The Cow And Cowdung: Significance In Hinduism
The only sacred animal in the world is the cow. The cow and cowdung are very significant in Hinduism. There are many reasons behind it. Let’s know why the cow and cowdung are given importance in Hinduism.
The Waste Products Of Different Species
In different species, especially the carnivores, their waste products are highly revolting and toxic. Usually stool is considered impure, and something to avoid contact with. I can hardly think of anything more revolting than a pile of dog-shit or cat-shit. Similarly, human stool is disgusting and toxic.
The stool of herbivores, on the other hand, like elephants, goats and horses is totally inoffensive, not disgusting, at all. Still, we try to avoid the stool from animals, as well as that of ourselves.
Sacredness of Cowdung, Cow’s Urine And Cow’s Milk
The stool of a cow is sacred. It possesses all anti-septic properties. The dung from a cow is so pure, it will purify a filthy place. It will detoxify even wounds. And it is used all over the world, in places not yet industrialized, ie., to make paddies, which are used for fuel and even building material for houses.
The dung of a cow is enriched with all anti-septic powers, and so is her urine. The list of health-benefits in Ayurveda from drinking a cow’s urine is a mile long. Thus, the cow is the only animal, whose urine has health-benefits for humans.
Another reason the cow is considered sacred, is because she is the mother of humanity. Most human children grow up on cow’s milk, so she is their mother.
Panchagavya is also very important in Hinduism. It is a mixture of curd, milk, ghee, cow dung and cow urine. These products are mixed in Ayurveda prescribed proportions. Panchagavya is used in various Hindu rituals. Besides, various ancient scriptures like ‘Charak Samhita’, ‘Sushrut Samhita’, ‘Ras Tantra Sar’ and many more speak of the benefits and importance of Panchagavya in human life, especially for physical and mental health of human beings.
Significance Of The Cow In Scriptures
The cow is the favorite animal of God. The topmost, spiritual planet, beyond Vaikuntha, even, is called Goloka – the planet of the cows. So, God Himself lives on a planet called, the planet of the cows. That alone should give us an idea of how highly valuated cows are, in a God-centered society.
God is called Gopala and Govinda – protector and benefactor of the cows.
Lord Brahma (god of creation) says:
“Krishna who is known as Govinda is the Supreme Godhead. He has an eternal blissful spiritual body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin and He is the prime cause of all causes.” —Brahma-samhita, 5.1
The cow is considered sacred in Hinduism, because she is one of the 7 mothers of humanity. A human has 7 mothers – (1) the real mother, (2) the wife of the spiritual master, (3) the wife of a brahmana, (4) the wife of the king, (5) the cow, (6) the nurse, and (7) the earth.
This verse comes in the 3rd canto, 16th chapter of Srimad Bhagavatam where Lord Vishnu Himself says that the body of cows is non-different than His own body. Here is the verse:
ye me tanūr dvija-varān duhatīr madīyā
bhūtāny alabdha-śaraṇāni ca bheda-buddhyā
drakṣyanty agha-kṣata-dṛśo hy ahi-manyavas tān
gṛdhrā ruṣā mama kuṣanty adhidaṇḍa-netuḥ
ये मे तनूर्द्विजवरान्दुहतीर्मदीया
भूतान्यलब्धशरणानि च भेदबुद्ध्या ।
गृध्रा रुषा मम कुषन्त्यधिदण्डनेतुः ॥
[Srimad Bhagavatam 3.16.10]
“The brāhmaṇas, the cows and the defenseless creatures are My own body. Those whose faculty of judgment has been impaired by their own sin look upon these as distinct from Me. They are just like furious serpents, and they are angrily torn apart by the bills of the vulturelike messengers of Yamarāja, the superintendent of sinful persons.”
Srila Prabhupada writes in the purport to this verse:
“The defenseless creatures, according to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, are the cows, brāhmaṇas, women, children and old men. Of these five, the brāhmaṇas and cows are especially mentioned in this verse because the Lord is always anxious about the benefit of the brāhmaṇas and the cows and is prayed to in this way. Therefore the Lord especially instructs that no one should be envious of these five, especially the cows and brāhmaṇas. In some of the Bhāgavatam readings, the word duhitṝḥ is used instead of duhatīḥ. But in either case, the meaning is the same. Duhatīḥ means ‘cow,’ and duhitṝḥ can also be used to mean ‘cow’ because the cow is supposed to be the daughter of the sun-god. Just as children are taken care of by the parents, women as a class should be taken care of by the father, husband or grown-up son. Those who are helpless must be taken care of by their respective guardians; otherwise the guardians will be subjected to the punishment of Yamarāja, who is appointed by the Lord to supervise the activities of sinful living creatures. The assistants, or messengers, of Yamarāja are likened here to vultures, and those who do not execute their respective duties in protecting their wards are compared to serpents. Vultures deal very seriously with serpents, and similarly the messengers will deal very seriously with neglectful guardians.”
In the former pagan culture of Cimbria (which is in the north of Denmark), they used to worship the Bull. Still today there is a huge statue of a bull in down-town Aalborg, in northern Jutland.
Also in the Bible it is said – to slay an ox is as if you slay a human. It is somewhere in Isaiah, I believe.
So the idea of the cow and ox being holy and sacred, is not particular to India, in former times it was practiced all over the world. The rest of the world just forgot. It is still remembered in India.
The cows and bulls are invaluable to an agricultural society. The cow, as a mother, provides milk, which according to Ayurveda is the most valuable foodstuff for humans, and the bull provides labor, plowing the fields, running a mill etc.
Who knows, when the oil runs out in some decades, bulls might again have to replace tractors. People who are brought up in an industrial society tend to forget that you can’t eat nuts and bolts. Humans subsist on grains and other produce from the land. So the cow and bull are of utmost importance in a proper human culture.
yadā deveṣu vedeṣu
goṣu vipreṣu sādhuṣu
dharme mayi ca vidveṣaḥ
sa vā āśu vinaśyati
यदा देवेषु वेदेषु गोषु विप्रेषु साधुषु ।
धर्मे मयि च विद्वेष: स वा आशु विनश्यति ॥
[Srimad Bhagavatam 7.4.27]
“When one is envious of the demigods, who represent the Supreme Personality of Godhead, of the Vedas, which give all knowledge, of the cows, brahmanas, Vaisnavas and religious principles, and ultimately of Me, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he and his civilization will be vanquished without delay.”
By Jahnu Das