A look at the various cultures in the world indicates that each community has its unique practices. Most of those cultural practices are divinely inspired. Some traditional tribes for example worship the mountains believing they are the abode of the Gods. Others may revere snakes seeing them as angels sent to guard the earth. Such beliefs are not mere practices but owe their basis to the core of such a community’s origin. For the Hindus, their veneration of cows is well chronicled and has been studied over time.
An in-depth analysis reveals interesting aspects of this community and creates a better understanding of why not even the prospects of death can compel starving adherents to slaughter cows for meat. A close analysis of the sanctity of cows in Hinduism reveals that beyond religion, there are economic factors at play that makes cows to be sources of great reverence. A look at Hinduism reveals a religion that has remained adamant to the changes brought forth by the Christianity civilization.
It reveals a population that holds unique doctrines and cultural practices that have defied odds, being reinforced year after year and cutting across individuals in all walks of life. It is such uniqueness and resistance that continues to be exhibited today and reinforces the reluctance to embrace the idea that cows could be a source of food as opposed to an object of worship. Though there exist scanty details that link the worship of cows to the Hindu scriptures, the raging belief is that such a belief owes its origin to Hinduism and is considered to be a core element to this belief.
The extent of this reverence can be discerned from the religions tensions that have existed over time between Indian Muslims and Hindus, over the latter’s beef eating practices and the Hindus bid to have beef eating banned nationwide . With a religion that has been closely associated with vegetarianism, it is important to examine the roots of Hinduism, its reverence for cows and the ban of cows as a preferred delicacy. A look at Hinduism and its insistence on the banning of cow meet presents an interesting contrast. History reveals “that cow protection was not always the central fact of Hinduism.”
Although Vedic scriptures advocated for vegetarianism, they did not mention the protection of cows. Such practice became prevalent after the inception of Buddhism. Scholarly excerpts on this topic claim that the practice of cow protection was brought by Jainism which strictly forbids meat eating. The highest of the four castes in India, the Brahman, which is seen as the custodian of religions doctrines, did not initially agitate against cow eating in fact as Harris mentions “the Brahman caste’s religions duties centered not on protecting cows but on slaughtering them”
Cow meat in those early times could be distributed to the adherents’ and a means of paying off loyalty. It was also used to signify wealth. It has to be noted however that even then cow meat eating was only restricted to sacrifices. Meat eating was associated with religious rituals and ceremonies after successful battles. Vedic scriptures had provided for specification on the type of animals that could be feasted upon but as Claus et al (2003, 125) observes “there is little to indicate that cows were worshipped during the Vedic period.”
Instead, such practices can be traced to what has been referred to as the Upanishadic Era. A number of factors have been identified by Brown (1957) as leading to the start of this practice. These are “the importance of the cow and its products in Vedic sacrificial ritual, the literal interpretation of figurative uses of the word cow in the Vedas”, the insistence on the sanctity of the Brahman’s cow and the identification of the cow with the mother of the gods . Since then, Hindus have considered cows to be sacred.
This can be discerned by looking at the available literature or the description of cows. Hindu religious scholars offer saintly description of cows portraying a reverence which equates them to deities. A look around India reveals that immense care is exercised when handling cows. Hindus pamper them with concern and accord them respect and respect that befits that of a higher being, they even “try to place them in animal shelters when they become sick or old and can no longer be cared for at home.”
Hindu scriptures claim that cows are protected by the gods (Shira Krishna) and hence each and every product that comes from cows is seen as possessing mystic powers. This can even be discerned from the way cow dung, which in the western world is considered as filth, is revered and used in various religious rituals. Cow dung, milk and urine are used to prepare holy liquids for blessing the worshippers. Such perception of animal droppings as possessing mystic power is extended to the village doctors who use it in their trade.
In addition, this reverence is also inspired by the Hindus belief in reincarnation. According to Ken reincarnation simply insinuates “that one’s actions here on earth have a direct bearing on the form one will take in the next life, the highest form being a cow. ” This is also referred to as transmigration and the belief that cows are spiritual beings can be used to explain the reluctance of the hunger stricken Hindus to slaughter the animals. The widely held belief is that gods resides in cows and hence anyone who dares slay or mistreat them will reincarnate into a lower being.
With cows hence being held in such a high stature among the Hindus and the common belief in their spirituality, they have become a common property with estimates placing their numbers to around 330 millions. This is roughly a cow per homestead. It is a common property even amongst the paupers as no one wants to be left behind from owning such an object of spiritual pleasure. It is hard then for such people to contemplate slaughtering cows even on the blink of death. The cow is seen as an object of providence whose milk flows to quench and nourish the world.
Many just watch helplessly as cows die either of hunger or old age and cannot play a role in the hastening of their deaths. Pictures of fattened cows among wizened and emaciated Hindus have been circulated in the west with a purpose probably of belittling one of the religions that has refused to die. The cradle of the matter however remains Hindus out of their religious beliefs would rather die of hunger than slaughter a cow, for this is considered to an act of great abomination. Not all however share the belief that religion alone has helped perpetuate the culture of cow protection.
