It doesn’t take long when walking down the streets of Bangalore to see a cow. There are cows in the middle of an intersection blocking traffic, cows on the side walk eating their lunch, cows roaming freely wherever they please. This morning on my walk to work, there were two baby calves in the middle of an intersection. They were standing and eating grass, completely unphased by the cacophony of horns from cars trying to pass. Despite the drivers’ impatience, not one car nor motorcycle inched forward to encourage the calves to move. Drivers simply waited in their cars, hand on their horn, until the cows decided to wander away. Given the generally aggressive driving style of most drivers, I was a little surprised at their patience. I was also appreciative, since it was quite easy to cross the road since the cows stopped traffic!
In India, 80.5% of of the population practices Hinduism according to the Indian Census (Muslims account for 13.4% and Christians 2.3%.) Hindus worship cows and consider them a sacred animal. In Hinduism, mothers are considered goddesses, and since a cow provides milk it is seen as a maternal figure and a caretaker of people. Sri Krishna, one of the most famous Hindu Gods, grew up as a cow herder himself. He also is known by the names Govinda and Gopala, which literally translate to “friend and protector of cows.”
Men who own cows will feed the cows their breakfast before feeding themselves – this is said to bring good fortune. It is considered a sin to kill a cow and Hindus do not eat beef. Cows are generally afforded all of the rights of any other member of the family. The milk of the cow is believed to be highly nutritious and healthy, and milk is also the main reason many Indians are vegetarians and not vegans. Each morning and afternoon at work we have hot milk, coffee or chai. I was very excited on the first day when someone asked if I wanted coffee. Yes! However the coffee and chai closer resemble sweetened, flavored milk than the black coffee I am slightly addicted to, but are quite good in their own way. Just not as a replacement for my bitter, caffeine-filled, Western beverage.
Many foreigners coming to India are surprised. Cows are thought of as being so sacred, yet they wander the streets eating trees and garbage from gutters. Seeing the cows halt traffic, however, was proof enough to me of this city’s feelings towards their beloved animal. In addition, there is a holiday called Gopastami on November 19th where cows are washed, taken to temple, decorated, and given gifts in hopes that they will continue to bring good fortune to the community. As much as I look forward to figuring out how to make Thanksgiving possible and watch American football on the other side of the world, I can’t wait to see how the Cow Festival is celebrated as well!