Untill The Cows Come Home

Kurma Rupa Prabhu

Kurma Rupa Prabhu Passes

Kurma Rupa left us on the morning of Sunday 28 June, Ekadasi-tirtha in the Vaishnava calendar, in the most auspicious month of Purushottama, in the sacred land of Vrindavan.

Kurma Rupa is always overcome with bliss and love, an affectionate and kind soul who will be missed. We bow down to him, salute his sacrifices, honour his legacy, and lament his leaving us. Thank you, my dear friend, from all of us…

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Untill The Cows Come Home

It was the day before Janmastami—Krishna’s birthday—the second-biggest celebration day in Vrindavan. Crowds of pilgrims were pouring into town, the streets hectic with traffic from Delhi and the surrounding areas. I was being pushed constantly in the press of human and animal traffic, feeling somewhat battered, longing for a solitary place. Suddenly a large bull knocked into me, pushing me into the oncoming traffic. I was hit by a car, breaking both my legs and various other bones on the left side of my body. I lay there in shock, trying to recover my senses. As the reality of what happened sunk in, so did the pain—I couldn’t move, and was bleeding profusely. But the worst was yet to come. The driver of the car got out and asked some bystanders to help him drag me to the side of the road. Imagine the pain! Then he took a can of motor oil from his trunk and poured it on my wounds. What madness was this?! He told horrified bystanders that this would keep infection away from my wounds and that I would be okay in a few days. Then he drove off to visit all the temples and possibly ask for “God’s mercy,” the reason for his visit. I wonder if he got it? Somehow I doubt it…

Unfortunately, this really happened. Not to me, but worse, to a three-month-old calf named Kamala (which means “lotus” in Sanskrit). If she could talk, that’s what her story would have sounded like. Instead her tale was told to me by those who had witnessed it. The worst part is, Kamala’s story isn’t unique, rare, or even surprising anymore: it’s a common occurrence. There are hundreds of abandoned cows in Vrindavan, roaming the streets looking for food and shelter. I had always been under the impression—one I learned is shared by so many visitors—that the cows were owned, and that they were wandering during the day and returning to their owners at night. While this is true in some cases, most of the cows have been dumped by careless owners. Starving, diseased, and unprotected, they are at danger from the increasing traffic in Vrindavan, and even more from the cattle rustlers who abduct them and sell them to slaughterhouses. It’s hard to believe that this goes on in Vrindavan: Krishna’s village, the home of cowherd boys. Even harder to believe is that several of the goshalas—cow shelters—in town have reported break-ins from these same cattle rustlers trying to steal their protected cows. It seems that some evil forces are lurking in town, but only the cows are feeling it. But there was change afoot. Or is that “ahoof”?

On a cold December morning, while a thin fog clung to the air with spidery fingers, I pulled my wrap closer around me and burrowed into its warmth as I walked the dusty track out of town. I was in Vrindavan for a week-long retreat. I had been looking forward to the opportunity, and had no intention of going anywhere: no day trips, no social outings, nothing. I was here to  spend time with friends I hadn’t seen for many years, and maybe sit at some quiet temples and chant peacefully (well, one can dream…). It was going to be a well-earned break, a peaceful, solitary week on my own—or so I thought. I had no idea what was about to happen, though: my life would change, and it would be one tiny, broken, chocolate-coloured, nameless calf who would be the catalyst. 

As I wandered down that dusty trail at dawn, I approached two tall iron gates. I stepped in and took in the scene: a peaceful, clean yard, divided down the middle by a brick wall covered with a mix of cow dung and mud; haysheds, cowsheds, and fenced yards at the back, all washed with the same mixture, which gave a finish that was both pleasing to the eye and purifying to the atmosphere. It was the home of Care For Cows; the man literally behind the cowshed, Kurma Rupa, was a devotee of Krishna and a long-term resident of Vrindavan. He had set up this cow hospice where abandoned and injured cows, calves, and bulls could come for shelter and medical aid. 

It felt good in that yard: the smell was country-fresh, a smell of cows, hay, cow dung, and all things good and clean. Over the brick wall, an empty yard that later in the day would house around ninety full-grown cows and bulls was at present the roaming ground of a solitary, huge grey bull named Baba. In the distance, through the hayshed, I could see a fenced area at whose gate stood about twenty young cows and bulls, all under a year old, all too little to mingle with the grown ups. I would later refer to this area as “the playpen,” but for now, it was just the cowyard, and its inhabitants were curious about my arrival.

It was then I saw that little chocolate brown calf I mentioned. Lying against the brick wall, propped up by pillows and bags of hay, she lay soaking in the now-rising, warming sun. Her eyes were closed, and they barely moved as we approached. “This little one came in two days ago,” Kurma Rupa told me. “She was found by a family who were on their way to Dauji temple in Gokul (some distance out of town). Her leg is broken and her hip is dislocated. She has these open wounds on her side, and we don’t know how seriously hurt she is internally. She was lying there for a week; more than anything, her spirit is broken. No one did anything to help her. The man driving moved his wife and daughter from the car to make room, picked up this little calf, put her in the car, and returned to town, leaving his wife and daughter on the road and promising to return as soon as he could. He had heard of Care For Cows, but had to drive around looking for us. We’re not sure if she’ll make it.”

