Sri Siddhi Ma – Our Divine Mother
“Since the time that Maharaj-ji left His body, He started manifesting more and more through Siddhi Ma’s transmission. She conveyed the love that Maharaj-ji is; She was an extension of that unconditional love. We in the satsang will throw off our attachments and meet Her in Her true self, the Soul. For those that felt protected by Her, that protection will continue. We all remain under Her umbrella of Grace. It was clear to me that when Maharaj-ji left His body He was ever present. And in this same way, I feel joyful for this transition of Siddhi Ma. Although, Her name means Mother of Spiritual Power, for all of us, Her spiritual family, She is simply Ma.”
-Ram Dass, December 28, 2017
In honor of Mataji
Daily chanting of 11 Hanuman Chalisas
for 11 days after morning aarti
Bhandara to celebrate the 12th day
ASHRAM BLOG: “Embody the Divine Servant”
We have come to love Hanuman-Ji for his superhuman feats offered in service to the divine. However, have you ever asked yourself what great acts Hanuman would perform in the world today?
We dedicate our Ashram Blog to sharing examples of how we can embody Hanuman’s devotion and Ram’s Dharma during this essential time.
Jai Hanuman! Jai Sri Ram!
“All action is prayer. All trees are desire-fulfilling. All water is the Ganga. All land is Varanasi. Love everything.”
“Devotion & Service”
For the most part, we know who or what we are devoted to.
For example, in the Ashram, devotees will easily point to Hanumanji or Baba and say that’s who they are devoted to.
What is often less clear is “who is devoted?”
So it is that at some time on the journey the devotee is urged to make a 180 degree turn! The devotee is urged to look at herself/ himself; to find out who is the one who is devoted.
It can be uncomfortable to look at oneself. Sometimes we find it more comfortable to look to God, to look to the object of our devotion. But both are essential if we are to come to a full and clear recognition of reality, and of our own true nature.
It is good to remember that devotion is ultimately a path to self realization.
In one of the greatest Indian spiritual discourses, the Bhagvad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that Bhakti Yoga, or the path of devotion and service, is one of the most powerful paths to recognizing our true nature.
What does it mean to look at oneself?
It means to look at that within us which resonates with the God of our devotion. And it also means to look at that within us which does not resonate with God.
To face that within us which does not resonate with God is difficult. To not avoid that within ourselves which is merely human, fallible and imperfect, is difficult. For it brings up guilt, shame, fear, and negative thoughts and feeling states of all kinds. So sometimes we end up using our devotion as a way to avoid dealing with our humanity.
Baba said “Whatever we experience and learn through the mind and the senses is not the truth”.
The tendency of thinking mind is to divide things up, most often as good and bad.
Sometimes we have to discern if our path of devotion is being co-opted by our minds and senses to avoid reality, because reality is too painful.
The path of devotion and service, or Bhakti Yoga, keeps pointing us back to our hearts. For it is in the human heart, which is the same as the universal heart, that our humanity and our divinity come together in form, and as one.
It is in the heart, rather than in the mind, where we can experience unconditional love that sees God in everyone and everything.
In the heart there is no distinction between humanity and divinity.
They are one.
In the heart there is no distinction between the God we worship, and ourselves.
They are one.In the heart there is no distinction between our “godly good selves” and our “flawed, vulnerable human selves”.
They are one.
In the heart there is no distinction between oneself and other.
They are one.
When we truly get this, it fosters, not arrogance but great humility. And in this great humility, we can drop the tendency to judge ourselves and others negatively.Devotion and service are, of course, closely bonded. If there is any part of ourselves that we leave out in devotion, then we tend to judge that in ourselves and in others. And this is directly reflected in how we serve.
We may think that what we are serving to others is food, comfort and kindness. And yes that is so, but above all what we serve to others is ourselves, and our very being!
Perhaps we can all relate to situations where we may have offered food, comfort, and even kindness to others with our hands outstretched but with our hearts holding back?
So this invitation to look at ourselves keeps bringing us back to our hearts, gently returning our awareness to the attitude with which we serve.
This is not about right or wrong, good or bad. If we find ourselves holding back in our hearts sometimes it is ok, and simply gives us another opportunity to open into awareness a little more, and to try it again differently.
