The “worship” of cows is a mystery to most non-Hindus. Many wonder why people would want to worship an animal as submissive as the cow. Ancient Hindu scriptures, such as the Rig Veda state, “Cows are God; they seem to me to be Indra, the God of Heaven.” (Rig Veda 6:28)
Hindus have “worshiped” the cow since the earliest time in our civilization. They are considered a form of wealth, even today, in many parts of the world. They provide us with milk, which helps to sustain life, adult and children alike; their dung is considered a useful, year-round fuel supply that is inexpensive; and because they are tame animals they have helped to expand new frontiers in the Indian sub-continent by pulling carts and ploughs. Even after their natural deaths their skin is a valuable resource. Because of its multi-purpose usefulness, the cow became known as a good luck charm.
The term “worship” has been taken too literally by those who do not comprehend the laws of Hinduism. Respecting the cow is meant to instill the virtues of gentleness and openness into the human mind. In order to guarantee that this treasured resource was not abused the cow was given respect by being treated as a pseudo mother. It was given a special place in society and thus the same social status and respect as a “parent.”
The killing of the cow in the Hindu world is considered a serious crime. The slaughter of cattle is as serious a crime as any other that is worthy of death. Mahatma Gandhi in his book Hindu Dharma is quoted as saying, “Cow-protection is an article of faith in Hinduism. Apart from its religious sanctity, it is an ennobling creed. (page 108). “No one who does not believe in cow-protection can possibly be a Hindu.” (page 118).
There are several reasons the cow is revered in India:
-The cow was Krishna’s favorite animal. Krishna is believed to be an incarnation of God in the Hindu faith.
-Cattle were considered a measure of wealth by early Aryan invaders.
-Because dairy products were heavily used in ancient India, the killing of cows became illegal. Provisions have been made in India’s constitution to protect the sacred cow and cow slaughter has been banned in many provinces of India.
-The cow is a symbol of divine love and grace. Without thinking of itself, like the Divine Mother, it produces milk to provide nourishment for other creatures.
Cows are honored and garlanded in festivals all over India in the Hindu tradition. The sacred gifts of the cow, namely milk and ghee (clarified butter), are essential elements in Hindu worship, sacrament, and rites of passage. Gandhi once described his Mother India and the cow by saying, “one can measure the greatness of a nation and its moral progress by the way it treats its animals. Cow protection to me is not mere protection of the cow. It means protection of all that lives and is helpless and weak in the world. The cow means the entire subhuman world.”
“Let us return the cow to its rightful place, culturally, religiously, and economically. Let us not misunderstand the past for the present and let not the sacred become something we, as Hindus, are scared to talk about.” (Bhagwat Shah).