In the Vedic culture, the cow is especially revered and regarded as one of our mothers. It is believed that all the demigods reside within the body of a cow. It is therefore the responsibility of every person to accord it respect and do one's duty by it. For most religious ceremonies the cow is essential.
The cow has been important since ancient times. Maharishi Vashistha once played his own life for the Kamadhenu, the celestial cow. Maharishi Chyavan preferred a cow to a kingdom. Such was the importance of the cow. Like a mother, the cow is known for the good it does mankind. It helps promote good health and long life. Similarly, the bull is known to have provided labor and power to help plow fields and develop agriculture. The dung from both the bull and cow has been used for centuries for fuel.
Religious texts say: The cow is a universal mother. The Agni Purana says that the cow is a pure, auspicious animal. Looking after a cow, bathing it and making it eat and drink are commendable acts. Cow dung and urine are said to have medicinal qualities and are known to contain antiseptic properties. The milk, curd, butter, and ghee are all used in religious ceremonies. Whoever offers a morsel of food to the cow attains spiritual merit. Whoever gives a cow in charity benefits the whole family. Wherever a cow lives the place becomes purified. The touch and care of cows absolves one of sins.
In the Atharva-Veda, it is said: The cow is the mother of Rudras; she is a daughter of the Vasus; she is the sister of Surya. She is a storehouse of ghee that is like the celestial nectar.
In the Markandeya Purana it is explained that the welfare of the world depends upon the cow. The back of the cow is symbolic of the Rig-Veda, the body of Yajur-Veda, the mouth of the Sama-Veda, the neck of the household deity and the good deeds and the soft body hair are like the mantras. Cow dung and urine give peace and good health. Wherever a cow lives the virtues are never wasted. A cow always promotes contentment.
In the Vishnu Smriti it is said that the land on which cows live is pure. Cows are pure and auspicious. They promote the welfare of mankind. They help make a yajna successful. By serving cows one gets rid of sins. Their dwelling is like a pilgrimage. One becomes virtuous through reverence of cows.
The Skanda Purana also explains that cow dung purifies the courtyard and temple.
The Atharva-Veda also relates that cow's milk helps overcome debility and regain lost physical and mental health. It promotes intelligence.
In the Bhagavad-gita, Sri Krishna said, "Amongst cows, I am Kamadhenu."
The Mahabharata relates that a cow given in charity becomes like Kamadhenu through its virtues and returns to the donor in the next birth. Through her virtues the cow protects the donor from the darkness of hell just as air protects and guides a boat from sinking and helps it steer through the vast ocean of life. Just as a mantra acts like a medicine to destroy disease, in the same way a cow given in charity to a good person protects one from all sins.
In the Mahabharata, Kurma Purana, Yagyavalkya Smriti, and several other Vedic texts, it is said that whoever gives a cow in charity shall always be happy and content and attain heaven after death. It is believed that after death, before heaven one reaches the Vaitarni River. To cross it one can hold the tail of the cow (as a sign and indication of respect for it) and finally reach heaven (the higher planetary systems).
The respect given to the cows and bulls is also representative of the respect that followers of Vedic culture give toward all animals and creatures created by God. All such beings have their place and purpose in the world. Elephants, horses, mules, camels, yak, reindeer, and even the simple donkey have helped mankind in their own way. The sheep gave mankind wool. The silk worm provided silk thread. The bee gives honey. Even the pig did not refrain from providing bristles used in many ways. Living in harmony with animals is an essential part of the Vedic way of life.