Saving the Planet One Cow Dung at a Time
Saving the Planet One Cow Dung at a Time
Part 1- Cow Products and Opening the Mind
For technical reasons some links lead to pictures above titles. Just scroll downwards a little bit.
Feeding free-roaming cows is a celebrated act in Hinduism
I got carried away by this fascinating topic.
My original intent was to write a short, simple post about cow dung collection by Indian rural ladies, and its environmental benefits. Since cow dung accumulates just about everywhere – on city streets, country roads, paths and trails – I posted it originally under the umbrella topic of India’s Garbage Problem and “Who Cleans India?”, but it went way beyond that.
As I got into the topic, I wanted to find out if this work, carried out exclusively by women, is considered holy work or dirt (shit) work, and about its global impact.
The subject matter expanded and sent offshoots, and I got around to investigate sacred cows, women’s status, Motherhood, the Israeli/Indian interphase, agriculture in India, local customs, and more.
As a result, I ended up dividing this theme into two posts.
To start, though, I felt compelled to write a few words and exhibit a few grand photos of the cows themselves, then explain a bit about “cow products” and Motherhood, and from here to there, I got carried away into some inter-cultural issues…
Cows in India Have a Special Aura
These cows are not the typical dumb-looking milk factories you see in Israeli dairies, that make you feel so sorry for them and so guilty for eating chocolate.
They walk around with Dignity!
I took lots of pictures. This is a small sample from the holy city of Pushkar, Rajasthan, where I saw some very impressive specimens:
Venerated for thousands of years, these bovines may sit in the middle of a crowded highway or street, and everybody will drive/walk around them.
We are in the Realm of the Sacred Here
Speaking Hinduism, the cow is a goddess. Not only is She a goddess – She contains within herself all the other gods! All the gods are said to reside within Kamadhenu, the cow divinity which gives her owner all prosperity and wealth. Her four legs are the Vedas; her horns are Brahma, the creator (tip), Vishnu, the maintainer (body) and Shiva, the destroyer (base); her shoulders host the fire god Agni and the wind god Vaya; her eyes are the sun and moon gods, and her legs the Himalayas.
33 million gods in one cow…
According to some interpretations of the scriptures, the number of the gods inside Kamadhenu is actually 33 million. Others say there are only 33 types of divinities and this is a misreading of scriptures, but most people if asked will talk about millions of gods in the cow. Others say, it is not just in cows, but in you and me… But Hindus don’t go to wars over such theological questions. They might not even take this literally, or mind one way or the other.
Still, the sacredness of the cow is a fact of life.
If the number of gods in Hinduism sounds mind-boggling, Pandit Dasa, a meditation and mindfulness teacher residing in New York, presents it in a different light, perhaps easier to comprehend. In a Huffpost article, he compares the material universe to a big governmental structure with heads of departments managing their respective affairs. These demigods can grace humanity with certain boons and that’s why so many people pray to them. The way it’s explained is that in order to keep the universe running, Krishna, the supreme being, [never mind it’s Brahma or Shiva in other contexts. OA] has put into place individuals who “oversee” different parts of the material universe. These are the demi-gods.
The cow, it is therefore believed, bestows countless blessings upon the Indian nation. She is wish-fulfilling, and a house with a cow is blessed, since she provides not just for her own calf but to all those who surround her.
And, indeed, in the majority of guesthouses and in all the private houses where I was lucky to stay, there was a cow. Invariably the older woman in the house was in charge of taking care of her – walking her to pasture, milking, feeding, etc.
The Benevolent Mother...
The divinity of cows is mentioned in one of the earliest Hindu sacred texts, the Rig-Veda. The Rig-Veda confers the suffix “matha” to five beings on earth because of the high reverence with which they should be treated.
1) Deha-Maatha (one’s own mother who gave birth to your body)
2) Go-maatha (Cow)
3) Bhu-maatha (The earth)
4) Jagan-maatha (Goddess Shakti, the creator of this world)
5) Veda-maatha (The Vedas)
So here Shakti is the creator or the world. According to Pandit Dasa (above) it is Krishna. We heard about Brahman, which is the above and beyond. None of this matters to the devout Hindu, and it is not critical. Everything goes. What matters is who you, your family, perhaps your town or village, choose to worship.
Serving us in life and death
All parts of the cow, alive or dead, are used. Mahatma Ghandi said: Mother cow is as useful dead as when she is alive. We can make use of every part of her body – her flesh, her bones, her intestines, her horns and her skin.
He also said: 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…
Pretty stunning. Or perhaps not.
A female researcher has a different vista:
Cows occupy a vital position in women’s daily lives: they are simultaneously perceived as children of the family, demanding constant care, and as mothers because they give milk and nourish the human family.
