Signs and Symbols

Why are cows considered sacred in India?

Hindu tradition teaches that all living beings are sacred and inherently deserving of respect. Within that framework of reverence for nature, cows have a special place for several reasons. As far back as Vedic times, the “Mother Cow” was both source of food and material goods, and bulls and non-milking cows were the preferred sacrificial offering. When the rise of Jainism and Buddhism brought concern for non-injury to the fore, Hindu tradition began to repudiate sacrificial ritual and recommended protection for all living things. Cows still provide much in the way of food and fuel, and remind many of the all-sustaining Mother deity. Some Hindus, especially Vaishnavites, attach further meanings, since Lord Krishna was the Gopala, the Lord of Cows, whose dalliance with the Gopis (cowherd maidens) became a metaphor for the divine-human relationship. Cows are humble and ordinary and so numerous now that one wonders how people could consider them as special in any way. Perhaps it is those very qualities that so endear them to India’s Hindus, for they are ever-present reminders of the divine bounty.


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