The importance of cows is deeply rooted in India’s history as a Hindu majority country; we’ve put together 6 religious and cultural reasons for the significance of cows in Indian society.
Ahimsa is a central teaching of Hinduism; it is also shared with Buddhism and Jainism. The concept of ahimsa forbids humans to cause harm to any other living beings, as it is said that within all living creatures is the spark of divine spiritual energy. This teaching extends to cows, and its implications state that to harm a cow (or any other living creature) would be to hurt oneself.
One of the numerous festivals that make up the Hindu calendar, Gopastami is a festival dedicated to the celebration of cows. This festival marks Lord Krishna’s coming of age, when he was given by his father responsibility for caring for the cows of Vrindavan. During Gopastami those participating in the festival bathe and clean cows, as well as offering prayers and sacrifices to them. This festival acts as an annual reminder of the importance of cows.
3. Lord Krishna
The Hindu god Lord Krishna is said to have lived in the spiritual world in a farming community named ‘’Goloka’’ meaning ‘’cow planet’’. Upon descending to earth Lord Krishna’s childhood is then spent in a cow farming community. The prevalence of cows in stories of Lord Krishna’s life is said to highlight the practical importance of cows to human society. The Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna’s book of instruction for human life also states that caring for cows is an essential human responsibility.
4. Cows as a maternal figure
Cows are seen by Hindus as representing a maternal figure, and are often described as ‘’givers of life’’. In Hindu tradition cows are associated with Aditi, the mother of Gods, who is often depicted in the form of a cow because of the nurturing values that both Aditi and the cow are understood to posses. The idea of killing or harming a cow is therefore strongly condemned.
Mahatma Gandhi is said to have taught that the protection of cows is a ‘’central facet of Hinduism’’. In his teachings Gandhi equated the protection of cows to the protection of the weak and helpless, describing cows as the ‘’personification of innocence’’. Gandhi’s teachings condemn the mistreatment of cows to such an extent that he states that ‘’no one who does not believe in cow protection can possibly be a Hindu’’.
6. Cows in daily life
Cows are also celebrated in India as a result of the practical uses of the milk and other substances that they produce. The nutritional properties of cows’ milk contribute to the depiction of the cow as a maternal figure. In addition to this, cow dung has long been an important fuel for heat and cooking; and the 5 products of cows (milk, dung, urine, curd and ghee) all have important roles in Hindu worship or ‘’puja’’.