Why are cows holy in India?

When people from abroad think of India, they easily imagine cows roaming around free, both in the country side and in the cities. No wonder they are wanted subject of photographs for tourists and travelers wanting to catch a little bit of India’s essence in a shot.

The reason cows are left at their own will is because they are holy.

But, why are cows holy in India?

Actually, they are not holy “in India”, but in Hinduism. Other religions also present in India (even if in minority when compared to Hinduism) do not share the same feelings for cows. In fact, particularly in the south, you’ll find the odd place serving beef.

Hindus wouldn’t eat a cow. They believe that cows are holy because they are a great resource and, therefore, shouldn’t be killed just for the sake of food. As they give milk, they are a constant great resource for human nutrition.

But this doesn’t mean cows are just chilling all day, because they are actually used to pull carts and they work – another thing that makes this animal so resourceful and, therefore, cherished. Even cow dung gets to be used in house building or, in its dry form, as fuel for cooking. Cow leather is also accepted, but only after the animal dies naturally.

But let’s not mix things… cows are considered holy, but this doesn’t mean they are worshipped. If they were, you wouldn’t see them skinny and eating from the trash in the cities they like do.

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  • Belle Says

    Again, I just commented on your previous post about Turkey & India and found your comments on the holiness of cow’s quite interesting! Hindu’s believe the cow’s to be so holy, yet they treat them horribly, in fact, I’m sure this is a tale of bad Karma, but once when I was on a train in India the train actually ran over a cow causing us to be delayed for many hours, i’m not sure what the repurcussions for the train driver were, but i’m sure he or she believes they are in for some bad Karma in their next life! If you love India, you should read the book Holy Cow, an Indian Adventure! It will make you laugh, smile and relate in so many ways!

    • Zara Says

      Hey Belle!
      I have actually read Holy Cow, the book.. quite funny! ;)
      The way cows are treated in India is indeed weird.. holy on one hand, eating plastic and dying on the other. I guess in a place where there’s many people in need too, no one’s going to take that good care of cows.. whether they’re [theoretically] holy or not. Each man on its own… each cow on its own too, I suppose.

      • Prasad Says


        The apathetic treatment of cows in India is mostly an urban phenomenon, where people don’t have time for anything except their job and fun, you know. I hail from a small city in India, but even there, when a cow roams around the neighbourhood, we offer it something to eat, like a banana or two. The local dairy cows usually wait at the gate sometimes to see if someone offers them food. Many families do offer them food. As for making them work, it’s actually the bulls and oxen that work in the fields, not the cows. And they are taken care of, humanely. The religion teaches people to treat cow as your mother and bull/ox as your father due to their roles in human lives (like the mother nourishes and the father works to feed the family) and due to the kind of animals they are (very affectionate and loving). They are like part of the family, like the West treats dogs. Now you don’t eat your family or mistreat them, right?

    • Irina Says

      Yep, Holy Cow is a good book! I haven’t been to India yet, but the descriptions were very vivid.

  • Chandler Says

    You are right, on one hand cows are being treated like no one care about them and on the other they consider them holy, its weird. I am in India right now and I can see many cows and calves running on the main roads, sitting on the streets and causing traffic jam. I have seen people putting red dot on cow’s head, it seemed like people were worshiping cows.

  • I heard that an avatar of a hindu god was once turned into a cow and they never found out which cow it was, therefore, they don’t take any chance and avoid killing them… I have no idea if it’s true or pure invention, but I kinda loved the story! :)

    • Zara Says

      The story is indeed charming… but then, why are some cows exploited for work?! Would that mean that a hindu god could be getting exploited?! Man, Hindu mythology is very rich and intense!.. ;)

  • Irina Says

    So do these cows roaming the street actually belong to someone? I’ve heard they are supposed to be milked regularly for health reasons. And if so, someone must have been doing it.

    • Zara Says

      No, I don’t think they belong to anyone as such. And I’ve never seen anyone milking them either. They way they are skinny, I am not even sure they have milk and all. What I do see is sometimes people giving them food. I think this happens particularly on Tuesdays (for religious reasons), and some even make fresh chapatis (Indian flat breads) for them! Crazy!..

  • polu Says

    i dont know what you are talking about but as a hindu i know cows are more holy than humans as the are far more accountable and trusted than humans, cows and buffalows are the greatest invention of gods, i live in a desert state in india and the food to us is milk and some barley and rye all time in year, this is only how we survive in our place, we burn dung for cooking lighting nd warmth, eat goats. like they do in south sudan. we here dont have electricity, no water supply or roads, just dust trails, waterholes and we go to nearest cities about 72 km away to charge tractor batteries so that back home we can charge our cellphones, even after 66 years of independence, our human politicians betrayed us but our holy cows and buffalows stood by us giving us so much that we are in debt to them and so they are holy to us, and i think as a person of first wold country you will see that it is not very difficult to understand. it is a fact cows are holy and our mothers.

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