Hindus believe that they are blessed with not just one earthly mother but in fact five mothers. First to be revered is the deha matha – the mother who gave birth to the child physically. Next is the desa matha– the country where one has taken birth. Lord Rama speaks highly of his mother and motherland to his younger brother Lakshmana in Valmiki’s Ramayana. After the war, Lord Ram emerged victorious vanquishing Ravana and his army. Vibhishana, the virtuous brother of Ravana invited Lord Rama and the Vanara hordes to spend some time in Lanka. Lanka was a beautiful city built to perfection appealing to the senses. But even these did not pose any attraction to Lord Ram who tells his brother Janani Janmabhoomischa Swargadapi Gariyasi meaning that though Lanka was so incredibly beautiful, it did not fascinate him because mother and motherland are dearer to him than heaven itself. So the country of our birth is verily like our own beloved mother. Incidentally, the Government of Nepal has taken this verse as its national motto.
The next to be revered as a mother is Veda matha. The Vedas are our very breath; they sustain and help us in our life’s journey. Everything that is required for a Hindu from womb to tomb is codified in the Vedas. Therefore the Vedas are revered as a mother herself in Indian culture. Mother Earth, who with her patience and compassion sustains all life forms is the Bhu matha. There is an exclusive suktha called bhumi suktha in the Vedas. Matah bhumihi, putroham prithviyah meaning the earth is my mother, I am verily her son says the Atharva Veda. The Earth mother is an epitome of patience and provides us with all the essential requisites required for living. Our culture venerates the earth as bhumi matha or bhu matha and has a sloka that requires her to forgive us for we trample on her during all our waking hours.
Samudra Vasane Devi Parvata Stana Mandaley |
Vishnu Patni Namastubhyam Paada Sparsham Kshamasva Mey ||
Oh Mother Earth- you who have the ocean as your garments and mountains as your bosom, you who are the divine consort of Lord Vishnu, my salutations to you, please forgive me for placing my feet on you.
This is how we revere the earth as our mother. And finally, the Go matha is the fifth mother according to Indian traditions. The cow nourishes human beings with her milk. She is revered as a mother figure in Indian culture.
Reference in the Scriptures
The various synonyms of the word go or gau given by Vedic dictionary are Aghnya, Aditi, Usriya, Ahee, Mahee, Jagati. The sacred cow was referred to as mother or sister and stood for wealth, prosperity and auspiciousness. The Atharva Veda, 10 (10) hails the sacred cow as verily Vishnu.
The Go Suktham forms part of the Rig Veda and like all other sukthas, is an example of lyrical beauty. This hymn is attributed to Rishi Bharadwaj and it extols the virtues of the cow.
Go Suktam- Rig Veda Samhita 6(28)
Aagaavo Agmannuta Bhadramakran |
Seedantu Goshthe Ranayantvasmay |
Prajaavateeh Pururoopaa Iha Syuhu |
Indraaya Poorveerushaso Duhaanaaha|
Indro Yajvanay Prunatay Cha Shikshati |
Upedadaati Na Svam Mushaayati |
Bhooyo bhooyo rAyimidasya Vardhayan |
Abhinnay Khillay Nidadhaati Devayum |
Na Taa Nashanti Na Dabhaati Taskaraha |
Nainaa Amitro Vyathiraadadharshati |
Devaagshcha Yaabhiryajatay Dadaati Cha |
Jyogittaabhih Sachatay Gopatih Saha |
Na Taa Arvaa Renukakaato Ashnutay |
Asaggskrutatram Upayanti Taa Abhi |
Urugaayamabhayam Tasya Taa Anu |
Gaavo Martyasya Vicharanti Yajvanaha |
Gaavo Bhago Gaava Indro May Acchaat |
Gaavah Somasya Prathamasya Bhakshaha |
Imaa Yaa Gaavah Sajanaasa Indraha |
Icchaameeddhrtadaa Manasaa Chidindram |
Yooyam Gaavo Medayathaa Krusham Chit |
Ashleelam Chit Krunuthaa Supreetikam |
Bhadram Gruham Krunatha Bhadravaachaha |
Bruhado Vaya Uchyatay Sabhaasu |
Prajaavateeh Sooyavasagam Rishanteehi |
Shuddhaa Apah Suprapaane Pibanteehi |
Maavah Stena Eeshata Maadhashagmsaha |
Parivo Hetee Rudrasya Vrujyaat |
Aasu Goshoopa Pruchyataam |
Uparshabhasya Retasi |
Upendra Tava Veeryay ||
Om Shaanti Shaanti Shaantihi
[06-028] HYMN XXVIII Cows (Translation)
I. THE Kine have come and brought good fortune: let them rest in the cow-pen and be happy near us. Here let them stay prolific, many-coloured, and yield through many morns their milk for Indra.
2 Indra aids him who offers sacrifice and gifts: he takes not what is his, and gives him more thereto. Increasing ever more and ever more his wealth, he makes the pious dwell within unbroken bounds.
3 These are ne’er lost, no robber ever injures them: no evil-minded foe attempts to harass them. The master of the Kine lives many a year with these, the Cows whereby he pours his gifts and serves the Gods.
4 The charger with his dusty brow o’ertakes them not, and never to the shambles do they take their way. These Cows, the cattle of the pious worshipper, roam over widespread pasture where no danger is.
5 To me the Cows seem Bhaga, they seem Indra, they seem a portion of the first-poured Soma. These present Cows, they, O ye Indra. I long for Indra with my heart and spirit.
