Understanding the Significance of Cows in Indian Culture

The cow is a highly revered animal in India and considered a sacred animal. Cows give milk which is a very nourishing drink. Their dung and urine are of medicinal value.

Bulls (the male counterparts of cows) toil in the farms and are among the most coveted helpers of all farmers. Thus, cows play a crucial role in agriculture and dairy, two of the world’s most important industries.

This animal is not only of practical use to mankind, but also holds a special place in religion and mythology. Cows are linked with Lord Krishna and Lord Dattatreya and bulls are related to Lord Shiva. In the Hindu religion, the slaughter of cows is banned and consuming cow meat is prohibited. Many Hindus worship cows with the belief that they are a representation of the divine. Here we delve deeper into the significance of cows in Indian culture.

Cultural Significance of Cows

Symbolism of Cows

In Hinduism, cows symbolize strength, wealth and motherly love. The cow is believed to be a form of the Mother Goddess who represents fertility and abundance. In mythology and ancient literature, cows are stated as symbols of sacrifice, generosity, life-giving qualities, innocence and purity. As per the Vedas, the cow is considered as one of the seven mothers of humanity. It is believed that the cow is God’s favourite animal and that the supreme abode of Gods is Goloka, the planet of cows.


Kamadhenu, depicted with Lord Dattatreya, is a cow which symbolizes the Brahmanical aspect of the deity. It is believed that Kamadhenu has mystical powers and that she can grant any wish and bestow her devotees with blessings. According to a legend, she emerged during the samudra manthana (churning of the cosmic ocean), and was taken by Indra. She gave birth to several cows and was the provider of milk and ghee to the Gods. There’s another legend which says that she was created by Brahma and she gave birth to the Rudras, the elemental gods, the fierce aspects of Shiva and several different animals and birds. She is often depicted as a white cow and in some depictions, she is seen to be containing many Gods and Goddesses.

Cows and Lord Krishna

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna is portrayed as the protector of cows and in the Mahabharata, he has often been depicted playing the flute surrounded by cows. As a child, he was a cow herder and milk and butter were his favourites. He encouraged other kids of his age, to relish butter, which can be seen as a symbol of promoting the idea that milk and milk products should be savoured during the growing years as they provide the best nourishment. Lord Krishna’s other names Govinda and Gopala, mean ‘friend and protector of cows’.

Nandi and Lord Shiva

Nandi is a male cow or a bull, in fact the sacred bull of Lord Shiva. He is Shiva’s vehicle and his most ardent worshiper. Nandi is also considered as the animal form of Lord Shiva. He is also symbolic of the mind dedicated to Shiva. Read more about Nandi in this post about Shiva symbols.

Role of Cows and Bulls in Agriculture

Cow dung is one of the best fertilizers for crops. Bulls are beasts of burden. They are traditionally used for ploughing the fields and lifting loads. They pull carts that are used in the transportation of goods.

Cows as the Provider of Milk

Cows give us milk, which is widely consumed by children and adults alike. Milk is regarded as a whole food as it contains 18 of the 22 essential nutrients. It is believed that cow milk has a purifying effect on the human body. Since it nourishes all creatures, cows are considered a symbol of Mother Earth and goodness. Being a provider of milk and nourishment, the cow represents love, care and protection.


This is a mixture that consists of five ingredients, namely, cow milk, curd and ghee derived from cow milk, cow dung and cow urine. These components are mixed and kept for fermentation. Panchagavya formed through this process is believed to carry high medicinal value in Ayurveda. As per Ayurveda, Panchagavya can be used to treat several diseases and it does not have serious side effects. It is very useful in farming and gardening, as it nourishes the soil and promotes plant growth when added to soil, and it helps in controlling pests if sprayed on plants.

Festivals that Honour Cows

The cow and her child is worshipped on the festive occasion of Vasubaras. Pola or Pongal is a festival observed in India, mainly by farmers. On this day, bulls, the beasts of burden, are given rest, and they are decorated and worshipped. These festivals serve as a means to express gratitude towards cows and her sons for their service to humans.

Cow Slaughter and Beef Consumption

In most Indian states, the killing of cows is illegal. Hindus consider cows as holy animals and worship them. So, most Hindus do not consume beef. Owing to the deep-rooted cultural bond of Hindus with cows or cattle at large, many Hindus refrain from killing cattle or eating meat sourced from these animals.

This was an insight into the significance of cows in Indian culture. You must have seen that cows have a prominent presence in Indian mythology, they are respected in Hindu religion, and are highly resourceful to mankind. For their practical help in agriculture, dairy and medicine, as well as for their cultural and religious importance, it is widely believed that cows should be protected. People in the rural areas, farmers, cow herders, and cattle breeders consider cows as their family members and treat them with love and respect.

Cow Poem Indian Culture

If you meet a cow, look into her eyes, and you will see them exuding affection. Gently touch her dewlap, and you may see her smile on getting fondly tickled. Milk her and you might see content on her face. Observe her grazing or just standing in her natural setting, and you will see composure in her body language and calm on her face. It is rare to find such a beautiful combination of good qualities in an animal; and that could be the reason why the cow holds an honourable position in the Indian culture.

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