While exports of cattle beef are banned for religious reasons, buffalo do not hold the same religious significance to most Indians, and buffalo slaughter is legal throughout India. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, India was the global largest beef (water buffalo meat) exporter in 2015.
ON THE MYTHOLOGICAL ORIGIN OF THE COW KAMADHENU कामधेनु – SURABHI सुरभि
The wish cow is mentioned particularly frequently in Sanskrit Literature and mythology, the fulfiller of wishes with the name Kamadhenu कामधेनू, Sanskrit, from kama desire, wish + dhenu milk cow. Kamadhenu is often addressed by the name Surabhi or Shurbhi, which is also used as a synonym for an ordinary cow. Other names attributed to Kamadhenu are Sabala (“the spotted one”) and Kapila (“the red one”).
Surabhi can specifically refer to the divine cow Kamadhenu, the mother of cattle who is also sometimes described as a Matrika, mother goddess. The animal is associated with goddesses because of its life-giving attributes symbolized by milk.
This artist painting of Kamadhenu, the Wish-Granting Cow, combines the white zebu cow with the crowned frontal female face. Colorful “eagle” wings, and peacock tail of Buraq, the animal that the prophet Muhammad rode to heaven in his night journey (Miraj). From at least the fifteenth century, Persian paintings showed Buraq with a horse’s body, wings, and woman’s face; the peacock tail may have been an Indian addition. Popular images of Kamadhenu in Bharat today often show her as in this painting, which may be one of the earliest images to merge the visual characteristics of the Hindu Kamadhenu with the Islamic Buraq.”
On how Kamadhenu came to be
Indra loses some of his power and his warrior characteristics in the later Epics. Other deities, such as Vishnu, take his place as defender of gods and humans, while Indra continues to serve as the god of rain.
MYTH : Samudra manthan or Churning of the Ocean of Milk
The Hindu creation story, The Churning of the Milky Ocean, is about the struggle between the gods and demons, from the churning of the ‘cosmic ocean’, the cow, Kamadhenu emerges. It first appears in the epic Ramayana: many of the sacred animals are among the sacred nine gems (navaratna) that were churned out of the ocean.
A ccording to the epic Mahabharata, the Asuras or demons had become very powerful because of their knowledge of the sanjivani vidya, the ability to rejuvenate the dead or dying, taught to them by their guru Shukracharya. Scared, the devas or gods asked Brahma for advice, and the latter advised friendship with the Asuras. So the Devas invited the Asuras to jointly churn the ocean for amrita, the nectar of immortality. The cosmic tortoise Kurma – also an incarnation of Vishnu – offered his back to support the churning staff, Mount Mandara, and Shiva‘s snake Vasuki offered to be the churning rope.
Among the nine gems that came out of the ocean were the divine elephant Airavata, the divine cow Kamadhenu and the divine horse Uchchaishravas, along with the goddess Lakshmi, Prosperity herself.
This story may be an allegory for ancient trade, for the mythical Airavata was believed to have been born of the river Iravathi (Irrawaddy) in Burma, home to the sacred ‘white’ elephant. The horse was imported from the Arabian peninsula. The cow was indigenous. Many other items that were churned from the ocean are among the valuables once traded in ancient India.
BRAHMA ब्रह्मा AND THE CREATION OF KAMADHENU
In ritual texts known as Brahmanas (c. 900 BC.) there are many versions relating to creation. Kamadhenu – regarded the offspring of the gods and demons, created when they churned the cosmic milk ocean – was then given to the Saptarishi, the seven great seers. She was ordered by the creator god Brahma to give milk, and supply it for “ghee – clarified butter” used in ritual fire-sacrifices.
I n the beginning only Prajapati was there. He considered ‘how may I be reproduced?’ – toiled and performed acts of penance. So he produced Agni from his mouth, therefore Agni is a consumer of food…
‘I have produced a food consumer for myself but in deed, there is no other food here than myself whom verily he would not eat!’
At the time this earth was quite bare, there existed neither plants nor trees. For this Prajapati was troubled. Thereupon, Agni turned towards Prajapati with open mouth, and the latter being terrified, became bereft of his own greatness. His own greatness is his speech, He desired an offering for himself.
He rubbed his hands and because of it obtained both butter offering and milk offering both indeed being milk.
This offering however did not satisfy him. He poured it away into the fire.
From it plants sprang.
He rubbed his hands a second time and thereby obtained another offering either a butter offering or a milk offering. But both are indeed milk. By this offering he became satisfied.
He doubted ‘Shall I offer it up? Shall I not offer it up?’ Both ways he thought over. His own greatness said to him, ‘Offer it up’. Prajapati was aware that it was his own (Sva) greatness that had spoken to him and so offered it up with a ‘Svaha’.
Then that burning one sun rose, and that blowing one, wind, sprang up whereupon indeed Agni turned away and Prajapati having performed offering reproduced himself and saved himself from Agni.
Death, as he was about to consume Prajapati… And when he dies and he is laid upon the pyre, he is born again out of the fire, the fire only consumes his body.
And as if he were born of the fire, he takes his rebirth. He however who does not offer the fire sacrifice, never again springs to new life. Therefore, one must of necessity offer the fire sacrifice.
Having offered he rubbed his hands again.
Thence a Vikantaka tree sprang forth, and therefore that tree is suitable for the sacrifice and proper for sacrificial vessels.
Thereupon three heroes among the Gods were born, Agni, Vayu and Surya; and verily whosoever thus knows those heroes among the gods, to him a hero shall be born. They then said
“we came after our father Prajapati, let us then create what shall come after us!”
Having enclosed a piece of ground they sang praises with the Gayatri Stanza without the ‘him’ and that (with which they enclosed was the ocean and this earth was the praising ground, Astara). When they had sung praises they went out towards the East saying “will I go back thither!”
The Gods came upon a cow which had sprung into existence.
Looking up at them, she uttered the sound of a hymn. The Gods perceived that this was the “hymn of the saman” (melodious sacrificial chant). The holy chant was in the cow; therefore the latter affords the means of subsistence.
They said ‘auspicious indeed is what we have produced here. We have produced the cow, for truly, she is the sacrifice and without her no sacrifice is performed. She is also the food, for the cow indeed is all food.
This word (go) then is a name of these cows,
and so it is of the sacrifice, let him therefore repeat it, as it were, saying ‘Good Excellent’ and with him repeating, the cows multiply, and the sacrifice will incline to him.
This cow, however, Agni coveted, thinking, ‘I would like to mate with her.’ He united with her and his seed became her milk.
Therefore, the latter is cooked, while the cow is raw, for the milk is Agni’s seed and therefore it is that milk whether it is in a black cow or a red cow, is always white and shining like fire, because it is Agni’s seed.
And therefore, it is warm already at the milking, for it is the seed of Agni.
Ghee (clarified butter) and milk are commonly used as offerings in puja (holy Hindu ceremony) and homa (fire ceremony). Oil lamps use ghee as a fuel. Statues are washed with milk.
MORE VARIANTS ON THE CREATION OF KAMADHENU
Again elsewhere the same Brahmana says Prajapati creates animals out of his vital organs out of his mind he created man, out of his eye the horse, out of his breath the cow, out of his ear the sheep, out of his voice the goat.
In Atharvaveda there are two versions relating to the origin of the cow. The first version describes the cow as the daughter of Kama – Kamadhuk or Kamadhenu the cow of Plenty that yields everything that is desired! – ”
According to a second version the deities begged the cow, using the Brahmins as their mouth. Therefor the cow is produced for gods and Brahmins when she first sprang to life.
The Anushasana Parva epic narrates that Surabhi was born from the burp of “the creator” Prajapati after he drank the Amrita that rose from the Samudra Manthana. Further, Surabhi gave birth to many golden cows called Kapila cows, who were called the mothers of the world.
The Satapatha Brahmana also tells a similar tale: Prajapati created Surabhi from his breath.
The Udyoga Parva Book of the Mahabharata narrates that the creator-god Brahma drank so much Amrita that he vomited some of it, from which emerged Surabhi.
Brahma, Brahmins and the cow
According to later (Puranic) mythology:
Brahma created the Brahmins and the cow at the same time. The Brahmins (priests) to recite the Vedas and the cow to provide ghee for the sacrifices.
