And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image
made like to corruptible man,
and to birds,
and fourfooted beasts,
and creeping things.
"THE QUESTION: What’s the background on Hinduism’s belief in “sacred cows”?
Press reports from India say street vigilantes and the government in Uttar Pradesh state
are campaigning against Muslim slaughterhouses accused of processing cows, which is illegal, instead of buffaloes, which is allowed and constitutes a large industry. In Gujarat state, meanwhile, the maximum punishment for killing a cow has been increased from seven years to life in prison.
India is offically non-sectarian but has a lopsided Hindu majority, and the current national government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is Hindu nationalist in character. Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat till 2014. The BJP recently won a lrge victory in Uttar Pradesh elections and installed strong-willed Hindu sage Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister. In BJP-ruled Rajasthan state, the cabinet includes a minister for cows.
Religious historian Bruce Lincoln of the University of Chicago, among other experts, wrote that the roots of cow veneration are “considerably older” than Hinduism’s broad commitment to the principle of ahimsa (non-violence) and corresponding regard for all animals.
In the early second millennium B.C., hymns collected in the Rig Veda upheld cows as “beings not to be killed.” Lincoln considered it likely that cow protection was formulated out of “the symbolic, sentimental, and socio-economic importance of the cow as the source of both milk and new bovine life.” Only later did the cow also emerge as “the foremost example” of observing ahimsa.
A revered ancient sage, Vasishtha, said “cows are the mothers of both the past and the future. Cows have become the refuge of the world. It is for this that cows are said to be highly blessed, sacred, and the foremost of all things” as well as “productive of blessing and destruction of misery of every kind.” He advocated that believers bow with reverence to cows each morning, and bathe in water mixed with cow dung to achieve sanctification.
Centuries ago, cow veneration became a source of Hindus’ ethnic solidarity and identity over against Muslim invaders, laying the basis for 21st Century enmity. Mohandas Gandhi, the inspiration of India’s 20th Century independence, wrote that “cow protection is to me one of the most wonderful phenomena in human evolution. It takes the human being beyond his species. The cow to me means the entire sub-human world. Man through the cow is enjoined to realize his identity with all that lives. . . She is the mother to millions.”
In addition, “The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions” notes that the cow’s five products — milk, curds, ghee (clarified butter), dung, and urine — are all used in various worship rites."