Posted by: rotarytrek | January 22, 2010

“…. and that is the beauty of cow dung”

25 days have elapsed since I arrived in India, and after hearing the above quote from my host today I do think it is time for a word or two on the widely known and perhaps one of the most bewildering aspects of the Indian culture to the Westerner -the sacred cow. My prior knowledge of the sanctity of the bovine was fairly limited: Hindus do not eat cows because they believe we are reincarnated and in our most advanced stage of this perpetual cycle is to end up as a cud-chewing, fly-swatting, four-legged cow. I am not sure I have gained much more insight into the origin of the cow-worship, or veracity of my over-simplified explanation, but cows definitely hold a distinct place of reverence in the heart of India.

Cows, like people in India, are ubiquitous, and much like the vehicles with which they share the road, India’s cows are colorful. Almost all have brightly painted orange horns, but I have even seen the occasional blue cow and several with painted hooves. Most cows roam alone or in pairs, often loafing along the side of the road picking through trash and rotting vegetables, but they are also put to work pulling plows or carts (in which I have the unique honor of being a passenger of… twice). Cattle are a measure of prestige; I had one host who expressed the wealth of his temple by the number of cattle it owned (3,000). I have also been told the cow’s stomachs is where more than 30 Crore. (30,000,000) gods call home.

Yet above all I believe cows are revered for their usefulness. Indians have an affinity for anything multipurpose. Coconuts are a common welcoming gift as the meat, water, hull, and fronds, can all be either consumed or used in household items. Indians tout the value of cow’s strength (farming), appetite (street cleaner), and excrements (milk, dung, and even urine).

Milk is the most common and immediate visible use of the cows. Indians drink milk…. A LOT of milk. Tea and coffee are really just warm glasses of sugared milk with a hint of spice. Every dessert I have tasted in India had its origin in milk (generally powdered) and all good Indian dishes start with a healthy ladle of homemade ghee (butter made from fresh milk). The milkman delivers milk each day, and the short shelf life ensures a heavy pour from the pot. (The milk is generally boiled before serving). Yet apart from milk the cow dung and yes even urine are profoundly important. The dung serves as fertilizer, fuel, and building materials. I learned today from my host that only houses that survived Chernobyl were those lacquered with cow dung. I was also informed cattle urine doubles as an all-purpose disinfectant, insecticide, and fungicide –perhaps this explains the aroma in the public restrooms…

It is very obvious that the cow is worth more to an India alive than dead; I suppose this is why leather and beef are noticeably absent from the list of useful purposes for the cow. Whatever the actual origin and true belief in the cow, it is obvious this creature is more valuable alive to the Indian alive than a la’ oscar. Word to the wise: -if you are unlucky enough to ram your car into a regal animal that takes a wrong step, keep driving. For unlike running down a human, killing a cow is a billable offence by Indian law



  1. Beautiful…

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