A name associated with cattle (especially cows) and the cattle community in the Indian context. Cows should not be beaten or slaughtered— rather they are unsuitable for slaughter, and thus the appellation. In the dialogue between Tulādhāra and Jājali in Mahābhārata, it has been clearly mentioned that aghṇyā is synonymous to cow — aghṇyā iti gavāṃ nāma — so nobody must ever think about killing cows. Curiously enough, the following stanza takes into account oxen as well as cows, albeit in a different context and declares that he who slaughters an ox or a cow would be committing an inauspicious act—
mahaccakārākuśalaṃ vṛṣaṃ gāṃ bālbhettu yaḥ.
A short tale accompanies this version—if anyone kills a cow, they would be charged with the same crime committed by Manu’s son King Pṛṣadhra—
mahaccakārākuśalaṃ pṛṣadhro gāmālabhanniva.
After erroneously killing a cow, Pṛsadhra was demoted from a respectable king of a high birth to a Śūdra.
[Skanda pu. (maheswar/ Kumarika) 45.28;
For the alternative version of the verse see
In Mahābhārata and Purānas, cow slaughter has been harshly criticised, and consuming their meat even more so. Although, Mahābhārata cites a couple of instances of cow slaughter and eating beef as ancient customs, by that time killing of cows is condemned deeply — vākpāruṣyaṃ govadho rātricaryā.
Mahābhārata stresses on the well-being of cows rather than consumption of their meat — na cāsāṃ māṃsamaśnīẏad gavāṃ puṣṭiṃ tathāpnuẏāt.
The interesting thing to note here is, even though in Vedas and Brāhmanas, there have been traditions of slaughtering cows or eating beef to adhere to the rules of a yajña, from the times of Rigveda (Ṛgveda) it was being contemplated that cows, as animals, are not suitable for slaughter, and it is more rational to preserve and take care of them. The term aghṇyā has been used in Rigveda (Ṛgveda) as a noun synonymous to ‘cow’ at least seven tomes, not as a qualifier for it. Even ‘ox’ has been referred to as aghṇyā at least thrice to signify it as an animal unsuitable for slaughter. The fact of the matter is, despite the existence of ongoing customs of cow slaughter or consumption of beef during the Vedic age, be it owing to norms of yajña or out of force of habit, during the latter part of the Vedic era, there is immense stress on the sublimity of non-violence. Consequently, along with the conventional necessity of cows for daily chores, the importance of their sublimity also steadily rises. Amidst all this, the non-violent movements of Buddhism and Jainism act as a great influence of pacifism in Arya dharma. Therefore, eventually cow slaughter grows to be considered a highly condemned act, and cow finds foremost significance as aghṇyā. In Anuśāsanaparva of Mahabharata, the aghṇyā cow finally transforms into gomātā.[A.A. Macdonell, Vedic Mythology, p. 151; ‘The Sanctity of the cow in Hinduism’ in India and Indology: Selected Artcles by W. Norman Brown, pp. 92.100]