How cow became holy

Posted by Sayantan Ghosh
July 4, 2017

NOTE: This post has been self-published by the author. Anyone can write on Youth Ki Awaaz.


The pre-monsoon has hit Delhi. The roads are wet, the streets are muddy and everyone is carrying colored umbrellas in hand. The traffic at the capital city is getting disrupted due to heavy shower at times. The roads of the city are witnessing long queues of cars in the office time.

However,amidst the troubles and relives due to the shower the national dailies and news channels are continuously playing news of lynchings from various parts of India. The recent lynchings are mostly related to one major question. “Eating beef is a crime”.

It has a simple answer though. Cow is holy and cow is god. But, the question we are ignoring big time is, when did the cow became holy.

Mythology of cow

Vedas are the most ancient Indian mythologies. Among vedas Rigveda is the oldest (1500-1200 BCE) then Atharvaveda (1200-1000 BCE) and so on.

Cow in Rigveda

Slaughter of cattle was not banned in this time. Slaughtering was not a sin too. Traditionally cattle was used as a major sacrificial victims. However, use of cow milk products were also popular.

While a section of researchers described that that cattle slaughter was a popular practice, the other section calls it is a wrong interpretation.

“Cattle slaughter was a sin in Vedic time”

Researchers like Swami Dayananda Saraswati interpreted that cattle slaughter was a sin in this time. He has also described that “Yatudhana” refers to cattle-eaters (Yatu-Cattle + Udhana-eaters). He described that Rigveda clearly mentioned that cattle eaters should be punished.

Supporting his statement the researchers showed these lines which talk against cow slaughtering.

“One who partakes of human flesh, the flesh of a horse or of another animal, and deprives others of milk by slaughtering cows, O King, if such a fiend does not desist by other means, then you should not hesitate to cut off his head.”

Rig-veda (10.87.16)

“Cattle slaughter was not a sin in vedic time”

The other group of researchers say that cattle slaughter was a regular practice and in many occasions cattle was used as the main sacrificial animal.

In Magha days are oxen slain, in Arjuris they wed the bride.

Rig Veda (10.85.13)

It is to be noted that the vedic literatures also discuss slaughter of horses. The practice of horse sacrifice through “Ashvamedha” was also popular practice. In later puranas like Ramayana we can see the same practice.

Cow in Upanishad:

Upanishad was written after vedas. The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (700 BCE) and Chandogya Upanisad (800-600 BCE)have two different versions on animal slaughter.

The first one has no clear stand on cattle slaughter. The researchers opined that it has also talked about benefit of having beef.

However, the later voice against any kind of animal cruelty. According to Hume, it clearly voiced for none violence.

Cow in Bhagvata Purana

The Bhagvata Purana (400-1000 CE) follows the same nonviolence ideology. The texts after Chandogya Upanisad mostly talk in the same line. Here we see that the voice against animal cruelty has become more prominent.

However, Bhagvata Purana has permitted the king to kill animals is if it is necessary. It also includes that situation like famine comes then people may eat meat.

Controversy over cow worship in Manusmriti

Manusmriti is also known as Dharmashastra of Hindu religion. There has been a lot of interpretations on how Manusmriti saw the cattle slaughter.

Some of the researchers say that the text do not see cattle slaughter as a sin.

Frank J. Korom wrote that Manusmrti (200 BCE-300 CE) explicitly prohibits eating meat for Brahmans, but does not prohibit its consumption by other castes and other religions.

To prove this idea some of the verses have been used like

Manusmriti (Chapter 5 / Verse 30) says, “It is not sinful to eat meat of eatable animals, for Brahma has created both the eaters and the eatables.”

Manusmriti (5 / 35) states: When a man who is properly engaged in a ritual does not eat meat, after his death he will become a sacrificial animal during twenty-one rebirths.

The other group of researchers claim that these are adulterated versions of the book. They also claim that these are not part of the main text.

Unfortunately, most of the vedic texts in the last 1000 years have been adulterated. Though much work has been done in cleansing these texts in the last 100 years, still the adulterated ones remain in circulation. These adulterated texts are great source of misconceptions.”

However, it is not very clear till date that was cow slaughter a sin in Dharmashastra or not. But it is definitely not the time when much voices against cattle slaughter was present. The myths of cow as a god came much later.

Effects of Buddhism and Jainism

The origin and development of both these religions are considered as the reason against animal cruelty. Both the religions voiced for nonviolence and particularly mention that killing of an animal is a sin.

Historically many lower caste Hindus accepted these two religions. The majority of these people were farmers and through the idea of nonviolence they successfully protected cattle and used for agriculture.

Cow in Mughal era

The recent idea that Mughals started cow slaughter is faulty. The slaughter of cattle is a very old practice.

But the in the Mughal ear India witnessed a number of wars. Eventually, in these wars many animals died.

While the Mughals continued there fights, the agriculture was suffering. It is considered that this is the time when myths of the cow as God came up.

The claim that cow slaughter was banned in the time of Mughals is also wrong. Cow slaughter was much present in this time. But, different rulers had taken different ideologies.

The main interest to protect cows were not religious. The interest was purely political, social and economic. The blames on Muslim for eating beef is baseless because slaughtering of cattle was an ancient practice in India


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