It is like we are being continually moved in the direction of greater and greater love and honesty within ourselves and towards all beings. We are being continually moved deeper and deeper into the heart’s view which sees God in everyone and everything, starting with ourselves.
Service is indeed about actions, but it matters even more where the action comes from. When we serve from wholeness and love, then what we serve is wholeness and love. Right action flows naturally and effortlessly from right attitude.
So together, let us heed Baba’s invitation to love everyone, including ourselves, more fully.
Together let us heed the invitation to look at, not only God and goodness, but anything and everything we deem as other God and goodness.
Together let us heed the invitation to include more and more of ourselves and other in our devotion and our service.
Jai Neem Karoli Baba
Note to Readers:
I feel incredibly blessed to have been included in the family of devotees at the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram during my stay in Taos. I have witnessed first hand, the sincerity and love with which the sevaks continue to offer themselves in service.
From where I stand it is very hard work and demands much from all who serve! As everyone here says all the time – Hanumanji’s grace and Baba’s love light the way.
I am deeply touched, and feel enormous appreciation and gratitude for this amazing space, nestled at the feet of the sacred Taos Mountain, filled with the blessings of Sri Ram, Durga Devi, Hanumanji and Baba Maharaji, and lovingly nurtured by the sevaks.
Deep bows and thank you to all who make this temple and Ashram available to so many.
I attribute this article to the grace here.
Enjoy this informative video about the principles of permaculture and how they are being applied here at the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram Farm.
Rico Zook has been consulting & working collaboratively with the ashram farm for the past 7 years to develop a regenerative permaculture garden & farm.
In this video Rico speaks about the difference between permaculture and conventional farming methods. He highlights the importance of perennials and plant diversity to create an ecoysystem of plants that benefit one another. He also emphasizes the importance of shaping the land to contain and circulate water most efficiently, promoting resiliency in the face of hardship.
The ashram’s most recent permaculture development includes the installation of a pond, which will act as an abundant water source that will support the regenerative and self sustaining qualities of the farm. At the ashram, we are working diligently towards our goal of creating a healthy, thriving permaculture farm that is high production and low maintenance – yeilding the most high quality prasad for devotees.
In last month’s blog we explored the traditional significance of “Gau Mata” or “Mother Cow” in Indian spirituality. This month we look at what it means to care for Gau Mata in this modern age and ask the following questions: What important seva do cows provide on an organic farm or in a traditional village? What are the global impacts of modern practices of animal agriculture? What seva can we offer the cows in an ashram goshala?
Cows on the Village Farm
In his book “Cows and the Earth”, Ranchor Prime speaks about the traditional role of cows on the farm. Here is an excerpt:
“Throughout history, farmers depended on crop rotation and animal husbandry to regenerate the earth…Specialist herbivorous livestock feed on grass, some of which is up in the hills or in wet meadows not otherwise cultivated…so farmers traditionally got the best out of their animals, their crops and their landscape…As they grazed, ruminants such as cows and sheep deposited nitrogen-rich manure on the soil, which was absorbed throughout the year, collected and spread as fertilizer on vegetable beds or ploughed into the fields before sowing cereals. Chemical fertilizers fundamentally changed the whole balance of farming. The production of nitrogen fertilizer is expensive and contributes to global warming, and its continual use causes the soil to lose its ability to restore itself naturally, thereby depleting it.”
In the Hindu community in India, where cows are revered and never killed for their meat, there is a long tradition of raising and caring for dairy cows. In this tradition, a mutually beneficial relationship has been established in which care is given to the entire herd. According to one source:
“Besides their milk, cows also provide many other practical purposes, and are considered a real blessing to the rural community. On the farm, bulls are used to plough the fields and as a means of transportation of goods. Even Lord Shiva’s trusted vehicle is Nandi– the sacred bull. Cow dung is saved and used for fuel, as it is high in methane, and can generate heat and electricity. Many village homes are plastered with a mud/cow dung mixture, which insulates the walls and floors from extreme temperatures of heat and cold. Yagnas, or fire ceremonies, are performed to thank the gods and to receive their blessings. Cows play a central role in these fire yagnas or agnihotras by providing the essential fuel and offerings. Scientific research has found that the ritual of burning cow dung and ghee as fuel for these sacred fires actually purifies the air and has anti-pollutant and anti-radiation qualities.”