Well, it’s right about here that the story becomes a heart-wrencher. It’s hard to hear things like this about God’s tiny creatures. It’s harder to see it in person. I sat with Pushpa for hours that day, and the next, and the next…so many days. Even when I left town and went home to Mayapur, I couldn’t get her out of my mind, and a week later my husband I flew back to Vrindavan and went back to the cowshed: she’d stolen my heart. And 10 years later, she still has it…

You might wonder if I’m just some bleeding-heart cow-lover who’s trying to campaign for some mistreated cows. Well, sure I’m a cow-lover, almost by default: I’m a devotee of Krishna, the original cowherd boy. What’s not to love about a God who loves cows? So many of this country’s ancient scriptures and writings refer to the cows and their relationship with Krishna:

“Krishna’s entire body is covered with the fine dust raised by the hooves of calves, and He carries a flute tucked into the dhoti tied around His waist. His mellifluous voice captivates all the cows.”
(Stava Mala, Rupa Goswami, ca 1550)

Most of us might very likely go through life without having to give a second thought to the cows of Vrindavan, or anywhere else, for that matter. In some ways that wouldn’t be so bad, because it’s hard to see their state, painful to watch them brought in to the Care For Cows clinic with horrific injuries; heartbreaking to watch them cringe when a hand is raised because they’ve been so poorly treated, or run away in fear when they hear a loud voice. But in truth it’s a good thing to be given an opportunity to give time, service, and love to a tiny Vrindavan calf—this little girl was only around 3 months old—who can’t stand, can’t move, and has no energy to even raise her head to feed. I was beginning to understand their specialness, and understood for a brief moment why it is that Krishna prefers the company of these cows every single day, over and above anyone else. Or why the eternal spiritual world where he resides is named Goloka, or “planet of the cows.” Seriously, who could make this stuff up: he’s God, the creator of all the universes, master of all creation, yet he chooses to spend His days with cows. That’s definitely some kind of wonderful. 

And there I was, standing in a cowyard, knowing that despite the fact that the most holy site, a body of water named Radha-kunda, was a few miles away; or that a proliferation of temples of Krishna surrounded me, or any other number of “holy” surroundings or sites that covered every inch of the landscape, still I was standing in the right place, the best place, the only place I wanted to be: right amongst the  cows. Vrindavan is in the district of Braja Mandala, meaning the circle (mandala) of pasturing grounds (braja). Unfortunately, due to the expansion of Vrindavan and the hold that greedy land-owners have on the town, there are no pasturing grounds left for the cows, and they are forced to forage amongst rubbish piles and along the streets for food. Just like little Kamala, who was pushed into traffic by a hungrier, and bigger, bull.

“A kind lady reported the accident to Care For Cows and within fifteen minutes I was loaded onto their rickshaw and taken to the clinic. My wounds were cleaned of the motor oil, and my legs were set in casts. I was then given a private room and a diet of fresh grass, barley flour, and hay. After a few days I could stand for about fifteen minutes at a time. A cowherd man looked after me, giving me fresh water, massage, and encouragement. After a month my casts were removed and thanks to Care For Cows, I can walk normally again.” 

Care For Cows doesn’t just heal patients like Kamala and Pushpa—it gives them a home for life. They’re not returned to the streets once they’re well to suffer the same fate. When they grow, they spend their days on a few acres of borrowed land not far from the Care For Cows yard. In the afternoons, they return to the yard that Baba occupies alone in the mornings—he was also a victim of  a broken leg in his youth, and is retired to the yard. There they are fed well, brushed, and housed at night, warm together under blankets in the cold winter nights, sheltered and watered in summer, and secure in the knowledge that they don’t have to risk traffic, disease, and cattle rustlers to get their next feed. 

Yes, I’m a cow-lover. And that’s a damned fine thing to be. It’s not a temporary campaign but a very real threat against our human existence to ignore the plight of cows. In 1915, Nobel Prize Winner Romain Rolland wrote:

To a man whose mind is free there is something even more intolerable in the sufferings of animals than in the sufferings of man. For with the latter it is at least admitted that suffering is evil and that the man who causes it is a criminal. But thousands of animals are uselessly butchered every day without a shadow of remorse. If any man were to refer to it, he would be thought ridiculous. And that is the unpardonable crime.
It’s an unpardonable crime that the cows are suffering. But it is a mere reflection of the state of the earth and the consciousness of its inhabitants. While the world suffers the effects of cow slaughter internationally, we can at least maintain our own backyard. That’s what Kurma Rupa is doing in the place that is the home of Krishna’s cows. Or has been, until this week.

Because now Kurma is dying. He lies in the cowyard on a bed surrounded by friends, loved ones, and most importantly, the hundreds and hundreds of cows who reside in the expansive stretch of land he secured through his love, affection, and concern for the welfare of those cows. People the world over are today praying for the gentle and peaceful departure from this world of a soul whose legacy will remain in the hearts of thousands of humans, and tens of thousands of cows….

“Anyone who meditates on Krishna, his protecting the cows, his singing charming songs with the cowherd boys, and his other pastimes, will find himself overcome with bliss and love.”
(Gopala-Campu, First Champi, Text 97, Jiva Goswami)

care for cows

You can visit Care for Cows on Facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/careforcows?fref=ts

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