Soft Coroner

Published on April 9th, 2013


Holy cowboys

Prashant Shankarnarayan writes about the practice of worship by touching a cow all over its body, even on its posterior.

The situation – An old man worshipping a cow.

The observation One can’t see a more harmless sight than this. A feeble old man dressed in a crisp white dhoti and kurta, bowing in front of the ubiquitous Indian bovine that is worshipped as the epitome of gentleness. But one also can’t see a more degrading sight than this. That of a man literally thrusting his face near a cow’s posterior. For him it was devotion, for me it was another instance of delusion that masquerades popularly as religion.

It’s not the first time I have seen someone bow in front of a cow. As a kid, I used to touch a cow with reverence and keep the same palm on my heart nonchalantly. A habit I had picked up not in the pursuit of aping a family member, but actually from strangers. There is an old temple in my building compound, and since childhood I have seen this gaiwali tie her cow to a post on the footpath outside our gate. It’s normal for people to feed the cows, something which even I used to do once in a while as a kid. In fact, I still feel it’s a harmless thing to do, but I had never seen anyone bowing to a cow’s arse until now.

If the same old man were to do the same thing in a culture that doesn’t understand the relation between cows and religion, then he would have been either dismissed as a lunatic or branded as a pervert. After all, it is dogs that are often found sniffing around unmentionable places; that too not because they worship, but because they are dogs who are programmed to do that! The funny part is that many religious people might even support the old man and blame me for either over-analysing a holy situation or committing blasphemy. Only religion can move a man to do something as humiliating as this, or support such a degrading act.

We know why cows are worshipped. Right from the time of our nomadic ancestors to the present day, the cow has showered her abundance on the human race and continues to do so even now. It is worshipped as Kamadhenu and is a standard feature on many godly portraits. Even the 1857 uprising happened because of both Hindus and Muslims’ reverence for the cow, and contempt for the pig respectively. But digging into a cow’s butt takes this reverence to a new level. Organised religion often forces a person to do so, and that is why I find it dangerous.

Worshipping a cow’s buttocks is on the lower end of the scale of fanaticism. On the opposite end of the same scale lie the political undercurrents, where a few fundamentalists spread the pro beef = anti Indian culture = anti India theory. And somewhere on the same scale lies the urge to brand our bahu and beti as a gai, a covert sadomasochistic statement that implies that women should give in abundance without complaining. The same race that goes to the extent of patting a cow’s butt, treats its own women worse than animals. All under the name of tradition, which is supposedly derived from religion.

In a nutshell, a cow is a cow. It’s good to feed her and indeed heartening for some to abstain from devouring the creature. But if holy cowboys tamper with her bum too long in the name of worship, one sure knows what kind of offering the cow will give in return.

Prashant Shankarnarayan is a mediaperson who is constantly on the lookout for content and auto rickshaws in Mumbai. The Soft Coroner attempts to dissect situations that look innocuous at the surface but reveal uncomfortable complexities after a thorough post mortem.

(Pictures courtesy,,

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