Every year, we collectively spend an entire Sunday complaining about
January 14th kicks off India’s Pongal Festival – day three is dedicated to the cow. But cows are not only holy to Hindus as these examples from all ages and cultures shows.
On the third day of Pongal, cows are painted and adorned with beads, bells, and flowers. Hindu’s respect cows for practical and religious reasons – as the basis of life in farming communities they carry loads, plow fields, provide dairy products and fertilizer as well as ghee for religious ceremonies. As a gentle and peaceful animal which reflects the idea of a life of non-injury to other beings.
Mahatma Gandhi advocated nonviolent protest. One of his most famous quotes relates to the cow. He famously said: “One can measure the greatness of a nation and its moral progress by the way it treats its animals. Cow protection to me is not mere protection of the cow. It means protection of all that lives and is helpless and weak in the world.”
India has an ancient tradition of Jalikattu (bull chasing). Rock paintings in Tamil Nadu show it being practiced as early 1,500 BC. At the same time, (2000 -1600 BC) the Minoan civilization of the Mediterranean also venerated the bull. The Palace of Knossos on Crete shows bull heads on rings, pots, and frescos. The cult had a ritual of ‘bull-leaping’ where players grabbed bull’s horns to flip over their backs. This may be the origin of the phrase “to grab the bull by the horns.” It is also the origin of the legend of the Minotaur – a man with the head of a bull.
#4 The Sacred Apis
The ancient Egyptians had a sacred bull called the Apis. They believed that a flash of lightning had struck the cow and thus made it the embodiment of the God Osiris.
#5 The Golden Calf
The Old Testament story of the Golden Calf reflects this Egyptian bull cult. It tells the story of how after their Exodus from Egypt some of the Israelites began to worship their familiar bull again, creating the idol of a calf from gold.
#6 Bull Running & Ernest Hemingway
The ancient traditions of bull running continued into the Spanish traditional fiesta at San Fermin. Ernest Hemingway went to the fiesta many times including a notorious incident in 1924 when he claimed he had been gored by a bull. His novel The Sun Also Rises features the characters participating in the running of the bulls from the corrals to the bullring through the streets of Pamplona.