The Features and Intentions of Cows

BY: SUN STAFF, Kurma Rupa das - 19.4 2017

From Varahamihira's Brhat Samhita, Part II.

The Brhat Samhita of Varahamihira is an encyclopedia of astrological and other subjects of human interest. Whatever subject the author takes up for delineation, whether it is aclipse, planetary movements, rainfall, cloud, architecture, water-divination or some other topic, Varahamihira discusses the same with thoroughness and mastery based on the knowledge of ancient sastras.

Varahamihira worked as one of the Navaratnas for Chandragupta Vikramaditya. His book Pancasiddhantika (or Pancha-Siddhantika, The Five Astronomical Canons), dated 575 AD, gives us information about older Indian texts which are now lost. The work is a treatise on mathematical astronomy and it summarises five earlier astronomical treatises, namely the Surya, Romaka, Paulisa, Vasistha and Paitamaha siddhantas.

Varahamihira is said to have origins from Eastern Iran from a sect known as Maga Brahmins. In more ways than one, the Surya Siddhanta or Treatise on Sun hints that Mihira was from Iran as Iran was the only South Asian country following the Sun worship. Varaha was a name coined by Vikramaditya - the king of Ujjain. Mihira (meaning "friend" in Persian) accurately predicted the death of Vikramiditya's son during his 18th year. The entire army, intelligence and the kind could not save the boy from this fatal incident. This will remain as the greatest astrological prediction ever made by Mihira. Varaha Mihira's painting can be found in the Indian Parliament alongside Aryabhatta.

Varahamihira made important contributions to mathematics. He was also an astrologer, and is considered among the greatest Acharyas of modern astrology. He is the only author who has written treatises on all the three main branches of Vedic astrology. He has gifted us with the following treatises on astrology:

Brihat Samhita

Brihat Jaatak - one the five main treatises on Hindu astrology and horoscopy

Laghu Prashari

Laghu Jaatak

Yoga Yatra


His son Prithuyasas also contributed to the his book "Hora Saara", a famous book on horoscopy.

Following are two excerpts from Brihat Samhita on the science of cows.


Chapter LXI - Features of Cows

[The Sage Parasara is said to have expounded on the characteristics of cows to his disciple, Brhadratha. Generally in classical texts on Ayurveda etc., the teacher expounds a particular science in response to the humble requests of his pupils. Urpala quotes in addition Salihotraand a Gatha in Prakrt.]

"This is a succinct account of the characteristics of cows as taught by Sage Parasara to his disciple Brhadratha. Although all types of cows are of auspicious signs, yet I shall delineate them on the authority of the Sastra (scientific work) written by the Sages.

Cows with dirty and dry eyes, shedding tears, and resembling those of rats are not auspicious; nor are those that have flat, shaking horns, that are black and red in colour or have the colour of asses. So also are those that have ten, seven or four teeth, drooping hornless head, depressed back, short and thick neck, middle resembling barley corn, broken hoofs, very long and blackish tongue, very small or very big ankle-joints, big hump, weak body, and fewer or more limbs.

A bull too possessing the above characteristics as well as large and hanging testicles, breast full of veins, and cheeks covered with thick veins, and one which urinates in three streams, brings no good luck. One tawny or dark-red, having cat's eyes is not good even for Brahmanas. One with dark lips, palate and tongue and continually blowing, is destructive to the entire flock.

A bull that makes too much dung, has gem-like horns (or has too thick glans penis and big horns), while belly the colour of a spotted deer, should be abandoned, though born at home. For, it would otherwise bring ruin upon the entire flock.

A bull whose body is full of dark spots resembling flowers, has grayish-red colour, and cat's eyes, does no good even to a Brahmana who accepts it as a gift.

Those that have weak necks, tremulous eyes, stunted growth, and raise their feet as if from mire, while being yoked or engaged in carrying loads on their backs, would not be able to carry burdens.

Bulls that have soft, touching and red lips, small buttocks, palate and tongue red, ears short, small and raised, belly well-shaped, and broad, hump large, skin and hair soft, smooth and thin, horns red and slender, tail thin and reaching the ground, corners of eyes red, breath long, shoulders similar to those of the lion, dewlap thin and small, and gait charming, are highly regarded.

[Many of the characteristics of bulls are applicable to cows as well. For example, the tail touching the ground is a mark of an excellent cow; so is the pot-like udder. For the good signs refer to the Raghuvamsa I 83-84.]

Bulls with hairy circles turning towards the left on the left side and with those turning towards the right on the right side are beneficial; even so are those whose shanks resemble those of antelopes.

Bulls whose eyes have the hue of beryl, or are surrounded by white circles looking like jasmine wreaths, or resemble a water-bubble, whose eye-lashes are thick, and hind parts of hoofs unsplit, are all commendable and capable of carrying loads.

A bull that has wrinkles on its snout, a feline face, is white on the right side, or has the colour of lotus, lily or lac (white, black or red), has a fine tail, horse-like speed, hanging testicles, an ovine belly and narrow groins and breast is considered fit for both carrying heavy loads and traveling long distances, as well as equal to the horse in speed and of beneficial results.

A bull which is white in colour, has tawny eyes, copper-coloured horns and eyes and a large mouth or face is termed Hamsa (Swan) of auspicious results and is said to bring good luck and prosperity to the flock.

One whose tail touches the ground, whose horns and eyes are red, lump prominent and colour a mixture of white, red and yellow, makes its owner a lord of wealth ere long.

One that has completely white feet also produces auspicious results, whatever may be its bodily colour. When a bull of all auspicious features is not available, even one of partially auspicious marks should be acceptable.

Chapter ICII - Intention of Cows - Section VII

Cows looking pitiable indicate misery to the king (or its owner); burrowing the earth with their hoofs, disease; with eyes filled with tears, owner's death; bellowing in panic, trouble from thieves.

If a cow lows without any reason, there will be calamity; if at night, danger; but if a bull happiness; if a cow is completely swarmed in front with flies, or obstructed by dogs, there will be rain in the near future.

If cows while returning home with the sweet cry of Bambha, follow other cows (fondling them), there will be an increase of cattle wealth in the house. If they are wet in body, happy or have the hairs standing on ends, they bring fortune to their owner. All the above remarks apply to she-buffaloes as well.