Friday, August 1, 2014

Why Indians Worship Cows

(Rabbit rabbit rabbit!!)

My sister watched The Fluffy Movie (about Gabriel Iglesias and his comedy) a few days ago and she was telling me about one part in the movie that rattled her up. We both love Gabriel, think he's hilarious, one of our favorite comedians. Apparently, in the movie, Gabriel was talking about how he asked someone why Indians worship cows and that the answer in return involved something about karma and how the 'good' people are reincarnated into cows in their next lives; to kill them is to kill the soul, etc.

That's pretty much wrong. And it's being shown all over the world.

So, although I love Gabriel (I do!) I thought it's a great time for a pop Hindu culture lesson!

Now, I can't say that Gabriel is wrong; one of the tenets of Hinduism is that the approach to God centers on the self. An individual approach, if you will. Basically, whatever makes you one with God is fine as long as it doesn't harm others. There is no absolute right, there is no absolute wrong (look up the Mahabharata and the Gita for that). So while there's no proof behind Gabriel's ideas, if the person who told Gabriel this explanation believes it, well, it's true for him.

But, in the majority, Hindus don't 'worship' cows! Cows are sacred and revered. Yes, sometimes they're 'worshiped' in the same manner as idols are. This is so hard to explain....Hindus believe the world itself is sacred. The world is made up of God; God exists in every speck, everything and every nothing. God is all-encompassing, after all: of form and yet without form. So while cows are revered, so are trees, animals, nature, the sky, every human, every thing.

Yet it's a good question, because there's no doubt that cows are revered more than other creations. The reason for this is that in India, cows became the staple for living. The cow gives milk, labor, even fuel and pavement from their dung, all in exchange for very little maintenance: grass and water. For me, cows are revered because I drink their milk. The only other person I've ever taken milk from was my mother, and because the cow gives milk and much more while asking basically nothing in return (like a mother), the cow is seen as a mother figure.

Now, in Hinduism, mothers and fathers are akin to God. Let me make this very, very clear that they are not God unless you mean to say God exists within them, like God does in all things. Depending on whom you ask, Hinduism is either a polytheistic or monotheistic religion. Strictly speaking, it is monotheistic (surprise!) and the gods are simply byproducts of humans trying to categorize or humanize the infinite characteristics of the all-encompassing God (or Brahman). So our parents aren't God but are revered because of their selflessness, compassion, loving, and sacrifice. It's the reason it is said, 'Think of your mother and father like God.' Not because they are God, but they should be respected like God is. Matricide and patricide are huge crimes in Hinduism. Don't do it. Ever. It's almost the ultimate sin to kill a person who raised you and nurtured you. Even insulting your parents is bad. It's a huge disrespect.

This reverence for the parents carries over into the cow: the cow gives milk, the mother gives milk. The child drinks both milks, and thus, both are revered. To kill or even insult a cow is to kill and insult a mother, and you simply don't do that.

Now, you may say that since God exists in all matter and creatures, why is the cow the only one that is revered and not eaten? That's a good question, and it's the reason why many Hindus and I are vegetarians. The explanation lies not in the all-encompassing aspect of God but in the intent of the human. To kill a living being with a soul (aatman) is to kill the God in those creatures. To cause as little pain as possible is the goal for many Hindus. While potatoes and vegetables and cheese do have God within them (since God is all-encompassing), these things cannot feel pain. In eating meat, the intent (however indirect) is to kill the animal, become a source of suffering for another living creature. Nature itself is revered in Hinduism: the tree that gives shade, fruit and wood, for absolutely nothing in return, the innocent birds, the wind and mountains. Everything. The cow can be seen as a symbol for it all, the maternal character of nature.

So there you have it. A very brief (I know!) and summarized (yes, summarized, it could have gone deeper!) explanation as to why Indians worship revere cows. Hopefully I cleared some misunderstandings. And of course, be warned: Hinduism is a large religion. Someone might preach something different to the above...and, due to the beauty of Hinduism, they don't have to be wrong.

I know I hinted at a lot of things that might not make sense, so please, ask questions in the comments below! Anything you want clarified? What do you think?


  1. That's so interesting! Thanks for that!

  2. Love this information! Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Interesting, SC. I definitely am not knowledgeable with this topic, so it was great to read. Thanks! :)