She is even addressed as the mother of the gods and Brahma declares that she should be worshiped. This is because:
Tthe cow was reputed to have been created along with Brahma, and every part of a cow was believed to be inhabited by a deity
Some state 330 million gods reside in every atom of the cow.
Cow, the abode of all the Gods:
|Brahma and Vishnu on the root of two horns
All the sacred reservoirs and Vedavyasa on the tips of the horns
Lord Shankara on the centre head
Parvathi on the edge of head
Kartikeya on the nose, Kambala and Ashwatara Devas on the nostrils
Ashwini Kumaras on the ears
Sun and Moon in the eyes
Vayu in dental range and Varuna on the tongue
Three Gunas in the root of the brows, Rishis in the pores of hair, and all the sacred lakes in the breathe.
Chandika on the lips and Prajapathi Brahma on the skin
Fragrant flowers on nostrils Saraswathi in the sound of cow
Sandhya goddesses on the lips and Indra on the neck
Raksha Ganas on the hanging under the neck
Sadhya Devas in the heart Artha, Dharma, Kama and Moksha in the feet.
|Dharma on the thigh
Gandharvas in the gap of hoofs, Pannaga at the tips, Apsaras on the
Eleven Rudras and Yama on the back, Ashtavasus in the crevices
Pitru Devas on the ides of umbilical joint, 12 Adityas on the stomach area Soma on the tail, Sun rays on the hair, Ganga in its urine, Lakshmi and Yamuna in the dung, Saraswati in milk, Narmada in curd, and Agni in ghee
33 crore Gods in the hair
Prithwi in stomach, oceans in the udder, Kamadhenu in the whole body
Sadhya Devas on the arm-pit
Six parts of Vedas on the face, four Vedas on the feet, Yama on the top of the hoofs, Kubera and Garuda on the right, Yakshas on the left and Gandharvas inside
Khecharas in the fore of the foot, Narayana in intestine, mountains in the bones,
Four Vedas in the Hoom
Till today, the Cow as an image of the universe: All the Gods, the seven sages and the holy rivers reside in the cow. In its four feet Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha abide. Therefore by washing the cow’s feet and sprinkling the water on one’s head, all the sins are washed away, some belive.
SAGES, RISHIS AND KAMADHENU
Kashyapa was a divine progenitor or Prajapati. According to the Ramayana, he was the seventh and youngest son of Brahma, while the Mahabharata says he was the only son of Marichi, one of the six mind-born sons, manasa putra, of Brahma.
According to the Ramayana, Surabhi is the daughter of sage Kashyapa and his wife Krodhavasha, the daughter of Daksha. Her daughters Rohini and Gandharvi are the mothers of cattle and horses respectively. Still, it is Surabhi who is described as the mother of all cows.
However, in the Puranas, such as Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana, Surabhi is described as the daughter of Daksha and the wife of Kashyapa, as well as the mother of cows and buffaloes. Kashyapa plays a major role in creation.
H e married the thirteen daughters of Daksha, who gave birth to the gods, demons and all creatures. Aditi was the mother of the Adityas (gods or devas); Diti was the mother of the Daityas (demons or asuras); Danu was the mother of the Danavas; Krodhavasa the mother of Kamadhenu and all the cows, as well as of the elephants; Vinata was the mother of Aruna and Garuda the eagle; Kadru of the Nagas or snakes; and Sarama, the Vedic dog of Indra, the mother of all canines. His other daughter were Danayu, Sinhika, Pradha, Vishwa, Kapila and Muni.
By making Kashyapa a divine progenitor, the gods, people and animals became siblings. There is an echo of the Harappan horned deity, surrounded by animals, and the Vedic Pashupati, or lord of the animals, in the literary descriptions of Kashyapa.
The Matsya Purana notes more conflicting descriptions of Surabhi. In one chapter, it describes Surabhi as the consort of Brahma and their union produced the cow Yogishvari, She is then described as the mother of cows and quadrupeds.
The Harivamsa, an appendix of the Mahabharata, calls Surabhi the mother of Amrita (the nectar of immortality), Brahmins, cows and Rudras. Rudras are Rigvedic deities associated with Shiva, the wind or storms, Vayu, medicine, and the hunt.
VASHISTA / VASISHTHA वसिष्ठ
Vashista reputedly composed the seventh book (mandala) of the Rigveda, as well as a number of other hymns. He is a son of god Brahma, the epitome of the orthodox Brahmin, and owner of Kamadhenu/ Nandini, the mythical cow of plenty.
Nandini ‘the happy one’, is a mythical cow that yields all kinds of good things. Her milk is said to have magical rejuvenating properties and she is said to be either the daughter or the mother of Surabhi, the cow of plenty, owned by the sage Vashista, the owner of wealth.
The Mahabharata makes a passing reference to Surabhi as the mother of Nandini (literally daughter) in the context of the birth of Bhishma, an incarnation of a Vasu deity. Nandini, like her mother, is a cow of plenty or Kamadhenu, and resides with sage Vashista. Nandini is stolen by the divine Vasus and thus cursed by the sage to be born on the earth.
Another story tells us, that when Kaushika tried to steal it, she produced an army to protect itself.
Rishi Jamadagni also had such a cow, and when Kartaviryarjuna tried to steal it, his son Parashurama hacked him to pieces.
KRISHNA कृष्ण AND KAMADHENU
Some trace the cow’s sacred status back to Lord Krishna. He is said to have appeared 5,000 years ago as a cowherd, and is often described as bala-gopala, “the child who protects the cows.” Another of Krishna’s holy names, Govinda, means “one who brings satisfaction to the cows.” In the Bhagavad Gita, epic scripture of Hinduism, the cow is close to the god Krishna, the eighth incarnation of the god Vishnu.
A ccording to legend, he was placed in the care of a shepherd family immediately after his birth, because the boy’s life was being attempted. Krishna grew up as a shepherd boy, with the cows. The blue-skinned man therefore often holds a flute in his hand in depictions or as a sculpture, the traditional instrument of the cowherds. Feeding a cow is part of Krishna worship to this day. In one of the more popular mantras for Krishna, it is said –
namo brahmaṇya-devāya go-brāhmaṇa-hitāya ca
jagad-dhitāya kṛṣṇāya govindāya namo namaḥ
“My Lord, You are the well-wisher of the cows and the brahmaṇas, and
You are the well-wisher of the entire human society and world.”
~Viṣṇu Purana 1.19.65
T he Devi Bhagavata Purana narrates that Krishna and his lover Radha were enjoying dalliance, when they thirsted for milk. So, Krishna created a cow called Surabhi and a calf called Manoratha from the left side of his body, and milked the cow. When drinking the milk, the milk pot fell on the ground and broke, spilling the milk, which became the Kshirasagara, the cosmic milk ocean. Numerous cows then emerged from the pores of Surabhi’s skin and were presented to the cowherd-companions (Gopas) of Krishna by him. Then Krishna worshiped Surabhi and decreed that she – a cow, the giver of milk and prosperity – be worshipped at Diwali on Bali Pratipada day.
When Krishna held up the Govardhana mountain and defeated Indra, Kamadhenu reached him and showered Krishna with milk as per Bhagavata Dashamaskanda.
MYTH: GOVARDHANA MOUNTAIN
K rishna’s foster father Nanda and the rest of the villagers were once preparing for a Puja. Krishna, who was a young boy then was curious to know what the people of his village were busy with. And that’s when he was told that the Puja and the sacrificial arrangements were being made to please Indra Dev so that he could bless them with ample rain for a good harvest.
Krishna, who believed in Karma, told the villagers to do their duty and not get worried about something that they can’t control. One must do his duty and not worry about the consequences or expect something in return.
Convinced by Krishna’s views, the villagers decided not to do the Puja. This angered Indra Dev, who decided to avenge the insult. He caused torrential rains and thunderstorms to destroy the village. Krishna understood Indra’s intention and to save the villagers, he lifted the Govardhan Hill on his little finger. The villagers along with their cattle and other belongings took safe refuge under the Govardhan umbrella for seven days.
On seeing Krishna’s divine power, Indra Dev had no choice but withdraw the rains and thunderstorms.
