Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Myth of the Holy Cow:

The Myth of the Holy Cow by D.N.Jha (2002) [183P] ISBN: 1-85984-676-9

w jww .versobooks. coin

Book Review: Kavaneet Singh

I)Nvij endra Narayan Jha is a retired Professor of History from the University of Delhi. Also was Chair 

of the Indian Historical Society 2004-2005. He has several Nell-known books to his credit. A genuine 

scholar who has a passion for researching the truth based on historical evidence and not myth based pseudo 

religious history.

Chapter 1 — `Animals are verily food' but Yajnavalkya Favors Beef:

Cattle hide was used in a variety of ways. The bowstring (ya) was made of a thong of cowhide — a practice 

that may have continued in later times. The differrent parts of the chariot were tied together with leather 

straps, also needed for binding arrow to the shaft.....Leather tongs were used for not only making snares 

but also for a musical instrument called aodha....[Pages 37 & 38]

The utilitarian value of the entire hide of the cow is so unique that it was used in the medieval times and 

continues to this day. It is a mockery of common sense, when nearly a billion Hindus wear leather sandals/

shoes, carry leather wallets, sling leather handbags, travel in automobiles made of leather seats, tie leather 

belts around their waists and yet claim the cow as holy. Dead cows alone would barely satisfy the pent-
up demand of a billion Hindu consumers. Furthermore the life sustaining liquid of the cow is a direct 

biological process within the cow to produce milk. So if the cow is so holy, no milk products should be 

used at all, as there is no difference between drinking its milk or eating its flesh!

The killing of cattle and eating of meat were fairly common among the Vedic Indians. But the Vedic texts 

were not always unanimous in recommending the killing of animals for sacrifice and other purposes......

the undermining of the world of Brahmanic sacrifice did not lead to the disappearance of beef or any 

other meat from the Indian diet. [Pages 41-42]

In most ritual sacrifices especially those most profitable to the presiding Brahmin, the killing of cows

was not uncommon. Prof. Jha is right in his assessment that pastoral nomadic communities of the 

foreign Aryans finally started to settle into a more agricultural economic lifestyle which led to less

need for meat and more vegetarian diet thereby slowly making the cow a dairy producer rather than a 

meat producer also. All readers need to be reminded that the top three castes who follow Brahminism

and consider the cow holy are barely 15% of the entire so-called Hindu population as the rest have 

been coopted and the illiterate, brainwashed into putting the cow on a pedestal.

Chapter 2 — The Rejection of Animal Sacrifice: An Assertion of the Sacredness of the Cow?

The prohibition of the killing of birds and fish, she-goats, sheep, and swine (pig) is indicative of the fact 

that their flesh was generally eaten; so was the case with the flesh of the bull (sandaka) and other cattle — 

and Asoka's silence about the cow certainly indicates that it had not achieved the sanctity that it came to 

acquire in later timmmes.....[Page 66]

During the time of the Buddhist King a lot of the commonly eaten animals were banned but not the 

cow, which clearly indicates that the cow was eaten by many, otherwise there would be a ban on it too.

Sri Lankan Buddhists continue o eat meat, including beef and f sh.....[Page 71]

Buddhists are considered part of Dharmic Hinduism yet they continue to relish and eat beef.

Moharajaparajaya, in which a character argues that just as one drinks cow's milk one may eat cow meat

without incurring sin.......Panclita Dhanapala, who figures prominently in one of his

stories, even questions the sacredness of the cow.....[Page 76]

The Jains who have today been completely subsumed by the Hindus seem to clearly question and

disagree, with the issue of the sanctity of the cow.

Both made major departures from Vedic beliefs and practices, but, curiously, neither held the cow 

sacred ...... [Page 787

With all the time to debate and consider these mundane issues it is strange that both the Buddhists 

and the Jains did not consider the cow sacred or important enough to be made `holy'.