And, talking about “grass and grain”, I saw women working very hard to obtain this grass as in the video below.
Plus, hey, mothers, how long do we take care of our children in one way or another before they take care of us???
Hindu society is lacto-vegetarian. Butter, milk, ghee, paneer, curd (yogurt), kheer (yummi…) and more, are an integral part of the Indian diet and cuisine. Since society is mostly vegetarian, cow milk products are essential for the diet, and hence, for the health of society.
Before any religious function, a rural house is purified with cow dung. Women smear the maindoor of their houses with cow dung. That act brings Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, to reside in their houses. Cow dung is used to disinfect the floors, to clear the air and repeal mosquitoes. It is used for sacred sacrificial fire ceremonies (havan). Mixed with lime, it is applied to walls and floors of cob houses, because of its believed capacity to absorb malignant energies. It is also useful as insulant, to cool the house in summer and keep it warm in winter..
In addition, cow’s urine is supposed to have beneficial medicinal qualities and cure ilnesses from obesity and liver disease to cancer. Some people drink it on a daily basis.
, Civil Engineer at Municipal Corporation, Indore, writes on Quora that drinking cow urine, known as Gau Mutra “helps the human body fight hundreds of diseases and increase immunity.” It can cure diabetes, blood pressure, asthma, psoriasis, eczema, heart attack, blockage in arteries, fits, cancer, aids, piles, prostrate, arthritis, migraine, thyroid, ulcer, acidity, constipation, gynecological problems, ear and nose problems, abortion and several other diseases. It also stops the ageing process.
In the following post on
I concentrate on the status of women, their role in agriculture in general and in dung work in particular, and about how it is perceived.
In the appendix below, I take a little detour into the Indian-Israeli interphase in the context of the cow cult, and end with a plea to all of us to open our minds!
A New Reality for Israeli Reality Stars...
I am inserting this story here because of the cow element, but also as a contribution to my interest subject,”The Israeli Phenomenon in India“.
In 2014, Israel’s Yes Comedy channel inagurated an innovative reality series, “Bollywood“.
Five known celebrities of medium notoriety and two young girls with no previous record, but with some ambition, were competing for an award – a 3-year contract in the Indian film capital. The participants came with a view to learn Bollywood-style acting, singing, dancing, to compete among themselves and advance their careers. Most had meager knowledge about the country they came to, but we know that no previous knowledge can prepare one for a cultural shock anyway.
A double blessing
On their second day of arrival, they already underwent such a shock!
By then they were comfortably settled into classicaly-styled rooms in a high-end hotel in Mumbai. Ready for the day’s activities they were in for a surprise, as a beautifully-adorned white cow was walked into the lobby. The participants were told that a cow urinating in the house was a blessing and a good sign. As she moved around the rooms, though, with (almost) everybody freaking out, she decided it was time to give the house, and each separate room, a double blessing…
The Indian village and the Israeli ma’abarot
In another episode, the participants are brought to a village. A man is applying cow dung to the walls of his house. Coordinators encourage participants to join, but only one of the Israelis volunteers.
I am preparing a post regarding India and the Israeli Ma’abarot.
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Urgently Needed - An Open Mind
Cultural ignorance and a lack of openess can lead to misunderstandings, and to people feeling offended, even if everybody has good will. The choice of some of the participants was not the greatest perhaps, but to their credit, as time went on, most of them softened up and behaved more considerately to each other and to the Indian staff.
The two young girls, in particular, matured fast, and their best sides shone as the program proceeded – caring, funny, emphatic. Even their artistic abilities improved notably. Later in the show, they fell in love with two cute baby goats they saw in the market, and adopted them for a while…
Opening the mind in a rapidly shrinking world
Still, one can easily see from the video how bizzare the cow cult seems to people coming from another culture. As the world gets smaller, we all need to urgently open our minds! But opening the mind requires acquaintance, knowledge, a bit of courage sometimes.
In the intro to my North-American trip, I propose that travelling is a prime way to do that.
Importantly, there’s no need to give up on one’s own identity, culture, upbringing, religion, etc., just to accept that things can be different. Sometimes VASTLY different. In other words, you don’t need to drink cow’s urine, but gracefully accept the fact that some people do.
And besides, some of the Jewish religious customs could look pretty bizarre to an outsider (including to most Israelis). Tearing toilet paper on Friday in order to avoid performing this “work” on Shabbat? Seriously? Swinging a chicken overhead to get rid of our sins on Yom Kippur?
The Hindus know a lot about health. Many westerners practice yoga and use Ayurveda for improved health. Maybe there are, indeed, benefits for these cow “products”… The jury might verily still be out…