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The Myth of the Holy Cow [Hardcover]

Dwijendra Narayah Jha
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

9 April 2002
The growth of religious fundamentalism in India is symbolized by the existence of a BJP government committed to the Hindutva. There is growing pressure to declare the cow a sacred, national animal and to ban its slaughter. This illuminating work is a response to this crazed confessionalism. It challenges obscurantist views on the sanctity of the cow in Hindu tradition and culture. Dwijendra Narayan Jha, a leading Indian historian, argues that beef played an important part in the cuisine of ancient India, long before the birth of Islam. It was very much a feature of the approved Brahmanical and Buddhist diet. The evidence he produces from a variety of religious and secular texts is compelling. His opponents, including the current government of India and the fundamentalist groups backing it, have demanded that the book should be ritually burned in public. It has already been banned by the Allahabad High Court and the author's life has been threatened.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 183 pages
  • Publisher: Verso Books; New edition edition (9 April 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1859846769
  • ISBN-13: 978-1859846766
  • Product Dimensions: 22.2 x 14.3 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,112,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A meticulously researched, strongly worded, persuasively articulated challenge to long-held religious beliefs, The Myth of The Holy Cow is a unique and iconoclastic contribution to the study of Hindu beliefs, practices, history and customs."--"Wisconsin Bookwatch""A well-argued and soundly documented study ..."--"Choice""Jha draws on an amazingly wide range of material ... an enlightening endeavour, demonstrating a critical understanding of a popular misconception."--"Journal of Asian Studies""The pen might still be, if not mightier than the nuclear arsenal, at least a weapon worth scanning for, like knives at airports, a weapon capable of subversion."--"Times Literary Supplement""This book may not please Hindu fundamentalists, but its research is impeccable."--"The Telegraph, Calcutta, India""While cow veneration and vegetarianism may be the hallmarks of Hinduism today, Mr. Jha compiles copious evidence that this has hardly always been the case."--"New York Times"

About the Author

Dwijendra Narayan Jha is Professor of History at the University of Delhi. His books include "Ancient India in Historical Outline" and "Feudal Social Formation in Early India."

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
By mmerope
This volume deals with the question whether the cow was considered to be holy in ancient Southasia. It is a critical analysis of the topic based, with sufficient evidence, on the study of the ancient texts (Vedic and Buddhist). The author keeps into account the most important and recent studies of Indology and shows that Buddha and Buddhist were not really vegeterian, that the cow was not considered to be holy by Brahmans, that Jains were the most coherent supporter of the non violence. It is a book for specialists and not.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2.8 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very clear and incisive analysis and breakdown of the sacred bovine myth in Hinduism 26 Dec 2008
By Jeremy Brown - Published on
I got this book out of sheer curiosity given I had earlier read about how meat eating was not considered something sinful the way it is in modern mainstream Hinduism. The book explores this and supports it very strongly in a great scholarly fashion.

I am also not surprised to see some reviews from Indian Hindus who outright reject this as "communist" and buy into the white-washing of Hindu scriptures, which is rather sad given they are so full of rich cultural descriptives of ancient India and Hindu society.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative if brief 10 May 2007
By Sarakani - Published on
A unique and important reference book - one of a kind, dealing with the commercially most valuable of man's domesticated animals. The story of the sacred cow is a stroy of humanity itself and here is a history of this animal from the Indian vantage. Controversially, it contends that the sacredness of cattle to Indians is probably a somewhat recent artefact of Indian culture perhaps bound with a shift in religious practices as well as in modern times, putting some blue water between Hindus and Muslims. Overall this is a work of short, comprehensive scholarship and fascintating to read. They've tried to get it banned in India which has to be seen as a predictable and primitive reaction. Really great for people interested in religion, cattle, Indian religions and historians.
15 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Is this real? 15 Sep 2004
By Curious Reader - Published on
As a beef eating Hindu I am very much interested in finding how cows became holy for Hindus and beef a forbidden thing to eat. I browsed through this book in a book store and found it to be very disappointing.

First, it appeared to be intended more for creating controversy than for informational purposes. It clearly had a bias which turned me off.

Second, I am generally up-to date on current issues and remembered that it did not generate all that controversy as mentioned on the cover of the book. There were some rumblings but nothing of the sort described on the covers ("the government of India demands be ritually burned").

Later I searched on google with the book title and words "ban", "government of India" and found no news reports relating any government of India attempts at banning this book. There were no reports on ban by Allahabad High Court either. All I found were book reviews on the book and other articles written mainly by political commentators known for their leftist opinions.

Third, I found some material on internet on how the author misinterpreted much of the scriptures to support his conclusions.

It basically left me disappointed and I am still searching for some reliable and accurate material on this matter.
15 of 31 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Excellent example of how to misinterpret Indic texts 26 May 2002
By A Customer - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The book in question is an substandard compilation that is replete with errors. To quote just a few examples specifically on Tamil Nad :
on page 94,he says -
"Beef and fish were usual items of dietary menu in south India
as is evident in the sangam texts. One of them, in fact, refers
to the brAhmaNa priest Kapilar speaking with relish and without
fear of social ostracism about consuming liquor and meat."
What Kapilar eats is meat, which will just mean a cockerel or goat.
The problem is there is no mention of beef anywhere in CT texts.
In fact, in all of Tamil litearture, in contrast to early
vedic Sanskrit texts as given in Jha's book, we do not find
descriptions of beef eating at all. In fact, MaNimEkalai epic
tells a polemical story - a brahmin who stole a cow
is called an untouchable.
Also, prof. Jha tells about there is no cow goddess temple
in India. However, there are famous temple legends where
cow turning into Bhagavathi. And also the very famous Tamil
legend about Chola king punishing his son with a death
penalty for killing a calf in an accident.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Various Sanskrit texts are routinely mistranslated, with a distinct slant to the subject matter. But then, one could not have expected much better from a Communist Historian, who, in his book on ancient Indian history, has the gall to say that the declaration of cow as a holy animal in the Gupta period (4th century AD) sowed the seeds of Hindu communalism!!
7 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended reading for learning essence pf hinduism 2 Sep 2002
By rattan - Published on
Jha's book has only one drawback - it is short. It makes compelling and persuasive reading as it knits anthropological, common sense and traditions familiar to many Indians themselves to bring to light the transition to agriculture of a pastoral society. Beef has been a requirement and a central fixation in the Hindu system of thinking. Jha brings out the historical context in which a costly mistake was made in failing to develop beef and cattle in general as a commodity. Slowly, as India wakes up and stirs to exploit its heritage, beef is bound to come into fashion, or else the system would continue to be beset by instability.
Jha's presentation reminds one of the need to persuade the high castes at the turn of the ninteenth century of the benefit of studying medicine and dissecting cadavers instead of treating it as a defilement of the pure hindus. Now it is clear that it was a necessary and correct step without which many of the purists of today would have died in their infancy.
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