Chapter 3 — The Later Dhar nasastric Tradition and Beyond:

Kautilya's general dictum of non-injury (ahimsa) being the duty of all classes and Asoka's pious wishes to 

disallow flesh in the royal kitchen did not stand in the way of cow slaughter. [Page 90]

There is no question that cow killing continued except it was a mixed bags of goods due to the 

myriad of groups all across the `greater pre-Indian' sub-continent.

The Puranas, whose compilation ranges in elate from the early Christian centuries to about the 

eighteenth century, have much in common with the law books mentioned above. They do not impose a ban 

on flesh foocl, and even the later ones among them, continue to refer to the use of meat in rituals........In

any case, the very fact that the Puranas prescribed butchery of buffaloes indicates that that they did not 

show any special veneration for the bovids. Notwithstanding their unprecedented glorification from the

second half'of the first millennia AD onwards... .[Pages 94 & 95J

Pretty much all the religious writings of the Sanatan Dharmis have been written by hundreds of authors 

over centuries, not to mention the various renditions. As the culture changed over the centuries so did

socio-cultural practices which were deeply intertwined with the religious practices, and this was part of 

the change in attitude towards the sanctity of the cow. But this still does not change the fact that there is 

absolutely no clarity anywhere about the holiness of the cow.

Similarly Sita 'sfascination for meat can be inferred from several passages of the text. While crossing the 

Ganga she promises to offer her rice cooked with meat and thousands of jars of wine when her husband

accomplishes his vow. Sita's love for deer meat makes her husband chase and kill Marcia disguised as the 

fabulous golden deer......... Guha offers fish, meat and honey to Bharata, and fresh and dried meat along

with other things to his army. Bharadvaja also extends generous hospitality to Bharata 's troops, regaling 

them with meat and wine, and welcomes Rama by slaughtering the `fatted calf'...... [Page 97]

A close reading of the Mahabharata and then the Ramayana by Valmiki clearly shows numerous instances

of beef eating, meat eating in general but also drinking liquor by the fairy gods. These happen to be the 

most revered scriptures by the Sanatan Dharmis who today, claim the cow as holy.

Be that as it may, there is substantial evidence against the inherent sanctity of the bovine 

including the cow...... [Page 100]

Prof. Jha has copious references in his book which prove beyond a doubt that the holiness of the cow is a 

very recent fabrication of the Hindu right for a sinister agenda.

In other words, non-killing of cows and abstention from eating flesh could not have been a mark of 

community identity for brahmanas or the brahmanical social order...... the Dharmasastra texts continue 

to uphold the tradition of flesh esh eating. As late as seventh century Visvanatha Nyaya-Pancanana, a

great logician who also wrote on the Simirits, vehemently advocates the eating of flesh by brahmanas 

on occasions like sacrifices, sraddhas and madshuparka and when life is in danger; he also ridicules the 

south Indian brahmanas, who deprecate meat......[Pages 102 & 109]

On one hand the religious edicts of the Brahminical Sanatan Dharmis are made to micro manage their 

lives. On the other hand the dichotomy is that there are so many contradictions within individual 

books that clarity in general is foggy at best. Compounding the problem even further is that there 

were and are hundreds of divergent denominations in and outside the pale of Sanatan

Chapter 4 — The Cow in the Kali Age and Memories of Beef Consumption:

The Vyasasmrti thus categorically states that a cow killer is untouchable (antyaja) and even by talking to 

him one incurs sin......... [Page 114]

Based on the above fact all Brahmins who used to sacrifice cows at the prayer alter and then eat 

them would automatically become untouchables. Indeed a paradox!

The Dharamsastras are generally silent about whether the carcass was to be eaten or not, but the Sankhas 

zriti prescribes a fifteen-day penance for one who eats a dead calf though curiously a Jana Sangha (now

BJP) ideologue permits, without equivocation, the eating of the flesh of cows dying a natural death...... 

Most of the religious books of the Hindus are written in a manner that they always leave a door 

open to slip out of a tight situation. Interpretations change and on many occasions there are 

arguments to both sides, yet no side, leaving the reader flummoxed. The above is just a snippet of

the literature on cow eating which exists, but since the overwhelming followers rarely read, instead 

argue endlessly and violently proclaim the holiness of the cow.

