Sacred Cow

  • October 17, 2016
  • Les Routes Insolites

Why is the cow important to Hindus?

In Hinduism, the cow is revered as the source of food and symbol of life and may never be killed. However, many non-Hindus interpret these beliefs to mean that Hindus worship cows. This is not true. It is more accurate to say the cow is taboo in the Hindu religion, rather than sacred. This is just one example of the misunderstandings people have about the Hindu faith.

Furthermore, cows do not have an especially charmed life in India. Sometimes people around the world see images of India in print or on television, or they travel there, and see cows in public places, unfenced and unrestrained. From such scenes, they conclude that Indians consider cows gods, but this is a false idea and below you will find clarification on this subject.

Cow-Related Practices

The cow remains a protected animal in Hinduism today and Hindus do not eat beef. Most rural Indian families have at least one dairy cow, a gentle spirit who is often treated as a member of the family.

The five products (pancagavya) of the cow — milk, curds, ghee butter, urine and dung — are all used in puja (worship) as well as in rites of extreme penance. The milk of the family cow nourishes children as they grow up, and cow dung (gobar) is a major source of energy for households throughout India. Cow dung is sometimes among the materials used for a tilak – a ritual mark on the forehead. Most Indians do not share the western revulsion at cow excrement, but instead consider it an earthy and useful natural product.

Despite their sacred status, cows don’t seem very appreciated in India. Visitors are often surprised to see them walking neglected around city streets, living on garbage from the gutters. But the cow is honored at least once a year, on Gopastami. On this “Cow Holiday,” cows are washed and decorated in the temple and given offerings in the hope that her gifts of life will continue.