The Healing Powers of Holy Cow

Cows are considered sacred in Hinduism, and when I lived with a Hindu family in Nepal, I observed the daughter-in-law, Srijaana, ritually cleansing the kitchen floor daily by applying a layer of fresh dung. After years of this practice, the floor was essentially a flat, hard-packed platform of dried dung, which, I must say, had a surprisingly smooth look and cool feel.


When I asked Srijaana whether it was clean to put cow poop on the kitchen floor, she replied that this was the proper way to keep things tidy and healthy. A professor I talked to said that cow dung is widely believed to have an antibacterial property that actually sanitizes the kitchen.

In India and Nepal, cows can do no wrong. Killing and injuring a cow in India or Nepal inspires harsh penalties. I can't tell you the number of times I saw traffic jams in Kathmandu caused by indulged cows lazing in the middle of the road. Even Mahatma Gandhi will tell you: "If someone were to ask me what the most important outward manifestation of Hinduism was, I would suggest that it was the idea of cow protection."


From protection, the faithful quickly move on to embracing all that cows have to give. "Walking on fresh cow dung is very healthy," Kesari Gumat, one of the Indian researchers working to develop the medicines told AFP, according to Discovery News. "It kills all the germs and bacteria and heals wounds. And dry cow dung is a great scrub to get rid of dead skin and improve blood circulation."


Cow urine, too, is seen to have beneficial properties. A Hindu nationalist group, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), last year developed a cow-urine-based soft drink, "Gau Jal" or "cow water," which they hope to market as a "healthy" alternative to soda once it receives approval from government authorities.


Nila Parmar, an Ahmedabad housewife, told AFP that she has been drinking cow urine every day for years because it's the only cure that's helped her. "Trust me. I tried allopathy and homeopathy to cure my liver disease but nothing worked," she said. "I kept changing doctors for over two years but it's gau mutra (cow urine) that did the trick."


The new, curative products being created in a lab in the city of Ahmedabad in western India will be based on dung powder and distilled urine, which are to be mixed with other ingredients to make toiletries and medicines. The dung is dried and then subjected to high temperatures to kill harmful bacteria while the urine is distilled to remove impurities. While such measures may not satisfy a Western consumer, plenty of Indians are surely looking forward to trying these new uses of bovine bounty.


Katherine Gustafson