Vyapaka dasa interviews Kurma Rupa dasa
April 23, 2004
During a visit to Vrindavan dhama, Hare Krsna Rural Life (www.hkrl.com) had the good fortune to be able to sit down and interview Kurma Rupa Prabhu (KRP) about his efforts in starting and maintaining the program Care for Cows in Vrindavan. He provided valuable insight into the spiritual perspective of protecting the cows and we were impressed by his selfless commitment to cow protection. The Care for Cows in Vrindavan website can be found at www.careforcows.org.
Hare Krsna Rural Life (HKRL): When did Care for Cows in Vrindavan begin?
Kurma Rupa Prabhu (KRP): It began five years ago, when I moved out of the temple and into this neighborhood. One particular cow we called Tilak used to beg from door to door, and we would give her whatever vegetable cuttings or old chapatis we had around. Sometimes if the door was left open she would nose her way into the kitchen. It became a habit for us to give her something.
When [the month of] Kartika arrived, I decided it would be part of my vow to feed fresh grass to her and the stray cows in the neighborhood. So I began purchasing 40 kilos of grass daily, and every evening, Tilak, her calf, and some abandoned cows in the neighborhood would come to eat here.
One morning I discovered the six stray cows I had fed in the previous evening sleeping outside the gate and understood they had camped out there. I fed them the remainder of the grass, and very soon they adopted me.
When the month of Kartika ended, I offered the developing herd an evening feast to celebrate the completion of my vow. The next morning they were still camped out at my door and demanded that I continue feeding them. I realized they had no other place to go so I decided to keep it up. So for one year I fed them on my doorstep and had about eleven coming every day. Soon the neighbors started bringing their cuttings and putting them on my doorstep to assist in the
Then one neighbor who had a vacant plot nearby offered to let me use it so the cows could be better cared for. So I spent about ten thousand rupees to build a feeder and shed and started keeping the cows there. That went on for a couple of years.
Then Rupa Raghunatha of Vrindavan Food for Life acquired some land nearby and offered me a quarter of an acre to host the abandoned cows. By that time I had fifteen cows, and we planned to build a shed for twenty-five. By the time the cowshed was complete, we had twenty-five cows. Other people showed interest, offered donations and assistance, and the project grew.
HKRL: What year did Vrindavan Food For Life offer you the land?
KRP: In the summer of 2001. One of the supporters of Vrindavan Food for Life, Radha Jivan dasa from Alachua, decided to get involved in cow protection and donated the funds for another cowshed so we could take in more abandoned cows.
We soon discovered that it is customary for villagers who cannot afford to maintain non-milking cows to abandon them in those areas in Vrindavan where charitable pilgrims often drop grass to feed the stray cows. Once the word was out that we were tending to abandoned cows, villagers came to our place to offer their cows to us rather than abandon them in the street.
HKRL: So it seems they wanted the milk but were not willing to take responsibility for the calf, especially the bull calf.
KRP: Yes. At first we accepted the cows but soon felt that by doing so we were encouraging people to abandon their responsibility. So we changed our policy and just tended to those abandoned cows that were diseased or injured.
HKRL: How many cows are there now in the program?
HKRL: What is your capacity?
KRP: We are at capacity. We have fourteen calves under one year old, so today they fit in one feeding area, but as they grow they will require more room. So before we can host more cows, we have to get some more land. That is our focus right now. We hope our example can serve as a model for other neighborhoods to follow.
HKRL: Are you unique in your endeavor here? You don't call this a goshalla but a go-sadan.
KRP: Go-sadan is a place to care for retired cows, a retirement home. There are others who are attending to this, but I don't see that they are giving the abandoned cows much attention. Unfortunately there are some who collect money for serving abandoned cows but use it for other purposes.
HKRL: Is Care for Cows in Vrindavan registered or incorporated?
KRP: We are a branch of Vrindavan Food for Life, which is a registered non-profit organization. I started independently, but when Rupa Raghunatha of Vrindavan Food for Life offered us the land, we made a partnership.