In any case Alberuni 's informants evidently retained the memory of the old custom of 

slaughtering the cow and eating its flesh. Thus while non-vegetarian diet continued in 

Brahminical circles.....[Page 118]

Even among Brahmins there were Brahmins of various hues from the Kashmiri, to the Bengali, to 

the Nambudri in the south. Each sub-group defined their own list of dietary customs; then further 

compounding the problem by adding and editing the prevailing religious texts. No wonder there are 

hundreds of renditions all dissimilar in nature to create more confusion with no clarity.

Sacrificial killing of cows and buffaloes, for example, was practiced at Toclgarh in Merwara (Rajasthan) 

until 1874 when the local Rawats entered into an agreement to abstain from beef eating........For 

example, the Saoras (S'abaras) of'Orissa, who are known to have formerly sacrificed cows and bullocks 

and to have eaten their flesh, under Brahminical influence almost gave up the practice by the 1950s. This 

may indicate he general pattern of acculturations in India..... [Pages 120 & 121]

In case after case the Brahmins have used overt or covert methods of coercion to get others to 

stop killing and eating beef. A very small minority, namely the Brahmins first design a socio

economic structure, then put the garb of religion on it, which they keep editing on whim and expect 

the rest to follow. Those who do not fall in step are brought to heel through various methods, in order

to `mainstream' them, into Brahminism (Sanatan Dharma aka Hinduism).

Chapter 5 — A Paradoxical Sin and the Paradox of the Cow:

Lawgivers from MMMIanu onwards are generally unanimous in describing cow killing as a minor sin, 

but do not lay down a uniform penalty for the cow killer.... [Page 128]

According to the 'Manu' the lawgiver (the same man, who designed the diabolical `caste system'), 

the killing of a cow is a very minor offence.

Thus even within brahmana circles there is divergence of attitudes towards cow 

slaughter... .[Page 129]

Prof Jha shows the discrepancies among the Brahmins themselves on the issue of the cow.

According to Baudhayana, the land becomes pure when a cow walks on it and drinking gruel of barley that 

has passed through a cow is a meritorious act... .A mere touch of cow dung, he tells us, cleanses a man and 

metal objects can be cleaned by smearing with cow clung or immersing in cow urine...... [Page 130]

Cow dung and cow urine being used for a religious purpose eons ago may make sense, but today the use

of excreta and waste of an animal being widely used, boggles the mind. What has either got to do with 

becoming a better human being? Secondly the diseases which can be passed from animal to human are

revolting and very scary! Little wonder, cow urine is sold as a drink for humans in the state of Gujarat. 

The cows in India eat practically all the garbage lying on the wayside and I pray no one starts making

vegetarian cow dung patties since beef patties are banned at McDonalds.

According to Yajnavalkya the mouths of goats and horses are pure but that of a cow is not; nor is human 

excrement.....[Pages 132 & 133]

I am not sure whether it is the height of amusement or stupidity, that, the mouth of a cow is not pure but 

its waste is holy and pure! These very convoluted ideologies are the paradoxes which Prof Jha has sharply

Although a Brahminical concoction, this myth was intended to rationalize the Dharamsastric view for 

which there appears no logical basis. A late nineteenth century account, in fact, refers to a brahmana

priest waving a wild cow's tail over his clients to scare away Clemons while they were bathing in a sacred 

pool at Hardwar, and it is difficult to imagine how one could get a tail of the animal without killing 

The above historical incident shows the consistent contradictions about the sanctity of the cow.

Chapter 6 — Resume: The Elusive `Holy Cow':

The Taittiriya Brahmana categorically tells us: `Verily the cow is food' (althoannam vai gaup) and 

Yajnavalkya's insistence on eating the tender (amsala) flesh of'the cow is well known.....[Page 139]

The most important 'rishis' ate and relished beef especially of young fattened calves.

