Life of the Holy Cow in India

City Cow

City Cow

Of all the myths and mystiques associated with India, the most puzzling for a westerner to grasp is the cow’s elevated status in Hindu society. With my many decades of travel in India, the veneration of cows is just another aspect of Indian life that I now take for granted, find charming and in an odd way, has rubbed off on me but it is not something that I understood easily at first.

Most Hindus claim that they do not worship the cow, per se, but honor the cow for what it represents, that which they hold dear, important and sacred. The average person on the street in India would probably tell you that the cow is like the mother who protects its offspring and whose body produce milk to nourish it. Hindu rituals employ all the products and by-products that come from the cow for their prayers or pujas. These five products include milk, curd, ghee (clarified butter), urine and dung. The cow gives selflessly as the undemanding provider, never considering what it will receive in return. It gives more than it takes, just as a good mother does.

It has taken many centuries for this view to evolve. In ancient verses of the Rigveda,there are references to the cow being associated with Aditi, the mother of the Gods. Before the birth of Christ, the giving of a cow as a gift to a Brahmin was the only gift acceptable to give to a Brahmin. Later, this evolved into the strict protection of cows until the killing of a cow became associated with the killing of Brahmins or priests. For the Hindus, the cow is Aghanya or that which cannot be slaughtered.

What this boils down to is that Hindus adore cows. All over India, except in the downtown areas of the big cities, cows roam freely. Indians feed them, touch them with reverence and treat them like royalty.




Cow at the Door

Cow at the Door

The cow shown in the photograph above is waiting for food. No doubt, the woman of the house saves her vegetable peels, scraps and leftovers for this cow who probably visits on a daily basis.

Don't You Dare

Don’t You Dare

This dark brown cow comes dangerously close to this coconut vendor. The vendor watches patiently, waiting in case the cow crosses the line. Once crossed, the vendor will take action but he will not harm the cow.

Bottom View

Bottom View

These women are washing their pots and pans. This cow has stepped up hoping to get some leftovers.

Cow Relief

Cow Relief

I clicked this shot not really sure what was happening. I think that the cow may have been sick or injured and they were lifting it inside for its comfort.

Licking the Pot Clean

Licking the Pot Clean

At a small, local eatery, the cook brought out this pot with a bit of food still clinging to its sides for this cow to savor, not an eatery that I frequent!

Cow on the Beach

Cow on the Beach

Cow Portrait with Horns

Cow Portrait with Horns

No matter what your opinion of cows was before visiting India, your views will definitely be permanently altered after your visit. When a cow passes by me in India, I touch its flank without thinking. I sneak a blessing. And I keep coming back. This is my blessing.














About ninagrandiose

I am based in NYC but travel regularly to India and Mexico. Both of these countries feel like home. In India I scour the country in search of fabulous textiles to incorporate into my clothing designs. I sit back and let the ambiance and wonder of India seep into my consciousness so I can be inspired to write about what India is for me. I bring a limited number of people to India on exclusive and intimate tours of my favorite hangouts. In Mexico I take in the natural beauty that surrounds me and dance the night away. I constantly give thanks for all this and am pleased to share it all with you.
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15 Responses to Life of the Holy Cow in India

  1. Sangeeta says:

    Interesting. You have been very comprehensive. I would also like to add that the holy cow is called Nandi, whom you find in every temple of Shiva facing the Sanctum Sanctorum. You will find devotees, whispering is his ear in anticipation of their word reaching the divine.

    • ninagrandiose says:

      Thank you, Sangeeta, for adding that. I have whispered in a few ears around India but those Nandi’s were made of stone. Do any temples keep live cows as they keep elephants? I don’t think that I ever saw one.

  2. sue says:

    I so enjoy every post you make but often smile to myself and go on without comment. Thank you so much for sharing. Great shot of the cows!!!

  3. Thank you for this post and for the photos! I love cows in India. It is true that lots of people I’ve talked to said they didn’t worship cows but actually, they accept them in their streets. They’re part of their lives. I love cows in India! In Delhi and Mumbai, there are no cows anymore but it is a bit sad.

    • ninagrandiose says:

      I can’t imagine India without cows! There still are cows in Delhi and Mumbai; they just aren’t in the congested central areas. Thanks for commenting.

  4. For me it such an intriguing idea that holy cows wander around in a country where many are starving or don’t have enough food. But I can only respect their view. Thanks for a poignant post.

    • ninagrandiose says:

      Indians do not see a wandering cow as a potential meal, in fact it is quite the contrary because the cow provides so many essential components of all meals with their dairy products. Most of the wandering cows have owners whom they return to at the end of the day. The more time you spend in India, the less appealing the consumption of beef becomes.Your view is widely held by westerners.Thanks for dropping by.

      • I hope I didn’t seemed disrespectful. I certainly did not mean. But I guess in the end I am a westerner. 🙂

      • ninagrandiose says:

        No, you did not seem disrespectful. Your reaction is very typical and I was trying to present an ” Indian” view point. Maybe I didn’t succeed! I hope that I didn’t cause you to feel badly…This subject has always been a difficult one to approach.

      • Don’t worry I like to exchange ideas and thoughts – and try to learn as much as possible in life. I did get your Indian view point – and I think that’s what I really like about your blog.

  5. That’s quite a comprehensive post! Since you’ve done a post on cows and included a bit of Hindu mythology, I think you’d be quite interested in the way dogs, crows and mice are considered to be holy too. Makes for quite a read. 🙂

    Great blog!

    • ninagrandiose says:

      Thanks for the suggestion. I get enough stares while I’m in India but, no doubt, will get even more when I’m seen photographing mice! Will give it a shot. Thanks for your enthusiasm, comment and visit.

  6. Manish Kumar says:

    Nice article. thanks for the effort.

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