Hindus don’t worship cows. We respect, honor and adore the cow. By honoring this gentle animal, who gives more than she takes, we honor all creatures. “Its large eyes, its calm, its matte skin tinted in a muted palette that runs from off-white to grey through beige and brown, its painterly silhouette with its signature hump, make it the most evolved of animals,”
To the Hindu, the cow symbolizes all other creatures. The cow is a symbol of the Earth, the nourish-er, the ever-giving, undemanding provider. The cow represents life and the sustenance of life. The cow is so generous, taking nothing but water, grass and grain. It gives and gives and gives of its milk, as does the liberated soul give of his spiritual knowledge. The cow is so vital to life, the virtual sustain-er of life, for many humans. The cow is a symbol of grace and abundance. Veneration of the cow instills in Hindus the virtues of gentleness, receptivity and connectness with nature.
In the Hindu tradition, the cow is honored, garlanded and given special feedings at festivals all over India, most importantly the annual Gopashtama festival. Demonstrating how dearly Hindus love their cows, colorful cow jewellery and clothing is sold at fairs all over the Indian countryside. From a young age, Hindu children are taught to decorate the cow with garlands, paint and ornaments. Her nature is epitomized in Kamadhenu, the divine, wish-fulfilling cow. The cow and her sacred gifts –milk and ghee in particular –are essential elements in Hindu worship, penance and rites of passage. In India, more than 3,000 institutions called Goshalas, maintained by charitable trusts, care for old and suffering cows.
By her docile, tolerant nature, the cow exemplifies the cardinal virtue of Hinduism known as ahimsa. The cow also symbolizes dignity, strength, endurance, maternity and selfless service.
The five products (pancagavya) of the cow — milk, curds, ghee butter, urine and dung — are all used in puja (worship) as well as in rites of extreme penance. The milk of the family cow nourishes children as they grow up, and cow dung (gobar) is a major source of energy for households throughout India. Cow dung is sometimes among the materials used for a tilak – a ritual mark on the forehead. Most Indians do not share the western revulsion at cow excrement, but instead consider it an earthy and useful natural product.