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Kamadhenu, the wish-fulfilling cow

Updated: May 30, 2022

Kamadhenu, or the wish-fulfilling cow, is a popular mythological figure that is often depicted in the traditional arts. For the longest time, I wondered about this marvel of the human imagination – how fabulous to have her in your backyard, ever willing to fulfil every desire! But surely the scriptures cannot give us this marvellous but improbable creature without some meaning?!

So, from from where did Kamadhenu appear? Some of you may know the utterly fabulous story in Pauranic literature that tells of a time when the deva’s and asura’s decide to churn the waters of the milky ocean in search of ‘amrita’ or the nectar of immortality. The naga Vasuki graciously offers his form to them, which they use as a rope around the Mandara mountain, the perfect rod for churning the ocean. However, the pulling and pushing of the ‘rope’ destabilised the mountain and almost lead to it sinking into the ocean. The Lord himself appears in the form of a tortoise (Kurma avatar) so he can position himself under Mandara and prevent it from sinking. More on this in another blog on what is another wonderful subject of the arts. As they churned in their quest for immortality, various things and beings emerged from the ocean … one of which was Kamadhenu!

Kamadhenu, or the wish-fulfilling cow

It’s interesting too that Kamdhenu is a cow. Why a cow specifically? I think perhaps it is actually the perfect animal to represent the idea of a wish-fulfiller. Ever gentle, the cow is the perfect ‘giver’: eating humble grass, but in turn giving milk that feeds not only her calves but also human beings since time immemorial! Cow dung is an environment friendly biofuel used as fuel in stoves in villages. The cow’s skin makes leather for our use and the horns are used for various other things such as buttons and beads.

Maybe she’s a prompt for us to look a little closely at all the aspects of nature that we take for granted. In nature, we see the sun shines upon all in equal measure, never holding back, nourishing life in the process. Rivers flow and give freely of their waters to all who approach, making the land fertile as they go by. Air moves, allowing creatures to breathe, purifying the environment in it’s path. Individually, each one gives freely of itself for the benefit of all.

Together, they give us a world in which we, and the multitude of creatures on earth, are able to live. The heat from the sun evaporates the waters to form clouds in the sky. Those clouds don’t hold on to their waters, but give back freely to earth, nourishing all of earth. Plants and trees take from earth, water and sunlight to give freely their fruit, flowers, shade and timber!

This is the spirit of ‘yagna’, or cooperative endeavour, in action. Everyone benefits. This sharing of what one is for the benefit of all leading to a virtuous cycle that creates something bigger than itself – that is Kamdhenu, available to each one of us when we function with the spirit of yagna in our heart. So not just a perplexing figure of ancient texts, but a mystic symbol of a way of life that benefits all.

I hope, if you get her for a corner of your wall space, she reminds you of the marvel that is life … of our role and contribution …and doing our bit to keep, and enjoy, harmony.

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