Sacred Cows of India
The sanctity of the cow in Hinduism, the belief, dating from the Vedic period, that associates the cow with certain deities and thus accords it veneration. Though oxen and bulls were sacrificed and their flesh consumed in ancient India, the slaughter of milk-producing cows was prohibited, and verses of the Rgveda refer to the cow as Devi (goddess), identified with Aditi (mother of the gods) herself. By the early centuries of the Common era, the killing of a cow was equated to the sin of killing a Brahman (a member of the highest, priestly, caste). The degree of veneration afforded the cow is indicated by the use in rites of purification and extreme penance of the pańcagavya, the five products of the cow--milk, curd, butter, urine, and dung. The importance of the pastoral element in the Krishna cycle of legends, particularly from the 10th century onward, further emphasized the sanctity of the cow. In modern India the question of the slaughtering of cattle is often a political issue.
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