KINGS AND KAMADHENU
The Raghuvamsa of Kalidasa mentions that king Dilip – an ancestor of god Rama – once passed by Kamadhenu-Surabhi, but failed to pay respects to her, thus incurring the wrath of the divine cow, who cursed the king to go childless. So, since Kamadhenu had gone to Patala, the guru of Dilip, Vasistha advised the king to serve Nandini, Kamadhenu’s daughter who was in the hermitage. The king and his wife propitiated Nandini, who neutralized her mother’s curse and blessed the king to have a son, who was named Raghu.
ARUNA’S SON SATYAVRATA
T he Ikshvaku king Aruna had a son named Satyavrata. Once he kidnapped a brahmin maiden from her wedding. Aruna banished Satyavrata on hearing this, but the kingdom soon faced a famine. It was during that time that Vishwamitra had started meditating in the forest. When Vishwamitra’s wife found it difficult to fed all her children, she decided to sell one of them. But Satyavrata stopped her and promised to leave the meat he hunted near their house daily. This went on for several days but one day Satyavrata couldn’t find any animal. He stole Kamadhenu from Vasishta’s hermitage. He killed it, ate some and gave the rest to Vasishta’s wife. Vasishta woke up the next morning and realized what had happened. He cursed that since Satyavrata had committed the three sins of angering his father, stealing and killing a cow, he would henceforth be known as Trishanku. Vasishta then revived Kamadhenu.
O nce while Vishwamitra was a king, he went on a hunt. He reached Vasishta’s hermitage famished and Vasishta used Kamadhenu’s powers to feed him and his army. Vishwamitra was amazed and asked Vasishta to give Kamadhenu to him, in exchange for many cows. But Vasishta did not agree. Vishwamitra tried to take Kamadhenu away forcibly but she transformed into an aggressive being. From her emerged an army that fought with Vishwamitra’s. Vishwamitra’s arrows were blocked by Vasishta and Vishwamitra finally agreed that brahmatejas was greater than kshatriyatejas. From then Vishwamitra gave up his kingdom and began meditating. Soon he became a rajarishi as per Ramayana Balakanda Sarga 52, Mahabharata Shalyaparva Chapter 40 and Adiparva Chapter 175.
Worship of Kamadhenu
Some temples and houses have images of Kamadhenu, however, she has never had a worship cult dedicated to her and does not have any temples where she is worshiped as the chief deity. In Monier-Williams‘s words:
It is rather the living animal [the cow] which is the perpetual object of adoration.
Cows are often fed outside temples and adored regularly on Fridays and on special occasions. Every cow to “a pious Hindu” is regarded as an avatar (earthly embodiment) of the divine Kamadhenu. In Goa we have witnessed, that cows are fed on the anniversary of death, of a loved one. Cows are widely fed allover India.
During the shraddha ceremony (death rites), a cow must be gifted to a Brahmin. It is believed that the dead person will receive the cow in heaven, and the cow will liberate the dead soul from all its sins. Cows and bulls are suitable gifts for Brahmins.
Gopastami, a holiday celebrated by the Hindus once a year, is one of the few instances where cows receive prayers in modern-day India, it is celebrated in many regions in India.
This festival is dedicated to Lord Krishna and cows. It is the coming-of-age celebration when Krishna’s father, Nanda Maharaja, gave Krishna the responsibility for taking care of the cows of Vrindavan. The day is a major event in all Krishna temples and in places associated with Krishna like Vrindavan, Mathura and Nathdwara.
MYTH: Krishna and Lada became independent cowherders
N anda Maharaj is the father of Sri Krishna. At that time, the children were given the job of caring for the calves. Sri Krishna and Lord Balarama agreed that the cowherd men should watch over the pasture cows after the fifth year. Nanda Maharaj decided to hold a ceremony when Lord Krishna and Balarama first went to the cattle pastures of Vrindavan.
Radha, the spouse of Lord Krishna’s God, wanted her to graze cows, but she was forbidden to be a girl. So she disguised herself as a boy. She dressed with his Dhoti and joined Sri Krishna on a cow grazing with her companions for her enjoyment.
This incident is enacted in some regions on the day.
How Go-puja is done: devotees visit the gosala (cowshed), bathe and clean the cows and the shed. Cows are decorated with cloth and jewellery before the ritual by the devotees. On this day, Sri Krishna puja and cow Puja is performed along with pradakshina (the rite of circumambulating the cow in a clockwise direction) to acquire blessing for a good and happier life.
Devotees also pay special respect to cows for its utilities in daily life, as they provide milk that helps in fulfilling the nutritional requirement of the people like a mother. Cows are worshipped with water, rice, clothes, fragrance, jaggery, rangoli, flowers, sweets, and incense sticks.
At various places, specific pujas are also performed for Gopashtami by the priests.
LAKSHMI लक्ष्मी AND THE COW AND BULLS
The Back of the Cow, an abode of Goddess Lakshmi (also called Goddess Shri), she is the goddess of wealth, fortune, power, beauty, fertility and prosperity, and associated with Maya (“Illusion”). Within the goddess-oriented Shaktism, Lakshmi is venerated as the prosperity aspect of the Mother goddess and is both the consort and the divine energy (shakti) of the Hindu god Vishnu.
Matadityanam duhita vasunam pranah
Hiranyavarna madhukasa ghrutachee mahan
~ Atharvaveda, 9-1-4
“The cow is the mother of Adityas. She is like a daughter to the vasus.
She is like the very life breath of people.
The cow is a centre showering ambrosia on humanity.
The cow is a giver of ghee, capable of showering honey and other sweet things of a golden hue.
She moves among people, dispelling their difficulties”
Thus among the ‘saptamadhus’ or seven sweet things are cows and bulls.
O nce Goddess Lakshmi went into a gathering of cows, having decked herself with beautiful ornaments and dress. The cows saw her splendour and requested her to let them know who she was. Then Goddess Lakshmi replied, “O cows, may you prosper! I am renowned in the world as Lakshmi. All the people desire my presence. All the Gods enjoy luxuries, sages obtain siddhi, thanks to my support. Dharma, artha, kama and moksha are all attained through me. But I want to live among you. So I came personally to request you”. The cows answered,
“O Lakshmi, you are inconsistent. You don’t stay in one place, constantly. So please do not live amidst us. Live happily in some other place. We derive our strength from fodder. So, why do we need you?
Goddeess Lakshmi pleaded with them, “O cows, if you benefit others and reject me, the world will mock at me. I might go neglected. Please have mercy on me. You are great donors of wealth. I nurture many. I am your devotee. You are my refuge. Allow me to stay with you, at least in any limb of your body, even in your urinary passage. That would be fine for me. Nothing is unholy in your body. Please let me know in what part of your body I may stay”. The cows had a mutual consultation and said,
‘O Goddess Lakshmi! You are lustre-filled. We have to adore you. You stay in our urine and dung as they are very holy”.
From then on Goddess Lakshmi started residing in the cow’s urine and dung that are useful for purification. From this it is to be understood that the cows are considered to be a better wealth than all the other kinds of wealth and even the excreta of cows is considered to be holy and decorative.
ON THE MYTHOLOGICAL ORIGIN OF THE BULL
The scientific name of the humped bull is Bos indicus Linn, called Vrishabha in Sanskrit, Saand in Hindi and Kaalai in Tamil. In the Rig Veda, the bull was the symbol of strength, power and male virility. The gods of the Veda were called bulls for their superior power and abilities, Indra is addressed as the great bull.
In fact, the bull appears throughout the Rig Veda, more often than the cow which attains greater sanctity in the post- Vedic period.
The Vedic people were conscious of the importance of the bull and the Vedas exhort the ruler
‘O king. You should never kill animals like bullocks that are useful for agriculture or like cows which give us milk and all other helpful animals, and must punish those who kill or do harm to such animals’
~Yajur Veda, 13.49
AGNI अग्नि AND THE BULL
Agni, the god of Fire, is one of the most prominent of the deities of the Vedas. Agni deva is usually depicted with the ram, his varna. The ram is symbolic of his association with sacrifices. His importance lies in the belief that he works as the link between the heaven and earth, and humans and gods. As the personification of fire, Agni is part of the five elements in the universe, which includes earth (pritvi), space (akasa), water (ap), and air (vayu). All five elements come together to form Prakriti, which is described as the material existence that we perceive.
Agni serves as the conduit through which sacrifices and offerings reach the gods. He, thus, receives the sacrifices during Homa, a fire ritual performed by a Hindu priest as some sort of housewarming present.