The sacred thread ceremony for its part was not all that sacred; for it was necessary f or a snataka 

to wear an upper garment of cowhide.... [Page 139]

Here is a clear dichotomy of the `janeau' ceremony. One could not wear cow hide unless it came from a 

dead cow which was killed. Scriptural hypocrisy at its best!

Archaeological evidence, in fact, suggests non-ritual killing of cattle. This is indicative of the fact that 

beef and other animal flesh formed part of the dietary culture of people and that edible

flesh was not always ritually consecrated...... [Page 140]

Beef and meat in general was eaten and not necessarily killed only for sacrificial purposes but simply 

for daily sustenance by the Brahminical Hindus.

In the Gupta period, Kalidasa alludes to the story ofRantideva who killed numerous cows every day in his 

kitchen.....Later Sriharsa mentions a variety on non-vegetarian delicacies served at a dazzling marriage

feast and refers to two interesting instances of cow killing.....[Page 143]

Prof Jha has shown plenty of evidence which disapproves the Hindu right's insistence of the fact that the 

cow is holy and that beef eating is banned in their faith.

Also, Mahatma Gandhi spoke of the hypocrisy of the orthodox Hindus who `do not so much as hesitate 

or inquire when during illness the doctor°....prescribes them beef tea'. Even today 72 communities in 

Kerala — not all of'them untouchable perhaps — prefer beef to the expensive mutton and the Hincluvata

forces are persuading them to go easy on it.....[Page 145]

Curiously all the modern day quirks of beef eating exist among not only Hindus in Kerala but all across — 

from central India to the far north-east, tribals, dalits and many others still eat beef

Ianu, the food smelt by a cow has to be purified.......Among, the later° juridical texts, 

those ofAngirasa, Parasara, Nyasa and so on, support the idea of the cow's mouth being impure. The

lawgiver Sankha categorically states that all limbs of the cow are pure except the mouth...... [Page 146]

It is through the unholy mouth, all the grass/fodder is eaten to produce the milk, etc, so how can the rest 

of the cow be holy. Either the entire cow is holy or it is not. Actually the buffalo's meat and its milk is,

even better than the cow's. I wonder if that makes the buffalo holier than the cow? One cannot have it both 

It was killed but the killing was not killing. When it was not slain, mere remembering the old practice of 

butchery satisfied the brahmanas. Its five products including feces and urine has been

considered puree but not its mouth...... [Page 146]

It is perplexing that the waste of an animal is holy, but the mouth is unholy. Some issues are best left 

on the wayside otherwise all the believers become a laugh stock. Even common sense has taken a 

leave of absence in this case. Like Prof Jha states there has never been a cow-goddess or any temple 

in her honor anywhere in India. The right wing (Brahmins) Sanatan Dhairnis better rethink their cow 

strategy because at the moment they have made themselves the laughing stock.

Between the '(un)holy cow', the virulent anti-Muslim hatemongering and the propaganda of trying 

to co-opting of other Faiths there seems to be not much for the modern day Brahmins to come up 

with in order to fabricate and coalesce all the myriad sects under one `monolithic' Hinduism. Instead 

of wasting time on the cow, these sanctimonious self-proclaimed upholders of religion should spend

time feeding, educating and genuinely taking care of the downtrodden millions who are dirt poor in 

Hindu India partly due to the digressively rigid caste system in place.

This book had to be printed in the UK eventually, as the first printer changed his mind out of fear

and the second one was threatened. Prof Jha had a `fatwa' on his head issued by the Hindu right 

and was under protection for quite a long time. Honest, scholarship on Hinduism is becoming the

domain of only the brave, because the extremist Hindu fringe, threaten anyone writing critically, with 

dire consequences. Unfortunately, empathy and unpretentious brotherhood will be a mirage since

the religious texts themselves need to be seriously edited to a bare minimum in order to start genuine 

change in Hindu India. Once again Prof Jha has written a memorable classic.

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