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Beef Controversy: Hinduism and Cow

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By Nithin Sridhar

An Analysis of Hindu Symbols and Practices: Part 3

India has witnessed a continued controversy over ‘beef’ and ‘cow-slaughter’ in the last few months. The latest incident that added to the controversy was the Delhi Police inspection of the Kerala House in Delhi after receiving complaints about beef being served there. Many Kerala MPs and political workers protested against this inspection terming it as “an attack on the federal structure of Indian constitution.

Few days back, an Independent lawmaker of Jammu & Kashmir, Engineer Rashid was attacked with ink for hosting beef party in protest of the beef ban in the state. The ghastly Dadri lynching happened over rumors about killing and consumption of cow. Previously, there was a great uproar over meat ban in Maharashtra during the Jain festival of Paryushana.

In each of these incidents, there has been a massive outrage that not only spoke about the rights of people to have freedom to decide what to eat (which is absolutely right), but also in a sense celebrated the people’s right to kill animals in general, and cows in particular.

The discourse that has been created around the controversy of beef tries to uphold beef consumption as a virtue, and the concerns for cow protection as vice and communal; the celebration of violence as virtue, and adherence to ahimsa as vice.

Further, there have been attempts to justify beef consumption and hence the massive cow slaughter (much of it illegal) that is being carried out, by claiming how beef-consumption was extensively practiced by Hindu ancestors and hence current opposition to beef consumption amounts to hypocrisy.

Therefore, it becomes vital to not only counter the narrative of violence that is being promoted in the name of ‘rights’, but also to set the record straight regarding the status of the cow in Hindu religion and history.

Hence, let us first take up the issue of the position of cows in Hinduism.

It has been argued by various scholars that the cow was not considered ‘holy’ in the Vedic period and they were frequently sacrificed and consumed during those periods. They point towards various verses present in Veda Samhitas, Brahmanas, Manu Smriti and other Dharma-Shastras to paint the Hindu ancestors as beef and meat consumers who upheld and celebrated beef consumption.

At the same time, they tend to either ignore or brush aside those references in the Hindu scriptures that speak about Ahimsa and cow protection. They further try to portray cow-slaughter and beef consumption as a central philosophy and practice of Hinduism.

Before proceeding to examine some of the major arguments given in support of prevalence of massive beef consumption, let us first briefly deal with the Hindu view of cow.

Hindu view of Cow

To properly understand the Hindu perception of Cow, one should first understand how Hindus perceive the environment. The Isha Upanishad (verse 1) considers the entire universe with all its objects as being inhabited by God. Similarly, Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita (10.20) says, that he is seated in the hearts of all creatures. Thus, Hindus do not view environment as consisting lifeless objects and inferior life forms that exist so that humans can conquer and exploit them.

Instead, the Hindu view of environment is “deeply rooted in the understanding that the trees, the animals, the air, the water, the land and every other object in nature are permeated by divinity, and hence they are all worthy of our love, respect, and preservation.”

Thus, we call earth as ‘Mother earth’; we believe that Lord Vishnu manifested as fish, tortoise, or as a boar; and our Gods are always associated with animals which serve as their vahanas (vehicles). Among all the animals, cows hold a special place in the heart and psyche of Hindus.

A cow is not only perceived as an animal that is extremely useful from economic perspective, it is also considered as a mother who loves and nourishes the entire family with whom she lives.

This sentiment has been beautifully brought out in the words of Mahatma Gandhi who says: “Mother Cow is in many ways better than the mother who gave us birth. Our mother gives us milk for a couple of years and then expects us to serve her when we grow up. Mother cow expects from us nothing but grass and grain. Our mother often falls ill and expects service from us. Mother cow rarely falls ill.”

Though it is true that the Cow was central to agricultural society, and hence she was given high place, but this in itself does not capture the entire understanding of the Hindus.

Hindus recognize the Cow as the most Sattvic (pure/innocent) of all animals. She is particularly loved and respected for her attitude of love, selflessness, innocence, and loyalty. For this reason, Atharva-Veda (3.30.1) says that people should love one another as cow loves its calf. The popular story of the Punyakoti further brings out all these characteristics of a cow in a beautiful manner.

Photo: srimadhvyasa.wordpress.com
Photo: srimadhvyasa.wordpress.com

Cow in Hindu scriptures

While describing the motherly aspect of the cows, Rig-Veda (6.28.1-8) calls them as ‘bringers of fortune’ whose milk can be fed to Gods in sacrifice and also to the guests. The mantras further say that the cows should be kept happy and should be protected from any injury or harassment or theft.

