Introduction: Cows have an important place in the lives of Hindus. They are not seen as mere animals but as divine beings. Hence, the expression ‘holy cow’. There are many references to cows and bulls and their significance in the ancient Vedas and Puranas. Nandi, the sacred bull, is the mount of Lord Shiva, and Kamadhenu is a divine cow and goddess as well. She is regarded as the mother of all cows. In India, cows are regarded as the earthly embodiment of Kamadhenu and revered.
Rig Veda: The Vedas are the oldest scriptures or sacred texts in Hinduism. They include the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda. The Rig Veda has highly praised the Indian cow and talks about its significance. Sage Bharadwaja has said that the cow is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and descended from heaven to help people. Chanakya, the brain behind the Mauryan empire, and the chief courtier of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, said that it is important to honor cows.
Significance of the Cow:
The dung of the Cow is highly medicinal; it purifies the air and kills germs. Since ancient times, water mixed with the cow dung has been used to clean the house. Within the cow, many Gods and demigods are believed to reside. A sattvic cow has great powers and its milk, ghee, curd, butter, etc. are said to have medicinal properties.
The word ‘Pancha’ denotes five. Panchakavya, a special mixture, is made using five elements from the cow – dung, urine, milk, ghee and curd. These are mixed together to prepare a special concoction. It is a gift from the Gods above, as it can be used to cure several ailments. It is also used as a fertilizer which enhances the growth of plants. When consumed regularly, it enhances longevity. It can even cure mental ailments and gives a lot of strength to the mind.
The connection between food and mind:
It is believed that a man is what he eats. Sattvik food gives positive thoughts and food which is not Sattvik will give a Tamasik character. People with Sattvik character are simple, humble and work for the betterment of others. People with Tamasik character are cruel, arrogant, selfish and use crooked means to achieve their goals. Food prepared from the products of a Sattvik cow will always bring good and positive energy to the body and help the people to gain happiness. It can transform the mindset from negative to positive.
Cow’s role in Worship:
Idols of gods and goddesses undergo a hydrating ceremony called Abhisheka with products like milk, curd and ghee. Milk is offered as a Neivedana to the Gods and is later distributed to the people. The dust of the cow is called Gothuli and it is said to have positive powers. Cow’s milk is said to have a calming effect. A glass of warm milk is often recommended for people with insomnia. Ghee or clarified butter is used in yajnas or fire worship, an important religious ceremony in Himduism.
When moving into a new house, a cow is first made to enter the house. This signifies that Goddess Mahalakshmi is entering the home. Gifting a cow to a Brahmin was considered a meritorious deed by many kings. Many people establish “Goshala”, a shelter for cows, and raise them. In fact, a lady called Friederike Irina Bruning from Germany established a goshala or shelter for abandoned cows in Mathura (Uttar Pradesh) 25 years ago and stayed back to take care of it. She was even awarded the Padma Shri for her services.
Many people consider it auspicious to see the cow first thing in the morning. The cow is a patient and gentle animal and many people see kindness in its eyes. It inspires affection in those who see it and more so because it gives us so many things. Some people even see it as representing dharma and the goodness of Hindu religion. Many Indians living in villages raise cows and perform cow pooja at home and they are treated more like household members. They share a special bond with the bovines which benefit them in so many ways.
The cow has a very special place in the minds of Hindus and their religious and spiritual beliefs. It is revered both as a mother and as a goddess. Cows were also considered sacred in many other world religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism. Even the religions of ancient Egypt, Greece, Israel, Rome and Germany gave importance to cows.