Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Myth of the Holy Cow Paperback – February 17, 2004
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Customers who bought this item also bought
“A well-argued and soundly documented study ...”—Choice
“Not since Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses ... has a book caused such a violent reaction.”—Observer
“While cow veneration and vegetarianism may be the hallmarks of Hinduism today, Mr. Jha compiles copious evidence that this has hardly always been the case.”—New York Times
“A meticulously researched, strongly worded, persuasively articulated challenge to long-held religious beliefs, The Myth of the Holy Cow is a unique and iconoclastic contribution to the study of Hindu beliefs, practices, history and customs.”—Wisconsin Bookwatch
“Jha draws on an amazingly wide range of material ... an enlightening endeavour, demonstrating a critical understanding of a popular misconception.”—Journal of Asian Studies
“The pen might still be, if not mightier than the nuclear arsenal, at least a weapon worth scanning for, like knives at airports, a weapon capable of subversion.”—Times Literary Supplement
“This book may not please Hindu fundamentalists, but its research is impeccable.”—The Telegraph, Calcutta, India
About the Author
Dwijendra Narayan Jha is Professor of History at the University of Delhi. His books include Ancient India in Historical Outline and Feudal Social Formation in Early India.
Browse award-winning titles. See more
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
The central argument of Jha's book is that the cow hasn't always been considered holy in Hinduism. This is a politically contentious claim, since the BJP and other Hindutva groups use the sanctity of the cow as a rallying point for (sometimes violent) anti-Muslim mobilizations and also as a marker of communal identity. For Hindu nationalists, it's also important to claim an unbroken cultural continuity from Vedic times until today. If the sacredness of the cow is a modern construct, the entire Hindutva worldview falls apart.
Jha's book is dry and scholarly, with lengthy and tedious references to various Hindu scriptures. He also takes on Buddhism and Jainism (which explains why a Jain filed a complaint against the work in Hyderabad). However, Jha does succeed in demonstrating his point. The cow was certainly not sacred to the original Aryans, who both sacrificed and consumed cattle. They also used cow hides and fat. Later, Hindu tradition became more mixed, but never completely pro-cow nor strictly vegetarian. There is ample evidence from various scriptures that cattle was sacrificed in honor of prominent Brahmins, who then partook of the meat. Medical texts recommended various forms of meat for their curative effects. The Hindu epics (regarded as holy writ by pious Hindus) often mention meat-eating, including beef-eating, without questioning the practice. It wasn't until the period we call the Middle Ages that the Brahminical authorities began to question cow-killing. Even then, they indirectly admitted that cattle hadn't always been sacred: cow-killing was only prohibited in the present “dark age” (kali yuga). In some places, the ritual slaughter of cattle didn't end until the 19th century, and the slaughter of the buffalo continued well into the 20th century.
Jha claims that early Buddhists and Jains weren't completely opposed to meat-eating either. While they opposed animal sacrifice and preached “ahimsa” (non-violence) towards all living creatures, the Buddhists in particular often adapted to local cultural norms which included such sacrifice and meat-eating. The Jains were more strict, but nevertheless allowed meat-eating under some circumstances, for instance if the ascetic lived among robbers or in isolated villages where no vegetarian food was available. Jha also points out that the Buddhist emperor Ashoka never prohibited the killing of cattle. This is intriguing, since Ashoka prohibited the killing of many other animals, including parrots, bats and ants! Nor was Ashoka himself a vegetarian. The Mauryan emperor consumed both peacocks and deer.
While “The Myth of the Holy Cow” is intended as a counterblast to Hindu nationalism, it also pops another myth: the often-heard Western claim that Hindu and Buddhist civilizations are “vegetarian”. This is a common canard in vegetarian and vegan circles, including animal rights activists. Any remaining militant vegans would do well to procure a copy of this work. Religious injunctions aside, archeological excavations prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the common people of India have always been omnivores…
I suppose many people's reactions to this book could be summarized in two words: Holy cow!
This book proves that Indians have always killed animals (sometimes under ritualistic forms) and then consumed their flesh. Apart from pigs, deer, fowl, fish and the odd leopard, “holy” cows were a popular part of the diet. So popular, in fact, that the pious Buddhist emperor Ashoka never bothered prohibiting the slaughter of cattle. Ashoka himself was also an omnivore, the royal household consuming two peacocks and one deer per day…
The sacrificial killings, hunting, fishing and plain old slaughter mentioned in this book is probably enough to make every militant vegan boil over in righteous anger! Well, it seems that omnivorous eating habits aren't a social construct or lifestyle choice, after all. Animals are verily food. Deal with it. Have a steak or something.
Please don't let some people tell you that this book is just "Communist" or "Leftist" propaganda. Those people have no idea what the book is about nor do they know what those words stand for. In fact, in one of the top negative reviews you get to know that the reviewer hasn't even read the book. It is a sad reality that there are people who consider themselves liberal but are not willing to change their beliefs when presented with facts. And then, there are outright religious fundamentalists. This book is not meant either of those two kinds of people.
I am also not surprised to see some reviews from Indian Hindus who outright reject this as "communist" and buy into the white-washing of Hindu scriptures, which is rather sad given they are so full of rich cultural descriptives of ancient India and Hindu society.