Relationship Between Cow and Krishna

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Picture: Illustration of Lord Krishna playing flute with holy cow/Agency

Krishna’s relationship with cows is the ultimate bond between man and animal. They are not his “pets”. He does not love them because they are beautiful, pedigreed, provide milk. He does not even attribute human characteristics to them while loving them: that they are gentle, wise, loving, generous, patient, noble, and sinless.

He loves them because they are him and Radha and his 16,000 wives and ‘gopinis’ in another form. He is non-judgmental with his love. The true lover sees neither the qualities of his beloved nor species, shape, or personality. He loves them because that is his nature. I love dogs, cats, horses, ants, eagles, and mango trees because all of them are me and it is the eventual self-love to see myself in every blade of grass and therefore to be respectful of it.

How many times have I been reborn? How many lives have I spent as a donkey or a mouse or a cockroach or a sunflower? My soul is the same, how many different bodies have it occupied? Therefore how can I love just my current species – and that too, only a few people in it – when I have been all species.

But why is there a bond between Krishna and the cow? It is not by accident that he has been made a cowherd in the epics. Or that he spent his formative years in Gokula ( meaning herd of cows), the area on the banks of the Jamuna now in Mathura.

The Srimad Bhagavatam says that Krishna knew the name of each cow of Vrindavana. If any cow was missing Krishna would immediately call her by name. The cows were divided into herds by color, black, white, red, or yellow. Each color was divided further into 25 divisions. There were also eight herds of cows that were spotted or speckled or had heads shaped like a mridanga or that had tilak marks on their foreheads. Each of the 108 herds had a herd leader. Thus, when Krishna calls out, ‘Hey Dhavali’ (the name of a white cow) it comes forward, and when Krishna calls ‘Hamsi, Chandani, Ganga, Mukta’ and so on, the other groups of white cows appear respectively. The reddish cows are called ‘Aruni, Kunkuma, Sarasvati, etc., the blackish ones ‘Shyamala, Dhumala, Yamuna, etc., and the yellowish ones are Pita, Pingala, Haritaki,’ etc.

The Krishna Bhaktas trivialize the reasons for Krishna’s love for cows as Krishna pours love on them as they are beneficial to humans. They produce milk for their children and we take it from them. They allow him to secretly meet Radha and the girls who take the cows into the forests (this is equally mad). Their lives are always for others ( again rubbish). If they are left alone, they care for their own families as we do). They have no lust ( Have they never seen a bull on heat ?) If we worship the cow simply because it is of economic benefit then the scriptures should be equally ecstatic about horses, goats, pigs, businessmen, gold. The worship of the cow goes much deeper than that.

The word Gau or Go itself means fair, light, white, golden, beautiful. When my son Varun was getting married in Varanasi, the first ritual of the marriage was for the priests to ask him his Gotra (Dattatreya). The gotra which means lineage also means a herd of cows.

Gaurav, meaning the sound of a cow, also means glory and prestige. Another name for Jupiter, the moon, Seshanaga, Sage Chaitanya, and Siva is Gauranga or cow colored. Gauri or cow colored is another name for the Earth and Parvati.

Daybreak is Gaushra: the time of cattle grazing. Gautama, the name of the Buddha comes from Gau Uttama meaning the ultimate cow, remover of darkness, the eventually fair, wise, and beautiful. Gautami is another name for the rivers Gomati ( with the wisdom of the cow), Godavari ( giving prosperity), and Durga. Krishna is known as Gopala, Godharin, Gomateshwar, Gopa, Govardhana, Govinda, Gosvami. Gopati is another name for Vishnu, Siva and Varuna. The ultimate paradise is Goloka meaning cows world – the paradise of Krishna situated on Mount Meru on which dwells Surabhi the mother of all cows

I have met many enlightened souls. Now, I realize that anything they say is meaningless or pointless, or even metaphorical. Even when they say things that sound general like ‘be happy’ or “drive safely” you discover later that there was a specific applicable meaning. Why has the cow been chosen? In all the religious texts three animals are repeated continuously as important and to be revered: the snake, the monkey, and the cow. The snake is associated with energy, the monkey with intelligence, innovation, bhakti, and humility, and the cow is the ultimate and best in everything.

I do not believe that these are metaphors or chosen at random. Reading the scriptures and listening to the experiences of all those who have attempted enlightenment, I realize that these animals that are being referred to are the actual animals and they are what they are supposed to represent.

As we kill the snakes the earth loses its energy, our constant war with monkeys depletes the intelligence of the human race and its ability to think its way out of the mess we are sinking into, and our ceaseless killing of cows by Hindus who sell them and Muslims who kill them and the government which boast of killing the largest number of cows in the world ( our leather export is Rs 27,000 crores which is only of cowskin. If each skin is Rs 300, how many cows is that ?), our tolerance of them being smuggled to Bangladesh, our acceptance of thousands of illegal abattoirs –we have lost our desire to strive for the best. Which of us is now the best at anything or even wants to be the best? A weariness of the spirit, an acceptance of mediocrity, corruption, bad education, third-rate lives, bad health, criminal governments, wars, endless destruction, has settled on us.

The protector of cows, Krishna Gopala is of the greatest mind, both for civil administration and war. The highest devotees are the Gopis or cowherdesses. Goloka is the highest destination. As described in the Brahma Samhita Lord Krishna on His planet, Goloka Vrindavana engages intending the Surabhi cows.” Could it be that the cow is the ultimate deity? That God has chosen to test us by putting our 33,000 gods in our midst and then he watches to see what we do to them? If cows are the deities for Lord Krishna this has to be the highest form of worship.

Krishna is not a cow herder only because he was sent to be raised by Nanda and Yashoda of Braj village who owned cows. He was sent to them because they owned cows. He is still herding cows in His eternal abode Goloka. Why do the saints from Vyasa onwards say that the cow is to be worshipped? Why are our idols bathed in milk and cow urine – the panchgavya. Why does Skanda Purana say “Offering respect to the Cows will help the devotee to diminish the reactions to his past sinful activities” Could it be that people who serve Krishna’s cows and see them as Gods are the most fortunate and achieve results most simply. There must be a reason why the wish-granting of the universe is put into Kamadhenu, the wish-fulfilling cow.

Vedic philosophy teaches there are 7 mothers: 1) the birth mother, 2) the nurse, 3) the wife of the father (if she is not the birth mother), 4) the wife of the king, 5) the wife of the spiritual master, 6) the earth, and 7) the cow.

Do not treat the cow as an animal, to be used and discarded. Treat her well and your wishes might come true.

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