A number of fires kept by the homeowner – fire for cooking, fire for heating, among others. To this day, Agni forms a part of many rites-of-passage ceremonies for Hindus, including birth, marriage and death.
This Agnivrish god Agni murti (vigraha or bimbam or idol) appears to manifest the seven hands of Lord Agni along with the body of a bull (Vrishabha). If you observe the deity from the front you can identify all of these aspects. You can see two faces (one human and one bull), seven hands, and three legs (with two human legs and one bull leg).
The Rig Veda 4.58.3 describes Agni as follows:
“Four are his horns, three are the feet that bear him; his heads are two, his hands are seven in number. Bound with a triple bond the bull roars loudly; the mighty god hath entered into mortals.”
According to Sayanacharya (a Vedic and Sanskrit scholar who lived during the reign of the Vijayanagara Kings), the four horns of Agni are the four Vedas. The three feet are the three daily sacrifices (morning, noon and evening). Others say they refer to the three fields of time (past, present and future). The two heads are two ceremonies (others say day and night). The seven hands are the seven metres of the Vedas (others say the seven rays of light). The three bonds are the three lokas, or planes of existence; bhuh (earth), bhuvah (atmosphere) and svah (heaven).
Some scholars interpret the 4 horns, 3 feet, 2 heads, and 7 hands as the period of 4,320,000,000 solar years, the duration of a single day in the life of Brahma.
Some of the gods that Agni is identified with:
In the Rig Veda Agni is addressed as having the same fierce nature as Rudra, the forerunner of the god Shiva. The Shiva-linga represents that pillar of fire which is Agni a Skambha symbolism. The Atharvaveda Samhita uses the word Skambha to indicate the Highest Being beyond even Brahma. Literally it means the One who is the support and basis of the whole universe. In section 9.1.1, the Shatapatha Brahmana states, “this entire Agni (fire altar) has now been completed, he is now this god Rudra”.
Agni is stated to become Varuna in the evening, and he is Mitra when he rises in the morning.
Agni is generally presented as Indra’s twin, they both go and appear together. In chapter 13.3 of the Atharvaveda, Agni is said to become Indra when he illumines the sky.
The vedic text Shatapatha Brahmana, in section 6.1.2 describes how and why Prajapati is the father of Agni, and also the son of Agni, because they both are the image of the one Atman (Soul, Self) that was, is and will be the true, eternal identity of the universe.
INDRA इन्द्र PROTECTOR OF OXEN
Indra is the son of the sky and the earth, he is a warrior god, who protects people and animals and provides rain to water the land. This story of Indra protecting cattle is found in the Puranas.
I ndra once happened to see Surabhi, the Kamadhenu (divine cow), crying in the Indraloka. Indra asked her why she was crying.
Surabhi then described the troubles that her children are going through in the world. She told him that her sons were ploughing without rest. They were always tied to the yoke of farmers.
She said that she was overwhelmed by their sufferings and tears rolled out from her eyes. Indra’s heart melted due to the tears of Surabhi. He then caused heavy showers in the world, when ploughing became impossible. Thus the sons of Surabhi (oxen) got some rest.
~ Abhilash Rajendran
SHIVA’S BULL NANDI
Nandi is represented in Hindu mythology as a sacred bull and one of the most devout followers of Lord Shiva. The Vedic status of the bull was inherited by Nandi, the companion and vahana (vehicle, derived from the Sanskrit vah, which means to carry or transport) of Shiva in later literature. Nandi’s white color is symbolic of his purity and sense of justice. Even today, women worship Nandi as a bestower of fertility. In Hinduism, Lord Nandi represents also dharma and strength.
According to some, Nandi is not a bull in the ordinary sense, but a divine being, and a close confidant of Lord Shiva, whose anthropomorphic form is represented by a half human and half bull body. Nandikeeshwara also means the Lord of Joy. Later it was said of Nandikeeshwara that he was a rishi (wise man) who guarded Siva’s door to become divine in this way.
He is known for his knowledge, devotion, obedience, surrender, virtue, and dedication to Shiva and his devotee. He fought many battles to protect the gods, slay the demons and uphold dharma. Nandi therefore plays the role as gate keeper of the temple, and statues of Nandi adorn the entrances of temples dedicated to Shiva. Generally, Nandi is sitting directly opposite the main door of the temple or the sanctum, where Shiva’s idol or Shivalingam is located.
For some Hindus Nandi is a symbol of eternal contemplation, one who knows how to simply sit and wait is naturally meditative. He is not expecting anything.
In the Shaivite tradition of Hinduism, Shiva is considered the supreme God. In other branches of Hinduism, Shiva represents one the three primary aspects of the Divine collectively called the Trimurti. Respectively they are: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the maintainer or preserver, and Shiva the destroyer or transformer. Even so, Shiva is most often worshipped in the form of the lingam or phallic symbol, which literally means sign or distinguishing mark. Shiva also transformed into Nandi.
MYTH: Shiva is reborn as Nandi
O nce Siva was cursed by some sages. As a result his body was defiled. Then he praised Surabhi and entered her body and disappeared. She bore him in her womb. After sometime he took birth as her son by name Nila or Nandi. When the sages would not find out the whereabouts of Shiva, after searching for him at last they asked the deities about him. Then the devas took the sages to the Goloka (cow paradise) through the spiritual path and showed the son of Surabhi to the latter.
They saw the illustrious bull form of Shiva by name Nila, who was with the resplendence of the Sun. The illustrious Nila was running in the midst of the cows. Both the sages and deities felt much satiety after seeing him. They were very much impressed at the glorious splendour of the form of Nila.
MYTH: Why Nandi sits in front of Shiva
Again the creation story Samudra manthan or Churning of the Ocean of Milk gives us an answer:
T he churning started again with vigor. Then a cloud was aroused from ocean bed which choked devas and asuras. The Devas and Asuras began shouting for help. They were not able to find out the reason for the suffocation. Then they realized that the ocean had thrown up the ‘KALAKUTA’, the dreadful poison. Everyone was frightened by its fierceness.
The Devas prayed to Shiva and hoped that he would come to their rescue for the poison was the most effective fiery substance, which no one except Shiva could swallow. Shiva hearing the cries immediately came to the rescue. Then, as requested by the gods, Shiva agreed to drink the poison.
Lord Shiva held this poison in his throat and saved the mankind. The poison was so powerful that it turned lord Shiva’s throat in to blue color. From then he was also known as Neela kanta. Later Amrutha came from sea, which was taken by Devas by cheating asuras.
Lord Shiva loves to spend time in meditation (Dhyanam). But this burning throat is not allowing him to do his meditation.
Then he ordered Nandi to sit in front of him and blow some air on to his throat. The air blown on to his throat relieves him from the burning sensation.
From then Onwards, Lord Shiva does his mediation with the help of Nandi.
MYTH: Nandi son of Kashyapa and Surabhi
N andikeshvara, lord of happiness, was one of Shiva’s ganas. He was also fond of music and dance, and was born to the divine progenitor Kashyapa and divine cow Surabhi. Nandi married Suyasha, the daughter of the Maruts. As his life was coming to an end, he prayed to Shiva to lengthen his life. Shiva granted him both immortality and the chief position over his ganas. He was given the title ‘Adhikara Nandi’ (or ‘authoritative Nandi’), for it is only with Nandi’s grace and permission that one can enter the temple of Shiva. Adhikara Nandi took on a human form as a bull-headed human standing on two legs, or even a bull standing erect on his rear legs.
Nandi’s attributes were taken over by Shiva as Nataraja, the Lord of dance. Nandi ceased, thereafter, to be a deity and became the companion and, later, the vehicle of Shiva. When Shiva danced the tandava, Nandi accompanied him on the mridangam (a percussion instrument).
There are several other stories about Nandi’s origin:
According to one, Nandi was a rishi (sage) who performed such severe austerities that Shiva granted him the wish of becoming the head of his ganas.
MYTH: How Nandi became so dear to lord Shiva
Nandi, the son of Shilada
T here was once a sage called as Shilada. Shilada did not have any children. Of his own, but he adored children. He wanted to adopt a child, but he did not want to adopt just any child. He wanted a special child blessed by Lord Shiva. So he worshipped Lord Shiva for many years. Lord Shiva finally appeared before Shilada, ‘What boon do you seek, Shilada?’
