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Cattle are considered sacred in various world religions, most notably Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism as well as the religions of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and Ancient Rome. In some regions, especially some states in India, the slaughter of cattle is prohibited and their meat may be taboo.
In Hinduism 
The cow was possibly revered because Hindus relied heavily on it for dairy products and for tilling the fields, and on cow dung as a source of fuel and fertilizer. Thus, the cow’s status as a 'caretaker' led to identifying it as an almost maternal figure (hence the term gau mata). In addition, it has been suggested by author and orator Terence Mckenna that religious reverence for the cow is a result of early humankind's association of psilocybin mushroom with it, this association having developed as a result of the discovery of said mushrooms in the animal's excrement.
Hinduism is based on the concept of omnipresence of the Divine, and the presence of a soul in all creatures, including bovines. Thus, by that definition, killing any animal would be a sin: one would be obstructing the natural cycle of birth and death of that creature, and the creature would have to be reborn in that same form because of its unnatural death. Historically, even Krishna, one of the most revered forms of the Divine (Avatar), tended cows. The cow and bull represent the symbol of Dharma, reverence for cows and bull is the major texts of the Vedic religion.
In South India and some parts of Sri Lanka, Cattle festival is celebrated and it is called as Mattu Pongal.
Sanskrit term 
The most common word for cow is go, cognate with the English cow and Latin bos, all from PIE cognates *gwous. The Sanskrit word for cattle is paśu, from PIE *peḱu-. Other terms are dhenu cow and uks an ox.
Milk cows are also called aghnya "that which may not be slaughtered". Depending on the interpretation of terminology used for a cow, the cow may have been protected.
The cow in the Hindu scriptures 
Rig Veda 
Cattle are one of the important animals, and several hymns refer to ten thousand and more cattle. Rig Veda 7.95.2. and other verses (e.g. 8.21.18) also mention that the Sarasvati region poured milk and clarified butter (ghee), indicating that cattle were herded in this region. RV 6.28 is called Cows. Text 3 speaks about safety of cows.
Atharva Veda 
In the Brahma-saṁhitā it is said that the Lord, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, in His transcendental abode Goloka Vṛndāvana, is accustomed to herding the surabhi cows.
The Harivamsha depicts Krishna as a cowherd. He is often described as Bala Gopala, "the child who protects the cows." Another of Krishna's names, Govinda, means "one who brings satisfaction to the cows." Other scriptures identify the cow as the "mother" of all civilization, its milk nurturing the population. The gift of a cow is applauded as the highest kind of gift.
The milk of a cow is believed to promote Sattvic (purifying) qualities. The ghee (clarified butter) from the milk of a cow is used in ceremonies and in preparing religious food. Cow dung is used as fertilizer, as a fuel and as a disinfectant in homes. Its urine is also used for religious rituals as well as medicinal purposes. The supreme purificatory material, panchagavya, was a mixture of five products of the cow, namely milk, curds, ghee, urine and dung. The interdiction of the meat of the bounteous cow as food was regarded as the first step to total vegetarianism.
The earth-goddess Prithvi was, in the form of a cow, successively milked of various beneficent substances for the benefit of humans, by various deities starting with the first sovereign Prithu milked the cow to generate crops for humans to end a famine.
Kamadhenu, the miraculous "cow of plenty" and the "mother of cows" in Hindu mythology is believed to represent the generic sacred cow, regarded as the source of all prosperity. All the gods are believed to reside in her body; a form of Kamadhenu often depicted in poster-art
In the Bhagavata Purana, Surabhi is the name of the cows which exist in the spiritual planets and are especially reared by Kṛṣṇa. As men are made after the form and features of the Supreme Lord, so also the cows are made after the form and features of the surabhi cows in the spiritual kingdom. According to smṛti regulation, the cow is the mother and the bull the father of the human being. The cow is the mother because just as one sucks the breast of one’s mother, human society takes cow’s milk. Similarly, the bull is the father of human society because the father earns for the children just as the bull tills the ground to produce food grains. Human society will kill its spirit of life by killing the father and the mother
Cattle in Jainism 
Historical significance 
The reverence for the cow played a role in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the British East India Company. Hindu and Muslim sepoys in the army of the East India Company came to believe that their paper cartridges, which held a measured amount of gunpowder, were greased with cow and pig fat. The consumption of swine is forbidden in Islam. Since loading the gun required biting off the end of the paper cartridge, they concluded that the British were forcing them to break edicts of their religion.
