Essay on Sacred Cow in India

2793 Words Mar 10th, 2011 12 Pages
18
India's sacred cow
MARVIN HARRIS

Other people's religious practices and beliefs may often appear to be wasteful. They seem to involve a large expenditure of scarce resources on ritual; they contain taboos that restrict the use of apparently useful materials. Their existence seems irrational in the face of ecological needs. One example that many cite in support of this viewpoifJt is the religious proscription on the slaughter of cattle in India. How can people permit millions of cattle to roam about eating, but uneaten, in a land so continuously threatened by food shortages and starvation? In this article, Marvin Harris challenges the view that religious value is ecologically irrational. Dealing with the Indian case, he argues that
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The early Hindus did not avoid the flesh of cows and bulls; they ate it at ceremonial feasts presided over by Brahman priests. Cow worship is a relatively recent development in India; it evolved as the Hindu religion developed and changed. This evolution is recorded in royal edicts and n:,ligious texts written during the last 3,000 years of Indian history. The Vedas from the First Millennium B.C.contain contradictory passages, some referring to ritual slaughter and others to a strict taboo on beef consumption. A. N. Bose,
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MARVIN

HARRIS

in Social and Rural Economy of Nor/hem India. 600 B.c.-200 A.D. concludes that many of the sacred-cow passages were incorporated into the texts by priests of a later period. By 200 A.D. the status of Indian cattle had undergone a spiritual transformation. The Brahman priesthood exhorted the population to venerate the cow and forbade them to abuse it or to feed on it. Religious feasts involving the ritual slaughter and consumption of livestock were eliminated and meat eating was restricted to the nobility. By 1000 A.D., all Hindus were forbidden to eat beef. Ahimsa, the Hindu belief in the unity of all life, was the spiritual justification for this restriction. But it is difficult to ascertain exactly when this change occurred. An imp9rtant event that helped to shape the modern complex was the Islamic invasion, which took place in the Eighth Century A.D. Hindus may have found it politically expedient to

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