Sherpa Hossainy's Blog

The cow is a gentle animal – or is it? : Encounters at Dhaka’s Eid cattle market

Posted in Bangladesh, Dhaka by Sherpa Hossainy on November 18, 2010

Perhaps most of us endured the agony of writing small paragraphs in English classes throughout our school education. I remember, while in first grade, especially the paragraph on “Cows”, always essentially started with this very sentence, irrespective of any writer – “The cow is a very gentle domestic animal.” It went on further with the obvious lines, with a few exceptions maybe – “It has four legs, two eyes, two ears and a tail. It feeds on grass and gives us milk” or something like that. Unfortunately, after all these years, I have to admit that reality suggests otherwise about the talismanic first line referring the cow as a humble animal.

Stranded in the middle: the unwilling and stubborn cow

Every year the makeshift cattle markets of Dhaka teem with cows and other sacrificial animals for the joyous (not for the animals!) occasion of Eid-ul-Azha, the Eid of sacrifice in Islam. Religious Muslims rush to cattle markets to buy the animals even in the last hours. Most Dhakaiates had the misfortune of being stuck in a mile long traffic jam caused by the temporary cattle markets scattered everywhere in the city. To make things worse, the incoming cattle supply on big trucks from around the country cause a standstill in every cattle market entrance. Despite the volunteers’ almost tearful request on the mike to free up the parking space and roads, the atmosphere is always enormously messy.

The raging bull

A common scene observed in the chaos is proud cow owners chasing the big beasts in the middle of the road. Even with two extra men guiding the owner’s precious possession safely back home, they struggle with the sticks and long ropes to keep the cow from running frantically in the road. Sometimes the cows crash into some ill-fated rickshaw on its way and breaks it into pieces. Rather unfortunate car owners also have to go through the painful experience of staring helplessly at their scratched and smashed cars. Maybe the mental discomfort of a raging bull who is about to be sacrificed and overwhelmed by the big city traffic, is quite easily comprehended by the otherwise sensitive car owners.

Roadside cattle sales

In this regard, I would also like to state an incident that happened to me this year. As I was waiting in a long trail of traffic, understandably caused by the cattle markets, an ominous black bull caught my attention – it was rushing in the middle of the street and heading towards my rickshaw. Three helpless men were chasing the rampant bull like Spanish matadors, only quite unsophisticatedly. I had been taking pictures just moments ago, but when I saw the disturbed cow running towards my rickshaw, no fancy idea of taking pictures of a lunatic cow came into my head. My instant impulse was just to jump out of the rickshaw but I failed on that attempt as my whole body froze by the thought of the upcoming disaster. I could only manage to pray to “The God of the cows” desperately hoping that the mighty beast would change its course and miss the tyre of my rickshaw.

Cows lined up for sale in cattle market

Nevertheless, that was not the order of the day as the cow hit the side of my rickshaw to make my worst nightmare come true. To my delight, the impact was not that menacing as the three matadors somehow managed to pull it back in the final seconds. The rickshaw was only semi-airborne for a few seconds while I was still pondering my special Spiderman move to jump out of the rickshaw with one leg stretched out and another hanging in the air. After the nice landing from the one-second flight in a rickshaw, I was relieved to find the rickshaw in one piece. I thanked “The God of the cows” as my rickshaw driver started driving again. After moving 100 metres or so, we saw a completely ravaged rickshaw lying beside the road bearing testimony of the massacre of the raging bull. I am confused about what emotion was exactly going through my mind – empathy, grief or a feeling of respite. As we went on, another incident of mad-bull-racing happened, luckily on the other side of the road – and this time I did take some photos.

Decorated sacrificial cows

So, why this madness – this lunacy from an allegedly humble and gentle animal? I wanted to find out what others were thinking. Tenth grade student Juthi admitted her fear of cows by saying, “They are nothing like I’ve read in books. They are crazy!” Actually, most of my female interviewees echoed the same statement about the cows being really unsophisticated and impolite towards them. I have no idea whether cows and women actually share some vendetta that is going on for ages. Although university student Sabrina seemed to have a good rapport with cows, “Cows are really friendly. They look so cute with their big black eyes and soft nose.” Although she suggested ‘something mysterious is happening’ when asked about the disturbing madness of them. The male counterparts, on the other hand, seemed pretty chilled about the violent bulls. Tashfique, a college student, said rather indifferently, “There’s nothing to blame them for. They are just being themselves. I guess that’s what we would all do if we had to put our head under the sword.”

Cattle market by the roadside

It is quite understandable why the sacrificial cows act that way if we put ourselves in the same position. Nevertheless, the unanswered question that still haunts me is – Can the cows actually tell the imminent danger? Do they have some sort of sixth sense or are they actually violent? Retired government employee Mr Mahmud told me, “Cows can sense that they are going to be killed. Azrael (the deity of death in Islam) comes in their dreams with a sword and tells them about their fate. You’ll see cows crying on the morning of the sacrifice.” I was not quite sure about the deity of death’s appearance in the cows’ dreams so I kept on searching for the answer. Sadly enough, I could not discuss the whole subject with any animal scientist or researcher who could have at least given me a satisfying answer – hence my last resort was Google. Although nothing concrete came up from the search, there were some articles claiming cows having sixth sense, concluded from Google Earth satelite image studies.