‘A child. I wish to have a child, Lord Shiva.’ Shilada said bowing before Lord Shiva.
Shiva smiled. ‘You shall have it soon’ He said and vanished. Shilada returned home a happy man, knowing that the Lord would bless him with a very good child. The next day he went to the farm to begin ploughing, when he found a beautiful baby in the field before his plough. The baby’s skin glowed with a beautiful white light.
Shilada stared at the baby transfixed, when he heard a voice from the heaven, ‘Shilada, take the child. bring him up well!’ Shilada was overjoyed as he took the boy home. He named the boy Nandi. Right from his childhood, Nandi was devoted to Lord Shiva. Shilada brought up the child with love and care. Shilada taught the child the Vedas and gave the child a good education. Nandi was a brilliant boy and learnt everything very fast. Shilada felt very proud of the child.
Some years later, two sages – Mitra and Varuna came to Shilada’s home. ‘Welcome great sages!’ Shilada gave the rishis some refreshments, ‘Please sit and make yourself comfortable.’ ‘Nandi!’ Shilada called his son. He came from inside the house. ‘Please make sure these sages are well looked after.’ He smiled and nodded his head. ‘Yes father!’
Nandi looked after the two sages well and after enjoying the stay, the sages said that it was time they left. Before they were about to live, Shilada and Nandi both prostrated before the two sages. Mitra and Varuna first blessed Shilada, ‘Have a long and happy life, Shilada. You have made us very happy!’ When Nandi fell at the feet, the two sages looked slightly sad. Slowly they said, ‘Be well son! Be good to your parents and your teachers!’ And they walked off, outside the house
However Shilada noticed the change in the expression of the sages. He ran outside the house, ‘Great rishis!’ He said breathlessly. He turned around and made sure that Nandi was inside the house and could not hear him, and talked to the sages, ‘You looked sad while blessing my son!’ Shilada said feeling terrified, as he was thinking of unpleasant things…’is…is something wrong?’ Mitra looked at Shilada with pity, ‘I cannot wish your son a long life….’ Mitra said softly. Shilada looked in absolute panic. ‘What is going to happen to my son?’ He whispered.
‘Your son, does not…’ Varuna cleared his throat, ‘…does not have long to live, Shilada. I am sorry…’ He said lamely, looking at the horrified expression on Shilada’s face. Shilada stood there transfixed for a long time. After a long time, he slowly walked back home with stooping shoulders and a broken heart. Nandi immediately guessed something was wrong, ‘What is it father? What happened? What…’ Nandi asked, vigorously shaking his father. Slowly and painfully, Shilada narrated his conversation with the two sages.
He expected Nandi to be scared or even that Nandi would even start crying. However Shilada was surprised when he heard Nandi’s laugh. ‘You were scared of what the sages said!’ He said still laughing. Shilada wondered what could be so funny and looked at his son without any expression. ‘Father, you have told me that you have seen Lord Shiva…’ Nandi said with great devotion in his eyes. ‘Anybody who has seen Lord Shiva cannot be afraid of what the sages just said.’
Shilada still looked dumbly at his son, not understanding. ‘Father, it is my fate to die, then Lord Shiva can reverse my fate! He is the most powerful God and can do anything. Do you think he would let anything happen to us, when we worship him?’ Nandi looked at his father challengingly. ‘I don’t think so father.’ Nandi said softly. Shilada looked at his son as if looking at him for the first time. Slowly Shilada nodded his head and smiled. Nandi bowed to his father. ‘Bless me father!’ Shilada blessed his son, ‘be victorious my son!’
Nandi Becomes Shiva’s Vehicle or Vahana
Nandi then went near the River Bhuvana. He entered the river and began his penance. His devotion was so great and his concentration was so high, that Lord Shiva appeared almost instantaneously.
‘Nandi, open your eyes!’ said the three eyed God tenderly, looking at Nandi.
Nandi opened his eyes and before his eyes stood the most beautiful person he had seen in his whole life. Nandi looked at the God wanting to savor his image. He felt that he had nothing more left to ask. If only I could stay with the Lord always. Shiva looked at Nandi with lots of love, ‘Nandi, you penance was so powerful that it dragged me here immediately! Ask me anything I will grant it to you!’ Shiva said.
‘Lord I wish to be with you always.’ The words were out of Nandi’s mouth before he could stop them.
Shiva smiled. ‘Nandi I have just lost my bull, on which I used to travel. Henceforth Nandi, you shall have a face of a bull. You shall stay in my home at Kailash. You shall be the head of all my Ganas. You will be my companion, my vehicle and my friend, always!’ Nandi closed his eyes as tears flowed through them. The Lord had granted him his wish and a lot more…
Since then Nandi became Shiva’s vehicle, doorman, his companion and the head of all of Shiva’s attendants, the Ganas. Shiva is known as Gorakhnath, means the lord of the cows. For some scholars, he is also known as, Pasupathinath, the lord of all animals. Thus by sheer devotion Nandi was not only able to overcome his fate, he also rewrote it!
A few days later the Devas and the Asuras together churned the ocean for nectar. However the first thing that emerged from the churning was the poison Halahala. The poison was so strong that it threatened to destroy the whole world. To protect the world, Lord Shiva collected the poison in his hand and swallowed it. Goddess Parvati who was near Lord Shiva clutched Shiva’s throat to make sure that the poison was stored in the throat and would not affect Lord Shiva.
However some Halahala slipped out of Shiva’s hands and fell on the ground. Nandi gathered the fallen Halahala and seeing his master drink it, he also drank it!
The Devas were staring shocked at what Nandi had done! Lord Shiva was a God and besides he had Goddess Parvati to protect him, so nothing would happen to Lord Shiva. However nothing happened to Nandi. Shiva looked at the dumb folded gods and smiled, ‘Nandi is my greatest devotee! All my powers are his too and Parvati’s protection will go to him too!’ The three of them smiled and then returned to Kailash.
~ S.A. Krishnan
Nandis conflict with Ravana, the antagonist of Ramayana:
N andi cursed Ravana (the demon King of Lanka), that his kingdom would be burnt by a forest-dweller monkey (Vanara), since he behaved in a restless manner, just like a monkey, while waiting to meet Shiva. Later, Hanuman burned Lanka when he went in search of Sita, who was imprisoned by Ravana in Ashok Vatika.
According to another legend, Nandi was born from Vishnu’s right side as a gift to the Brahmin Salankayana. This was Nandi’s forty-ninth rebirth.
Worship of Nandi
Nandi is more than Shiva’s vahana or vehicle. As the chief of Shiva’s attendants, he is also the guardian of all four-legged animals. Nandeeshwara is essential to every Shiva temple – the sanctum sanctorum of each temple, where the deity may be in human or linga form, has an image of Nandi facing the shrine.
The devotee will first touch the Nandi image and ask for his blessings before entering. Sometimes, Nandi may be as big as or even bigger than the image within. There are several temples built solely to worship Nandi as well.
The gigantic idol of the Nandi Bull nestled at the top of the Chamundi Hills in Mysore is one of the oldest icons, and represents as the guard protecting the city and its surroundings. It is huge and more than 350 years old making it one of the oldest constructions of Mysore. Nandi is found in a seated posture and is made of granite, which accounts for its jet black colour. The statue is popular for its spectacular craftsmanship that is beautifully adorned with the carvings on the idol. Worth mentionable are the anklets and the pendant bell of the bull that speak for its exclusive ornamentation and artwork.
Nandi has his own shrine in several Indian temples and worshippers enter the sanctum after first praying to Nandi.
T here is a story that Vrishabha Deva or Nandi was very proud of his role as the vehicle of the Supreme Lord Shiva himself. To teach him a lesson, Shiva placed a lock of his hair on the bull, who was unable to bear the weight. Realizing that he had been arrogant, Nandi begged Shiva’s pardon. Shiva forgave him and initiated him into divine knowledge.
Fulfilment of Desires
There is also a custom of whispering one’s wishes in the ears of Lord Nandeeshwara believing it will reach the Gods and come true. However, some people believe that it is more significant to say the wishes in the left ear. Before telling Nandi of their desires, devotees must ensure that there is no one around them listening to what they have to say. Hence, they cover their lips with both the hands when they say their desires in Nandi’s ear.
