The domestication of cattle probably started during the new stone age (neolithic era) about 10,000 B.C. from the wild ox Bos primogenitus. Prior to domestication, they were hunted primarily for food. The domestication of cattle was the first Important step towards civilization of mankind. Ancient Egyptians, around 4200 B.C. ago, were maintaining cattle herds for many of their needs. Cows were in use for ploughing apart from giving the milk. Bulls were more often used for threshing in the fields. The cows were dedicated to the goddess Isis. The bulls were worshiped, fed on the best grains and perfume bathed. Thus they were signs of sanctity. On special occasions their meat was even used for food. The veal (calf-meat) could only be eaten by the royalty.
Evidence of domestication of cattle by early civilizations
Egyptian - Pictures on tombs, sacrophages and temple walls
Aryan - Vedas and holy writings
Cret - Frescoes, pictures, seals, house hold articles depicting animals evidencing the ideas about type of animals. The crets also held bull fights, circus performances, acrobatic tricks performed amongst the bull calves.
Greek - Literary works, coins, household articles, sculptures and frescoes. Alexander the Great sent a herd of 23000 Asiatic humped zebu cattle from India to
Macedomia to improve the cattle herds of Greece.
Its evident therefore that in ancient times, the cattle were an intrinsic factor in the lives of people. Cattle in addition to supplying the meat also became draught animals, helping in ploughing after harnessing. Later on the cow's milk began to gain popularity , then cream, butter and cheese in succesive steps.
The humped cattle incIuding Indian Zebu cattle belong to the species Bos indicus. These have humps over the withers, large drooping ears, dewlap and sheath.
The cow in India has been held in high esteem and veneration from the ancient times. The Vedas contain numerous references of praise for the cow. Similar eulogies are seen in the purans, history and poetical outpourings of saints etc.
COW IN VEDAS
THE COWS HAVE COME AND BROUGHT US GOOD FORTUNE,
MAY THEY STAY IN THE STALL AND BE PLEASED WITH US:
MAY THEY LIVE HERE MOTHERS OF CALVES MANY COLOURED AND YIELD MILK FOR INDRA ON MANY DAWNS.
YE COWS, YOU FATTEN THE EMACIATED AND YOU MAKE THE UNLOVELY LOOK BEAUTIFUL,
MAKE OUR HOUSE HAPPY:
YOU WITH PLEASANT LOWINGS YOUR POWER IS GLORIFIED IN OUR ASSEMBLIES.
MAY YOU HAVE MANY CALVES, GRAZE ON GOOD PASTURES AND DRINK PURE WATER AT GOOD DRINKING PLACES,
MAY NOT THE THIEF MASTER YOU, NOR THE WICKED AND MAY THE DARTS OF RUDRA LEAVE YOU ASIDE.
India was originally populated by Dravidian tribes. Later in 2nd Century BC it was invaded by nomadic Aryans who along with their vast herds of cattle inhabited it. Their main source of food and measure of wealth were the cattle. The cow was considered as a precious commnodity. Draught cattle became part and parcel of theIndian way of life. The chief of the tribe was called as "Gopati" -the owner of cows. The word "gavishti" denoting "war" literally means "striving to get more cows". Gradually the cult of cow gained strength in the country.
Ancient Indians regarded rains as the milk of heavenly cows, squeezed by the ruler of heaven the lord Indra, to the peels of thunder and the rainbow which appeared at the end of thunderstorm was named as "gopati tahona" - the cow's husband.
During the period of Magadh rule, the rural population consisted mainly of agriculturists and ranchmen. The herdsman were employed to guard the royal cattle and the flocks of the village folk in the common grazing fields, beyond the cultivated lands. Kautilaya's Arthshastra mentions agricultute, cattle breeding and trade as the common occupation of the vaisayas and sudras during the Mauryan dynasty. Cattle rearing has been popular from Raghuvansh dynasty to the Mughals. Abul Fazal mentions the low prices of commodities including meat and livestock during Mughal period. Deification of cattle was superseded by the cult of sacrifice with spurred on the development of improved breeds. Thus this domesticated and useful animal gradually began to enjoy respect which turned to worship.