In a story written by Munshi Premchand, an Indian peasant has to sell his cow, his sole possession, for money. In spite of financial hardship, he sells it to a Hindu at a lower price, not to a butcher. It appears true that if God gave cows a choice, they would choose to be brought up in a Hindu household or shelter. Even if they end up with a poor cowherd in India and have to sustain on leftover food, they would still die a natural death.
Besides compassion for all beings and support for vegetarianism, numerous devotional and cultural factors add to the reverence of Hindus for cows. Some of them are given below.
- Cows symbolize piousness and auspiciousness in Hinduism.
- Because cows are associated with Lord Krishna (known as Gopala) and Lord Shiva (known as Vrishabharudha) in the Epics and Puranas, respect for cows is linked to one’s devotion for Krishna and Shiva.
- Supporting cows is said to increase prosperity in homes by attracting the blessings of Goddess Lakshmi.
- Dairy products are offered in temples as prasadam and are used in fire sacrifices.
- As Mahatma Gandhi tells us, cow protection means protection of the “helpless and weak in the world.”
- Following the tradition set by Krishna, many Hindus see a cow as a mother.
- Many Vaishnavas would love to reach Goloka (“the planet of cows”) — the abode of Sri Krishna, where he lives with his devotees and divine cows.
- Killing a cow is ranked among the worst karma in Hinduism.
- While cows provide nutrition through their milk, their dung is a fertilizer and gomutra has medicinal value in Ayurveda.
- In Vedic Astrology, offering food to cows can propitiate afflicted planets in a chart.
“Hindus will be judged not by their tilaks, not by the correct chanting of mantras, not by their pilgrimages, not by their most punctilious observances of caste rules but by their ability to protect the cow.” — Mahatma Gandhi