How did the phrase “Holy Cow” Originate and why? Is it really based on Indian Cows? Are there other cultural or geographic connections to this phrase? This was one of the topics, which I have posted in my ‘Meetup’ discussions section and several people provided their ideas and thoughts. (Santa Monica Masala - Language and Culture – Meetup group)
My friend Kim commented by stating, “I know the cow is sacred in India because it provides so much for the people and they are allowed to roam free. I have never been to India but have heard about the holy cows and would like to hear from others who have more information about why they are sacred in India. There's a scene in a wonderful film, Outsourced that shows a cow wandering around near the call center. The American asks, ‘What's that?’ and the Indian says, "it's a cow" in a nonchalant way. That scene is quite funny because it's so natural for a cow to just be around wherever there are people”
Yes, I still remember that scene. It was hilarious.
The Cow is sacred in India due to various reasons. India being agricultural land, cows take one of the primary places in people’s minds. A cow is a symbol of wealth, strength, abundance and selfless giving.
Especially the last one “Selfless Giving”. If you take from the cow’s milk to her bones after she dies, every part of a cow is useful to humans and keeps them healthy both body and in mind. However, as far as the Cow’s meat, it was also once consumed by Indians prior to Krishna’s time, there is evidence stating that fact even in ‘Ramayana’ (A controversial topic) I wanted to know if other cultures revered the cow as Holy? I did some research, by going through Google of course!
This is what I found out…just to name a few…
Jewish Scriptures: According to Jewish scriptures (Genesis), Aaron who was the elder brother of Moses built a Golden Calf to worship as God in order to prevent conflict among the people.
Zoroastrian philosophy: In Zoroastrian philosophy, the prophet Zarathustra was known to protect the cows from abuse by some of his fellow men. He proclaims that GOD (Ahuramazda) had commanded him to protect the cows. This could be because the Zoroastrians were mainly cattle breeders. I see a parable between this story and Krishna’s story.
Egyptian History: In ancient Egyptian history, the Cow was regarded as sacred because she represented their Goddess Hathor. In Egypt the Pharaoh was considered as God by its people, just as in India at one point in time, the king was considered to be a personification of God. The cow is also considered to be the mother of God since she is the one who nurtures the Pharaoh/mankind with her milk.
China's Zhou Dynasty: In China, during the period of Zhou dynasty (sometime in the 6th century or so) cattle were considered useful and were respected. During this dynasty, the emperors banned killing cows. It was also said, that, cows actually showed tears before slaughter and hence released them to temples. According to Chinese history, the Zhou dynasty lasted longer than any other dynasty.
The "wild" cows wandering around the streets of a huge city like Delhi can be one of the topics for discussions about India. They have generations and generations of being revered as holy and unthreatened by people, hence, wander through rush hour traffic without a concern in the world. I still remember the last time I went to India. I was in a very busy section of the shopping area trying to bargain with the shopkeeper while buying some saris. Suddenly I felt something on my forearm so I turned around and saw a cow walk past me in a very serene manner.
It was amazing!! And that was “one of the busiest” shopping areas with millions of people all over the place!!!
Unfortunately, the fact that it is a ‘sacred animal’ does not necessarily mean it is being taken care of in a proper way. But people do let them roam “freely” on the streets. I have seen cows eating from the trash bins. I always wondered who they belonged to and why is the owner not taking care of them!!
If any of you have any other information on this please feel free to post it so I can learn from you.