100 Days in India Project

Varanasi Cows

4/ 100 Varanasi Cows

Cows, cows, everywhere. In Varanasi, literally everywhere.

Outside, inside, day and night you are very likely to bump into a cow in Varanasi, and many of the other places we visited in India. They reminded me of enormous dogs, laying close to fires at night to keep warm, popping their giant mischievous heads into cafes to swipe a chapati and enjoying a bit of a tickle on their heads if you had the time. In fact they seemed to spend a lot of their time with the feral dogs that hung about the streets and I wondered whether even the dogs or the cows thought that they were different from one another.

For the Hindu people cows are considered to be sacred. This passage from the National Hindu Student’s Forum explains it well:

“To the Hindu, the cow symbolizes all other creatures. The cow is a symbol of the Earth, the nourisher, the ever-giving, undemanding provider. The cow represents life and the sustenance of life. The cow is so generous, taking nothing but water, grass and grain. It gives and gives and gives of its milk, as does the liberated soul give of his spiritual knowledge. The cow is so vital to life, the virtual sustainer of life, for many humans. The cow is a symbol of grace and abundance. Veneration of the cow instils in Hindus the virtues of gentleness, receptivity and connectedness with nature.”

This sounds wonderful, however many of the cows are actually males that have been left to roam the streets because you can’t milk them –and you certainly can’t eat them – and, therefore, they have limited use. Nobody wants to feed an animal when you aren’t going to get anything back in return. These unwanted young male calves are booted out of their homes and into the street where they make a meagre living eating scraps of almost anything even remotely edible, including the garlands of flowers that didn’t quite burn properly on the smouldering ashes of human remains on the cremation ghats.