Lord Krishna, one of the most well known of the Hindu deities is often depicted playing his flute amongst cows and dancing Gopikas (milkmaids). He grew up as a cow herder. Krishna also goes by the names Govinda and Gopala, which literally mean “friend and protector of cows.” It is considered highly auspicious for a true devotee to feed a cow, even before eating breakfast oneself.
Throughout the Vedic scriptures there are verses which emphasize that the cow must be protected and cared for. It is considered a sin to kill a cow and eat its meat. Even today in India, there are many states in which the slaughter of cows is illegal. That is why you can find cows roaming freely all over India, even along the busy streets of Delhi and Mumbai.
Ayurveda is a big proponent of the sattvic qualities of milk and dairy products. That is why most Hindus are vegetarian, but not vegan. Fresh, organic milk, yogurt, buttermilk, paneer (homemade cheese) and ghee, are all considered highly nutritious, and an important part of the diet. Not only do these dairy products provide important protein and calcium for our tissues, but are sources of Ojas, which gives our body strength and immunity.
Besides their milk, cows also provide many practical purposes, and are considered a real blessing to the rural community. On the farm, bulls are used to plough the fields and as a means of transportation of goods. Even Lord Shiva’s trusted vehicle is Nandi- the sacred bull.
Cow dung is saved and used for fuel, as it is high in methane, and can generate heat and electricity. Many village homes are plastered with a mud/cow dung mixture, which insulates the walls and floors from extreme hot and cold temperatures. Cow dung is also rich in minerals, and makes an excellent fertilizer. There is a big organic farming movement in India to return to ancient methods of utilizing cow dung to re-mineralize the depleted soil.
In such a spiritual land as India, one can find religious ceremonies taking place at any time and any place. Spiritual “yagnas” are fire ceremonies that performed to thank the Gods and receive their blessings. Cows even play a central role in these fire yagnas or Agnihotras. Scientific research has found that the ritual of burning cow dung and ghee as fuel for these sacred fires, actually purifies the air, and has anti-pollutant and anti-radiation qualities in the environment.
Ayurveda understands that some physical and emotional health crisis can not be healed by diet and herbs alone. They need the deeper and subtler healing of these types of Vedic ritual ceremonies to clear astrological past karma. The holy cow again offers its bounty by providing the ingredients in the Panchamrit, or blessed drink, that is distributed after the ceremony. Panchamrit translates as “sacred ambrosia” or “nectar of the gods” and is made up of 5 items – milk, yogurt, ghee, honey and sugar. By drinking this sweet prasadam, one is infused with the divine energy created during the puja, and is healed.
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