The Primacy of the Cow as a Pillar of Dharma

This article is part 3 of 13 in the series Analysis of Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa's Novels

Quest for Truth in a Regime of Technology

One of the central aspects of Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa’s philosophy of writing is the fact that he regards it as a quest for truth. On a broader scale, it is an investigation of values—both human and philosophical. In this backdrop, how does one evaluate the cow as a value in and by itself? More so in an era of rampant and perpetually changing technology, which has come at the expense of all-encompassing erosion of values which were until recently regarded as unchangeable and timeless. More importantly, in a unique country like India which is the last surviving ancient civilization in a largely unbroken form. In the present time, on the political and social planes, India is also a complex battleground with ongoing clashes among alien religions, cults, worldviews, and mindsets where no settled outcome is visible in the foreseeable future.    

The aforementioned erosion of enduring values has occurred on two major planes, both interrelated. The first is what came to be known as moral relativism where there is no good and evil, no right and wrong, nothing is superior or inferior, and that everything is just a matter of perspective. The second is the consequence of the first, which was easy to achieve once moral relativism became pervasive: the destruction of the very foundation of these lasting values. In his classic The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom captures this phenomenon quite brilliantly.

So indiscriminateness is a moral imperative because its opposite is discrimination. This folly means that men are not permitted to seek for the natural human good and admire it when found, for such discovery is coeval with the discovery of the bad contempt for it. Instinct and intellect must be suppressed by education. The natural soul must be replaced with an artificial one…[R]elativism has extinguished the real motive of education..Nature should be the standard by which we judge our own lives and the lives of peoples. That is why philosophy, not history or anthropology, is the most important science…Cultural relativism destroys both one’s own and the good. [Emphasis added]    

The other central trait of technology is speed, which translates into all-embracing restlessness in everyday human life leaving little time or intellectual space for deeper inquiry. Intellectual repose is one of the basic prerequisites for philosophical contemplation that eventually realizes its fruition in Darshana, a word for which there is no English equivalent. When this occurs over a prolonged period, eternal philosophies like those embodied in the Vedanta texts and the Bhagavad Gita not only become redundant but inaccessible because the very equipment required to accurately understand them would have been destroyed, replaced by restlessness and a daily struggle against numerous conflicts within. The explosive rise in expensive psychiatric centres all over the world is the direct outcome of this phenomenon.

Extraordinary Clash of Values

Thus, what were unquestioned and settled truths of both the outer and inner life during the elder Kalinga Gowda’s time are not only meaningless but superstitions which have no material use for his own grandson. The unlettered elder Gowda finds enormous pleasure in listening to the melodious strains of his son Krishna’s flute, takes solace in the simple but profound insight of Puranic stories narrated by his friend, the Jois, and is moved to tears by a few stanzas of a folk lyric:

‘pon ejecting I became dung, ‘pon patting I became dung-cake
‘pon burning I became the sacred ash for the forehead
applied without patting, I became manure
what good have you done to anyone, O Human?   

‘pon extracting I became milk, and became curd ‘pon hardening
became butter when curdled.
I became fine ghee when heated
what good have you done to anyone, O Human?

I seek dirt and grass on the wayside and on the streets and Munch on them, return home and give elixir.
And drinking it you betray me. Tell me
what good have you done to anyone, O Human?

A more profound or moving commentary on the tenet of fact-value cannot be written.

But the younger Kalinga Gowda has not only forgotten this song but lives a life wholly opposed to that of his grandfather’s. This unfolding of this conflict is one of the most powerful expositions of the conflict between Dharma and Artha, or more accurately, what happens when Artha is pursued for its own sake shorn of Dharma. The elder Gowda—like his villagefolk—abides by the ancient Sanatana value that milk should not be sold. His grandson not only industrialises milk production and its sale but uses the lineage of the very cows his grandfather regarded as Mata or the Divine Mother. Even worse, America has transformed him into a guiltless beef-eater. This brutal alienation from his roots reaches a climax when he eats beef that his wife has prepared after slaughtering one of the cows belonging to the sacrosanct Punyakoti stock. Even in this case, he feels no guilt at eating her flesh but fear of the repercussions from his villagefolk. Orphanhood couldn’t have had a more savage definition than this.

