Categories: Hindu Mythology

Kamadhenu: The Divine Cow of Abundance and Prosperity

Kamadhenu, also known as Surabhi is a divine cow in Hindu mythology that holds a significant place in the hearts of Hindus worldwide. The word ‘Kamadhenu’ is derived from two Sanskrit words, ‘Kama’ meaning desire and ‘Dhenu’ meaning cow. Hence, Kamadhenu means a cow that fulfills all the desires of the owner. It is believed that Kamadhenu has the power to grant any wish and fulfill all the desires of a person. Kamdhenu is not just a cow, but an embodiment of blessings, abundance, and prosperity. In this essay, we will explore the legends related to Kamadhenu and understand why it is revered in Hindu culture.

Different Names Of Kamadhenu

Kamadhenu is a Hindu deity that is often called Surabhi, meaning “the Fragrant One” or “the One with the Pleasing Smell”. This name is thought to be inspired by the typical smell associated with cows. Kamadhenu is also known as Matrika, which translates to “Mother” or “Example-Setter”. Other names for Kamadhenu include Sabala, meaning “Spotted One”, and Kapila, meaning “Red One”.

The Origin of Kamdhenu

There is no definitive account of the origin of Kamadhenu, but various scriptures offer differing versions of the story. However, it is widely believed that Kamadhenu, the divine cow, originated from the Samudra Manthan, the churning of the Cosmic Ocean, which occurred when the Devas (gods) and Asuras (demons) were trying to obtain the nectar of immortality. Kamadhenu was gifted to the Saptarishis, the seven great sages, and was instructed by Brahma to provide milk and ghee for sacred Vedic Yajnas (sacrificial rituals).

Abodes of Kamadhenu

Kamadhenu is said to reside in various abodes, including the heavens, the earth, and the underworld. In some stories, she is said to live in the divine city of Amravati, while in others, she is said to reside in the forest of Naimisharanya.

Kamadhenu in Different Scriptures

According to the Anushasana Parva, Kamadhenu is said to be the daughter of Daksha, the God who created the world. Surabhi, on the other hand, is said to have been produced from the belch of Prajapati Daksha, after he consumed the Amrita or Nectar of Immortality, which was obtained during the churning of the ocean of milk. Over time, Surabhi gave birth to several golden cows, collectively known as Kapila cows, which were considered to be the mothers of the world. Some versions of the story suggest that Lord Brahma drank too much of the Amrita and regurgitated a portion of it, from which Surabhi emerged.

According to the Valmiki Ramayana, Surabhi is believed to be the daughter of sage Kashyapa and Krodhavasa, who was the daughter of Daksha. However, in the Vishnu Purana and the Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Bhagavatam), Surabhi is mentioned as the daughter of Daksha and the wife of sage Kashyapa. She is also regarded as the mother of cows and buffalos.

As per the Matsya Purana, Surabhi is believed to be the consort of Brahma and the mother of various species of animals, including the cow Yogishwari, eleven Rudras, goats, and swans. She is commonly referred to as the mother of all quadrupeds. Another version states that Surabhi is the mother of Amrita, cows, Brahmins, and the Rudras.

Some other scriptures present a different version of the story, according to which the cow Kamadhenu was kept by either or both of the sages Jamadagni and Vasishtha in their hermitage for some time. During this period, there were kings who attempted to steal the cow from the sages but were punished severely by Kamadhenu herself. In this version, Kamadhenu played a significant role in the hermitage, providing milk and milk products for the sages. She also possessed the power to create fierce warriors to defend them.

The cow Nandini is mentioned as Kamadhenu in the Mahabharata and the Devi Bhagavata Purana, and is sometimes considered to be the same as Kamdhenu. However, in some instances, Nandini is referred to as the daughter of Surabhi-Kamadhenu. According to the Raghuvamsa of Kalidasa, King Dilip, an ancestor of Lord Rama, once failed to pay his respects to Kamdhenu when he met her. As a result, Kamdhenu cursed him to be childless for the rest of his life. Sage Vasishtha, Dilip’s guru, advised him to propitiate Nandini, Kamadhenu’s daughter. Dilip and his wife served Nandini, and in turn, she nullified the curse of her mother and blessed them with a son named Raghu.

As per the Devi Bhagavata Purana, Krishna and Radha were spending time together when they became thirsty. To quench their thirst, Krishna created a cow named Surabhi and a calf named Manoratha from the left side of his body. He then milked the cow and collected the milk in a pot. Unfortunately, the pot slipped and broke, spilling the milk onto the ground, where it became the Kshirasagara, the Ocean of Milk. Surprisingly, numerous cows emerged from the spilled milk, and Krishna gifted them to his cowboy-friends, the Gopas. In gratitude, Krishna declared that Surabhi would be revered as the symbol of prosperity and would be worshipped during Diwali.