In Gandhi's teachings 
The Cow was also venerated by Mahatma Gandhi. He said: "I worship it and I shall defend its worship against the whole world," and that, "The central fact of Hinduism is cow protection." He regarded her better than the earthly mother, and called her "the mother to millions of Indian mankind."
Our mother, when she dies, means expenses of burial or cremation. Mother cow is as useful dead as when she is alive. We can make use of every part of her body – her flesh, her bones, her intestines, her horns and her skin.—Gandhi
Modern day 
Today, in Hindu-majority countries like India and Nepal, bovine milk holds a key part of religious rituals. For some, it is customary to boil milk on a stove or lead a cow through the house as part of a housewarming ceremony. In honor of their exalted status, cows often roam free, even along (and in) busy streets in major cities such as Delhi. In some places, it is considered good luck to give one a snack, or fruit before breakfast. In places where there is a ban on cow slaughter, a person can be jailed for killing or injuring a cow.
The law in India 
In India, the slaughter of cattle is allowed with restrictions (like a 'fit-for-slaughter' certificate which may be issued depending on factors like age and gender of cattle, continued economic viability etc.)only for bulls & buffaloes & Not Cows in fourteen states, it is completely banned in six states, while there is no restriction in four states. Cows are routinely shipped to states with lower or no requirement for slaughter, even though it is illegal in some states to even transport cows for slaughter across provincial borders. Many illegal slaughterhouses operate in large cities such as Chennai and Mumbai. While there are approximately 3,600 slaughterhouses operating legally in India, there are estimated to be over 30,000 illegal slaughterhouses. Efforts to close them down have so far been largely unsuccessful. India exports 1.5 million tonnes of buffalo meat annually.
In Nepal 
In Nepal, the cow is the national animal. Cows give milk from which the people produce dahi (yogurt), ghee, butter, etc. Cows are considered like the Goddess Laxmi (goddess of wealth and prosperity). The Nepalese have a festival called Tihar (Diwali) during which, on one day called Gaipuja, they pay worship to cows. In Nepal, a Hindu majority country, slaughtering of cows and bulls is completely banned. Cows roam freely and are sacred. However, buffalo slaughtering is done in Nepal for religious purposes.
In Burma 
The beef taboo is fairly widespread in Burma, particularly within the Buddhist community. In Burma, beef is typically obtained from cattle that are slaughtered at the end of their working lives (16 years of age) or from sick animals. Cattle is rarely raised for meat; 58% of cattle in the country is used for draught power. Few people eat beef, and there is a general dislike of beef (especially among the Bamar and Burmese Chinese), although it is more commonly eaten in regional cuisines, particularly those of ethnic minorities like the Kachin. Buddhists, when giving up meats during the Buddhist (Vassa) or during Uposatha days, will forego beef first. Almost all butchers are Muslim, not Buddhist, because of the Buddhist doctrine of ahimsa (no harm).
In 1885, Ledi Sayadaw, a prominent Buddhist monk wrote the Nwa-myitta-sa (နွားမေတ္တာစာ), a poetic prose letter that argued that Burmese Buddhists should not kill cattle and eat beef, since Burmese farmers depended on them as beasts of burden to maintain their livelihoods, that the marketing of beef for human consumption threatened the extinction of buffalo and cattle and that the practice and was ecologically unsound. He subsequently led successful beef boycotts during the colonial era, despite the presence of beef eating among locals and influenced a generation of Burmese nationalists in adopting this stance.
On 29 August 1961, the Burmese Parliament passed the State Religion Promotion Act of 1961, which explicitly banned the slaughtering of cattle nationwide (beef became known as todo tha (တိုးတိုးသား); lit. hush hush meat). Religious groups, such as Muslims, were required to apply for exemption licences to slaughter cattle on religious holidays. This ban was repealed a year later, after Ne Win led a coup d'état and declared martial law in the country.
In Zoroastrianism 
The term "geush urva" means the spirit of the cow and is interpreted as the soul of the earth. In the Ahunavaiti Gatha, Zarathustra (or Zoroaster) accuses some of his co-religionists of abusing the cow. Ahura Mazda tells Zarathustra to protect the cow.
The lands of both Zarathustra and the Vedic priests were those of cattle breeders. The 9th chapter of the Vendidad of the Avesta expounds the purificatory power of cow urine. It is declared to be a panacea for all bodily and moral evils.
