India: Cows and Dung

In my 20s, I made two trips to India, and during both, feces left bold impressions: human and cow. These memories were awakened the other day when I read an article in Open called “Cow Dung Capitalism“. Open is an Indian media online and print magazine. The author appears to be an Indian of Tibetan descent: Lhendup Bhutia.know-your-shitBelow are a few quick stories of mine related to India and feces:

Dung: an etymology

Dung: used many for other animals feces, but not human feces. Odd how we always try to view ourselves as exceptional, isn’t it? Even when it comes to our shit. Looking at my chart on The Evolution of English, you can see that the Norse language (northern germanic) helped form English, and after these conquers left the English Isle, they left their dynge (a heap of manure).

Dung as Fuel

Dried cow dung, unlike wood, is abundant in India and burns slowly at a low temperature. In Indian villages, meals are cooked over dung fires and dishes (like lentils) depend on this sort of flame. If all Indians used wood, their deforestation problem would only accelerate.

Dung as Sacred

Cows are considered sacred in Hinduism and when I was there 20 years ago, they still wandered many city streets. On one of those days, I was walking through a crowded street buying some groceries when a cow snuck up behind me and started to eat some of the vegetables sticking out of my hand bag. I reeled around with a karate round house kick to the cows head — I was hungry and tired and in a bad mood. The crowd did not understand and started to yell and me with a few hitting me. I escaped basically unharmed and never kicked a holy cow again.

In the villages where I spent time cow dung was mixed with water and used to paint the mud homes to purify and beautify them. Cow urine was used on floors as a sacred disinfectant.

Dung as Cosmetics and Medicine

In Hindu scriptures, the 5 products of cows. ‘panchgavya’, are considered as having great benefits to human health. And the Open magazine article tells how these days, many companies are taking advantage of this religious belief, selling cow dung and urine.

Unadulterated cow urine and dung have always been procured from cow-shelters by the traditional for use at home and in temple pujas. What’s recent is the array of therapeutic and beauty products flooding the market that use these as ingredients. There are face packs, bath scrubbers, mosquito coils and incense sticks that contain cow dung. There are creams, cough syrups, body oils, health tonics, weight-loss tonics, and floor disinfectants that contain distilled cow urine. You name it, they have it. And the names of gau mutra or gau arka (cow urine) or cow dung are not hidden away in long lists of fine print on the packages.

Shitting in Public

One of my biggest impressions is how many times I found people shitting to the side of the road or on the beach.  Out of amazement, back before digital photography,  I took a whole roll of photos of this phenomena only to be told that roll did not develop when I tried to pick it up at the photo store.  I guess many Indians were ashamed of the fact too.

Please consider reading Bhutia’s article — it is a fine read. And this post belongs to my other scatalogical babblings if you are interested.

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