Monday, May 28, 2007
Safe From The Butcher
One-third of the world's cows live in India, yet no one dares to inflict the slightest harm on these animals, let alone kill and eat them. Cows are sacred to the Hindu population in India, and are protected as such by law.
To Hindus, cows are a symbol of fertility and motherhood. Cows are revered, loved and protected. They wander about freely and have even been known to hold up trains for hours, while passengers wait for them to move off the track. Hindus hang garlands round cows' necks at festivals and pray for them when they are sick.
If this seems strange to non-Hindus, it seems even odder in the light of the fact that the Brahmans, the Hindu priestly caste, originally oversaw the slaughter of cattle. But that was before a huge increase in the population, and a consequent shortage of grazing land, made growing vegetables a much more economic source of food.
This radical change in the economy occurred during the 6th century BC. During the 5th century BC, however, the Buddhist religion - among whose tenets was a profound aversion to killing for food - began to spread throughout India. Its appeal was undoubtedly increased by the scarcity of beef and the lordly insistence of the Brahmans on reserving what beef there was for themselves. After a struggle for religious domination in India that lasted nine centuries, the Hindus finally reversed their position. By the 4th century AD they had declared cows to be sacred animals.
It did not escape the Hindu sages that cows are more productive alive than dead. They provide milk for food, calves to sell, oxen to pull ploughs (they are more efficient on the small Indian farms than tractors), dung for fertiliser, fuel and building materials, and - once they have died of old age - leather too.