In East Asia 
In China 
The beef taboo, known as niú jiè (牛戒), has historically been an important dietary restriction in China, particularly among the Han Chinese, as oxen and buffalo (bovines) are useful in farming and are respected. During the Zhou Dynasty, they were not often eaten, even by emperors. Some emperors banned killing cows. Beef is not recommended in Chinese medicine, as it is considered a hot food and is thought to disrupt the body's internal balance.
In written sources (including anectodes and Daoist liturgical texts), this taboo first appeared in the 9th to 12th centuries (Tang-Song transition, with the advent of pork meat.) By the 16th to 17th centuries, the beef taboo had become well accepted in the framework of Chinese morality and was found in morality books (善書), with several books dedicated exclusively to this taboo. The beef taboo comes from a Chinese perspective that relates the respect for animal life and vegetarianism (ideas shared by Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism, and state protection for draught animals.) In Chinese society, only ethnic and religious groups not fully assimilated (such as the Muslim Huis and the Miao) and foreigners consumed this meat. This taboo, among Han Chinese, led Chinese Muslims to create a niche for themselves as butchers who specialized in slaughtering oxen and buffalo.
In Japan 
Historically, there was a beef taboo in Japan, as a means of protecting the livestock population and Buddhist influence. Meat-eating had long been taboo in Japan, beginning with a decree in 675 that banned the consumption of cattle, horses, dogs, monkeys and chicken, influenced by the Buddhist prohibition of killing. In 1612, the shogun declared a decree that specifically banned the killing of cattle. This official prohibition was in place until 1872, when it was officially proclaimed that Emperor Meiji consumed beef and mutton, which transformed the country's dietary considerations as a means of modernizing the country, particularly with regard to consumption of beef. With contact from Europeans, beef increasingly became popular, even though it had previously been considered barbaric.
In Ancient Egypt 
In Ancient Europe 
- In Celtic mythology, the principal gods were sometimes considered to take the form of a bull and cow during a rite at the spring equinox. The cattle goddess was known as Damona in Celtic Gaul and Boann in Celtic Ireland.
- In Greek mythology, the Cattle of Helios pastured on the island of Thrinacia, which is believed to be modern Sicily. Helios, the sun god, is said to have had seven herds of oxen and seven flocks of sheep, each numbering fifty head.
- In Norse mythology, the primeval cow Auðumbla suckled the ancestor of the Frost Giants, Ymir, and licked Odin's grandfather, Búri, out of the ice.
- Among the Visigoths, the Oxen pulling the wagon with the corpse of Saint Emilian lead to the correct burial site (San Millán de la Cogolla, La Rioja).
- At Saint Fernando's death, the bulls of the Muslims bowed as his body went to burial.
In religiously diverse countries, leather vendors are typically careful to clarify the kinds of leather used in their products. For example, leather shoes will bear a label identifying the animal from which the leather was taken. In this way, a Muslim would not accidentally purchase pigskin leather, and a Hindu could avoid cow leather. Many Hindus who are vegetarians will not use any kind of leather.
Jainism prohibits the use of leather since it is obtained by killing animals.
See also 
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- (Achaya 2002, pp. 16–17)
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- Template:Srimad-Bhagavatam : Canto 1:"Creation" : SB 1.16: How Pariksit Received the Age of Kali : SB 1.16.20
- V.M. Apte, Religion and Philosophy, The Vedic Age
- (e.g. RV 1.126.3; 1.164.3; 5.27.1; 8.1.33; 8.2.41; 8.4.20; 8.5.37; 8.6.47; 8.21.18; 9.69.4)
- Atharvaveda 9.7
- Srimad-Bhagavatam : Canto 2: "The Cosmic Manifestation" : SB 2.4: The Process of Creation : SB 2.4.20
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Sacred cows|
- Sacredness of native Cow breeds of India
- Photo essay examining the changing place of the Holy Cow in India
- Cows in Hinduism
- Sacredness of cow in Rigveda and the words of Gandhi, from Hinduism Today
- Gau-Mata and her secret meanings
- Milk in a vegetarian diet, from Sanatan Society, a Hindu association
- Sacred No Longer: The suffering of cattle for the Indian leather trade, from Advocates for Animals
- Rise In Animal Slaughter in India, by Tony Mathews
- "Pamela Anderson Lee Exposes Animal Cruelty in the International Leather Trade", from PETA
- Deonar Abattoir: Report on the Failure of Government and of Management to Meet Humane, Hygiene, Religious, and Legal Standards for Slaughter and Animal Handling, from PETA
- People for Animals, an Indian animal rights organisation
- India cow report, by Balabhadra das, ISCOWP
- Hinduism: Why do Hindus regard the cow as sacred?