6 O Cows, ye fatten e’en the worn and wasted, and make the unlovely beautiful to look on. Prosper my house, ye with auspicious voices. Your power is glorified in our assemblies.
7 Crop goodly pasturage and be prolific drink pure sweet water at good drinking places. Never be thief or sinful man your matter, and may the dart of Rudra still avoid you.
8 Now let this close admixture be close intermingled with these Cows, Mixt with the Steer’s prolific flow, and, Indra, with thy hero might
Source: The Hymns of the Rigveda Translated by Ralph T. H. Griffith 2nd edition, Kotagiri (Nilgiri) 1896
In the Bhagavad Gita, lord Krishna declares in Chapter X- Vibhuti Yoga, Verse 28
ayudhanam aham vajram
dhenunam asmi kamadhuk
prajanas casmi kandarpah
sarpanam asmi vasukih
Of weapons I am the thunderbolt; among cows I am the surabhi, givers of abundant milk. Of procreators I am Kandarpa, the god of love, and of serpents I am Vasuki, the chief.
Surabhi is the divine cow. Lord Narayana praises her as the first cow to have been created in Goloka and from her sprang forth all other cows. The lord refers to her as Devi Surabhi, the presiding deity of all cows. This reference to Surabhi can be found in the Devi Bhagavatham.
Kamadhenu, emerged during the Samudra manthan or the churning of the great ocean. She is capable of fulfilling any wish even as it gets formed in the mind. She is the divine cow who lived under the care of Sage Vasishta in his ashram. She is referred to as Sabala in the Ramayana. Kamadhenu is said to inhabit the goloka according to the anushasana parva of the Mahabharata. Some texts refer to the emergence of five divine Kamadhenus from the Sacred Ocean. These were Nanda, Subhadra, Surabhi, Sushila and Bahula.
Nandini in some Puranas is referred to as the daughter of Kamadhenu. In yet other texts, Kamadhenu herself is addressed as Nandini. All these stories reinforce the belief that the cow is a sacred animal. Every cow on earth is believed to be an incarnation of the divine Kamadhenu and is revered as such.
Lord Krishna is known as Gopala or the protector of cows. The Bhagavata Purana is full of delightful episodes of Krishna at Vraja with his herd of cows. The Govardhan giri episode shows Krishna bringing not just cowherd families under the mountain to save them from the wrath of Lord Indra’s downpour but also the cows and calves of Vrindavan. Indra humbled by his act of folly gifted a cow to Krishna as a token of his atonement.
The Skandha Purana makes it clear that a man can atone for his sins and hope to have his sins forgiven by taking care and respecting cows.
Festivals associated with the cow
This popular agrarian festival is celebrated in Mathura, Brindavan and is dedicated to the worship of cows. After punishing the people of Vraja for worshipping the Govardhan Mountain with a deluge of rain and thunder, Indra was dismayed to see Bal Krishna holding the mountain as a cover for the entire population of Vraja saving them from the pouring torrents of rain. His pride humbled and realizing the divinity of Lord Krishna, Indra conceded defeat after seven long days of subjecting the cowherd populace to suffering. This day, the Karthik Shukla Paksha, corresponding to the month of November is celebrated as Gopashtami in the land of Vraja. Cows are worshipped and honored as they are the source of livelihood.
Another legend states that Lord Kṛṣṇa saved the people of Gokul from the anger of Indra during the time of Govardhana pujā by lifting the Govardhana Mountain. After that incident, a bell which was tied on the neck of Irāvata, the elephant of Indra, was gifted by Indra to Kṛṣṇa. This is mentioned in following verse,
अथोपवाह्यादायघण्टामैरावताद्गजात्। (Brahma P. 188.36 ab)
Athopavāhyādāya ghaṇṭāmairāvatād gajāt/
This is considered as the beginning of the use of a bell in worship. The bell came to be associated with auspicious Puja practices.
Govatsa Dwadashi/ Vasubharas
Diwali is celebrated as a four day festival in India. The first day’s celebration begins with Vasubāras where a Cow and a calf are worshiped on the evening of this day, i.e. on the 12th day of the second half of the Ashwin month. If a cow and a calf are not available, then an image of the same is worshipped.
In the southern state of Tamil Nadu cows and bulls are worshipped during sankranti locally known as maatu pongal.
Significance of Cow worship
The body of the cow is home to divine beings, gods and goddesses and demi gods. Worshipping the cow is equal to worshipping all the deities. Hindu holy texts equate the milk given by a cow to nectar as it nourishes and sustains human life especially in the early stages of life on earth. The ghee derived from cow’s milk is poured into the sacrificial fire and it is the best of all libations. The cow is worshipped by millions of devout Hindus in the country. The very sight of a cow first thing in the morning will confer good fortune. Cow worship is prescribed for mitigating the malefic effects of planets. Feeding a cow confers merits. The ageing cows well past their prime should be treated with respect and given safe sanctuary in gau shalas which should act as retirement homes to these gentle creatures.
Panchagavya in Sanskrit means a mixture of five products obtained from the cow. These are cowdung, urine, milk, curd and ghee. It is used as organic fertilizer in agricultural and farming operations.
The mere thought of slaughtering cows or feeding on it is repugnant and alien to our heritage. At a time when planet earth is fighting the grave danger of global warming, consuming meat is not just a religious taboo but also a monumental environmental hazard as innumerable studies have shown.