O Holy Cow

At some time in my life (probably during the 80s), I encountered information about India and Hinduism leading to a particular explanation for the sacredness of cows. Checking the Wikipedia, I see nothing that mentions like it, though it doesn’t necessarily negate it either.

So what I heard, as I recall it, was that the caste system was tied in with reincarnation and karma. If you lived a good life, you were to be reborn in a higher caste, a wicked life and you would be reborn in a lower caste. Besides the human castes, the whole system of “higher” and “lower” included the animal kingdom. If you sunk lower than the lowest human caste, you might end up being reborn as a tick or whatever, for instance.

Supposedly, a cow was higher than the highest human caste. Someone who had achieved this state had been very holy and was now here to live selflessly in giving milk and dung to the people. Killing them unnecessarily is like killing the holyest holy man.

Wholecloth or what?


By which I presume he means “It is due to Nandi, the bull god that Shiva rides and guards Shiva’s temples.”

No, just Nandi. What you said is open to interpretation.

By which you’re implying that there is no particular answer that any significant group would agree with? :confused:

Would any particular segment agree with the description I posted?

Your answer was not helpful, I think. Mine at least gives some context, and the vast majority of Hindus would agree with it.

The OP gives the religious rationalization for why cows are sacred. A good deconstruction of the social reasons this is so can be found in The Sacred Cow and the Abominable Pig: riddles of food and culture" by Marvin Harris. In a nutshell, cows are more valuable in the long run for giving milk than if you give in to temptation while starving and kill them for meat. People who develped a cultural revulsion against eating cows survived better in the circumstances prevalent in India for centuries.

The religious rationalization is the only one I am concerned with.

Cerowyn and El Cid are implying that it’s because there’s a bull god, but again haven’t expressly said whether my description would be laughed out of the house or if it indeed in there somewhere.

The “reincarnated as a cow” thing is a genuine belief, but not a mainstream one.

The religious reasoning and social reasoning are essentially one and the same: cows were seen as much more useful in India for what they produced than for meat. Milk was obviously in there, but dung (burned as fuel) and butter (which was used in lamps) were arguably even more important.

Over time, the idea that killing a cow was counter-productive became a norm rather than just a school of thought, and as norms generally do, it became enshrined in religious thought.

It’s not accurate to say that cows are sacred to Hindus, though- there is a domestic beef industry in India, and many Hindus do eat beef and wear bovine-sourced leather - it’s more that cows are held in much higher regard than non-bovine domesticated animals.

Think of it as you would a horse or a dog in Western culture- you wouldn’t eat it, but not because it’s sacred.

Which groups would believe this?

If it does exist as a belief, I’d like to know about how many subscribers there are. I.e. a specific, citable number.

Most Hindu belief systems don’t have specific names. They don’t go in for labeling. Many are identified by the pandit/guru/swami/whatever who founded the sect/movement, but most aren’t identified at all. Plus, I have no idea. :smiley:

Hindu here.

Don’t believe in the reincarnation of a cow thing.

HAVE been taught thought that the Cow is one of the sacred animals of the god Shiva (not so explicit as to say “bull god”, but rather- you just don’t go around eating your lord’s favorite pets).
That said, the rational reasoning for why cows are sacred is quite logical to me (Daily Dung+ Milk supply is greater longer term benefits than meat today and bones).

But yeah, I’ve always been taught that Cows are sacred because they’re a favorite animal of the God(s). (The Chicken is also one too. But I eat those sadly.)

Interesting Tidbit- the Pig is considered NOT a favorite animal by ANY of the Hindu Gods. Almost every other edible animal has some god or demigod favoring it. I always tried to use this as justification as a child that I should be allowed to eat pork with my parents, but they always sighed and shook their heads. It just didn’t work that way, sadly…

That said, Nandi is a good answer, but not for the layperson. The explanation afterwards was a bit nicer and all, but still. Yeah. That could be a reason. But i’ve never considered Nandi a “god”. More so just a favored animal of the God(s).

So your parents eat pork, but won’t allow children to eat pork? Why is that?

My parents are vegetarians.

I should have made that clearer, but it was late and it made sense in my head.
I used the justification WITH my parents but they didn’t buy it.