Love’s Manger by Radhika De

Radhika De,a resident sevakStepping into The Art of Living Bangalore Goshala, you get a distinctly different feeling. From being around a swarm of people you are now transferred to a herd of gentle grazers. The atmosphere in the goshala is serene yet charged. A distinct sense of being in the presence of an invisible, though felt force; something maternal, protecting, compassionate pervades you. You’re in the cradle of love, so you can’t but help stretch out an arm to caress a cow, calf or bull.

Our bovine family loves nothing better than a good rub. Brushes are provided for visitors who are urged to proceed with firm strokes. You will soon discover their weak spots as they shift their body beneath your hands and guide you to those areas! At some point you will want to just keep aside the brush and use your bare hands. The texture and feel varies from bull to cow to calf. By the end of the exercise you are happy, your bovine friend is happy and your hands feel nicely charged. The first time I brushed a cow it felt just like brushing a large sofa. The cow did not budge, until I moved away from it. Then it followed remonstrating it wasn’t yet done!

Brushing cows is no easy business. You have to learn to deftly maneuver yourself if you want to save your feet. This is how it works: cow sees brush, sees man has time and the inclination to use the brush and soon you’re surrounded by a mob! Can’t be helped; in a goshala of over a hundred cows the ratio of man to cow is 1: 5 per shed. But the trick is to use one’s brains, not panic, and enjoy the experience balancing relaxation with alertness.

Did you know cows have a soothing, therapeutic effect; much more than your pet cat or dog? Cats and dogs are too wired. Cows are gently stable. Even bulls emit a maternal quality. Being around them you become quiet and gentle. You won’t even know when you have begun to radiate cow essence, until someone remarks, “Is that really YOU?? I can see a halo over your head!”

Cows are also silent sufferers and provide a marvelous example to those of us who scream at the slightest tug of a hair. Apart from the occasional grunt from a bull, you may sometimes hear a mother call out to her calf, or a calf moo, “Ambe, ambe!” in search of its ma. The goshala is so tranquil that it is hard to believe it is home to more than a hundred cows.

Most prominent is the hypnotic sound of vedic chants. You expect to turn at the end of one of the sheds and find a host of priests from the Gurukul and Ved Agama chanting before a ceremonial fire. But no, these are recordings amplified from speakers discreetly placed at the top corner of each shed. The selection played depends on the deity venerated on that day. Swami Brahmatej recalls that when Sri Sri’s discourses were aired on World Space, the cows actually looked up from their food, thinking that Master had come for a visit!

These creatures come with their share of peculiarities and project distinct personalities. Before attaining maturity, Krish a handsome bull, was kept in the same shed as mothers and newborn calves. Often a little cluster of calves would be found sitting snugly around him! It was odd, they preferred him to their mothers, and he seemed to have slid into his new role nicely.

On one memorable occasion I noticed the gates of the dispensary fly open. Krish kicked up his legs like a rocking horse, pranced out, and the calves followed in a game of ‘Follow the Leader’. He would make a round of the outdoor enclosure, race back to the dispensary where he’d make a U-turn, and then go back out with the others tethered to him like the invisible string of a garland. This was played ad infinitum, while a growing crowd of sevaks (volunteers) watched in amusement.

When all of them have been handed out their fair share of fodder, invariably, you see a pair eating from the same helping, even if it means rubbing heads together. Perhaps they prefer the proximity…a quiet understanding without clashes. At least, I have never encountered any bickering at mealtimes. Oh, with one very small exception.

Once a month, Sanjoy Majumdar, the devoted caretaker, brings out buckets of dried chapattis (Indian bread). He makes rounds of the sheds distributing these much loved snacks to the cows. However, each cow gets a fixed quota: two chappatis only. Suddenly you find that cows when they want can be quite deceiving! Some trick their way into having more than their share. They surreptitiously appear with the herd of cows yet to receive their treat, or sometimes, they bully the more docile ones. If you don’t have a keen eye you can end up feeding five cows portion to one who has tricked you by changing its place each time!

There are so many nuggets to share, but I’d rather each reader find the space and time to go venture with the cows. Gather your own stories and discover your unique place among the cows.

After 5 memorable months in the Goshala, Radhika De, a resident sevak, now contributes to The Art of Living global website.