Prasad offers or flowers are given after telling Nandi the desires, Chickpeas, Payasam (rice pudding), and Durva grass can please Nandi.
Shiva, Parvati and Nandi
In paintings and sculptures, Nandi is invariably a part of Shiva’s family. Shiva and Parvati, with either one or two or even neither of their sons, sit on Nandi’s back in the family scene of Uma Maheshwara. In days gone by, people depended on the bull for transportation. The bull was thus the vehicle both of Shiva and of people. He is also a symbol of how a powerful animal, imbued with divine authority, is also a gentle and humble worker, of help to the gods and man.
In Karnataka, Nandi is known as Basava, and the famous Bull Temple of Bangalore is situated at Basavangudi, which means the temple of Basava, or Nandi the bull. The bull in this temple is the object of worship in its own right, not merely as the vehicle of Shiva.
A ccording to a local legend, the peanut fields in the villages surrounding present-day Bengaluru were ransacked every full-moon night. Believing this to be the work of thieves, the villagers armed themselves with crowbars, axes and rods and waited one full moon night to catch the thief.
When they heard the rustling sounds, the farmers rushed in that direction and hacked to death what felt like a large body. Thereafter, the farmers learned to their horror that they had killed a huge golden bull, which had come to guard their fields. The next morning, the bull had mysteriosly disappeared. Soon after, a stone bull was found on top of the hill, overlooking the fields. They connected the image with the incident and begged Nandi’s forgiveness.
When Kempe Gowda, the founder of Bengaluru (Bangalore), visited the site soon after the incident, the villagers told him the story of what had happened. He went up the hill and offered worship to the bull, and later built a temple for the image.
It is believed that the image of Basava the bull has been growing every year from its original height of 4.57 m to 6.2 m, and from a length of 5.1 m to 6 m.
In fact iron rods have been planted in the bull’s head to prevent further growth. Every year, the first peanut crop is offered to the bull in a thanksgiving ceremony called kadalekayi parishe. It is believed that good rains and a bountiful crop depend on the offerings made at this temple.
Huge crowds visit the temple on Shivaratri.
Basavanna, the great religious and social reformer of Karnataka and founder of the Virashaiva or Lingayat cult, is considered an incarnation of Nandi, particularly the bull of Basavangudi – bulls are thus held very sacred in Karnataka.
Biroba or Viroba the bull is worshipped by the Dhangar, a nomadic shepherd community of Satara, Sangli, Pune and Kolhapur districts of Maharashtra. A major pilgrimage of Biroba is celebrated in the month of Ashvin (September – October).
Bull festivals of India
Maharashtra: Pola Festival
Pola is a bull festival of the state of Maharashtra, Goa and Chhattisgarh which is celebrated by the farmers comunity. Bail Pola is celebrated on a new moon day during the month of Shravan (August). The farmers decorate their bulls and on this day and then worship them. It is generally a traditional village festival where they show respect to the bulls that help them in their ploughing activities.
On this special day the farmers first of all give a good bathe to their bulls and then decorate them with beautiful ornaments. Then the bulls are offered prayers by the farmers and are also given special food to eat. It is way in which the farmers show their gratitude towards the bulls for their assistance in the agricultural works. In this festival, a parade of decorated bulls is being conducted in the evenings followed by many dance and music. The procession is lead by an old bull with a wooden frame, also known as makhar, tied on its horns. This bullock is made to break a rope of mango leaves and is followed by other cattle in the village.
In some part of Bharat bull sports and events like bull nestling, bullfighting, bull surfing and bull racing are traditional and religious events.
Tamilnadu: Jallikattu Festival
It is a Bull nestling game that was a popular sport among Tamil classical warriors. It is part of Pongal celebration, every year to date 14th January. Jallikattu is a dangerous event, the participant have to take over a tempted bull without using any exceptional security or safety mean and many casualties are reported during this event.
Goan Bull Fight
The Goan Bull fight is a sport of bull fighting in open farm area, it’s banned by local government since 1988 onward, but it’s still sustained in rural areas and villages like Caranzalem, Santa Cruz and Taleigao.
Bull Racing is an ancient sport, which is still popular in Punjab, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala.
Punjab: Bullock cart race in Kila Raipur fest
This event is also known as “Kila Raipur sports festival” and deliberated as rural Olympic in Punjab state. This game is banned by the order from the Supreme Court of India, effective since 2014.
Kerala: Maramadi Bull Surfing Festival
Maramadi Bull Surfing sport is a bull racing sport, held on 15th August of every year on the occasion of the annual Maramadi festival during the post-harvest season in village of Anandapally, Kerala. The race takes place in the muddy harvesting land soaked in 3-6 inches deep water. The rule of this game is, a pair of participating oxen managed by three people that include one handler and two guides. While their handlers stayed on a wooden timber type of board by holding the tail and standing onto a harness, and guides can give instruction by standing outside to the mud.
West Bengal and Assam: Bull buffalo surfing
The success and popularity of maramadi event encouraged to new experiments. And surfing with a combination of bull and buffalo is an additional experiment. Though Bull buffalo surfing was a popular event of some villages from the border area of India and Bangladesh. Now days this event is expanded to nearby Indian villages of West Bengal and Assam. Usually this event takes place every year in between 10-20 August.
The extents of Myths, History and Folklore of the cow and bull in India are hardly to be seized here, there is still much more to discover.
The use of cow products in history of traditional Indian medicine, Ayurveda and daily life
Ayurveda is the traditional medical science of India, literally meaning ‘Science of Life’, combining the two words, ‘Ayu’ meaning life and ‘Veda’ meaning knowledge.
This science treats four domains of life, such as the soul, the mind, the body, and the senses through a holistic approach.
Ayurveda makes extensive use of cow products in different formulations used for preventive and curative medicine. The Sutras and other classical texts on the varied properties of milk, curds, ghee, urine, bile, feces, horns etc. from different animals. The of this animals is part of the maṃsavarga (‘group of flesh’), which is used throughout Ayurvedic literature. The cow is part of the sub-group named prasaha, refering to animals “who take their food by snatching”. It was classified by Caraka in his Carakasaṃhitā sūtrasthāna (chapter 27), a classical Ayurvedic work. Sushruta samhita, Volume I, states: The meat of the cow (go) is useful in absolute vāta, chronic rhinitis, intermittent fevers, dry cough, fatigue, excessive agni and wasting of muscles.
In a very popular and widely followed book ‘Arya-Bhishak’ by Vaidya Shankar Daji Pade, there is a chapter on ‘Govaidyak’. He has described the properties and uses of cow’s milk, curds, butter, buttermilk, ghee, urine, feces and dung-ash.
In depth illustrations of cow urine uses in Ayurvedic texts like the Sushrutha Samhitha, Charaka Samhitha and Ashtanga Sangraha, have projected this as the most effective product of animal origin, equipped with innumerable therapeutic properties and for boosting general health. According to Ayurveda, cow urine, purifies the blood and brings a balance among the Vata, Pitta and Kapha, the thridoshas of the body. Keeping these doshas in harmony establishes the equilibrium of the body as per the treatment strategy of Ayurveda. According to Ayurveda, milk is considered an important part of the diet. The Astang Sangraha, an ancient text of Ayurveda, has a complete section, Ksheer Varga, which describes milk and milk products.
Today Ayurvedic drug companies are manufacturing medicinal formulations made from panchgavya, a collective name of five products obtained from the cow, among them are milk, ghee, curds, urine and dung. Panchagavya is reported to be useful, as nasal drops, in chronic sinusitis, allergic rhinitis and migraine. The classical text Charak Samhita in Apasmar-Chikitsa-Adhyaya mentions Panchgavya with specific indications for Apasmar (cognitive and memory decline), Kamala (Jaundice), and Jwara (fever). Panchgavya ghrita is also used for cognitive and mental disorders.
Uses of cow milk, butter and ghee
Cow’s Milk and it’s products like butter, buttermilk and ghee, are an age-old ingredients which are often used to naturally cleanse, moisturize and nourish the skin. Most of the skin care products use Cow’s milk, as it contains lactic acid which acts as a natural cleanser and gentle exfoliant for the skin. It also helps in removal of dead skin cells, by stimulating new cell generation for fresh and tightened skin cells. Loaded with Vitamin A & D, Cow’s Milk enhances the skin’s natural complexion for a radiant glow. Vitamin A helps in treating dry and flaky skin, while Vitamin D stimulates collagen production, which further tightens and firms the skin. Together, Vitamin D and Calcium, present in Cow’s Milk or raw milk, benefits to improve the skin’s elasticity, while it deeply nourishes the skin.