Kamadhenu and Sage Vashishtha

Another story involving Kamadhenu is that of her association with the sage Vashishtha. It is said that Vashishtha owned Kamdhenu, and he used her milk to perform Yajnas and other rituals. Kamadhenu was also said to be able to provide endless milk, which made her a symbol of abundance and prosperity.

Kamadhenu and Sage Jamadagni

Kamadhenu became a part of another story when she was gifted to the sage Jamadagni by Vashistha. Jamadagni was a renowned sage and was known for his meditation and devotion to Lord Shiva. Kamadhenu became an integral part of Jamadagni’s ashram and was treated with great respect and care.

One day, the king of the region, Kartavirya Arjuna, visited Jamadagni’s ashram and was impressed by Kamadhenu abilities. He asked Jamadagni to give him the cow, but the sage refused. Angered by the refusal, Kartavirya Arjuna decided to take Kamdhenu by force. He killed Jamadagni and took Kamadhenu away.

Kamdhenu and Lord Dattatreya

Lord Dattatreya is often depicted in Indian mythology as being accompanied by a cow, which is commonly identified as Kamadhenu. Sometimes, Dattatreya is shown holding the Divine Cow in one of his hands.

Kamdhenu as the Protector of Brahmins

In Hindu mythology, Kamdhenu is considered to be the protector of Brahmins, the priestly class. She is believed to provide them with all their needs and desires, and it is said that anyone who harms a Brahmin will incur her wrath.

The Curse of Kamadhenu

In the ancient text called Raghuvamsa, written by Kalidasa, it is said that a king named Dilip, who was an ancestor of Lord Rama, once encountered Kamadhenu, a sacred cow believed to grant wishes. However, Dilip neglected to pay his respects to her, which angered Kamadhenu. As a result, she cursed Dilip, saying that he would never have any children in his life.

Symbolism of Kamadhenu

In Hinduism, Kamadhenu is considered the ultimate symbol of abundance and prosperity, almost as if she were a goddess herself. She is often associated with Prithvi, or Mother Earth, who is sometimes referred to as a peaceful and unwavering cow. For Hindus, the cow represents many positive qualities such as purity, fertility, the capacity to provide for human life, and a selfless and giving nature.

According to Hindu beliefs, the Kamadhenu cow has four legs that symbolize the four Vedas, which are as unyielding as the mighty Himalayas. Her horns represent the three main gods of Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu, and Lord Shiva, with each deity assigned to a specific part of the horn. The sun and moon gods are said to reside in her eyes, while the god of fire and the god of wind are believed to be present in her shoulders. In essence, Kamadhenu is believed to embody all the major deities within her being, which is why she is often depicted in portraits as such. Another representation of Kamadhenu, albeit less common, is as a white Zebu cow with a woman’s head adorned with a crown, along with eagle wings and a peacock’s tail. This form of Kamadhenu can also be seen in modern-day artwork.

In Hinduism, Kamadhenu is often associated with the highest priestly class of Brahmins, including sages, and is seen as a symbol of their wealth, both material and spiritual. She also embodies the Pancha Bhoota or the Five Elements.

Cow’s milk and its derivatives, especially clarified butter or ghee, play a crucial role in Vedic Yajnas, which are ritualistic offerings made by Brahmin priests. For this reason, Kamadhenu is sometimes referred to as Homadhenu, as cows are considered the source from which oblations are drawn and offered during the Yajna or Homa, which involves a fire ritual. As a result, cows are regarded as sacred and take on a revered status in Hindu tradition.

Worship Of Kamadhenu

Kamadhenu is a goddess in Hinduism who is not worshipped as an independent deity, and there are no temples exclusively dedicated to her. Instead, Hindus believe that the best way to show respect to Kamadhenu is by venerating and respecting all cows in general.

The cow and cowdung are very significant in Hinduism. Cows are revered and worshipped by Hindus, and they are often fed outside temples, particularly on Fridays and during special occasions. In the eyes of pious Hindus worldwide, all cows are seen as incarnations of Kamadhenu.

Kamadhenu Tantra

According to Tantra Shastra, Kamadhenu, the wish-fulfilling cow, is considered a form of Goddess Saraswati. This deity presides over knowledge, speech, words, eloquence, music, and the arts. She is also one of the Shaktis and the divine consort of Brahma.

The Kamadhenu Tantra is a question-answer dialogue between Goddess Parvati (Shakti) and Lord Shiva. Parvati inquires about the true significance of the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet and their relationship with the tattvas.

Kamdhenu Stotra

Namo Devyai Maha Devyai
Surabhyai Cha Namo Namah|
Gavam Bheeja Swaroopaaya
Namaste Jagad Ambike||

[Meaning: “Salutations to the great goddess Devi, who is also known as Surabhi. Salutations again and again to the goddess who is the source of all cattle. Salutations to the goddess who is the mother of the universe.”]

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Krishna Das is an experienced article writer. He writes about Hinduism in his spare time.

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