At another place, Rig-Veda says: “May the cow eats best of the grass, may she be blessed, and by her may we also be blessed with wealth. O inviolable cow, ever feed on grass, and come back and drink water.” (Verse 1.164.40)

These verses reveal that the cows are to be treated with love and respect and they must be provided with freedom and protection from harm. People should make attempts at giving happiness to the cows, in the same way in which cows provide happiness and wealth to us.

In the Itihasas and the Puranas, Kamadhenu– the divine cow is portrayed as an abode of various Gods and as a wish-fulfilling cow. The name ‘wish-fulfilling’ not only points towards how nourishing cows resulted in economic prosperity, but it also points towards how nourishing them was considered a Dharmic act leading to Dharmic wealth as well. Hence, the cows which are earthly manifestations of the Divine Kamadhenu are all considered as the abode of material and spiritual prosperity. Thus, the Atharva-Veda (11.1.34) calls cows as the home of all bounties.

Further, Lord Krishna in Bhagavad-Gita (10.28) says that, among the cows he is the Kamadhenu. Similarly, Rigveda (6.28-1-8) equates cows with Lord Bhaga and Lord Indra.

These clearly establishes the sacredness of the cow. Therefore, contrary to the claims of certain scholars, cows are indeed considered as holy and as manifestations of divine, which are worthy of love, reverence, and worship in Hinduism.

It is this sacredness of the cow and its ability to grant prosperity to the people that has made Vedas to refer to cow as ‘aghnya’– one which should not be killed. The Vedic lexicon Nighantu further gives two synonyms for cow- ‘ahi’ and ‘aditi’ that means ‘not to be killed’ and ‘not to be cut into pieces’ respectively.

Regarding, why cow is called ‘aghnya’ that which should not be slayed, Shukla Yajur-Veda (13.43) says: “harm not the cow which is pure and illustrious.” The same Veda further says (13.49): “harm not the cow which gives ghee.” Reiterating this, we find Mahabharata (Shanti Parva 262.47) as saying: “The very name of the cow is ‘aghnya’- that which must not be slaughtered. Hence, who can slay them? Those who kill a cow or a bull commit a most heinous crime.”

We find further references in the Vedas themselves, wherein it is explicitly stated that cows and bulls are not to be slayed (Rig-Veda -8.101.15) or that those who harm cows must be punished (Rig-Veda– 10.87.16). Manu Smriti (4.162) reiterates such instructions as well.

Thus, it is clear that in the Hindu world view, cows are sacred, pure, and manifestations of divine.

But, their Sattva has also made them defenseless. Therefore, to provide protection for such innocent defenseless animals, the Hindu scriptures have not only instructed people to not cause harm to them, but also to protect them. This can be understood as the ultimate expression of Ahimsa (non-injury).

With this background, let us try to understand how this fits with assertions of use of cow meat during Yajnas, Shraddhas and Madhuparkas that can be seen in some Hindu scriptures in the next part.

More under Beef Controversy:

Part 4: Yajna, Madhuparka, and the use of beef

Part 5: Origins of beef consumption in India

Part 6: Beef Controversy: Beef parties and the celebration of violence

More under Hindu Symbols and Practices:

Part 1: The practice of Idol Worship

Part 2- Fallacies in Criticism of Idol Worship

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Spiritual Ideas Sore At The World Hindu Congress

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new -- when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.

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Hinduism
Government invites entries for first National CSR Awards VOA

At its best, speeches at the recently concluded World Hindu Congress echoed the soaring spiritual ideals evoked by Swami Vivekananda in Chicago 125 years ago.

Even Mohan Bhagwat, Sarsangchanalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), focused essentially on the need for unity and patience among Hindus while fighting obstacles, of which, he said, there would be many. The burden of excavating implied accusations in Bhagwat’s speech fell to his critics.

At the plenary session, the moderator requested speakers to address issues of conflict without naming the speakers or their organisations in the interest of harmony. Other speakers sought to unite the followers of all the great religions that took birth in India — Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism.

Some of the speakers from Bhagwat to Swami Swaroopananda of the Chinmaya Mission, framed the issues before Hinduism in a moral paradigm. Ashwin Adhin, the Vice President of the Republic of Suriname, began his speech in chaste Hindi, later quoting cognitive scientist George Lakoff: “Facts matter immensely. But to be meaningful they have to be framed in terms of their moral importance.”