Ranchor Prime spoke with the head of the Bhaktivedanta Manor Farm in England, a farm following the principals of ahimsa, or non-violence, in which no animals are ever killed or deliberately harmed. He talks about the way in which they manage their dairy herd:
“The key to a successful dairy herd is knowing how to keep your oxen usefully occupied. Bulls are as productive as cows if properly managed. Moreover they are happier when they have work to do. Otherwise they get bored. Ten working oxen provide the power needed to farm 131 acres. A team of oxen are kept busy ploughing, rolling, spreading manure, weeding, chain-harrowing to pull up the dead grass and aerate the soil or transporting. The oxen cut the grass, turn it, and gather it into rows. After bailing, they transport the hay to be stored for winter fodder. They also power a circular unit used for milling grains and generating electricity. There is more than enough work for the oxen all year round. By relying on ox-power a farm reduces its dependence on expensive machinery and fossil fuels. It is estimated that a modern farm requires the input of 10 calories of fossil-based energy for every one calorie of food energy produced. This is due to both reliance on chemical fertilizers which are produced from either gas or coal and on fuel for mechanization-transport, tractors, harvesting machinery, etc…On the same land, with the same inputs, the Bhaktivedanta Manor dairy herd, even with its non-milking animals and its hard-working oxen, is nearly two and a half times more productive in food calories than a comparable beef herd. To this we must add the power supplied by the oxen, who do all the heavy work around the farm.”
Factory Farming of Animals and its Impacts
“Animal agriculture makes a 40% larger contribution to global warming than all transportation in the world combined; it is the number one cause of climate change.” -Jonathan Safron Foer, “Eating Animals”
Unfortunately, farms following the principals of non-violence towards both the earth and her creatures are no longer the norm. There are only a handful of farms today who are raising dairy cattle with a policy of total care for the herd in harmony with the land and a commitment to no slaughter.
Even “Food for Life”, the organization under the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON), commonly known as the “Hare Krishna” movement, which distributes free Prasad throughout the world especially in areas where food is scarce due to war or natural disaster, has gone vegan. This is because it is extremely difficult to find dairy products produced in a way which does not bring harm to the milking cattle or their offspring. If an organization devoted to Lord Krishna, the divine cowherd who is perennially fond of anything made with milk and butter, has stopped preparing dairy products to offer to Him, then it speaks to the dire need for responsibly produced milk.
The fact is that if one is vegetarian one cannot partake of commercial dairy products with a clear conscience because within the dairy industry all cattle eventually meet the same fate-in the slaughterhouse. And if one does choose to eat meat (or consume dairy products which feed into the beef industry), one cannot do so without causing deep harm to animals and the planet.
“Virtually all of the time one’s choice is between cruelty and ecological destruction, and ceasing to eat animals.”
-Jonathan Safran Foer, “Eating Animals”
Here are some facts about the environmental impacts of raising animals for food within the current system:
“Recent and authoritative studies by the United Nations and the Pew Commission show conclusively that globally, farmed animals contribute more to climate change than transport. According to the UN, the livestock sector is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, around 40 percent more than the entire transport sector-cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships-combined. Animal agriculture is responsible for 37 percent of anthropogenic methane, which offers twenty-three times the global warming potential (GWP) of carbon dioxide, as well as 65 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide, which provides a staggering 296 times the GWP of carbon dioxide. The most current data even quantifies the role of diet: omnivores contribute seven times the volume of greenhouse gases that vegans do.
The UN summarized the environmental effects of the meat industry this way, ‘raising animals for food (whether on factory or traditional farms) is one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global…[animal agriculture] should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution and loss of biodiversity. Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale.’ In other words, if one cares about the environment, and if one accepts the scientific results of such sources as the UN (or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the Center for Science in the Public Interest, or the Pew Commission, or the Union of Concerned Scientists, or the Worldwatch Institute…), one must care about eating animals.
Most simply put, someone who regularly eats factory-farmed animal products cannot call himself an environmentalist without divorcing that word from its meaning.”
