The Multiple Significance of Milk
India is the largest producer of milk in the world. Milk in India is not just a drink to be had over breakfast, and goes beyond its dietary and nutritional value. The cow is revered as a sacred animal and worshipped as “Go-Mata”, “mother cow”, and the milk it gives is equivalent to ambrosia. Milk in Samskrt is called Ksheer and the sweet pudding that is made with milk and other products is called Kheer.
This association of milk with nectar, sweetness goes back to the legend of Samudra Manthan, when the Ocean of Milk was churned to secure Amrita, ambrosia, and a number of other things from the Ocean. Milk is thus associated with productivity.
One of the beings to have emerged during the churning of the Milk Ocean was Kamadhenu, the divine cow, Kama meaning ‘wish’ and Dhenu ‘to provide’. In Purana, Kamadhenu is revered as the cow that could produce anything and fulfil our needs and requirements. Cow is thus revered in this land as the symbol of prosperity, and the greatest item it gives, is the milk.
Krishna-The butter thief
The legends of Krishna are replete with Him stealing milk, butter, cream and curds from the houses of gopas and gopis, the cowherds. The milk here is symbol of divine love, as Krishna relished the devotion of the local milk maids in Vrindavan. He is endearingly called Kheer Chora.
Krishna stealing Butter
More on Krishna and the events of His life in our Krishna trilogy, “Historical Krishna”.
Lord Vishnu in the Purana is depicted as lying on a coiled snake, Adishesha in the Ocean of Milk, Ksheera Sagara. This cosmic milk here is akin to the pure consciousness which is churned by divine will to bring about Creation, symbolized by the emergence of Brahma from Narayana. The milk here represents the primordial divinity, from which the whole of universe arose.
Lord Vishnu in Ocean of Milk
More on the Milky Ocean and Creation, in our book and film “Creation-Srishti Vignana”.
The nutritional value of milk and its by-products mean that they are recommended for consumption at every stage of life. Through milk, we can obtain a series of other food products such as butter, cheese, yoghurt and cream, rich in protein. Thus milk is also associated in English vocabulary as “making the best out of a situation or thing”, when we say, “to milk something”.
Varieties of Cows
There are three main varieties of cows, namely, Bos Taurus – the European Jersey cows, Bos Senegus – the African cows and Bos Indicus – the Indian cows.
However, during the British times, “the milking of cows” took on a negative side, when a propaganda was spread by the British administrators that Jersey cows were superior to Indian cows, in terms of quantity and quality.
The low productivity of Indian cows was due to a completely different reason than the breed. The great famines which were artificially thrust on India from the late 1800s by the British, not only starved to death many men, women and children but first, their cows and cattle.
Many healthy, indigenous breeds of cattle of India were lost in these famines. The ones that remained, were too emancipated to produce enough milk or good progeny.
Now, in order to increase the so called “low productivity of Indian cows” as well as increase the number of healthy cows, the semen of the Bos Taurus – Jersey cow was inserted into Indian cow through in-vitro fertilization. The mixed breed offsprings have been called Jersey cows in India.
These mixed breed cows are not native cows and have difficulty in adapting to Indian environment. This difficulty in adapting leads to complex problems which affect the life and milk productivity of these cows.
In reality, the Indian native breeds are overall cost effective, even though the milk yield in some breeds could be lower.
Intrinsic Quality in Milk
Recent research clearly tells us that the milk given forth by Bos Indicus and Bos Taurus are different on a crucial count.
Milk is consumed by mammals, including humans, for its nutritive value of protein that it offers in the early growth stage, when milk is consumed maximum. Modern research has identified two types of milk proteins, classified as A1 Beta Casein and A2 Beta Casein.
Image courtesy: drjockers.com
A2 Beta Casein is the kind of milk protein found in human milk, goat milk, sheep milk and in the milk of the Indian cows, the Bos Indicus. This variety of milk has been found to be of higher beneficial value to humans, next only to mother’s milk.
In contrast, the Jersey cows, which come under the Bos Taurus category, give milk protein of A1 Beta Casein variety. A1 Beta Casein is suspected to cause Autism, Schizophrenia, Stomach ulcer, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s disease and so on.
The other animal whose milk contains high values of A1 Beta Casein protein, is pig.
Due to such ill effects of milk, seen in the western world where only the Bos Taurus cows are prominent, many researchers and doctors the worldover, have declared milk to be harmful to human health in the long run.
But sadly, without differentiating the A2 Beta Casein milk of the Bos Indicus from the A1 Beta Casein milk of the Bos Taurus, milk in general is now being viewed suspiciously by Indians too.
Indian cows milk nutritive
Tests conducted specifically on the two different species of cows, using the scientific lacto process, show that, not only is the milk of Bos Indicus, the native Indian cow, not detrimental to health, but on the other hand is actually nutritive in nature.
The Indian cow’s milk has been found to be nutritive and nourishing to humans, especially babies.
It is this beneficial nature that has been extolled right from the Veda, to the lores of the land. While the yield of the Indian native breed may be lower, it seems to be most ideally suited for India, on account of
- this cow’s milk being more suited for human consumption
- the cow itself being more suited for Indian conditions of food and weather.
The White Revolution
With the efforts of the National Dairy Development Board, Dr. Verghese Kurien, called the ‘milk man of India’, started an initiative called Operation flood in 1970 at Anand, Gujarat.
Dr. Verghese Kurien
Operation flood logo
The logo of the National Dairy Development Board has the hump unique to the Bos Indicus cows, from a Harappan seal.
National Dairy Development Board logo
In its early days, when Dr. Verghese Kurien had approached one of the multinational companies who specialized in milk production among their other activities, to help India in bringing this White Revolution, an official of that company is reported to have haughtily replied that, he
“would not allow natives to handle a sensitive commodity like milk”.
Couple of decades down the line, after the roaring success of the cooperative effort in making India the highest milk producer in the world, the same official came to congratulate Kurien on the effort. Dr. Kurien is reported to have reparted,
“What do you think of the natives now?”
Dr. Kurien Verghese is today honoured as the ‘Father of White Revolution’, and his birth anniversary on 26th November is aptly observed as “National Milk Day” every year.