The Hindus consider the bull and cow as sacred. This has a significance. The worship of these animals means worshipping the principle of sacrifice and service which they represent so that the worshippers could imbibe this great principle into their own living. Today the basis of worship is lost, the principle of sacrifice and service is hardly practised by anyone although the orthodox Hindus hold on to these animals fanatically.
In Indian Culture..Why do we worship Bull [Nandi]?
The bull is called Nandi. A stone carving of Nandini is sen in the Siva temple outside the sanctum sanctorum with its head turned towards the shrine. The idols and its positioning carry a meaning. India being basically an agricultural country the bull plays a very important role in the lives of people. Even after the innovation of tractors in the agricultural fields, the bull is indispensable. Besides its utility in the agricultural fields the bull also epitomises the very culture of India. It demonstrates a great principle of living.
The bull toils the whole day in the hot sun and helps cultivate the fields for producing grains throughout the length and breadth of India. In return for its hard labour it gets only some dry grass and water for its sustenance. It seems to function on the principle "Maximum work minimum profit." Thee is no ego or egocentric desires polluting its work. No kartrtva bhavana doership or bhoktrtva bhavana enjoyership attitude at all. Its activities are not driven by desires. Neither does it crave for the fruits of its actions. It plays its role without worries of the past and anxieties of the future. It merely does what it ought to do in life. That is the highest principle of action, the best code of living. The ancient Hindus recognised this loftly principle in the life of a bull. They tried to emulate it in all their activities. They invoked the sacrificial spirit of the bull in their own lives. They worshipped the bull.
The head of the bull is turned towards the shrine in the temple. This indicates that the bull's actions are dedicated to God, an absence of ego and egocentric desires. By worshipping the bull, the Hindu invokes its spirit of dedication to higher values and service to fellow-beings. That is the spirit of karma yoga, the path of action.
Lord Krishna refers to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita as a Bharatarsabha. It literally means "bull among the Bharatas". Today people all over the world seem to follow the principle of "minimum work maximum profit". There is a need to change the basic attitude towards work, to imbibe the spirit of sacrifice and service, to graft the principle of "maximum work minimum profit" in their day-to-day living. To be a bull in a society!
In Indian Culture...Why do we worship cow?
The cow is also considered a sacred animal, revered and worshipped by Hindus. Again you find in the cow a spirit of true sacrifice and service. The cow also follows the great principle of life based on the attitude of giving. It gives wholesome milk to the society. Milk is a universal food consumed by one and all: the new-born, child, youth, middle-aged, old, invalid and healthy. The cow gives something valuable to society and takes hardly anything in return.
The cow-worshippers are only trying to imbibe this great quality the attitude of 'giving' into their own lives. If the attitude of 'taking' prevails in a society its members develop selfish demands and desires. Consequently there is struggle, stress and strain in that society. Let their attitude change to giving, their demands and desires drop their selfishness. Harmony, peace and happiness reign in that very same society. The dignity of human race is founded on the principle of giving.
Victor Hugo summaries an ideal life in one simple sentence:
Life is to give, not to take.
The ancient Hindu tried to instill this high principle in their own lives. For this reason the cow was considered sacred. Unfortunately this principle is lost and people worship the body of the cow fanatically.
A fuller understanding of the lofty principles the cow and the bull live by would usher humanity to a more meaningful, purposeful life.
Source: Excerpts from the book on "The Symbolism of Hindu Gods and Rituals" by Swami A Parthasarathy.