-Jonathan Safron Foer, “Eating Animals”
“More than 10 billion land animals are slaughtered for food every year in America, and upwards of 99% of all animals eaten in the U.S. come from factory farms.”
-Jonathan Safran Foer, “Eating Animals”
Besides the impacts on climate that are caused by the modern systems of intensive, mechanized animal farming, there are a wide range of other global issues which are affected by modern animal agriculture-issues such as world hunger, deadly flu epidemics and biodiversity.
“Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”
What about the environmental impacts of dairy cows?
Dairy cattle also consume resources and produce methane. However, dairy cows are responsible for only one-twentieth of worldwide methane emissions and only one-eightieth of the emissions contributing to global warming, as opposed to beef cattle, which contribute five times as much. Of all meats, beef is the most expensive to the earth. At least ten kilos of plant protein are needed to produce a kilo of beef. The conversion rate of high protein feed to meat in cattle is about 30 to 1, whereas the conversion from fodder to milk is about 2 to 1. Additionally, organic dairy cows consume 38 percent less than cows reared conventionally and exhale less methane because they feed predominantly on grass and hay.
“If you have people who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have people who will deal likewise with their fellow human beings.”
-St. Francis of Assisi
Goshala or Gaushala is a Sanskrit word combining the words go or gau meaning “cow” and shala meaning “place of shelter”. This is a traditional abode or sanctuary for cows, calves and oxen.
The cows that live with us at the ashram in Taos give us gallons of milk each day as well as cream, butter, yogurt and cheese. They depend on us for shelter, food and companionship and repay us with innocent devotion and playful interaction. They are intelligent and wise. They have a deep connection to the earth and her offerings of plant life. They are inquisitive and sensitive. They intuit the emotions of those around them. They become attached with chords of deep love to their caregivers. They run, trot, leap and frolic in happy response to the sun, the wind, gentle rain, sweet-smelling earth, abundant alfalfa and open fields. They are our friends, our teachers, our mothers and our children.
Neem Karoli Baba teaches us to “Love Everyone, Feed Everyone, Serve Everyone and Tell the Truth”. As his devotees, we have the opportunity to apply these teachings in each of our interactions with one another, in each reaction to what life presents and in every decision that we make. Our greatest service to Maharaj-ji is to be open to the myriad opportunities which arise to serve all of creation and to care for all beings with loving kindness. Gai seva, or care for the cows, gives us the opportunity to widen our scope for loving care.
“Cow protection takes the human being beyond this species. The cow to me means the entire sub-human world. Man through the cow is enjoined to realize his identity with all that lives. Why the cow was selected for apotheosis is obvious to me. She was the giver of plenty. Not only did she give milk, but she also made agriculture possible.
-Gandhi, Harijan, September 15, 1940
The ashram was once a dairy farm and our own temple room was once the milk barn. What a sweet opportunity and a blessing to bring these sacred beings back to this lush land. As we update our ashram infrastructure with the building of the new temple and continue to plan for more space for guests and staff, it is also an important time to think about how to sustain the community with more land for growing vegetables, legumes and grains and for grazing the cows. Here in the Taos valley which has a several hundred year history of traditional agriculture, historically farmed land is being sold off rapidly. There are currently several parcels of land for sale near to the ashram. This land, much of which had been used for grazing sheep, would benefit greatly from careful tending and could provide the much-needed space for us to support the community with food and continue following Maharaj-ji’s teachings to feed everyone. Please see the listings below if you are interested in purchasing land to support the ashram’s efforts.
If you have any questions about cow seva at the ashram or about how you can contribute to the care of Gau Mata, please contact email@example.com or call Anandi at 575-758-8328.
Ashram Goshala Wishlist
5 Gallon Stainless Steel Milk Containers-$165, need 4
Land for Sale
We welcome Surabhi, the new cow who has come to the ashram to make her home. May she bring blessings to all!
Surabhi: Another name for Kamadhenu, the divine, wish-fulfilling cow in Hindu mythology. Surabhi also means “fragrance”; “fragrant thing” and “perfume”.
