Biodiversity Nepal
For the Future Generation

What’s special about Cows anyway?

The cows in Hindu culture are a special creature. Are they special, scientifically?

What's Special about cows anyways?
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(Part two under ‘the strange world of domestic animals’ series. Check the part one, here.)

On that night I had a fever that read 103 degree fahrenheit. Following day, the first thing in the morning, I sensed grandpa trying to wake me up.

“Come on son. Drink this in!”

I suspected that he had brought a cup of tea. But it had no vapor.

“Ehh.. What’s this?” I groaned.

“It’s your medicine. Go on, drink it. Now!” He ordered.

I glanced. The cup was filled with some yellowish liquid. Did he bring some kind of vitamin or what?

“Who takes medicine first thing in the morning? Come on Grandpa, let me sleep!” I hesitated.

“It’s a special medicine son. You can’t refuse!”

I had no option. Closing my eyes, I guzzled it quickly. It tasted horrible. Bitter. I could take it no further.

With an awkward face I said, “Gomutra (cow urine)?”

“Haha! Yeah.” He grinned.

“Ewwwu….!!”

No matter to my dismay, he forced me to drink that entire cup.

Not many are excited about drinking Gomutra. But there still are folks like my Grandpa. He praises Gomutra as his big secret of good health and strong immunity. Our Hindu religion has a special place for cows. But, are they really special? Does science agree? Are they overpraised?

Though I came across several Ayurvedic papers and websites claiming anticancer properties of cow urine; biochem researchers seem to disagree. A few months back, Indian Government allocated a big fund for research on cow urine, its stool (Gobar) and they even derived terms like cowpathy. Such prioritization infuriated the scientific community of the nation. Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar, journalist for Science Magazine, wrote the attempt as ‘an act to validate faith-based pseudoscience run by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’.

Researchers claim ‘cow urine contains mainly water (95%), urea, and a mixture of salts, hormones, enzymes, and minerals’. Seems pretty normal urine like any other animal, isn’t it?

It’s not the first time that Grandpa has forced me to drink ‘Gomutra’. ‘Neni’ (our cow) has been living with us for more than 6 years.  She may be with us for a few years but 10,000 years back her ancient (or great100) grandparent was the first to be captured from the wild. When Middle East farmers captured 80 or so Auroch herd (wild cow) around Cayonu Topesi of the then Turkey, they might be unaware, but they were creating an entirely new species: the cows.

Fossil of Aurochs excavated from Copenhagen an image by Marchus Sumonick.

 

It might have been the first but Helmer, a French Researcher, predicted that four other wild cattle species were also domesticated following the same process across the globe. In his article for the cambridge blog, writer Mario Melleti writes:

 

 

 

‘Besides aurochs, other wild cattle have been domesticated in the last 7000 years. Species include banteng in Southeast Asia about 5000 years BC; Gayal or mithun, the domestic form of gaur (Bos gaurus) from Assam and Myanmar; wild yak about 2500 years back in Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and many more.’

After successful domestication of goats and sheep, prehistoric humans started to domesticate big animals like Aurochs. The cave paintings of the prehistoric humans also confirm this. Later, the domestication that started from the Middle East spread across Western Europe and East Asia and finally to the whole world.

A cave painting of Aurochs (wild cow) discovered from Lascaux cave of France. Courtesy:Prof. Sakx

In India and Nepal where consumption of beef is considered a holy sin, it’s no surprise that this region alone hosts the highest population of cows: about one third of the world.

When Mom opens the door of Goth (cowshed) for the first time in the morning, ‘Neni’ gets excited. Because among all the livestock, she is the one getting big attention. Mom places the biggest dikchey – a containerfilled with kudo in front of her. Like morning tea to us, so the kudo for her. But she is adamant. She demands salt as well. Then and only then, she devours it. Then comes Grandpa. He reveres her big time putting a tika, akshyata and flowers on her forehead. On any day, if I am assigned with worshiping duty, I go on to extol upon all livestock. When grandpa sees goats and buffaloes with tikas in their forehead, he looks puzzled.

Religion Columnist ‘Kimberly Winstone’ for the Washington Post writes “Cows are not considered as god. Hindu are originally vegetarians, and they consider the cow to be a sacred symbol of life that should be protected and revered. In the Vedas, the oldest of the Hindu scriptures, the cow is associated with Aditi, the mother of all the gods.”

Neni – the cow of our home – praised on the occasion of GaaiTihar

Her gobar (dung) above everyone’s is used for cleaning our kitchen. Grandpa even mentions the mythic philosophy that gobar can be used for bathing as well. I sigh with disbelief, but he looks serious. ‘Come on! That went far.’ I murmured.

Through a scientific lens, it’s no wonder that we will find every another creature unique and special. But one should clearly be aware on what’s tradition, ethnic knowledge,  religional faith and what’s complete superstition and pseudoscience. Cows are amazing, special and unique; just like every other creature.

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