Being an Indian American doctor who happens to be Hindu, I hear a lot from patients, staff, and in the public sphere about my apparent “worship” of cows. This characterization represents a misunderstanding of the complex role that the cow has played in Hindu mythology.
Volumes could be written about this, but to boil it down to a few sentences, I would say that the roots of Hinduism go back to an agrarian culture. Having cows not only meant financial stability, but their milk provided sustenance that kept people alive. Many incorrectly refer to the appearance of a Hindu god taking earthly presence in the form of a cow as proof of the cows divinity. But actually they’ve got it backwards, the cow is not sacred because it appears in scripture, it appeared in scripture because of its value to sustaining life. That reverence to the cow is one which has been handed down through the ages. To put it simply, bovinity does not equal divinity, rather it may be the other way around.
While most people are aware of the cow’s revered place in Hindu society, many are not aware of the multitude of other things that Indians also revere. Here’s a list of 5 things that Indians also hold as “sacred” that many people do not know about, but probably should!
1. Doctors: Relative to American doctors, Indian physicians are compensated much less. But the admiration and respect they command in Indian society is vastly greater. Indian physicians enjoy a revered place in Indian society that far supasses the place of American physicians today.
2. Books: While America’s libraries are struggling to stay relevant in the internet age, books have always held high regard in Indian society. In my household, books were never to be defaced or damaged, or God forbid, placed on the floor! Books are not supposed to be left open, but rather they are supposed to be closed and put away after being read.
3. Parents: This may sound quaint, but respect for elders is elemental in Indian society. Growing up in an Indian household, the word of ones parents is akin to the word of God. Thus it is common for adult children to care for their elderly parents. Placing parents in a nursing home is uncommon as adult children often live in extended households and care for their parents as they age.
4. Education: Among all values that Indian parents instill in their children, education may be chief among them. Indian people place huge emphasis on educating their children, and work very hard to be able to send their children to the best schools. Most Indian parents insist on paying for their children’s higher education, and if they can’t often help with the costs as much as they can.
5. Tradition: Indians have a long history of holding up traditions through many generations. This would explain why many of the points on this list, though quaint, have survived through the years. So while respect for the cow has lasted through a few millenia, at least now you know that there’s a few other old traditions that have survived as well!
Are there other traditions that Indians hold sacred that you would add to this list, like food, music, etc? Do other cultures also hold these values as “sacred”?Feel free to sound off in the comments!