Similarly, where the elder Gowda regarded agriculture and farming with all the sacred value attached to the notion of the earth as mother, his grandson regards it just as an economic resource. Where the elder Gowda grew food, his grandson grows tobacco because it is enormously profitable.

Centrality of the Cow

The centrality of the sanctity of the cow to the Indian civilization, culture and daily life is beyond question. It is one of those hoary and unparalleled cultural inheritances that must be valued, protected, upheld, and preserved for its own sake. If one were rooted in a healthy and sturdy value system, the status of the cow in the Hindu culture and psyche should ideally be placed outside the purview of public debates which have progressively yielded nothing but animosity and violence, forget any amicable resolution.

Perhaps few literary works have portrayed this sacredness as effectively, as powerfully, as endearingly and as movingly as Tabbali. There is no dearth of traditional Dharmashastra and Puranic texts that extol the divinity of the cow. And these texts should be preserved for the value that they bring to the proverbial rustic believer. However, Dr. Bhryappa’s splendid achievement is the manner in which he weaves this tradition in contemporary Indian life using an unassailable narrative mix of intellect and emotion, both inseparable. It can be more accurately called a Mimamsa that occurs on three planes: Adhibhuta, Adhiyajna and Adhyatmika as we shall see.

The fact that reverence for the cow and her worship is in the Hindu DNA is certainly not accidental. However, the answer to the question of why the cow enjoys a divine status apart from all other life forms cannot be found in subjective academic disciplines like sociology and anthropology. Indeed, there is almost nothing in our culture that does not contain moving, vivid, and elevating episodes related to the cow. Puranas, poems, prose, folklore, short stories, sculptures, temples, painting, Harikathas are replete with this. Indeed, some of the most popular and acclaimed episodes in our literary annals relate to the cow. Sri Rama’s ancestor Dilipa is prescribed the service of the cow as a Vrata. He offers his own life to a lion to save Nandini, the cow. Vishwamitra, in his former life as a haughty emperor aspires to become a Brahmarshi solely owing to a cow. Satyakama Jabali realizes the knowledge of Vedanta after serving an entire herd of cows. Indeed, even more fundamentally, the Santana tradition which depicts Dharma using the four legs of the cow is really ancient.

Given all this, the attempt of tracing the fount of the Hindu inner reverence for the cow using sociology, anthropology, and economics is actually hilarious. It is akin to tracing the reproductive cause of a snake in a grain of sand.

However, the same question confronts us when we constrict the cow’s primacy to just the economic realm: why did only the cow attain such divine status compared to all other livestock regarded as economic units? Compared to the cow, even the bull and ox occupy secondary status in the Sanatana tradition. We can glean an answer to this from D.V. Gundappa’s words:

The impact and pull of inner conviction is far more powerful and enduring than external circumstances and facts.

Thus, when we extend one person’s inner conviction of this sort to the entire society and nation, it becomes a cultural treasure and national value. If we were to phrase it differently, the Indian national value called cow is one of the finest real-life illustrations of the transformation of Artha into Dharma.

The living, captivating symbol of all these contemplations, convictions, beliefs, and the sum total of all the puranas and literature relating to the cow is the character of the elder Kalinga Golla Gowda.

To be continued   



Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

Prekshaa Publications

Indian Perspective of Truth and Beauty in Homer’s Epics is a unique work on the comparative study of the Greek Epics Iliad and Odyssey with the Indian Epics – Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata. Homer, who laid the foundations for the classical tradition of the West, occupies a stature similar to that occupied by the seer-poets Vālmīki and Vyāsa, who are synonymous with the Indian culture. The author...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the sixth volume of reminiscences character sketches of prominent public figures, liberals, and social workers. These remarkable personages hailing from different corners of South India are from a period that spans from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Written in Kannada in the 1970s, these memoirs go...

