Why are Cows Sacred in India?
Well this, as all things, has roots both in real life solutions as well as a little bit of mysticism, social, political, as well as human beings that mix up stories and confuse history and behavior. Let's look at a few basic facts about the most auspicious Cow!
First let's look at the cow as a more mystical symbol. In India and historic Hinduism, the belief is that the cow represents a divine and natural beneficence and should therefore be protected and venerated. This belief is quite strong and most people just believe this has always been for some reason or another, but has it?
The cow has always been associated with many different deities, such as Shiva who has been depicted sitting on Nandi; a bull, Indra the wish granting cow, the beautiful Krisna who was a cowherd in his youth, and associations the cow has had as a Goddess because of her maternal attributes of giving of milk. She is still lovingly called the second mother of all mankind. But does her depiction in various works of art and stories make the cow holy?
Back in the Vedic period, around the 2nd millennium to the 7th center BCE, the Indo-European people used to sacrifice cows and then eat their flesh after the ritual. The cows that were spared were the milk producing cows. These cows had begun to become more and more prohibited at that time since they realized how valuable the milk was to human existence.
But…. Aren't these stories of a Hindu religion? Tales? Myths? Why is this not only considered spiritual, but protected by the Indian government and illegal to slaughter?
Although Hinduism is the leading religion in India, followed by Islam, Christianity and Sikhism, why does the cow have anything to do with the government?
Well, the truth lies in a little bit of everything, as much does.
Back in 1947, when Ghandi was freeing an entire Nation from British rule, Ghandi stated in the Harijan that it was unconstitutional to put into law what would be a religious belief, since many in India where not Hindu (and of those Hindus, many not practicing Hindus).
In 1948 when the initial constitution was created there was no provision to protect the Cow!
I will keep this simple….
It turns out that while many were fighting and debating the holiness of the milk cow, as it pertained to church and government issues, there was another problem happening .
Families, many that were farmers, were dealing with severe draughts followed by the monsoon seasons. Farms were dwindling and in the end families could not sustain the hardships. These families were left with very little to their name other than perhaps a very skinny cow, that still provided… milk, curd, butter, urine, and dung. They would take what they thought was their only option and slaughter their beloved cow to feed their children.
This ultimately turned into quite a problem, since after eating their very last resource, these families had no other option than to pack up and move into major cities to live in the streets and beg for their food. They would be along side thousands of other families that had befallen to the same temptation and desperateness to eat their last cow.
The Indian Government, along with so much opposition and support to make the cow sacred for religious reasons, was able to protect the cow and make it illegal to kill. They did this to protect the families that still were able to sustain life on the provisions of their milk cow. The cow that would perhaps take the family to the next year, where maybe the weather would be more promising and at the very least, sustain them better than begging in the streets.
So…. The cow has been protected and made illegal to kill for many reason; religious, nonviolence beliefs, but mostly to sustain human life!
The Milk Cow truly has been a blessing to humanity and to the Indian Culture.
Here is the Kamadhenu Maha Mantra:
Sarva Kaama-dudhe Devi Sarva Teethee-bhishechini
Paavane Surabhi Shreshthe Devi Tubhyam Namostute
Salutations to the great Goddess,
The One who fulfills the wishes of the devotees,
The One who lived as a seed in all cows,
Salutations to the Mother of the Universe.