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On Hugging Cows

19 Jan '24
6 min read



Recently, the Animal Welfare Board of India declared Valentine’s Day, i.e. February 14th, “hug a cow day”. The aim was to restore Vedic traditions which were dying out. This was withdrawn two days later as there was a big hue and cry and mockery and laughter. One of key points raised, was how the cow would respond if you hugged one!

While a lot of people, including me, found this hilarious, I felt in retrospect, that the thought behind it needed to be reflected upon. I decided to do some research to find out whether I wanted to hug a cow or not! 



One of the first things that comes to mind is that while most Vedic traditions were dying out, how was it that the cow got so lucky (relatively speaking) ? Agreed the cow was Kamadhenu, the wish fulfilling cow who was the epitome of motherhood, who emerged from the churning of the ocean and who could supply endless amounts of milk and milk products for its owner, played a large role. However other animals who were also worshipped as deities or vahanas during the Vedic era and provided almost as many benefits were unfortunately not that lucky. Example Paundraka, Yama’s buffalo. Nagameiya the goat, Nandi the bull who is worshipped in all of lord Shivas temples. The laws regarding buffaloes, bulls and bullocks are far less stringent and in some of the areas that cow slaughter is prohibited, these animals are allowed to be slaughtered. 

One of the main reasons the cow is more sacred is attributed to the fact that politicians use it to further their own ends. The cow plays a large role in Hindu Muslim riots and is used for keeping the animosity going. It works both ways. Cow slaughter rules are exploitied. Cows are smuggled across the border. Some vigilantes also use the cow for wrong reasons like harassing cow transporters who transport dead cows for beef and leather, and asking them to pay bribes. 

Commerce too is another reason. There are many benefits every part of her body provides. Despite the cow being so protected, India is one of the largest exporters of beef. 

These are some of the reasons that the sacred cow’s sanctity is doubled. The cow seems to be caught up in a series of complex controversies between communalism and commerce that are mostly impossible to fathom. 

Holi cow!

One of the earliest riots in India, the famous Holi riot of 1714 in Gujarat involved a cow. A Hindu person burnt a holika during Holi and his Muslim neighbours who didn’t like it slaughtered a cow. The violence that followed continued over several days and several hundred Hindus and Muslims died. We are all aware that there are many such Hindu Muslim riots and many of them are attributed to the cow.


Gomatha puja is a puja dedicated to cows. It is still conducted in many places today and is supposed to increase the prosperity of the devotee and fulfil all his wishes, however it seems to do nothing for the cow.

In actual fact what is being done to cattle today is spine chilling and makes your blood run cold. Just like the innocent rhyme Ring a ring a roses signifies the plague, old McDonalds farm seems to be darkly menacing too. 

A lot of of us are familiar with the innocent Enid Blyton farm series where the animals were treated like a part of the family and fingers dipped in milk were used to feed calves. the calves used to frolic and butt the children with their tiny horns.

  • Today these calves just a day old are dragged away from their mother. Their horns are burnt, they are branded and castrated all without painkillers. 
  • They are tortured, hit with sticks, kicked and ill treated.
  • The cruelty is not confined just to India but is there all over the world.
  • In the United States and other countries cows mostly live in concrete factories not idyllic green pastures. They are confined to tiny spaces.
  • Most are sent to slaughter houses when they are four or five years old, when their milk production decreases, although they can live up to 20 years
  • They are injected with hormones to increase milk supply. 
  • Dairy cows are repeatedly impregnated by artificial insemination. 
  • Male cows are sent at a very young age to veal farms or cattle ranches where they end up as hamburger meat.
  • In India cows are smuggled across borders to be slaughtered for meat. 
  • Goshalas are shelters in India for old cows, In the Hingonia Goshala incident in Rajasthan, 500 cows died of starvation, buried up to their necks in excrement. It was said there weren’t enough funds from the government.
  • In Chhattisgarh 200 cows died of starvation in a Goshala which belonged to a BJP leader.
  • Many such examples abound.


We all try to calculate the milk/water ratio in our daily packet or tetrapack of milk, perhaps we need to calculate the milk/cruelty ratio instead. One fact remains that the cow despite everything is still worth her weight in “padas” (Vedic currency), perhaps not for the right reasons though.

  • Of Mad Cows and Cannibalism

Mad Cow disease broke out in UK, USA, Japan and a few other countries. This was attributed to the fact that the herbivorous cows were cannibalised by feeding them infected cow blood and crushed bone meal from calves, mixed with their fodder. 

Mad cow disease is a disease of the Central Nervous System that makes a cow increasingly restless, aggressive and causes a change of temperament that simulates madness. There is a similar version of the disease that can infect human beings. Spread to humans it is said to cause a similar variant  Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease , There is no cure for the disease. It can cause anxiety, restlessness, depression and finally lead to dementia. The treatment includes making the patient as comfortable as possible.


Kamadhenu Again

While researching cow hugging, I came across a new trend that was catching on. It is well known that animals are increasingly being used as therapy in an increasingly insane world. Mental illness is on the increase and animals as pets are a regular part of therapy. Apparently goat yoga , i.e. yoga with goats jumping on your back – go figure – and cow hugging therapy (introduced by the Netherlands) are great stress relievers.

While we are busy teetering between worshipping and slaughtering cows all in the same breath, the rest of the world seems to have moved ahead. The ancient myths surrounding animals seem to be coming to life again and perhaps evolving into modern myths.

It seems as though Kamadhenu is reclaiming her own. Diseases like mad cow, the vegan movement, lactose intolerance, the awareness that the hormones and fertilizers injected in cows, genetic manipulation that could impact us too, and the increasing awareness of cruelty to animals have started to have an effect. Hopefully this will be quick enough to protect our cows and lead to cruelty free milk and restore order. Nature moves slowly but surely.


dhenunam asmi kamadhuk

“Among cows I am the wish fulfilling part...”  says Lord Krishna in Text 28 of the Bhagwat Gita.


In Retrospect I think I will go and hug that cow.



Category : Activisim


Written by Mallika Nagarajan

I am a contemporary artist, childrens book writer and illustrator and an MBA