Link 1: “Cows have strange sixth sense” by Jeremy Hsu in Live Science website

Link 2: “Cows really do have a magnetic sixth sense” by Brandon Keim in Wired Science website

Cattles on truck

We have seen cows raising terror in the streets, causing all sorts of casualties and many of us even have been the victim of it. I have also had the experience of watching cows running with their head dangling from their shoulder after they break free in the midway of a sacrifice! All the crazy stuff regarding cows that I’ve mentioned makes me question the assumption about the gentle nature of cows.  The statement might hold its ground, because if unprovoked, almost every animal is unobtrusive and peace loving. Certainly, there lie obvious reasons why cows act like raving lunatics during the sacrificial season, as that is what we would surely be doing under the same circumstances. Mr Hamid, who has been in the cattle trading business for over 20 years, echoed this sentiment, “Cows – they are just like humans. Some are bad, some are good, some are gentle and some are just rude!”

Goats in the cattle market

Cows in the truck ready for disposal


One Response

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  1. Jay Ramasawmy said, on January 8, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    When Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was in Mayapur, Chand Kazi was the Chief Magistrate of

    Navadvipa. He was a devout and strict Muslim who was well versed in the Koran. As the Chief

    Magistrate of Navadwipa-Mayapur, he kept law and order for the Hussein Shah and was also the

    spiritual advisor of the Shah.

    Lord Caitanya engaged Kazi in a philosophical debate and then defeated him with a warning that

    meat-eaters face many thousands of years in hell for their sin of eating cow flesh.

    The Lord said, “My dear uncle, I have come to your home just to ask you some questions.”

    “Yes,” the Kazi replied, “You are welcome. Just tell me what is in Your mind.”

    The Lord said, “You drink cows’ milk; therefore the cow is your mother. And the bull produces

    grains for your maintenance; therefore he is your father.

    “Since the bull and cow are your father and mother, how can you kill and eat them? What kind of

    religious principle is this? On what strength are you so daring that you commit such sinful


    The Kazi replied, “As You have Your scriptures called the Vedas and Purāṇas, we have our

    scripture, known as the holy Koran.

    “According to the Koran, there are two ways of advancement—through increasing the propensity to

    enjoy, and through decreasing the propensity to enjoy. On the path of decreasing attachment

    (nivṛtti-mārga), the killing of animals is prohibited.

    “On the path of material activities, there is regulation for killing cows. If such killing is

    done under the guidance of scripture, there is no sin.”

    As a learned scholar, the Kazi challenged Caitanya Mahāprabhu, “In Your Vedic scriptures there

    is an injunction for killing a cow. On the strength of this injunction, great sages performed

    sacrifices involving cow-killing.”

    Refuting the Kazi’s statement, the Lord immediately replied, “The Vedas clearly enjoin that

    cows should not be killed. Therefore every Hindu, whoever he may be, avoids indulging in cow-


    “In the Vedas and Purāṇas there are injunctions declaring that if one can revive a living being,

    one can kill it for experimental purposes.

    “Therefore the great sages sometimes killed old cows, and by chanting Vedic hymns they brought

    them back to life for perfection.

    “The killing and rejuvenation of such old and invalid cows was not truly killing but an act of

    great benefit.

    “Formerly there were powerful brāhmaṇas who could make such experiments using Vedic hymns, but

    now, because of the Kali-yuga, brāhmaṇas are not so powerful. Therefore the killing of cows and

    bulls for rejuvenation is forbidden.

    “‘In this Age of Kali, five acts are forbidden: the offering of a horse in sacrifice, the

    offering of a cow in sacrifice, the acceptance of the order of sannyāsa, the offering of

    oblations of flesh to the forefathers, and a man”s begetting children in his brother’s wife.’

    “Since you Muslims cannot bring killed cows back to life, you are responsible for killing them.

    Therefore you are going to hell; there is no way for your deliverance.

    “Cow-killers are condemned to rot in hellish life for as many thousands of years as there are

    hairs on the body of the cow.

    “There are many mistakes and illusions in your scriptures. Their compilers, not knowing the

    essence of knowledge, gave orders that were against reason and argument.”

    After hearing these statements by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the Kazi, his arguments stunned,

    could not put forward any more words. Thus, after due consideration, the Kazi accepted defeat

    and spoke as follows.

    “My dear Nimāi Paṇḍita, what You have said is all true. Our scriptures have developed only

    recently, and they are certainly not logical and philosophical.

    “I know that our scriptures are full of imagination and mistaken ideas, yet because I am a

    Muslim I accept them for the sake of my community, despite their insufficient support.

    “The reasoning and arguments in the scriptures of the meat-eaters are not very sound,” the Kazi



    Like all animals, cows value their lives and don’t want to die. Stories abound of cows who have gone to extraordinary lengths to fight for their lives.

    A cow named Suzie was about to be loaded onto a freighter bound for Venezuela when she turned around, ran back down the gangplank, and leaped into the river. Even though she was pregnant (or perhaps because she was pregnant), she managed to swim all the way across the river, eluding capture for several days. She was rescued by PETA and sent to a sanctuary.

    When workers at a slaughterhouse in Massachusetts went on break, Emily the cow made a break of her own. She took a tremendous leap over a 5-foot gate and escaped into the woods, surviving for several weeks during New England’s snowiest winter in a decade, cleverly refusing to touch the hay put out to lure her back to the slaughterhouse.

    When she was eventually caught by the owners of a nearby sanctuary, public outcry demanded that the slaughterhouse allow the sanctuary to buy her for one dollar. Emily lived out the rest of her life in Massachusetts until she died of cancer in 2004. Her life is a testament to the fact that eating meat means eating animals who don’t want to die.

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