Reverence for the cow has been a centerpiece of Hindu culture, the roots of which can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization around 3000 BCE. Historical and anthropological literature demonstrates how over the millennia the animal’s status as a religious symbol steadily increased and the concept of its sanctity grew in complexity, becoming deeply entrenched and assuming a core identity of the religion. The cow has also been used as a symbol of political opposition to external influences and invading powers. Nowhere else in the world has an animal maintained such divine significance into modern day. This literature review explores the interplay of complex cultural, religious, social and political factors that led to the phenomenon of the sacred cow, a ban on its slaughter and the advent of the modern gaushala. The review also discusses the moral implications of preservation of animal life past their commercial use, the impact on their welfare and need for objectively assessing whether there is a place for such strategies in other animal industries worldwide.
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