Though the origin of this practice is heavily engendered in the historical rituals conducted in the early times, the economic angle has helped this culture transcend years of western onslaught. To understand this aspect of thinking, it is important to analyze the economic foundation of the Hindus and how it has sustained the practice of cow protection. The economic complacency behind the rearing of cows is by the Hindus may not be easily grasped by western scholars, but the truth of the matter is that cows are seen as the source of livelihood to a community whose income barely allows anything beyond mere existence.
India may be the 12th biggest in the world in terms of the GDP closely behind the developed nation but its economic background is characterized by huge inequalities. Agriculture has played a big role in the economy in addition to the manufacturing sector. However, the low productivity in the agricultural sector has been exacerbated by a number of factors key to them the inefficient small scale farming and the unwillingness or the inability to embrace modern methods of farming.
The peasant farmers still practice century’s old methods of farming which greatly depends on the monsoon providence. This is a fact that has helped sustain the practice of cow protection. The centrality of agriculture as the backbone of the Indian economy is undeniable; core to this is cow breeding which has become a source of national pride. Unlike in the western nations where majority of the people reside in the urban areas the reverse is the case in India with reliable estimations putting the percentage of Indians living in the rural areas to 75.
A further interesting fact about India’s peasantry farming is the use of cattle driven plows instead of tractors as is the case in modern farming. This reluctance probably emanates from the limitations in the size of the pieces of land available to each household making it uneconomical to switch to tractors. An analysis of the situation on the ground for the peasant farmers reveals that the high stature through which cows is unlikely to wane any time soon. This is because there is always a huge demand for traction animals. According to Harris “there is indeed a shortage rather than a surplus of animals.”
The amounts of land that require plowing far outstretch the available traction animals. In addition to cows, oxen are highly valued for farming. This may explain the obsession for cows in the belief that a large number of cows will lead to more oxen. For those that may not exceptionally view cows as being much of spiritual beings, their reliance on farming as the only source of livelihood hence means that one must be preoccupied with the need to preserve and protect cows in the belief that they will keep on multiplying the number of oxen.
This hence is a self preservation measure as the death of cows and oxen will hence undeniably mean the end of the small farms. Harris also examines further the issue of oxen and the inexplicable Hindus attachment to cows. A shortage of oxen is likely to result to debts to the farmers as they are likely to turn to renting to cover for the shortfall before the monsoon season is over. Sharing of oxen for example has being an unwise idea as most of the farmers during this period are busy preparing their farms. To avoid this each and every homestead ensures an adequate supply of cows and oxen.
India is home to a population that goes beyond 700 million people, as aforementioned, 70% live in the rural areas but that still leaves a sizeable chunk of people scurrying the urban center for jobs. For the 70% portion of the population cows are seen as a source of livelihood that must be protected at all costs, this is because the urban centers offer no respite. As Harris notes, the suffering caused by unemployment and homelessness in India cities is already intolerable and hence any influx towards the urban centers will create an imbalance and outstretch the available resources leading “to unprecedented upheavals and catastrophes.”
In comparison to the developed nations where agriculture is carried out in large scale, India’s agricultural sector can only be regarded as cottage and has exhibited the reluctance to embrace modernism; this extends too to the farm inputs. Westerners long ago neglected the idea that animal droppings could be used to nourish the lands and instead have resorted to organic inputs. This is not the case in India where farmers rely on manure for farming in addition to other uses.
To Hindus, economic profitability of a cow is not a factor, what matters is such a cow continues to meet the purposes that it has been set out for. This explains why even barren cows are still valued despite the urgent need for milk. This is because the economic viability of a cow is not only measured through the quantity of the milk that it produces but also its other products such as cow dung that bear agricultural, cultural and spiritual purposes. The aspects of cow worship aside, cows in India are not viewed from an angle similar to that of the western world.
The benefits accrued too the Hindus are not only limited to milk, in fact they are rarely kept for milk; water buffalos are reared instead. Harris agrees with this noting that “the ox is the Indian peasant’s tractor, thresher and family car combined; the cow is the factory that produces the ox. ” It is important to explore the importance if cow dung to add to the spiritual importance that had been mentioned before. Where western nations do not have a current experience with cow dung as a source of heat, Hindus prefer it for a variety of reasons.
To the Indian women, cow dung is not only a representation of simplicity and an experience of spiritual pleasures but it is also seen “as a superior cooking fuel because it is finely adjusted to their domestic routines. ” Indeed economic importance of cow dung to the lower caste Hindus cannot be over-emphasized. It is used in all manner of places and there are people that make a living out of it. In addition to being used as a floor finishing providing a smooth surface, it supports households that make a living by collecting the animal droppings in the urban centers.
To understand how feasible this is, it is important to look at the nature of the existing public policies in regard to cows. It is hence worthy noting that due to the revered status of cows, they have been allowed freedom of movement that can only be equated to that of human beings. In fact they are a major cause of traffic snarl ups in some of the urban centers in India. Their droppings hence have to be collected by the street sweepers. The huge demand placed by the house wives for cow dung makes it a feasible economic commodity.