Why Are Cattle Sacred to Hindus? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 1 Old 01-02-2002, 05:21 PM - Thread Starter
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Why are cattle sacred to Hindus?

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Author Topic: Why are cattle sacred to Hindus?
Member posted 06-21-2001 05:26 PM
I've always wanted to ask that, because I obviously don't know. Neither do I know any Hindus currently, and the ones I did know I don't know anymore. Can anyone tell me why cattle are sacred? Just curious.

Moderator posted 06-21-2001 10:48 PM
To my understanding (and my faith in what my folks have told me about my culture is a bit shaky these days)
The Lord Krishna has come to earth as a cow. It is his spiritual animal (forgot the term).
IT is taboo to eat that animal since it could be Krishna incarnate.

There is a book by an anthropologist called something like

Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches by Marvin Harris

he explains why it would be socially detrimental for these folks to eat these cows. The dung and milk is both used by the culture and the cow is worshiped. THey are beautiful beasts much unlike the cows we see in fields here. They are Brahmin cattle and have the big hump on their backs, usually very thin. Not at all like the doe eyed fat beasts grazing in Wisconsin cheese farms.

This book is awesome and I highly reccomend it.

gotta jet

Member posted 06-21-2001 11:11 PM
reay tannahill's 'food in history' (btw, try her 'sex in history' too- great fun) pretty much lays it out like chan says. if you will live longer eating the ghee than the cow than the cow must be taboo (no offense to any fundamentalist hindus intended- i would offer similarly non-mystical reasons for dietary taboos in other religions as well).
we are all pretty smug about our food choices; in history we must remember that a lot of food choices were not choices- you are what was there (or needed a voice from on high to tell you not to!)- if you were very lucky!

suse, happy to be boiling good italian pasta for some cincinatti chili- gotta love those middle eastern influenced seasonings! (i'm thinking 'bob's big boy' spaghetti & chili, tho', madison; it's off the menu now, isn't it? damn! all we have is 'steak & shake' here in tn & they put ketchup on it!)

Member posted 06-22-2001 06:32 AM
I will preface my comments by saying that I am not Indian, but I did live there with a Hindu family in India for 6 months when I was in college and tried to absorb as much of the history and religion as I could. From my understanding there are several reasons:
1) The Krishna connection...you don't want to kill and eat God.

2) The cow is symbolic in several ways: it seen as a mother-like figure because of the food she provides (milk, which is made into a lot of other things), the work she does (pulling plows and carts), and the religious symbolism (tying her back to Krishna...He was a rather peaceable god, much rather hang with the "gopis" (milk-maids) and playing his flute than wage war...also loved curds as a child...there are a lot of cattle images in the Krishna myths). Krishna is one of the favorite incarnations of God in Hinduism (to put it symplistically), and cows are seen as a symbol of him. To eat one would be to dishonor Krishna (and the other aspects of their before-mentioned symbolism).

3) Cows/Brahmin cattle are also treated more like loved pets...Much the same way that few of us would consider eating the family dog, cat or horse (the most apt comparision, since Brahmin cattle are generally work animals), most Indian wouldn't consider eating the family cow (or even the neighbor's for that matter ). Most think it is really gross concept. Despite the fact that there are truely hungry people there, few would consider slaughtering a meandering cow for food (and they do seem to wander around a bit, at least in the city where I was ). It would break too many societal and religious taboos. Though I will say that eating beef in India is not unheard of (the Christians and Muslims at the very least do eat beef, as well a "cosmopolitian" Hindus and lower caste rural Hindus sometimes eat beef...but a lot of ritual cleansing and atoning go on to make appeasement). I respeacted the wishes of my host family and refrained from eating beef (not that hard actually).

Brahmin cattle are quite good looking and intelligent looking, at least compared to your average big fat, dumb-looking Holstein or Jersey cow chewing cud in a Mid-Western field.

My comments are a fairly symplistic approach to the question. If anyone has further insight, please share. It has been a long time (about 10 years) since I seriously considered this question.


[This message has been edited by sadean (edited 06-22-2001).]

[This message has been edited by sadean (edited 06-22-2001).]

Member posted 06-22-2001 09:17 AM
I just saw something on the food network about this a few days ago! The host (an Indian woman) was saying that because the cows provide so much nourishment by what they produce and provide through their service, it would be unthinkable not only for religous reasons but for economical reasons to kill a cow for its meat when they can eat other things.

Member posted 06-22-2001 09:26 AM
I spent a semester studying in Nepal (a Hindu country) when I was in college. I was told that cows were an incarnation of Lakshmi (the goddess of prosperity). (There are a lot of things that are incarnations of various gods; books, for instance, are consider incarnations of Saraswati, the goddess of learning.) We were told that the functional reason for this was that the milk from the cows was so much more useful than the meat.
I think the attitude of Nepalis towards cows really is analagous in some ways to the American attitude towards dogs. Americans DO NOT eat dogs, even when they're strays, and we have a sort of sick fascination with cultures that do. In Nepal, my hosts would ask me if I'd ever eaten a cow. They knew I'd say "yes," but they just HAD to hear it from my own lips.

