On the heels of winning the World Series, the Chicago Cubs adoption of the catchphrase “holy cow” as a team euphemism is back in vogue and trending in all the major internet search engines.
Believed to have been used in baseball as early as the late 19th century (1883), the phrase was used as “[. . .] a minced oath to avoid being penalized for using foul language. They likely played off the sacredness of cows in Hinduism to avoid the sacrilegious (in the Christian tradition) Holy Christ! or the vulgar Holy [S**t],” according to sports historian and pop culture blogger, Peter Jensen Brown.
In Spalding’s Base Ball Guide and Official League Book for 1883, foul and indecent language was subject to an immediate fine without appeal. Referred to as,
Rule 69: For the special benefit of the patrons of the Game, and because the offenses specified are under his immediate jurisdiction, and not subject to appeal by players, the attention of the Umpire is particularly directed to possible violations of the purpose and spirit of the Rules, of the following character. . .
“Indecent or improper language addressed by a player to the audience, the Umpire, or any player. In any of these cases the umpire should promptly fine the offending player,” the rule stated.
Popularized by the careers of baseball announcers Haray Caray and Phil Rizzuto, 1945 and 1957 respectively, the two legends used the phrase liberally during their coverage of the game. It was used as a catchphrase in the F. Hugh Herbert’s 1943 play, Kiss and Tell, and the long-running radio show based on characters from that play, Meet Corliss Archer (1943-1956), as well comic books, according to Brown’s blog.
However, on the continent of South Asia, in the world’s most populous democracy – the Republic of India (1.2 billion inhabitants) – sits the ancient Indus Valley civilization, home to vast wealth, cultural and religious beliefs including: Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism and especially Hinduism.
With Hinduism being the major religion of India, and eighty percent of the population identifying as Hindus; the religion of over 1 billion faithful have had profound consequences on the country’s history, philosophy and religious doctrines.
In particular, the phrase “holy cow” takes on significant spiritual and sacred connotations as the bovine (cow) is the most revered of all land animals in the Republic, and is considered “holy” by the Vedic scriptures.
Due to its ability to plow the field, give milk and dung as a fertilizer, the cow is venerated and seen as divine. In Hinduism, the concept of omnipresence – the divine, and the presence of a soul in all creatures – precludes the killing of animals.
Therefore, killing any animal would be considered a sin. To do so would be obstructing dharma, the natural cycle of birth and death of that creature, and the creature would have to be reborn in that same form because of its unnatural death.
As such, cows are allowed to bath in the Ganges River; the sacred river of Hinduism. Flowing through the town of Uttar Pradesh – the heart of the Hindu “cow belt” – and one of the poorest, most populous and caste-ridden places in India, according to Reuters. The city hosts the Maha Kumbh Mela, the largest religious festival on earth, every twelve years and the Ardh (half) Kumbh Mela every six years.
According to an Indian official, symbolically speaking: “the forces of creation are collected in one vessel (kumbh) and a celebration (Mela) ensues. This is why the event is called ‘Kumbh Mela’. “Kumbha“, meaning the pot, and “Mela“, a sacred Hindu pilgrimage with more than 50 million Hindus gathering to pray and bathe in the holy Ganges river.
“This is considered to be the perfect polarization of various benevolent forces at a specific spot, due to the alignment of planets, constellations, and other celestial bodies, has an extraordinary effect on our planet. This energy is further intensified by the presence of thousands of saints and sages who come together during this cosmic event.
“Millions of worshippers take a dip in the holy river Ganga at the confluence of the three rivers (sangam); the holy Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, in Allahabad. The month long festival represents a time when the confluence of the three rivers is believed to turn into purifying nectar, allowing the devotees to cleanse themselves as they bathe,” they stated.
The Dirty Truth About the Ganga River
“The river changes colors five times a day,” says Dr. Roopinda Mann, a student at the University of Illinois, Chicago. The Indian native studying dentistry in Chicago told the Defender that the changes are in part, due to: “industrial runoff being dumped into the river on a daily basis.” And according to Dr. Mann, the government does nothing about it while the residents who live in the cities surrounding the river have no access to clean and safe drinking water.
The Ganga suffers from extreme pollution levels, which affect the 500 million people who live close to the river. Sewage from many cities along the river’s course, industrial waste and religious offerings wrapped in non-degradable plastics add large amounts of pollutants to the river as it flows through densely populated areas. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that many poorer people rely on the river on a daily basis for bathing, washing, and cooking, according to The Hindu, an English-language daily Indian newspaper.
Ranked as the fifth most polluted river of the world in 2007, the pollution threatens not only humans, but also more than 140 fish species, 90 amphibian species and the endangered Ganges river dolphin. The Ganga Action Plan, an environmental initiative to clean up the river, has been a major failure thus far, due to corruption, lack of technical expertise, poor environmental planning, and lack of support from the religious community, according to Indian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Varanasi, a city of one million people that many pilgrims visit to take a “holy dip” in the Ganga, releases around 200 million litres of untreated human sewage into the river each day, leading to large concentrations of faecal coliform bacteria. According to official standards, water safe for bathing should not contain more than 500 faecal coliforms per 100ml, yet upstream of Varanasi’s the river water contains 120 times as much, 60,000 faecal coliform bacteria per 100 ml.
In July 2014, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced an integrated Ganga development project titled ‘Namami Ganga’ along with a substantial budget that would have greater powers to plan, implement and monitor measures aimed at protecting the river, according to the Biharprabha news organization.
“This sheds a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘holy cow'”, says the Indian official who happens to be a Cubs fan. “It’s been a 108 years since they won a championship. Hopefully, it won’t take nearly as long to clean up the river,” they said.
Comment on the Cubs, baseball and Hinduism at https://www.facebook.com/ken.hare
Visit Peter Jensen Brown’s blog at https://esnpc.blogspot.com/2014/05/holy-cow-hinduism-and-baseball.html