The Story of Vasishtha and Vishvamitra
(From Valmiki Ramayana Book One)
Our yearly enactments of the Ramlila at the ashram have made many devotees here in Taos familiar with the famous sages of the Ramayana-Vasishtha and Vishvamitra. But did you know that these two powerful sages were once great enemies? Read on to find out what role the wish-fulfilling cow, here called Shabala, played in setting these two great beings at odds…
Mighty Vishvamitra once ruled the earth, reigning as a king for many thousands of years. But one time that mighty man assembled his forces and, surrounded by a full army, wandered over the earth…The king at length came to Vasishtha’s ashram…which was like a second world of Brahma…It was filled with seers and ascetics-self-controlled men who had conquered their anger and subdued their senses-men who lived only on fruits and roots and who were given over entirely to prayer and sacrifice.
Mighty Vishvamitra was delighted to see Vasishtha, foremost in Vedic recitation, and bowed to him in humility…Vasishtha, smiling slightly, said these words to Vishvamitra, “Mighty and unfathomable man, I wish to offer my hospitality as befits your rank to you and your troops. Please accept this from me…” Vasishtha called to his brindled cow, “Come, come quickly, Shabala, and hear my words. I have decided to prepare a hospitable welcome, replete with sumptuous foods, for the royal seer and his troops. See to it for me. For my sake, heavenly wish-fulfilling cow, you must pour forth anything these men desire-as much as they want, using all the six flavors. Hurry Shabala, for you must make a huge amount of food…”
Addressed in this way by Vasishtha, the wish fulfilling cow produced as much as anyone desired. She made sugarcane and sweets, parched grain and wines, excellent liquors, costly beverages and all sorts of food. She produced mountainous heaps of steaming rice, savory food, soups and rivers of curds. There were thousands of silver platters, filled with various delicious confections. Fed to satiation, the army was full of happy and well-fed people. The honor shown Vishvamitra and his ministers and counsellors filled him with great joy, and he addressed Vasishtha, “Brahman, you who are yourself worthy of honor have cordially received me and shown me great honor. But listen, eloquent sage, for I have something to say. Please give me Shabala in exchange for a hundred thousand cows, for, holy man, she is truly a gem, and all gems belong to the king. Therefore, Brahman, you must give me Shabala. By rights she is mine.”
Addressed in this fashion by Vishvamitra, the eminent, righteous and holy sage Vasishtha replied to that lord of the earth, “I would not give you Shabala, your majesty, for a hundred thousand or even a thousand million cows-not even for masses of silver. For she is as inseparable from me as is good repute from a man of self-control. Foe-conquering hero, Shabala is not deserving of abandonment. For upon her depend my offerings to the gods and the offerings to my departed ancestors, as well as our bodily sustenance-so do the burnt offerings, the bali and the homa offerings. So too the ritual utterances svahaa and vashant, and the various branches of learning-all this depends upon her, royal seer. Of this there can be no doubt. Truly, she is everything to me, always gratifying me. Your majesty, there are many reasons why I cannot give you Shabala.”
Now being spoken to in this fashion by Vasishtha only made the eloquent Vishvamitra still more determined, and he said these words, “I will give you fourteen thousand elephants with golden chains for girth and neck, equipped with goads of gold. And I will give you eight hundred golden four-yoked chariots, adorned with bells and drawn by white horses. Sage firm in your vows, I will give you, in addition, one thousand and ten powerful horses, foaled in good regions and born of noble stock. And to this I will add ten million young cows, each distinguished by a different coloring. Now give me Shabala.”
Addressed in this fashion by wise Vishvamitra, the holy man replied, “I would not give up Shabala for anything, your majesty. For she alone is my jewel. She alone is my wealth. She alone is everything to me, my very life…But what is the use of all this idle chatter? I will not give up the wish-fulfilling cow.”
Now, when the sage Vasishtha would not give up Shabala, the wish-fulfilling cow, Vishvamitra had her dragged away from him by force. As the great king had Shabala led away, she was overwhelmed with grief and began to think: “Has the great Vasishtha abandoned me, that the king’s servants are taking me away, even though I am despondent and so terribly unhappy? What wrong have I done the great contemplative seer that this righteous man should abandon me, his favorite, when I am innocent and devoted to him?” Reflecting thus, she sighed repeatedly and then ran quickly to the incomparably powerful Vasishtha. Shaking off servants by the hundred, she ran with the speed of the wind to the great man’s feet. Standing before Vasishtha, Shabala lowed like thunder. Weeping and crying out, she spoke: “Holy son of Brahma, have you abandoned me, that the king’s men are taking me away from you?”
