Why cows are sacred in India

(This story was recounted by Vedamurti Shri Vivek Shastri Godbole, who is the Acharya (the head Brahmin) of the Shri Krishna Yajurveda Pathshala in Satara, Maharsahstra,  India.  He comes from a lineage of 15 generations of learned practitioners of the Krishna Yajur Veda.)  We often feed cows in Vedic rituals and they are always given a great deal of respect. There is a reason why cows are sacred in India.

Photo courtesy of Pankaj Bhole
Photo of Shri Vivek Godbole.

Cows were originally born during the the Samudra Manthan – the process of the churning of the ocean by the Gods (the Devas) and the demons (the Asuras). Fourteen gems came out from the churning of the ocean.  One of the gems was the cow. A total of five cows were birthed during the Samudra Manthan.  They were known as ” Kama Dhenu” (this translates as “that which fulfills all your desires”).  When all the Gods and Goddesses saw a cow, they thought that they should dwell in each cow’s body in their subtle forms. They approached Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe, with their request. He gave them permission to enter the cow’s body.

Lords Surya and Chandra (the Sun and the Moon) went into her eyes. Lord Rudra (the fierce form of Lord Shiva) came into her forehead. Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of speech, came to her breath. Lord Indra entered her back. Lord Agni went to her stomach region.The four Vedas each inhabited one of her udders. Many other deities each went into a single hair on her body.

Two divine deities were delayed in securing a position in the cow’s body.  They were the River Ganga and Goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of prosperity). They both asked Lord Brahma for their own place in the cow’s body. But, Lord Brahma replied,  “There are no vacant sites remaining now. She is full.” But both Ganga and Lakshmi kept pleading with Brahma.  Finally, Brahma relented and said, “There are only two places which are vacant: in the cow’s urine and dung. Subsequently, Ganga entered into the cow’s urine and Goddess Lakshmi occupied the dung.

That’s why cow’s urine is considered so important in Ayurveda and cow dung is very precious in Vedic yajnas (fire ceremonies). When we offer food to a cow, it reaches the Gods, Goddesses, and ancestors. We must always feed cows, protect cows. and make donations for the care and protection of cows.  By worshiping cows, especially during Pitru Paksha, our ancestors will definitely be satisfied.  This is why cows are sacred in India.

We have a goshala at Shri Krishna Yajurveda Pathashala, where we keep a number of cows and take very good care of them.