Hinduism
Buddhism relates sins to the characteristics one adopts. Pixabay

The dissonances, between the spiritual and the mundane, were to emerge later on the fringes of the seminars which were part of the Congress. Many of the delegates appropriated to themselves the mantle of a culture besieged by proselytising faiths. There were speakers who urged Hindus to have more children to combat their ‘dwindling population’. Posters warned Hindus of the dangers from ‘love jihad’ (Muslim men ‘enticing’ Hindu women).

In one of the sessions on the media, filmmaker Amit Khanna noted that religion had always played a prominent part in Indian cinema, starting with the earliest mythologicals. “Raja Harishchandra”, the first silent film, he said, was made by Dadasaheb Phalke in 1913. He sought to reassure the audience on the future of Hinduism. “Over 80 percent of Indians are Hindus,” he said adding: “Hinduism has survived many upheavals for thousands of years. Hinduism has never been endangered.”

Other speakers, lacking spiritual and academic pedigrees, drew on an arsenal of simulated anguish and simmering indignation.

The nuances of history pass lightly over the ferociously devout and it took little effort to pander to an aggravated sense of historical aggrievement.

Hinduism
Swami Vivekananda used to stress upon the universal brotherhood and self-awakening. Wikimedia Commons

At one of the debates, the mere mention of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, elicited sniggers and boos. The speaker hinted at ‘Nehruvian socialism’ which had made the Indian economy a non-starter. He concluded with a coup de grace, to a standing ovation: “Nehru did not like anything Indian.”

The poet Rabindranath Tagore, who composed the Indian national anthem, had spoken of his vision of a country where the “clear stream of reason had not lost its way”. At some of the discussions, even the most indulgent observer would have been hard put to discern the stream of reason.

The image of a once great civilisation suppressed by a century of British rule and repeated plunder by invaders captured the imagination of many in the audience. Hanging above it all, like a disembodied spirit, was the so-called malfeasance of Nehru, the leader who had won the trust of Hindus only to betray them in the vilest manner.

These tortured souls would have been well advised to adopt a more holistic approach to Hinduism, and history, looking no further than Swami Vivekananda, who once said: “The singleness of attachment (Nishtha) to a loved object, without which no genuine love can grow, is very often also the cause of denunciation of everything else.”

Hinduism
The Hindu population in Pakistan is about 1.8% according to the 2018 census, 0.2% more than that of the 1998 and the 1951 figures.

Historians have informed us that Nehru preferred his father’s intellect over his mother’s tradition but he was never contemptuous of religion. While he undoubtedly felt that organised religion had its flaws, he opined that it supplied a deeply felt inner need of human nature while also giving a set of values to human life.

In private conversations some delegates spoke of how their America-born children had helped persuade them to drop their pathological aversion to gays and lesbians. Despite their acute wariness of perceived cultural subjugation, the irony was obviously lost on them that Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code,(which criminalises gay sex) recently overturned by the Indian Supreme Court, is a hangover from the Victorian British era-embodied in the Buggery Act of 1533.

In the face of the upcoming elections in the US, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi’s decision to speak at the conference was a political risk. With a newly energised political Left, even the perception of being linked with “fascist” or sectarian forces could be political suicide in the critical November elections. Despite vociferous appeals to disassociate himself from the Congress, Krishnamoorthi chose to attend.

“I decided I had to be here because I wanted to reaffirm the highest and only form of Hinduism that I have ever known and been taught — namely one that welcomes all people, embraces all people, and accepts all people, regardless of their faith. I reject all other forms. In short, I reaffirm the teaching of Swami Vivekananda,” Krishnamoorthi said.

Given the almost pervasive abhorrence of anything remotely Nehruvian among a section of the delegates, it was a revelation to hear the opinion of Dattatrey Hosable, the joint general secretary and second-in-command in the RSS hierarchy. Speaking on the promise of a newly-resurgent India, Hosable said in an interview to Mayank Chhaya, a local journalist-author-filmmaker: “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new — when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”

Also Read: Triple Talaq Now Banned in India

The quote is from Nehru’s famous Tryst with Destiny speech delivered to the Indian Constituent Assembly on the midnight of August 14, 1947 — proof, if any is needed, that the force of Nehru’s ideas can transcend one’s disdain of him. (IANS)