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ARTICLE : Why Hindus do not eat beef ? Or why Cow is holy ?
Subject: ARTICLE : Why Hindus do not eat beef ? Or why Cow is holy ?
From: "V Desai" <vsraj@IBM.COM>
Date: Wed, 2 Oct 96 16:15:41 EDT
Resent-Date: Mon, 7 Oct 1996 10:13:12 -0700 (MST)
Once again like most Hindu concepts there are multiple answers to this.
1. Cow is a pet -
A simplistic answer will be a question - why do Westerners no eat
dog's meat, or cat's meat ? The obvious point is that people world over
do not eat their pets, and cow in the least is a pet.
Why don't people eat their pets ? Because people get emotionally attached
with the pets. A pet becomes a family member. Also most civilized people
people protect those who are under their protection. The same point has tionall
been emphasized by a story from Hindu scripture -literature 'Raghu Vamsha
by Kalidas. In the story, King Dilip, forefather of Lord Rama, offers
to a lion his own life in exchange of a divine cow that is under Dilip's
protection. Such is the Hindu scriptural reverence for the defence of
those under your refuge.
2. Cow's usefulness for Indian agricultural economy -
Similarly one can ask why do people in the West not eat horse meat?
In the west, the agriculture depended on horses till last century, hence
horse meat is not part of western diet. Similarly, agriculture in India
from ancient times to even now largely uses oxen for farming. So you
don't destroy the 'work horse' of agricultural economy. Cows, oxen thus
have been crucial for Indian agriculture.
3. Dietary considerations -
Unlike Chinese diet, Indian diet uses milk and milk products to large
extent. In the hot, hardy Indian climate, the milk yield goes down.
The average milk output of an Indian cow therefore is lower compared to
cows in cooler climates. Hence in order to protect the milk yield, in
the old days, the numbers of milch cattle had to be protected. The best
way known to man, to protect certain species is to make it 'holy'. Thus
by giving cow a 'holy' status, the sages ensured its protection.
The importance of milk in Indian diet arose from the keen observation
of nature by the sages. The newborn of all mammals are nourished by
mother's milk. If milk is good for defenceless babies, then it must be
good for man, who was vulnerable from physical defences, compared to
all other animals. Interestingly, it is only human being that drinks
milk of other species. From all aspects such as milk yield,
domesticability, availability of fodder etc, a cow is most suitable.
Yet, this does not explain veneration of cow by Hindus.
4. Logical higher explanantion for how 'useful' became 'holy' cow -
The one quality that distinguishes humans from other animals is that of
'gratitude'. It is Hindu gratitude that takes a 'dumb' cow to a higher
plane of thought. After our birth, our mother nourished us with her
milk when we were totally helpless, for a year or two. Thereafter it is
cow's milk that nourishes us for the rest of our lives. The Hindu
respects the mother as the lifegiver, hence the term Matru devo bhava
meaning 'see God in your mother'. He then extends the same logic and
the same gratitude furher to a cow who nourished him with her milk too.
In every civilized society mother is respected and venerated, she is
never cosidered as object of 'consumption'. The Hindu extends the same
logic, same courtsey to a cow. Thus this extension of gratitude makes
(Ref: Sanskruti Poojan by Pandurang Shastry Athawale, Sadvichar Darshan
Trust, Mumbai, 3rd Ed, 1988, pp 205-8, in Hindi/Gujarati/Marathi)
5. Scriptural support
Indian scriptures describe Lord KrishNa as a cow herder in his youth.
His childhood stories regale Hindus even now. A one particular story
about Govardhan tells that it was KrishNa who asked cow herders to stop
worshipping Indra - a powerful God in the heavens, and then asked
them to worship cows since they gave them their livelyhood. Once again
the subtle teaching for cowherders was 'see God in everything', even in
your work. Approaching work as worship makes every menial task a joyful
and rejoicing endeavour. It will also make you feel God as something
close and not something distant.
A famous hymn in praise of Gita, the most sacred Hindu text, compares
Gita to a cow, Lord Krishna as the milker, the essence of Upnishads
as the milk.
The Hindu thought goes beyond mere kindness to animals as the SPCA
(Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in the West wants.
Even though cow herds have been prevalent in India for over 5000 years,
the ideas of 'cow tipping' and lassoing are unheard of.
6. Symbolically, cow represents the qualities of earth - ever giving,
ever nourishing. The Hindu reveres all animals and the cow is revered as
representative of all animals and many other animals are revered as
carriers (Vaahanas) for the demi-Gods.
(Ref: Dancing with Siva, By Sivay Subramuniya Swami, Himalayan Publ,
3rd ed, 1993, p.193)