Decades ago, Mahatma Gandhi had said that ‘mother cow’ was in many ways better than the mother who gave us birth. Such sentiments, often heated, have since reiterated the importance that the cow holds in Indian politics. With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coming to power in the centre, and in many states, the cow has been elevated to the status of ‘mother’ and its injection into the public psyche evokes a strong sentiment for the bovine.
The BJP’s agenda has found support from various quarters. While some have chosen to familiarise people with the medicinal properties and health benefits of cow urine and its dung, the political class has used words as a means to reinforce such claims.
When the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) came to power in 1999, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) directed some of its laboratories to conduct research on the beneficial qualities of cow urine and obtained four patents for formulations based on cow urine. After the NDA returned to power at the Centre in 2014, cowpathy—a term coined by the government—was revived. A national seminar on panchagavya chikitsa—medical preparations made from various cow products—was organised by the Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences, a unit of the Ministry of AYUSH, which popularised panchagavya, a mixture of five products: cow milk, ghee, curd, urine and dung.
Gaumutra asav, a fermented preparation from cow urine, gau arka (cow urine distillate) and ghanavati (tablets made from cow urine) are also popularised by the ministry. In 2005, Kuldeep Dhama and others of the Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izzatnagar, published a review in the International Journal of Cow Science, stating the therapeutic effects of panchgavya and allied products on common communicable and non-communicable diseases, including those contracted due to intense solar and nuclear radiation. Interestingly, the journal, started in 2022, is published by the Gau Mahima Seva Trust, Ludhiana.
According to sources, the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University had some time ago recommended Panchagavya as a medication. The prescribed dosage—50 ml of filtered Panchagavya added to 200 ml of water, fruit juice or tender coconut water— should be taken orally on an empty stomach every morning. It is claimed that panchagavya has an ameliorative benefit in diseases such as HIV/AIDS, pulmonary tuberculosis, arthritis, neurological disorders and diabetes. With the push from the ministry, numerous Ayurvedic drug manufacturers started producing medicinal formulations made from the panchagavya.
Dhama also claimed that many ailments showed improvement with cow urine therapy. These included sinusitis, allergies, flu, bacterial and viral infections, cold, ear infection, chicken pox, rheumatoid arthritis, tuberculosis, hepatitis, leprosy, heart disease, gastric ulcers, burns, fatigue, depression, hypertension, tetanus, morning sickness, fever, obesity, skin infections and eczema, among others. The paper also claimed that the regular use of cow urine can cure blood disorders, leucorrhoea, cleans the intestines of anti-oxidant deposits, mouth diseases, menstruation disorders, cough, giddiness and urinary infections.
Bhubaneshwar-based Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology, too, published a research paper in the International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, a monthly published since 2014 by Bhopal-based Innovare Academic Sciences Pvt. Ltd., listing out the benefits of cow urine therapy. That paper mentions that cow urine contains sodium, nitrogen, sulphur, calcium salts, phosphate, lactose, vitamins A, B, C, D, E, chlorine, carbolic acid, creatinine, enzymes, hormones, magnesium, succinic and citric acids, in balanced composition and ingesting cow urine helps cure incurable diseases.
On June 28, 2016, the Junagadh Agricultural University had made a claim that some of its researchers had found gold particles in the urine of some cows from the Gir region of Gujarat. In 2019, the Kamadhenu Divya Aushadhi Mahila Sahakari Mandali, a women’s cooperative based in Ishwariya village in Gujarat’s Jamnagar, exported its beauty products made of cow urine and dung to Singapore, Germany, the USA, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. The 50 items exported included hair and massage oils and a special face scrub (ubtan). The NGO manufactures medicines, cosmetics and panchagavya from cow urine and dung. The Organic Shop run by Pure and Eco India markets Shatadhauta Gritha (a beauty cream to fight skin infections), panchagavya soaps and gaumutra tablets.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has launched a number of beauty and hygiene products made from cow urine and dung. These include Nandini beauty soap (made from aloe vera, almond oil and cow urine), Laal Dant Manjan (toothpaste), Harde Churna (laxative), Nandini skin cream (made from cow urine, dung and yellow beeswax).
