Millions of Hindus revere and worship cows. Hinduism is a religion that raises the status of Mother to the level of Goddess. Therefore, the cow is considered a sacred animal, as it provides us life sustaining milk. The cow is seen as a maternal figure, a care taker of her people. The cow is a symbol of the divine bounty of earth.
Lord Krishna, one of the most well-known of the Hindu deities is often depicted playing his flute amongst cows and dancing Gopis (milkmaids). He grew up as a cow herder. Krishna also goes by the names Govinda and Gopala, which literally mean “friend and protector of cows.” It is considered highly auspicious for a true devotee to feed a cow, even before eating breakfast oneself.
Mythological explanations of Cow Worship in Hinduism
Cows have been an integral part of Hindu scriptures that mention of a Cow Goddess by the name of Kamadhenu having had emerged from the churning of the cosmic ocean. She was also known as the Cow of Plentiful who bestowed on her owner all that he desired. Hindu holy scriptures like the Bhagwad Gita and the Mahabharata make several references to Kamadhenu. Other Vedic scriptures mention of Kamadhenu as Homadhenu meaning an entity from which commodities like clarified butter and milk etc. required for Vedic fire sacrifices are derived.
Although, it is rare to find a temple dedicated to Kamadhenu, Hindus revere Cows as her mortal incarnation. There is gaushala donation where cows are kept and taken care of and anyone can donate there for the welfare of the cow.
Hinduism is not the only pagan faith that believes in animal worship but cultures and religions across the world have been worshiping various birds and animals for thousands of years. Just the way Kamadhenu is portrayed as half human and half Cow, Horus the Greek God has a head resembling that of a Falcon. The Greek goddess Hathor with her headdress made of Cow Horns was known as the Goddess of the sky, love, beauty, joy, motherhood, and fertility and that is exactly the reasons why Hindus worship cows.
Symbol of India and Hinduism
Why Hindu worship cow in India?
According to many art forms, Kamadhenu is often depicted in her full cow form with the images of deities on various parts of her body. For example, Brahma is depicted on the hump, while all of her four legs which represent the four vedas, depict the Himalayas. Her shoulders showcase Agni, the fire God and the wind God Vayu.
In Vedic times, a Rishi-marriage was one where a man gave his daughter to a rishi, along with a cow and a bullock so that they also had a source of livelihood. A buffalo could serve the same purpose. However, it was clearly the cow that was given more importance. The importance of cow in vedas is rightly explained.
In the Puranas, the cow came to be associated with Vishnu while the uncastrated wild bull came to be associated with Shiva. While Durga killed the male buffalo demon, Ayyappa of Kerala killed the female buffalo demon.
In Vaishnava mythology, the cow came to be seen as an embodiment of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. In the Bhagavata Purana, the earth takes the form of a cow and asks Vishnu to protect her. That is why Vishnu, her guardian, is called Go-pala, protector of the earth-cow.
The earth is visualized as being milked by all living creatures. And when kings plunder earth’s resources, they are described as cow killers, or cow tormenters, and Vishnu descends as Parashurama, Ram and Krishna, to kill the greedy king and let the earth drink their blood.
The best qualifying reasons, therefore, for the reverence of cows in Hinduism, are its overall usefulness, incredible nutritional and medicinal value of its products, and representation of absolute productivity and maternal selflessness.
Hindus have eternally utilized every item that a cow produces with its intake of mere grass, grain and water, be it milk, urine or dung, along with its derivatives, not only in their regular lives for food, medicine, fuel and disinfection, which are all scientifically proven applications, but also in religious rites and festivals.
A highly encouraging factor in the adoration and respect of cows is its association with Lord Krishna, a popularly worshipped and adored Hindu God, who lived his young years as a cowherd. Additionally, a prominent old practice of gifting cows as charity to the Hindu priestly class, Brahmins, due to its golden value and productivity, inculcated a feeling among the people that killing a cow would be equivalent to killing a Brahmin, which was considered an unacceptable sin.
Later, too, the Hindu rulers of princely states in India before and during the 20th century had prohibited the killing of cows in their provinces.