Thursday, July 17, 2008


After encountering more than 100 cows during my foot travels around this city and observing the Nepali people's accomodation to this animal in their midst, I decided to investigate this whole "sacred cow" legend. As it turns out, the cow is not sacred but TABOO in this mostly Hindu country. These photos were taken during my walk home through the Baluwatar neighborhood where I work. The Prime Minister and Speaker's residences are nearby and many of the international embassies are located here. Pretty swanky place by Kathmandu standards. Yet, here they are everyday - the cows. On the streets, they have top priority. All taxis, school buses, motorbikes, bicycles, safa tempos, private vehicles and pedestrians must and do yield to them. Of course, there is usually alot of honking and yelling involved. But not hitting or swatting allowed. Ever.

By and large, the Nepali people do not eat beef but will eat water buffalo or "buff," as it is called in restaurants. I've eaten a buff momo. Not too bad. Also, the wearing of cow leather goods, belts, purses, and shoes, is avoided and they are banned from the temples and festivals.

The cow is literally untouchable - taboo - Aghanya--that which may not be slaughtered. This taboo arises from the beef-eating Vedic age, and animals were constantly being slaughtered. The reaction against flesh foods set in with the advent of Jainism and Buddhism. The pastoral tribes that inhabited India could not afford to sacrifice their cow wealth for meat. The norms of the time dictated that you sacrifice your best animal, usually the stud bull, for the feast when a distinguished visitor came by. As these worthies multiplied in numbers, the quality of the herds began to decline. You could not escape this obligation, as substitution of another animal would be regarded as a deadly insult. To save animals thus marked out, as well as in deference to the new trends, the inviolability of the cow came into being.

On a political note: The sacred cow also made news recently with the deposing of the monarch. The government faces a challenge - what to do with his 60 sacred cows. They voted out King Gyanendra in May but removing the beasts could prove trickier. 'Maybe the ministry of agriculture should use them for research,' offered one official.


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