Addressed in this fashion, the brahman seer spoke these words, as though to an unhappy sister whose heart was consumed with grief. “I have not abandoned you, Shabala, nor have you wronged me. This mighty king is taking you from me by force. My power is not equal to the king’s. For he is a mighty Kshatriya monarch, the lord of the earth. There is his full army with hosts of horses and chariots, bristling with elephants and banners. By virtue of this, he is stronger than I.”
Address in this fashion by Vasishtha and skilled in speech, she humbly spoke these words in reply to the immeasurably splendid brahman seer: “They say that a Kshatriya has no real power, and that a brahman is, in fact, more powerful. Brahman, the power of a brahman is divine and much greater than that of the Kshatriyas. Your power is immeasurable. Vishvamitra is very powerful, but he is not mightier than you. Your power is unassailable. Just give the order, mighty man, and, filled with the power of the brahmans, I will crush the might and pride of this wicked man.”
When she addressed him in this fashion, the greatly renowned Vasishtha said, “Create an army to destroy the armies of my enemy.” Then she gave a roar, “humbha,” from which were born hundreds and hundreds of Pahlavas who destroyed Vishvamitra’s army before his very eyes…
Seeing his sons and his army destroyed, the renowned Vishvamitra was ashamed and sank into gloomy thought. Like the ocean becalmed or a snake whose fangs are broken, like the sun in eclipse, he was suddenly deprived of his splendor…So, making his one surviving son king, he entered the forest without delay. He went to the slopes of the Himalayas and there performed austerities to gain the favor of the great god Shiva…
After some time, that lord of gods revealed himself to the great sage Vishvamitra. Vishvamitra prostrated himself and said these words: “If you are satisfied with me, then please teach me the science of arms…grant me knowledge of whatever weapons are known among the gods…”
But the mighty royal seer, already proud, was filled with still greater pride upon receiving those weapons. Swelling with might like the ocean on the full-moon day, he reckoned the eminent seer Vasishtha as good as dead. Returning to the sage’s ashram, the king fired his weapons, whereupon the entire ascetics’ grove was burnt up by their power. When the sages saw the weapons discharged by wise Vishwamitra, they were frightened and fled by the hundred in all directions. Even Vasishthas’s disciples and the beasts and birds were frightened of the danger and fled by the thousands in all directions. In what seemed but a moment, great Vasishtha’s ashram was as empty and silent as a desert, despite Vasishtha’s repeated cries of “Don’t be frightened. I shall destroy the son of Gadhi as the sun destroys the mist.”
When he had spoken in this fashion, the mighty Vasishta, foremost reciter of the Vedas, spoke these words in wrath to Vishvamitra: “Fool, since your conduct is so depraved that you would wreck an ashram that has so long flourished, you shall die…” Enraged, the son of Gadhi then fired a whole host of weapons at Vasishta. But a wondrous thing occurred: the son of Brahma engulfed them all with his staff.
Vishvamitra, humiliated, sighed and said: “The power of the Kshatriyas is no power at all. Only the power of a brahman’s energy is power indeed. All my weapons have been destroyed by a single brahman’s staff. Therefore, when I have reflected on this and calmed my mind and senses, I shall undertake great austerities, for this alone will make me a brahman.”
This is the way in which the mighty ascetic Vishvamitra began his feud with the great Vasishtha.
“I am Kamadhuk-the wish fulfilling cow.”
-Lord Krishna, Bhagavad Gita
Who is the wish-fulfilling cow?
Kamadhenu (Sanskrit: कामधेनु, [kaːməˈd̪ʱeːnʊ], Kāmadhenu), also known as Surabhi (सुरभि, Surabhī), is a divine bovine-goddess described in Hinduism as the mother of all cows. She is a miraculous “cow of plenty” who provides her owner whatever he desires and is often portrayed as the mother of other cattle as well as the eleven Rudras. In iconography, she is generally depicted as a white cow with a female head and breasts or as a white cow containing various deities within her body. All cows are venerated in Hinduism as the earthly embodiment of the Kamadhenu. As such, Kamadhenu is not worshipped independently as a goddess, and temples are not dedicated to her honor alone; rather, she is honored by the veneration of cows in general.