HKRL: I see you have an ox-driven school bus.
KRP: It belongs to the Sandipani Muni School stated by Vrindavan Food for Life. We keep it in the go-sadan, which is near the village of Sunrak. Every school day our oxen take fifty kids to and from school.
HKRL: I have seen for myself that many of the injured cows you have taken in have been nursed back to good health. Now that they are healthy, will they be turned back out into the street, or do they become lifelong charges of Care for Cows in Vrindavan?
KRP: If they go back to the street, it will not be long before their health deteriorates or they are injured by careless motorists. So I am keeping all of them. So far I get enough support, enough sponsors, to keep up their maintenance. The Bhagavad-gita explains that by offering sacrifice to the demigods man gets all his necessities supplied. This is the law of the universe. The scriptures also state that all of the demigods reside in the body of the cow and that service to the cow constitutes sacrifice to the demigods. And we are experiencing that all our necessities being supplied. These last five years I have not come up short even once.
HKRL: Are you planning to expand into a goshalla? I see a lot of young calves here.
KRP: Almost all of the abandoned cows we have tended to were pregnant when we took them in. Thus several calves have been born here. Up until recently, the mortality rate in the go-sadan far exceeded the birth rate. We have buried over 40 animals that we have taken off of the street but died. Their condition was so poor that we could do no more than nurse them until death.
In the first three years I had five cows born and twenty die. So I wasn't concerned about reproduction and did not separate the cows and bulls, and six cows became pregnant. Now that the herd is healthy and we have run out of space, the only responsible thing for me to do is to restrict the breeding until we can get more land to accommodate expansion. So in the future a goshalla may develop, but for now I am concentrating on keeping cows from deteriorating in the street.
HKRL: My experience in the West is that the cow program has been the largest contributing factor to the communities getting into difficulty because they overbreed the herds and all the land is monopolized for fodder. In fact, many communities still have to buy hay off-farm. How do you perceive this not becoming a problem with the milking? Is it just the purchasing of land or keeping your milking herd lower than the mortality rate?
KRP: Care for Cows is like a battlefield hospital, an emergency measure to keep the abandoned cows from dying in the street. It is not a farm community striving for self-sufficiency. At present we have to purchase all the fodder and grains for our herd, and it will remain that way unless and until volunteers come forward to acquire the land to produce all that is required to maintain the herd.
It is the duty of the vaisya community to protect cows, and at least in India, people are aware of this. Many vaisyas live in the city, and though they may not be able to keep cows at home, they are fond of supporting goshallas. So what I see myself doing is providing them the opportunity to maintain a cow in Vrindavan. I am not thinking in terms of self-sufficiency at present because land is so expensive in this area.
HKRL: What is the cost of an acre of farmland in this area?
KRP: Farmland in the outskirts of Raman Reti is about US $7,500 per acre. If you go farther away it is cheaper. But since I don't know anything about farming I don't think in terms of getting enough land to achieve self-sufficiency. I think in terms of finding people who are interested in cow protection and offering them the opportunity to protect and maintain a cow in Vrindavan. This is how Care for Cows has developed and expanded, so I think within that framework.
HKRL: What do you think the future holds for the Care for Cows in Vrindavan program? You were telling me the other day of trying to get ten acres of land?
KRP: There are perhaps 350 abandoned cows on the streets of Vrindavan. Care for Cows could develop into one facility large enough to host them all, or our present facility could serve as an example for other neighborhoods to model. Either is fine with me though I prefer the latter, as more people would be directly involved in cow protection and experience the benefits. Since there are many more people than cows, and many wealthy vaisya families, it is feasible that they all contribute to maintain the abandoned cows. If every family were to sponsor one cow, the immediate problem would be solved.
If it happens that we get more land, then I would like to develop a simple educational facility along with the cow-protection program. I have always maintained that education and cow protection complement each other.
HKRL: Education of...?