Milk particularly that of cow is also called Amrita (the nectar of life).
- Milk of black cow alleviates vayu (wind), and is excellent for patient. The milk of white cow aggravates kapha, while that of red cow aggravate vayu. The milk of brown cow alleviate vayu and pitta. The milk of yellow cow alleviates pitta and is very useful (Bhaisajya Ratnawali).
- Milk of recently parturated cow is very fruitful for respiratory problems.
- Milk boiled in copper alleviate vayu, in gold alleviate pitta, in silver it alleviates akpha and in bronze it promotes blood (Bhaisajya Ratnawali).
- As rain water extinguishes fire of forest, similarly a patient suffering from fever and having his body emaciated by the fasting therapy become free from ailment by the intake of milk (Atreya – having less power of digestion).
- After processing cow’s milk to paneer, the rest over water is called morat and that has been found useful in treating many diseases.
- Milk which is medicated, which is cold, which is hot, which is dharoshna (warm immediately after milking of cow) or the foam collected by the churning – all useful like nectar for the patients suffering from fever, Milk foam is useful for weak patient having less power of digestion (Atreya).
- Cow’s milk acts as blood purifier and is very useful against various disorders of old age.
- The cream of cows milk if used on hairs, maintains the shine and blackness.
- A patient suffering from fever cay=used by vayu and pitta associated with burning sensation and thirst get cured by milk even if the dosas are adhered or detached or in nirama (free of ama) state. In chronic fever, when there is reduction of kapha, milk works as ambrosia. After the fever is reduced in intensity, the residual dosa of such patients should be removed by the administration of milk (Charak Chikitsa 3: 167-168).
- Patient suffering from fever because of vadha (stabbing etc.), banda (typing of ropes etc.), samavesha (affliction by evil spirits), fracture and dislocation should be in the beginning, be given food including alcoholic drinks and milk (Sushruta).
- But milk is taken in the first stage of fever, and then it works as a poison and may even kill the patient. Milk should not be administered to patient suffering from hiccup and remittent type of fever, however,if there is continuous cough in a patient `suffering from asthma and in irregular type of fever, milk works as ambrosia (Charak Chikittsa 3: 167-168).
- Milk boiled with Nagra, Mrdvika and Khajura and added with ghee as well as sugar cures fever associated with morbid thirst (Sadarsana rasa; Jvarmuksa). Use of milk for gargling cures dryness of palate, cause of morbid thirst.
- Milk (32 parts), honey (4 parts), sugar (2 parts ghee (1 part), pippali (1 part) – churned with the help of stirrer and given to patient to drink, will cure irregular type of fever, heart disease, cough and phthisis (Panca Sara).
- If hoarseness of voice is because of loud speaking, take milk boiled with drugs belonging to Madhura gana, mixed with sugar and honey. While with madhura varga useful for patient suffering from fainting (Sushruta: Uttartantra, 53: 17).
- The powder of amalka or the paste of Badri, or Saindhava fried with ghee, should be taken along with cow’s milk in the form of linctus cures hoarness of voice and cough (Yoga Ratanakar: Swar Bheda Chikitsa, page 439).
- The milk with turmeric help in alleviating the pain and healing of fracture, Intoxication caused by dhatura is cured by milk, mixed with sugar (Bhaisajya Ratanawali: Madatyadhikar: 12-14).
- Candsur mixed with milk and added with ghee and sugar cures stiffness of lumbar region and sciatica (Astanga Kanda: 410). Four palas of cleaned and dried garlic should be added to eight times of milk and water and boiled till the milk remains. This cures pain in arms, sciatica, irregular fever, abscess and heart disease (Harischandra: 587-591).
- Stool of fly mixed with milk, or milk mixed with Candana, cures hiccup (Bhaisajya Ratanawali: Hikkaswasadhikar: 1-5).
- Butter milk taken along with food always cause strength, but if taken alone (without any food), it reduces virility and strength (Bhaisajya Ratanawali).
- Butter milk, prepared and stored since a long time, suppresses the power of digestion and causes amla– pitta (a condition characterized by indigestion and sour eructation; Bhaisajya Ratanawali).
GHEE or GHRITA
Ghee is originated from Sanskrit ‘Ghrita’. It is known as Neyi, Nai (South India), Roghan (Persian) and butterfat, clarified butter, dehydrated butter (English). Ghee can be defined as almost anhydrous milk fat. Chemically, it is a complex lipid of glycerides (usually mixed), free fatty acids, phospholipids, sterols, sterol esters, fat soluble vitamins, carbonyls, hydrocarbons, carotenoids (only in ghee derived from cow milk), small amounts of charred casein and traces of calcium, phosphorus, iron, etc. It contains less than 3% moisture. Ghee is a source of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) and essential fatty acids.
Sushruta says on the medicinal uses of ghee.
“Ghrita (ghee) is sweet, mild in action, soft, cold in potency (Virya), not increasing moisture in the tissues, lubricating, relieve upward movement in the alimentary tract, insanity, epilepsy, colic, and distension of the abdomen, mitigates Vata and pitta, kindles agni, increases memory, wisdom, intelligence, complexion, voice, beauty, the softness of the body, vitality, vigour, strength, and span of life; is an aphrodisiac, good for vision, increases Kapha, wards off sins and inauspiciousness, destroys poisons and demons.”
He further elaborates on the properties and applications of ghees obtained from the various types of animal milk, including human, elephant and camel milk. According to Stushruta, Sushruta Samhita. Vol. 1 ghee from cow’s milk is superior for all ailments.
This very versatile substance can be used internally as food and as medicine or used externally as a skin moisturizer.
Ghee is commonly used as an offering in puja (holy Hindu ceremony) and homa (fire ceremony). Cow ghee is an important factor in Ayurvedic cleansing therapies, while also being highly beneficial during rejuvenation therapy.
Cow Ghee Health Benefits and Uses
Go Ghrita increases vision and production of semen. It pacifies the tridosha. It improves retention power/memory and gives a glowing skin. It is a cooling, tasty, heavy, unctuous, Tonic, appetizer, good for digestion, eyes, and intelligence. Also effective in crossing Blood Brain Barrier due to which is helpful in treating mental disorders. It promotes longevity and reproductive fluid and is good for children and the elderly. Intake of ghee in therapeutic doses increases appetite, and gives relief from abdominal discomfort and constipation. It also reduces the burning sensation and redness of eyes significantly.
- Excellent for cooking: Cow Ghee has high smoking point and that is why it absorbs completely into food.
- home remedy to improve digestion and curing constipation.
- It is considered to be a brain tonic and memory enhancer.
- Normalises Vata and Pitta. Nourishes body.
- Improve sperm count and strengthens sexual power.
- Good for eyes and vision.
- Good for building stamina.
- Excellent for glowing skin (external use)
- Excellent for increasing appetite.
- It is beneficial for curing thyroid dysfunction.
- It is used to heal wounds, chapped lips and mouth ulcers.
- Detoxifies body.
- Body massage with ghee boosts the immune system.
- Cures insomnia.
- Best for lubrication of joint.
- Burn healing – Also useful when applied to burns.
- Increases metabolism and reduces bad cholesterol.
- Helps in curing hair fall.
- Good for a healthy heart.
- Bleeding nose, brain stroke, sinus headaches and migraine problem get cured completely. Add 2 drops of little bit warm cow ghee in the nostrils for a few days and see the miracle.
- Adding 1-2 teaspoons of ghee specifically helps reduce stubborn belly fat. But Excess of ghee may increase your weight.
- Alcohol intoxication – get relief from alcohol intoxication by eating 24 grams of cow ghee mixed with an equal quantity of misri (rock sugar).
- The study says that it mobilizes fats from stubborn fat areas of the body. Breaking down fat from the body.
Precautions for Eating Cow Ghee
Exercise or physical activity is necessary for those who consuming cow ghee on a daily basis. Otherwise, it may lead to weight gain.
- The use of ghee should be avoided in patients suffering from cardiac and renal problems.
- Avoid or use very less ghee, while suffering from typhoid, digestive impairment or tuberculosis.