A company called Cowpathy, set up in 2012 by microbiologist Umesh Soni, has been manufacturing toothpaste, shampoos, under-eye gels, soaps and shower and shaving creams made from cow urine and dung. The company also manufactures liquid teas using distilled urine extract and herbal leaves. The Gujarat-based company, Go Seva, funded by the Go Mata Seva Trust, manufactures several cosmetics and hygiene products using cow urine and dung. Like the products of Cowpathy, the Go Seva ones are also available on Amazon, eBay and Flipkart. In addition, Trunish Pharma, Patanjali and Akshaya Pharma, too, produce numerous products from cow urine and dung.
At times, such endeavours have found open support from the government. The Holy Cow Foundation, for instance, markets a liquid called Gaunyle as a floor cleaner. Maneka Gandhi, the then minister for women and child welfare, had recommended the use of this floor cleaner in government offices, which use the more popular phenyl.
Researchers have used cow urine for the preparation of emulsified diesel. Though the results, they claim, were found to be satisfactory for diesel exhaust emulsions and efficiency of vehicle engines, it is yet to be scaled up for production.
BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have lent voice to the cow, at a raised decibel to support their claims. In 2021, Vallabhbhai Kathiria, chairperson of the Rashtriya Kamadhenu Aayog (RKA) or the Cow Commission of India, formed under the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, had said that the cow was full of science. He launched a chip made of cow dung, claiming that it could reduce radiation from mobile phones. According to an RKA booklet, cow slaughter causes earthquakes, where ‘the pain waves from the slaughtered cows causes physical waves due to Einsteinian Pain Waves, which causes stress in the earth’s rocks’.
In 2019, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had said that the criminal mindset of jail inmates decreased when they were given the task of looking after cows. According to a report by ANI in 2019, Bhagwat, who was speaking at an award ceremony of the
Go-Vigyan Sanshodhan Sanstha, had then said that the cow is the mother of the universe. It nurtures the soil, animals and birds and protects them from diseases while making humans as tender as flower.
In 2019, West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh courted controversy by saying that there were traces of gold in the milk of cows. In March 2020, Suman Haripriya, BJP MLA from Assam, said that since Covid-19 was an airborne disease it could be cured by using gaumutra or cow urine and cow dung. She had also claimed that an Ayurvedic hospital in Gujarat was successfully treating cancer patients by applying cow dung on them and giving them panchamrit made of cow urine.
In April 2019, BJP MP Pragya Thakur, during an interaction with a TV channel, claimed that a mixture of cow urine and other products had cured her of breast cancer. She also claimed that caressing a cow in a certain way could help reduce blood pressure. Despite repeated telephone calls and text messages to Thakur, she did not respond.
The RKA held an online ‘cow science promotion’ exam, the first of its kind, in February 2021 for schools and colleges across the country and for the general public. The RKA had written to the chief ministers of all states to conduct the exam despite it being a voluntary one. In its reference material for the exam, the RKA had stated that medical formulations of panchagavya included adi panchagavya ghrut, amritsara, ghanavati, ksharavati and netrasara, and that these were important in Ayurveda. It had also called cow urine a great elixir that gave mental and physical strength, removed blood disorders and enhanced longevity. The reference material had also said that cow urine was as pious as Ganga jal (water). If boiled, cow urine turns into khoya, which is full of vitamins and minerals and cured various diseases. Apparently, Indian cows can maintain hygiene and are intelligent to not sit in dirty places.
Back in 2018, BJP leader Ranjit Srivastava demanded a Hindu cremation for the cow, saying that burial of a cow was a Muslim custom and not the Hindu way. He said that the burial of a cow was akin to showing disrespect to one’s ‘mother’. In December 2015, the then Shiv Sena MP Chandrakant Khaire had demanded, in the Lok Sabha, that the cow should be declared the ‘mother of the nation’. In May 2015, Rajendra Singh Rathore, the then minister for health in Rajasthan, inaugurated a cow urine refinery at Jalore. The Rs 40 million refinery, which produces a floor cleaner called Gocleaner, was set up by the Parthvimeda Gau Pharma.
However, Dr Shantanu Abhyankar, a medical practitioner and activist of the Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti, founded by the late Dr Narendra Dhabolkar, debunks such claims. Speaking to Outlook, Abhyankar avers that in Ayurveda and Homeopathy, claims are protected and no thorough trials are expected. “All evidence is not of the same quality. There are levels of evidence. Anecdotes happen to be the poorest form of evidence. Multiple anecdotes do not add up as stronger evidence,” Abhyankar says. ‘Cowpaths’ are yet to produce convincing evidence and there is no such thing as a holy cow in science, Abhyankar adds.
(This appeared in the print edition as "In Market AVATAR")