Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Kerala society was an agrarian society till recently. The paddy fields, the coconut groves, the river, sea and other water bodies were integral part of the lives here. Another significant part, though not a direct one in many cases, was played by the cow. Cow? You may ask. Yes sir, the humble cow (and the bull).

So, what is the big role of this ordinary animal in our lives, one might wonder! To start with, the cow gives us milk (someone recently said - no it doesn't we have to extract it; which is technically right, but let’s not get into that right now). Now, in spite of the White Revolution and the Operation Flood, pure milk is something hard to come across. As the cow sheds have disappeared from the house compounds, so has the accessibility to pure milk. And those who are used to drinking fresh milk, right from their own farm, finds it hard to adjust when even litres of milk don't suffice where a few glasses would have been enough for the entire family's needs.

Coming back to the topic, let’s see the Cow's part in sustaining the economy. First, it provided the family with fresh and pure milk - which helps to enjoy that hot cup of morning coffee / tea (as the case may be). The women of the house sell a part of the milk to the needy neighbours (thereby earning a small income for themselves) and use the left over milk to produce curd. Now, the curd can be used as such or it further gets converted to butter milk - after some amount of churning - with delicious butter as the by-product. Now, the butter is carefully stored and is turned into ghee - or clarified butter, as it is sometimes called - and is stored for various uses. Moreover, being the far-sighted women they are, the ladies of the house also sell butter milk and ghee in the neighbourhood! Not only does this add to their earnings but also eliminate the need to buy these from the market, where they are sold at higher rates. 

Apart from that, mothers would agree that milk is one of the must have items in kitchen - it is used not only for coffee/tea, but also for innumerable food items like Kheer (the humble payasam, which could be palpayasam, palada or even the easy to make semiya), paneer, khoya, halwa and what not! The cream of the milk is said to be one of the best moisturisers and those who are beauty conscious can use it as their own personal beauty secret - with no side effects at all! (Ever heard the story of Cleopatra, the most beautiful Roman Empress, who used to bathe in milk?). And money saved is money earned! 

Before heading out of the kitchen, let me tell you this as well - that little leftover from yesterday's menu need not be dumped into garbage. You can put it in the bucket (every house with a cow has a bucket dedicated for it - wherein one pours the strained water after cooking rice, banana peels, vegetable skin etc etc) and give the cow a stomach-full of healthy water (called kaadi vellam or simply kaadi in vernacular). The banana leaves from the small feast, remains of jack fruit, even the leftover rice goes into this water and the cow is only happy to chew and drink them all... The end result is that there is no decaying food waste in the compound, which could be the breeding ground for disease spreading germs. That means less money is spent on medical bills! 

According to Hindu customs, Cow is the symbol of prosperity - it is regarded as 'Gomaatha' - the giver of all riches. Perhaps it is a title well deserved. Apart from the milk and its by-products, cow gives us dung and urine, both of which are excellent manures. Believe it or not, but the cow dung is said to possess anti bacterial and anti radiation properties and was used in the early days for purification purposes. In fact, it is being said that the Russians have even resorted to putting a layer of Cow dung between the metallic layers in the Space shuttles to protect the space travellers from harmful cosmic radiations. 

Back home, when the tragic gas leak in Bhopal killed more than 20,000 people in 1984, it is said that people living in houses with cow dung coated walls were not affected. Atomic power centres in Russia is said to be using cow dung to shield radiation. As far as my memory goes, the floor of our homes in the villages used to be smeared with cow dung. Every two days or so, the floor would get another coating of the dung - thereby keeping out the harmful bacteria... That means a safer environment to live in!

Some studies have even revealed that 'Agnihotra', a Hindu ritual performed using cow dung and ghee has negated the nuclear radiation effect. Panchagavya, a major constituent of Hindu rituals, is also derived from cow. It is a mixture of cow dung, urine, milk, curd and ghee, in prescribed proportions. This mixture is said to have great health benefits. It is also being widely used as fertilizer and pesticide. Ayurveda also recommends Panchagavya for various ailments. You might be surprised to know that it is even used as a base in certain cosmetic products. (Another reason to throw away the expensive cosmetics and save some money?)

Apart from these, the Ayurveda also recommends urine therapy, wherein distilled cow urine is used for treatment of flu, arthritis, bacterial diseases, food poisoning, indigestion, oedema, and leprosy among others. (An easily available cure - perhaps less costly as well).

Agricultural activities of the past also centred around the cow. There were bulls as well - to plough the land, as well as for transportation purposes. (That was an added advantage in the olden days when the vehicles were not ruling the roads).

The 'Holy Cow', as you can see, is called thus for a reason. Ever since we started regarding it as a mere pet animal, which was not a necessity, our lifestyle and lives have taken a turn for worse. We have not only lost the touch with cow, but also with our roots, agriculture and ourselves. For a cow is not merely a cow. It is a lot more than that, as the term Cownomics suggest - it is a whole economy in itself!

Disclaimer: Some observations regarding the anti-radioactive properties of cow dung has been mentioned based on some reports that I had read earlier - when Google-ing was not the order of the day - so I don't claim to know it all!!!
Image Courtesy - Google images

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