- Ghee increases mucous in the body. So it should not be used while suffering from excessive mucous.
- People who are fat/obese should not eat ghee.
- It should not be used by people who don’t exercise.
- According to Ayurveda one should not take honey and ghee mixed in equal proportions.
URINE AND EXCRETA
Keeping in mind the medicinal uses and properties of urine, the great sages and physicians have referred the urine as a very pungent-saline, slightly non-unctuous and sharp product, useful in poisoning, swelling of spleen, haemorrhoids, chronic skin diseases, acute distension, and fresh leprous lesions. Urine also helps in boosting up the appetite and digestion.
Due to the special sanctity related to the cow in Bharat, the cow urine is most commonly used, but the urine of other animals like elephant, goat, buffalo, camel, horse, sheep or donkey also have many medicinal qualities. Therefore, urine is used for the treatment of dropsy, flatulence, worms, anaemia, abdominal enlargements, loss of appetite, poison, abdominal tumour, tuberculosis, colic, haemorrhoids, leucoderma, leprosy, amenorrhoea, irritation of vata and kapha and in mental diseases.
- The patients suffering from epilepsy should take bath and unction by adding cow dung and cow’s urine to the water (Bhaisajya Ratanawali).
- The oil of Eranda mixed with cow’s urine used for massage for one month. Cures sciatica and stiffness of thigh (Gopura).
- Apetarakasasi, kustha, Putana, Kesi and Coraka should be made to paste by adding cow’s urine or paste prepared by Jatu and Kasa, Sigru and cow’s urine. Application of these recipes as ointment on the body of the patient cures epilepsy (Yoga Ratnakar).
- Cow urine and distillate of cow urine have been used in cancer patients with varying claims of improvement in the quality of life and even prolonged survival
Cow dung medicine dispensing is either in liquid or powder form, and it could be in capsule or tablet. The use of cow dung does not just stop at medicine. You can make soap made from cow dung, which is claimed to be good for dandruff, skin disease, rid body of bad odors and to make the skin soft. The ash of burnend cow dung is also used.
Other uses of Cow dung and urine:
Cow dung can be used as patties for cooking. It is also used as a fertilizer. It is said to have natural antiseptic properties. It is mixed with neem leaves and smeared on the skin and cures boils and heat rash. Cow feces is also a smoke producer and smoldering cow patties can keep mosquitoes away. The anti-bacterial properties of cow dung have been highlighted, where its use as a disinfectant has been mentioned and the use of dung is not restricted to just plastering floors and walls. Cow droppings are popularly used as a body pack to detoxify the body.
Before the advent of toothpastes and soaps, cow dung was popularly used in various forms to meet these requirements. The ash produced from cow dung was used to clean the teeth and is also known to strengthen the gums.
Urine increases nitrogen component in the soil, thus, making it rich and more suitable for agriculture. It also boosts up the potassium content in the clover and grass. It has been observed that urine patches have increased pasture growth. Urine acts as a natural fertilizer full of the nutrients useful for agriculture.
Production Of Ovipositor Cues
Earlier studies have proved that cow urine has a positive influence on ovipositor activities in mosquitoes whether it is fresh or one week older. The Oviposition Activity Index is positive in both the species but ws maximum in rainy season. Moreover, the existence of continued decomposition and chemicals of urine as by-products which might affect ovipositor attraction in mosquitoes.
As Bio-Enhancer And Bio-Pesticide
Cow Urine is also beneficial in making Panchgawya, this mixture is then used as pesticides and fertilizers in agriculture. According to earlier studies, it has been observed that cow urine is also used as an effective larvicide and pest controller, when used alone. Moreover, it is also used as a bio-enhancer.
For Good Rearing Of Honeybees
Urine therapy cures are used in rearing honeybees. In many areas, urine is used for saving the bees from a wide variety of microbial diseases at the time of rearing bees. It facilitates rapid recovery in combs that are infected by the disease and promote the growth of clutch. Urine is also useful in curing the bacterial disease of honeybee.
As a floor cleaner
A floor-cleaning fluid called Gaunyle is marketed by an organisation called Holy Cow Foundation. Maneka Gandhi, Women and Child Development Minister, has proposed that Gaunyle be used instead of Phenyl in government offices.
In organic farming
Gomutra is used as a manure for production of rice. Jeevamrutha is a fertilizer made from a mixture of cow urine, cow dung, jaggery, pulse flour and rhizosphere soil.
Diesel-cow urine emulsion
Cow urine has also been used in various researches for the preparation of emulsified diesel. The results found with such a newly-synthesized emulsion were quite satisfactory for diesel exhaust emissions and engine efficiency.
Integration of cowpathy, Govaidyak, in traditional Indian systems of medicine has been natural based on their common dravyagunavigyan – pharmacology. Ther is better understanding of the ingredients of cow products needed, like their pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics and therapeutic ratio. Besides that purity has to be demonstrated as to pesticides, heavy metals and microbes. A meticulous analysis of a database of panchgavya and other cow products would look for temporal relationships, biological plausibility and translational potential before embarking on state-of-the-art experimental and clinical studies for selected indications e.g. cancer, obesity, arthritis, allergy, etc.
Cowpathy is a vast-rich reservoir of traditional cultural- healthcare practices. Application of relevant-science and modern-technology would help translate these traditional experiences into evidence-based therapies with novelty and innovations.
Industrial uses of Cattle
Meat → for human consumption
Bones → Jewelry and serving wear, such as utensils and cups
Hooves and bones → Gelatin coating on photographic film
Hooves → Dog treats
Hooves → Keratin protein → Fire extinguisher foam
Fat → Tallow → Glycerin → Soap and Dynamite
Fat → Tallow → Stearic acid → Rubber tires, to maintain elasticity
Ear and Tail Hair → Paint brushes, misleadingly called “camel hair”
Lungs → Heparin, an injectable anti-coagulant
Adrenal glands → Steroids
Pancreas → Insulin
Gallstones → Aphrodisiacs
Intestines → Tennis racket strings
There is a wide array of therapeutic and beauty products flooding the market that use cow products as ingredients. There are face packs, bath scrubbers, mosquito coils and incense sticks that contain cow dung. There are creams, cough syrups, body oils, health tonics, weight-loss tonics, and floor disinfectants that contain distilled cow urine. You name it, they have it. And the names of gau mutra or gau arka (cow urine) or cow dung are not hidden away in long lists of fine print on the packages. It is star-lighted right up front as the chief ingredient in bold letters. You can go to a any little shop and buy it, or drop by a fancy mall and have it bar-code billed before it’s popped into your shopping bag. And, if you so wish, you can even go online and click—or finger tap—yourself a delivery.
Note: This post does not contain medical advice. Please ask a health practitioner before trying therapeutic products new to you.
If you do wish to experiment, I suggest doing further research.
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Works Cited & Multimedia Sources
- Dallapiccola Anna L. Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend.
- DDSA: The practical Sanskrit-English dictionary
- Ganguly Indrajit. Jeevan .C. Singh Sanjeev. SharmaAnurodh. Y-chromosome genetic diversity of Bos indicus cattle in close proximity to the centre of domestication. 2020.
- Harris Marvin. India’s sacred cow.
- Jha, D. N. The Myth of the Holy Cow. 2002.
- Jordan Michael. Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses. 2004.
- Korom, Frank J. 2000. “Holy Cow! The Apotheosis of Zebu, or Why the Cow is Sacred in Hinduism.” Asian Folklore Studies 59, no. 2: 181–203.
- Sharma B.V.V.S.R. The study of cow in Sanskrit literature. 1980. https://archive.org/details/StudyOfCowInSanskritLiterature
- Sharma Pratha. Cows in Hinduism. Sanskriti Sanskriti
- Sinha Dharmendra K. Kumar Gupta Atul. Use of cow’s products in ayurvedic medicine. Epidemiology Section, CADRAD, Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izatnagar. 2007.
- Tadeusz Margul. Present-Day Worship of the Cow in India. Numen, Vol. 15, Fasc. 1.1968. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3269619 .
- The Macmillan Animal Ethics Series. Alsdorf Ludwig. The History of Vegetarianism and Cow-Veneration in India. 2010.
- Valpey Kenneth R. Palgrave. Cow Care in Hindu Animal Ethics.
- Watch videos on our channel ROADSTORIEZ