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About the Foundation

The sacred cow

Hinduism favours a vegetarian diet and protects the cow as a sacred animal and source of prosperity. Beef is therefore deemed to be non-edible. Currently, some Indian states have legally ratified the ban on the slaughter of cows, giving rise to considerable debate and tension. However, dairy products remain particularly highly valued. Milk, often transformed into ghee or yoghurt, is an essential part of the Indian diet.
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© Getty Images - Majid Saeedi - The holy cow in India

The cow, a revered animal in Hinduism

In the Hindu religion, the cow has acquired a sacred status. It used to be sacrificed like other animals and offered to the gods and its meat was eaten. The cow was gradually incorporated into a religious ritual and itself became sacred and an object of veneration from the 4th century BCE. It represents Mother Earth, as it is a source of goodness and its milk nourishes all creatures. Krishna, a central Hindu deity, is often portrayed in stories recounting his life as a cowherd and referring to him as the child who protects cows.

Today, Hindus, who represent around 80% of the Indian population, rarely eat meat. The consumption of beef is taboo for religious reasons. Some Indian states have even introduced this principle into their legal system, by passing laws to forbid the slaughter and consumption of cows (but without going so far as to prosecute beef eaters). Supporters of secularism and members of other religions denounce these laws. They are seen as an attack on fundamental human rights and as a form of discrimination with regard to other religious communities (Muslim and Christian in particular) which authorise the consumption of beef.

Products which come from the sacred cow

As the cow is a sacred animal for Hindus, all products derived from it are highly valued. There are a number of ways to use milk. It is, for example, transformed into yoghurt, which, savoury or flavoured, is incorporated into meals. Yoghurt is also the base for the sauce for chopped vegetables and spices and is also consumed as a drink, mixed with water or iced milk. Ghee, a type of clarified butter, is highly popular. Also buttermilk, a by-product of butter, forms a major part of the rural diet.

The cow’s goodness is not, however, restricted to its milk. Cow urine is sometimes included in a purifying mixture used in some religious rituals. Cow dung is used as a fertiliser and fuel. Collected, shaped and dried, it is used for cooking food.

The pig: an impure animal

Like beef, pork is also forbidden in Hinduism. However, unlike the sacred cow, the pig represents impurity and filth, because it eats our wasted food. This is considered to be particularly impure and soiled as, for example, it has been touched or come into contact with saliva.