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Ask A Hindu: Significance of the Cow

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By Sreedharani Nandagopal 

 What is the significance of the cow in Hinduism?”

Every living being in the cycle of nature is sacred in Sanathana Dharma (Hinduism). Ahimsa Paramo Dharma ( in Sanskrit), means “nonviolence is the at most duty.”  

According to the Washington Post, many Hindus are vegetarians and consider the cow to be a sacred symbol of life that should be protected and revered. In the Vedas, the oldest of the Hindu scriptures, the cow is associated with Aditi, the mother of all the gods. 

The website Ayurveda of Sedona explains that millions of Hindus revere and worship cows because Hinduism is a religion that raises the status of mother to the level of Goddess. The cow is considered a sacred animal, as it provides us life sustaining milk. It is seen as a maternal figure, a care taker of her people. The cow is a symbol of the divine bounty of earth. 

According to the above website:

Lord Krishna, one of the most well-known of the Hindu deities is often depicted playing his flute amongst cows and dancing Gopis (milkmaids). He grew up as a cow herder. Krishna also goes by the names Govinda and Gopala, which literally mean “friend and protector of cows.” 

Throughout the Vedic scriptures there are verses which emphasize that the cow must be protected and cared for. It is a no-no to take the life of the cow as she gives life sustaining milk. In fact, it is a no-no to take the life of any other living being to satisfy the human greedy desires. Hindus who are not vegetarians eat chicken, lamb, etc. which is tolerated. It is considered a sin to kill a cow and eat its meat. Even today in India, there are many states in which the slaughter of cows is illegal. That is why one can find cows roaming freely all over India, even along the busy streets of the cities. 

Ayurveda is a big proponent of the sattvic qualities of milk and dairy products. That is why most Hindus are vegetarian, but not vegan. Fresh, organic milk, yogurt, buttermilk, paneer (homemade cheese) and ghee, are all considered highly nutritious, and an important part of the diet. These dairy products provide important protein and calcium for our tissues. 

Besides their milk, cows also provide many practical purposes, and are considered a real blessing to the rural community. On the farm, bulls are used to plough the fields and as a means of transportation of goods. Even Lord Shiva’s (one of the trinities of Hinduism, who is the destroyer of evil) trusted vehicle is Nandi– the sacred bull. 

Cow dung is saved and used for fuel, as it is high in methane, and can generate heat and electricity. Many village homes are plastered with a mud/cow dung mixture, which insulates the walls and floors from extreme hot and cold temperatures. Cow dung is also rich in minerals, and makes an excellent fertilizer. There is a big organic farming movement in India to return to ancient methods of utilizing cow dung to re-mineralize the depleted soil. 

I grew up in a South Indian small town home where we had cows and buffaloes, which were milked by my mother every day and we practiced these above procedures also every day in our home and are continued to this day in the villages of India.  

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