, Volume 57, Issue 1, pp 133–149 | Cite as

Animal ethics and Hinduism’s milking, mothering legends: analysing Krishna the butter thief and the Ocean of Milk

  • Yamini Narayanan


The Hindu ethic of cow protectionism is legislatively interpreted in many Indian states through the criminalisation of cow slaughter, and beef consumption, obscuring dairying’s direct role in the butchery of spent female and unproductive male bovines. Cow milk, however, is celebrated as sacred in scriptural and ritual Hinduism, and mobilised by commercial dairying, as well as by right-wing Hindu groups to advance the idea of a Hindu Indian nation. In order to fully protect cows from the harms of human exploitation, it is vital to problematise milk as a benign, rightful product for humans to consume, including its use in Hindu beliefs, rituals and identity. The paper applies feminist vegan critiques to two Hindu legends commonly invoked to promote milk consumption: the boy-god Krishna’s great love for butter and the mythology of the gods and demons churning the Ocean of Milk to attain ambrosia. These critiques unsettle the core relationship of the Hindu to the cow as a lactating mother and provoke the idea that the original sacred milk in Hinduism in fact is plant-based and vegan.


Cow protection Hinduism Dairy Krishna Mother cow Motherhood India Feminist Vegan Milk 



I express grateful thanks to the two anonymous reviewers and to Eliza Waters and Gonzalo Villenueva, University of Melbourne, for invaluable research support. The article benefited from support from the Australian Research Council.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Deakin UniversityBurwoodAustralia

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