There were a lot of stray cows in Kathmandu. They'd roam around and filch food from street vendors. One of the funniest things I saw was a vendor beating a sacred cow off with a stick -- while touching it with her other hand for a blessing.

Member posted 06-22-2001 11:42 AM
Thank you!

Moderator posted 06-22-2001 01:58 PM
yeah the cows in India were a HUGE fascination for this lil american girl. They were EVERYWHERE and I recall my father once coming home crying (he is not a crier) because he was trying to get in the shop and a cow was blocking the door. SO he smacked her on the rump to get her to move and she fell down and died. My uncle said the cow was obviously very old and my father had nothing to do with this BUT he still felt very badly. I accompanied him to the gurdwara that nite while he prayed for the cow.
My father is not a Hindu, he is a Sikh yet the devine bovine respect is inherent in India.

They are beautiful creatures and it is amazing that people eat them. (I do as well). My father has quit eating meat as he has gotten older. He says he wants to do no harm to any living creature. I jsut wish he felt that way when we were younger. But still, he is an ever changing being and I will always be totally in love with my dad.

Member posted 06-22-2001 02:26 PM
madison - not true -- you DO know a Hindu -- me!
The Aryans who came to northern India and from whose nature-worship Hinduism grew, were a nomadic cattle-herding people who moved from pasture to pasture. They lived off dairy products and realized that if in a lean year you kill and eat your cow, you have just destroyed what could have sustained your family for years. However since logic and rational thinking rarely stop people from shortsightedly pursuing instant gratification, the idea of not killing the goose that lays the golden eggs had to be sanctified by declaring the cow sacred and that appears to have done the trick! Actually if you look at most religious prohibitions, there is often a sound economic, social or health related reason underlying it. Anyone got any other examples from other religions?

Moderator posted 06-22-2001 02:40 PM
Oh, sure. The Jewish (and Muslim) dietary laws make a lot of sense in context. Pork has triccinosis (sp?) and is potentially deadly. Mixing meat and dairy products in a food preparation area before the discovery of sepsis would also not be a healthful plan.
Japanese Shinto teaches that infants do not have souls at birth -- this would make people feel a little bit better in an era of high infant mortality.

Member posted 06-23-2001 05:58 PM
Oh, I just saw this thread for the first time today even though it is already at the bottom of the page...anyway, the religion I follow is from India (known as Vaisnavism in India). We don't eat meat, fish or eggs. We worship Krishna.
Although He has come in many different forms, I've never personally heard or read in the scriptures that Krishna has appeared as a cow (I don't want to offend anyone by disagreeing with you, please don't be mad or offended!). But there are lots of Krishna related reasons why we don't eat meat (Krishna was also known as 'Govinda', "the one who pleases the cows"). Krishna was in fact a cowherd boy in His boyhood days in Vrindaban, where He lived in India, and many of His pastimes involve caring for and worshipping the cows. This is also because (similar to what some other people mentioned in previous posts) the cows give milk. And Krishna is especially fond of butter and sweets made from milk. You can't get milk from a dead cow!

It also has a lot to do with the foods we eat impacting our consciousness and thus affecting our spiritual practices. Many Vaisnavas, myself included, don't eat certain foods, even certain vegetables, as they are said to affect ones consciousness in different subtle ways.

One other major thing is that we (and Hindus) believe in karma and reincarnation. The law of karma is that whatever you do to another living entity, you will in turn have done to you. So according to the law of karma, meat eating is bad because you will have to come back as an animal who is raised for slaughter and eaten (reincarnation). We also believe that the human form of life is extremely valuable because we have intelligence that animals don't have (to speak, read, worship, know the difference between right and wrong) but this isn't to say that animals are lesser because we all have souls. So we want to take advantage of this human life and not have to be reincarnated into an animals body and thus have to work our way up to a human body again. Some Hindus do eat meat, but generally they don't, and when they do, it's usually fish, pork or goat; many try to avoid eating cow.

All of this information is in the ancient Vedic scriptures like (most commonly known in the West) Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam.

OK, you asked, I hope that my info has helped to answer your inquiry!

Member posted 07-04-2001 09:50 PM
My husband is from India and has told me that the cow (or bullock as Indians call them) provides so much to one family..for example milk, can pull a cart, will eat the vegatable garbage, keeps the grass low, usually has a calf each year, and also in the villages, many people use the dung from cows to put on their houses, or make a "paint" to put on the inside on the walls. It last a long time and keeps the house neat.
Lastly, when the cow dies, she leaves her fur (for which many Hindu priest sit on) and her bones for fashioning tools. The cow is a very versatile animal, and also provided the milk for Krishna who loved to eat milk balls (probably something like gulab jamun)

Any other American born Hindu's here?

I am a practicing hindu.


Member posted 07-05-2001 08:26 AM
I loooooove gulab jamun....more than cow meat in fact. I'm starting to want to be a vegetarian again.

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