Hindu scriptures provide diverse accounts of the birth of Kamadhenu. While some narrate that she emerged from the churning of the cosmic ocean, others describe her as the daughter of the creator god Daksha, and as the wife of the sage Kashyapa. Still other scriptures narrate that Kamadhenu was in the possession of either Jamadagni or Vashista (both ancient sages). In addition to dwelling in the sage’s hermitage, she is also described as dwelling in Goloka – the realm of the cows – and Patala, the netherworld.
Kamadhenu is often addressed by the proper name Surabhi, which is also used as a synonym for an ordinary cow. Professor Jacobi considers the name Surabhi—”the fragrant one”—to have originated from the peculiar smell of cows. According to the Monier Williams Sanskrit–English Dictionary (1899), Surabhi means fragrant, charming, pleasing, as well as cow and earth. It can specifically refer to the divine cow Kamadhenu, the mother of cattle who is also sometimes described as a Matrika (“mother”) goddess. Other proper names attributed to Kamadhenu are Sabala (“the spotted one”) and Kapila (“the red one”).
The epithets “Kamadhenu”, “Kamaduh” (कामदुह्) and “Kamaduha” (कामदुहा) literally mean the cow “from whom all that is desired is drawn”—”the cow of plenty”.
According to Indologist Madeleine Biardeau, Kamadhenu or Kamaduh is the generic name of the sacred cow, who is regarded as the source of all prosperity in Hinduism. Kamadhenu is regarded as a form of Devi (the Hindu Divine Mother) and is closely related to the fertile Mother Earth (Prithvi), who is often described as a cow in Sanskrit. The sacred cow denotes “purity and non-erotic fertility, … sacrificing and motherly nature, [and] sustenance of human life”.
Frederick M. Smith describes Kamadhenu as a “popular and enduring image in Indian art” All the gods are believed to reside in the body of Kamadhenu—the generic cow. Her four legs are the scriptural Vedas; her horns are the triune gods Brahma (tip), Vishnu (middle) and Shiva (base); her eyes are the sun and moon gods, her shoulders the fire-god Agni and the wind-god Vayu and her legs the Himalayas. Kamadhenu is often depicted in this form in poster art. Another representation of Kamadhenu shows her with the body of a white Zebu cow, crowned woman’s head, colorful eagle wings and a peacock’s tail. According to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, this form is influenced by the iconography of the Islamic Buraq, who is portrayed with a horse’s body, wings, and a woman’s face. Contemporary poster art also portrays Kamadhenu in this form.
The Mahabharata (Adi Parva book) records that Kamadhenu-Surabhi rose from the churning of the cosmic ocean (Samudra manthan) by the gods and demons to acquire Amrita (ambrosia, elixir of life). As such, she is regarded the offspring of the gods and demons, created when they churned the cosmic milk ocean and then given to the Saptarishi, the seven great seers. She was ordered by the creator-god Brahma to give milk, and supply it and ghee (“clarified butter”) for ritual fire-sacrifices.
The Anushasana Parva book of the epic narrates that Surabhi was born from the belch of “the creator” (Prajapati) Daksha after he drank the Amrita that rose from the Samudra manthan. Further, Surabhi gave birth to many golden cows called Kapila cows, who were called the mothers of the world.
According to the Ramayana, Surabhi is the daughter of sage Kashyapa and his wife Krodhavasha, the daughter of Daksha. Her daughters Rohini and Gandharvi are the mothers of cattle and horses respectively. Still, it is Surabhi who is described as the mother of all cows in the text. However, in the Puranas, such as Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana, Surabhi is described as the daughter of Daksha and the wife of Kashyapa, as well as the mother of cows and buffaloes.
The Matsya Purana notes two conflicting descriptions of Surabhi. In one chapter, it describes Surabhi as the consort of Brahma and their union produced the cow Yogishvari, the eleven Rudras, “lower animals”, goats, swans and “high class drugs”. She is then described as the mother of cows and quadrupeds. In another instance, she is described as a daughter of Daksha, wife of Kashyapa and the mother of cows. The Harivamsa, an appendix of the Mahabharata, calls Surabhi the mother of Amrita (ambrosia), Brahmins, cows and Rudras.
