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