Milk is considered to be an extremely nourishing drink. Milk and its by-products such as butter and ghee, have played a critical role in powering mythologies across the ages. In India, milk and dairy products are considered holy and are a part of many religious offerings. Pride of Cows brings you some of the most interesting mythology legends that milk is a part of.
Krishna, the divine cowherd
Krishna was adorably called by many names, but one of the most commonly used names of Krishna is Gopala. In Sanskrit, Gopala literally means the protector of cows. As a cowherd, Krishna was known to be very gentle with his cattle. In fact some people argue that Krishna used to play his flute to soothe his herd, and not to lure the local women.
Krishna’s family were predominantly cowherds, and he along with his elder brother, Balram would take their herds for grazing. He enjoyed this activity because as a reward his mother would feed him butter.
Krishna was a glutton for butter which was churned from pure cow’s milk. The mischievous little cowherd’s love for butter knew no bounds as he was known to meticulously plot and plan with his friends to steal butter. Thus earning him the title of ‘Makhan chor’ or butter thief.
Due to Krishna’s repetitive attempts to steal butter, his mother started hanging the butter in earthen pots and hanging them from the ceiling. To his mother’s utter surprise, Krishna still managed to eat the butter from these pots. This story is the root of the tradition of “dahi handi” or “matki phod” in celebration of Krishna’s birthday on Janmashtmi.
The Milky Way
The origin of this name can be traced back to ancient civilization. According to the Romans, the appearance of our galaxy is what lead them to call it ‘Via Lactea’ or literally meaning ‘The Road of Milk’. Therefore our galaxy was named the Milky Way.
The Greeks are never shy of contributing their share to mythology. They have their own version of why our galaxy is labelled the Milky Way. Heracles, was the son of Zeus by a mortal named Alcmene. Since Zeus wanted his son to get divine powers, he let her suckle his divine wife Hera’s milk, while she was sleeping. Baby Heracles suckled away and woke Hera up. Hera was surprised to see an unknown baby drink from her bosom and so pushed him away, causing the milk to splatter across. This splattered milk is what came to be known as the Milky Way galaxy.
The origin of the word galaxy can be traced back to the Greek word “gala”, which was a term used to refer to milk. Hence again, the Milky Way.
Kamdhenu, the mother of all cows
The legend of Kamdhenu can be traced back to the Hindu mythology of the ‘Sagar Manthan’. The gods and the demons churned the sea in order to achieve the drink of life that makes you immortal, namely ‘Amrit’. Out of the various things that were retrieved due to the Sagar Manthan, one of them was Kamdhenu.
Kamdhenu is a divine bovine-goddess. She is generally depicted as a white cow. It is believed that she is the abode of various other divine deities. Kamdhenu is also known as the one who nourishes the world. People believe that the person who prays to Kamdhenu is blessed with whatever they desire. She was gifted to the Saptarishis or the seven great seers after the churning of the ocean, to provide them with milk. The seers used this milk to make ghee to perform divine yagnas or ritual fire sacrifices.