The Devi Bhagavata Purana narrates that Krishna and his lover Radha were enjoying dalliance when they thirsted for milk. So Krishna created a cow called Surabhi and a calf called Manoratha from the left side of his body, and milked the cow. When drinking the milk, the milk pot fell on the ground and broke, spilling the milk, which became the Kshirasagara, the cosmic milk ocean. Numerous cows then emerged from the pores of Surabhi’s skin and were presented to the cowherd-companions (Gopas) of Krishna by him. Then Krishna worshipped Surabhi and decreed that she—a cow, the giver of milk and prosperity—be worshipped at Diwali on Bali Pratipada day.
In the Ramayana, Surabhi is described to be distressed by the treatment of her sons—the oxen—in fields. Her tears are considered a bad omen for the gods by Indra, the god-king of heaven. The Vana Parva book of the Mahabharata also narrates a similar instance: Surabhi cries about the plight of her son—a bullock, who is overworked and beaten by his peasant-master. Indra, moved by Surabhi’s tears, rains to stop the ploughing of the tormented bullock.
In the Hindu religion, Kamadhenu is often associated with the Brahmin (“priest class” including sages), whose wealth she symbolizes. Cow’s milk and its derivatives such as ghee (clarified butter) are integral parts of Vedic fire sacrifices, which are conducted by Brahmin priests; thus the ancient Kamadhenu is sometimes also referred to as the Homadhenu—the cow from whom oblations are drawn. Moreover, the cow also offers the Brahmin—who is prohibited to fight—protection against abusive kings who try to harm him. As a goddess, she becomes a warrior, creating armies to protect her master and herself.
Kamadhenu-Surabhi’s residence varies depending on different scriptures. The Anushasana Parva of the Mahabharata tells how she was given the ownership of Goloka, the cow-heaven located above the three worlds (heaven, earth and netherworld): the daughter of Daksha, Surabhi went to Mount Kailash and worshipped Brahma for 10,000 years. The pleased god conferred goddess-hood on the cow and decreed that all people would worship her and her children – cows. He also gave her a world called Goloka, while her daughters would reside on earth among humans.
In one instance in the Ramayana, Surabhi is described to live in the city of Varuna – the Lord of oceans – which is situated below the earth in Patala (the netherworld). Her flowing sweet milk is said to form Kshiroda or the Kshirasagara, the cosmic milk ocean. In the Udyoga Parva book of the Mahabharata, this milk is said to be of six flavours and to have the essence of all the best things of the earth. The Udyoga Parva specifies that Surabhi inhabits the lowest realm of Patala, known as Rasatala, and has for daughters the Dikpalis – the guardian cow goddesses of the heavenly quarters: Saurabhi in the east, Harhsika in the south, Subhadra in the west and Dhenu in the north.
The Bhagavad Gita, a discourse by the god Krishna in the Mahabharata, twice refers to Kamadhenu as Kamadhuk. In verse 3.10, Krishna makes a reference to Kamadhuk while conveying that for doing one’s duty, one would get the milk of one’s desires. In verse 10.28, when Krishna declares himself to be the source of the universe, he proclaims that among cows, he is Kamadhuk.
Some temples and houses have images of Kamadhenu, which are worshipped. However, she has never had a worship cult dedicated to her and does not have any temples where she is worshipped as the chief deity. In Monier-Williams’s words: “It is rather the living animal [the cow] which is the perpetual object of adoration”. Cows are often fed outside temples and worshipped regularly on all Fridays and on special occasions. Every cow is regarded as an Avatar (earthly embodiment) of the divine Kamadhenu.
“It is by sacrifice that Soma (nectar) is got. Sacrifice has been established upon cows. (for without ghee or clarified butter, which is produced from milk, there can be no sacrifice). The gods become gratified through sacrifices. It is from the cows that the means have flowed for the sustenance of all the worlds. They yield Soma (nectar) in the form of milk. Cows are auspicious and sacred, the grantors of every wish and the givers of life.”
-Bhishma, Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva