vazA cows

thompson at thompson at
Tue Feb 25 21:11:36 UTC 1997

Narahari Achar's reference to AV 10.10 is very suggestive and provocative.
Perhaps we will forever disagree, but I hope to be able to find ways to

First, we agree about the hymn AV 10.10, a remarkable hymn, which presents
us with a picture of a very special "cow" indeed.  When he goes on to say:

                "Very few people are blessed with the possession
of such a cow. But to say that it is a prime candidate for sacrifice and food
is to deny what the veda itself declares:vaZA is aghnyA, it yields copious
milk, it does get pregnant(yes; AV10.10.23), but people are frightened when
this happens. The vaZA cow loves those who offer its products in yajna...."

it seems clear that he is referring to a goddess, just as the hymn AV 10.10
refers to a goddess, a "heavenly cow" [cf. devI vazA in st. 12], the mother
[st. 18], the immortal one who is worshipped as death [st. 26: vaZAm
evAmRtam Ahur vazAM/ mRtyum upAsate], the cow finally upon whom both gods
and men depend, a cow in fact who has become everything [vazedaM sarvam
abhavat] [st. 34].

I'm prepared to pay homage to this cow too, but I wasn't talking about
*this* cow in my previous postings.  I was talking about terrestrial ones.
Likewise when at ZB 4.5.2 the vazA cow is discussed, I think that a
terrestrial cow is intended [for the sake of brevity, I'll just summarize]:

This BrAhmaNa discusses the sacrifice of a vazA.  After it has been
"quieted", the priest is required to pull out the omentum and search for an
embryo.  If none is found they know for sure that this is indeed a vazA.
If by chance an embryo is found then the priests know that they have made a
mistake and have sacrificed a pregnant cow [aSTApadI], rather than a vazA.
They are obliged to atone for this mistake.  The BrAhmaNa then goes on to
describe the apportionment of the victim, *not* including the embryo.  The
embryo is wrapped in cloth and put aside.  Later, alternatives for what to
do with the embryo are offered: (1)  one might hang it exposed from a tree,
(2) one might throw it in water, (3) one might bury it in a mole-hill, and
(4) one might offer it to the Maruts [who appear to have no qualms about
eating embryos].

Also cf. AV 12.4.37 where the word vehatam [from a participle vehat]
occurs. Here the vazA cow rather bitterly curses her gopati for thinking
that she is barren [vehatam] when she is in fact pregnant. As for ukSan as
"bull", cf. the compound ukSa-vehatA = mit einem Ochsen und einer
unfruchtbare Kuh" [cited by Mayrhofer, EWA II.587].

Narahari, such evidence makes me think that cows and bulls were sacrificed
in Vedic, and, indeed, eaten.  But this is not to say that the ethic of
ahiMsA did not exist in Vedic.  It did.  And eventually it became the
dominant ethic, and I hope it remains so.

best wishes,

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