An Introduction to Hinduism based on Primary Sources

Authors: Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh, Hari Ravikumar

What is the philosophical basis for Sanātana-dharma, the ancient Indian way of life? What makes it the most inclusive and natural of all religio-philosophical systems in the world?

The Essential Sanātana-dharma serves as a handbook for anyone who wishes to grasp the...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the fifth volume, episodes from the lives of traditional savants responsible for upholding the Vedic culture. These memorable characters lived a life of opulence amidst poverty— theirs  was the wealth of the soul, far beyond money and gold. These vidvāns hailed from different corners of the erstwhile Mysore Kingdom and lived in...

Padma Bhushan Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam represents the quintessence of Sage Bharata’s art and Bhārata, the country that gave birth to the peerless seer of the Nāṭya-veda. Padma’s erudition in various streams of Indic knowledge, mastery over many classical arts, deep understanding of the nuances of Indian culture, creative genius, and sublime vision bolstered by the vedāntic and nationalistic...

Bhārata has been a land of plenty in many ways. We have had a timeless tradition of the twofold principle of Brāhma (spirit of wisdom) and Kṣāttra (spirit of valour) nourishing and protecting this sacred land. The Hindu civilisation, rooted in Sanātana-dharma, has constantly been enriched by brāhma and safeguarded by kṣāttra.
The renowned Sanskrit poet and scholar, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R...

ಛಂದೋವಿವೇಕವು ವರ್ಣವೃತ್ತ, ಮಾತ್ರಾಜಾತಿ ಮತ್ತು ಕರ್ಷಣಜಾತಿ ಎಂದು ವಿಭಕ್ತವಾದ ಎಲ್ಲ ಬಗೆಯ ಛಂದಸ್ಸುಗಳನ್ನೂ ವಿವೇಚಿಸುವ ಪ್ರಬಂಧಗಳ ಸಂಕಲನ. ಲೇಖಕರ ದೀರ್ಘಕಾಲಿಕ ಆಲೋಚನೆಯ ಸಾರವನ್ನು ಒಳಗೊಂಡ ಈ ಹೊತ್ತಗೆ ಪ್ರಧಾನವಾಗಿ ಛಂದಸ್ಸಿನ ಸೌಂದರ್ಯವನ್ನು ಲಕ್ಷಿಸುತ್ತದೆ. ತೌಲನಿಕ ವಿಶ್ಲೇಷಣೆ ಮತ್ತು ಅಂತಃಶಾಸ್ತ್ರೀಯ ಅಧ್ಯಯನಗಳ ತೆಕ್ಕೆಗೆ ಬರುವ ಬರೆಹಗಳೂ ಇಲ್ಲಿವೆ. ಶಾಸ್ತ್ರಕಾರನಿಗಲ್ಲದೆ ಸಿದ್ಧಹಸ್ತನಾದ ಕವಿಗೆ ಮಾತ್ರ ಸ್ಫುರಿಸಬಲ್ಲ ಎಷ್ಟೋ ಹೊಳಹುಗಳು ಕೃತಿಯ ಮೌಲಿಕತೆಯನ್ನು ಹೆಚ್ಚಿಸಿವೆ. ಈ...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the fourth volume, some character sketches of the Dewans of Mysore preceded by an account of the political framework of the State before Independence and followed by a review of the political conditions of the State after 1940. These remarkable leaders of Mysore lived in a period that spans from the mid-nineteenth century to the...

Bharatiya Kavya-mimamseya Hinnele is a monograph on Indian Aesthetics by Mahamahopadhyaya N. Ranganatha Sharma. The book discusses the history and significance of concepts pivotal to Indian literary theory. It is equally useful to the learned and the laity.

Sahitya-samhite is a collection of literary essays in Kannada. The book discusses aestheticians such as Ananda-vardhana and Rajashekhara; Sanskrit scholars such as Mena Ramakrishna Bhat, Sridhar Bhaskar Varnekar and K S Arjunwadkar; and Kannada litterateurs such as DVG, S L Bhyrappa and S R Ramaswamy. It has a foreword by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh.

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective to every discussion. These essays deal with the philosophy, history, aesthetics, and practice of...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...