KRP: A place where different teachers can present courses on Vaisnava siddhanta and practical devotional skills. Students could spend five or six months in Vrindavan to study, and go-seva would be part of the curriculum. In this way more people would be exposed to cows and learn to appreciate them and how their presence stimulates a sattvik atmosphere.
I think my contribution will be to stimulate interest in cow protection, and those with other inclinations will be the ones who develop the self-sufficiency. I would like to bring people in contact with the cow so they can develop an appreciation for them and a desire to serve them and protect them.
HKRL: Would an expanded project have barn areas and classrooms?
KRP: Ten acres is enough to get the cows off the streets. Of course we could use much more. A part of the land could be used to grow organic vegetables and grains. Some of the bulls could be used in plowing, and we could expand our use of the gober [cow dung] and urine. I like your suggestion that we produce all the things required for yajna and Deity worship and supply our sponsors with those items. Classrooms and lodging for students could be very simple.
HKRL: You were mentioning that cow protection is vaisya activity...
KRP: Brahminical also.
HKRL: I guess the teaching would be brahminical. But if you are not going to be moving towards self-sufficiency, how are you going to be showing the vaisya-activity application of it?
KRP: I agree that self-sufficiency is the goal, but I see my role more in education and in encouraging people to participate. Many devotees come here to purchase land, so I will encourage them to host a few cows there to help alleviate the present problem. It requires a community effort.
HKRL: Would you say that cow protection in the Vrindavan area, barring these small number of animals that there are on the streets, is a success?
KRP: No, I don't think so. I have met very few people who are actually focused on cow protection. Most of them are focused on having the cow serve them by delivering milk. I don't see many people protecting cows for the purpose of pleasing Krsna. Mostly they want to take service from the cow. There are, however, some genuine go-sevakas.
HKRL: We all have responsibilities in life as a parent or whatever. So at the same time, don't these cows and bulls have the responsibility to provide draft, to pull the plough, to pull the wagon to the school, to produce milk, ghee? It seems to me if we can't find that balance, then the cows are going to lose out in the long run. Especially if there is an economic downturn where there isn't a lot of money available, where are people going to have the surplus laksmi that they can provide for cow protection?
This has always been my concern in the West regarding the over-expansion of herds, where it comes down to that it is short term. I don't know the social context here in India, particularly in Vrindavan, but I imagine that there are still problems here in the goshalla with the size of the herd especially since the milk yield from each cow is quite low so you have to milk so many. Then if you are milking one cow you have one calf. That is simple math. So you get to the point where you've got wall-to-wall cows and not the facility to protect them in the long term.
My feeling is that a protected cow or ox is one that is actually working. If they are putting food on your table, then you are going to take care of those animals. And it is not necessarily a question of exploitation. Srila Prabhupada questioned, while visiting one ISKCON farm project during a morning walk, that all this land is just for the cows, but what about the humans? So there must be mutual responsibility.
KRP: I agree. The more practical returns we get from the cows and bulls, the greater we value them. The more we value them, the better we protect them. But we should not forget that the most important return we get by serving them is that Krsna is pleased. So cows and bulls are valuable even if not productive.
The Bhagavatam states, "It is therefore concluded that the highest perfection one can achieve by discharging varnashrama duties is to please the Personality of Godhead." [1.2.13] All of our work should be aimed at pleasing Krsna. Go-seva offers us a simple and unique opportunity to do so.
Krsna tells Uddhava, "I can be worshiped within the cows by offerings of grass and other suitable grains and paraphernalia for the pleasure and health of the cows." [11.11.43
And the Gautamiya Tantra states, "Worship of the cow is accomplished by gently scratching, offering green grass, and circumambulating. When the cow is pleased, Sri Gopal is also pleased."
So even if we don't get milk and ghee from the cows and draft from the bulls, serving them still offers us the opportunity to please Krsna. And for one who has pleased Krsna, there is nothing left to achieve. So whether they produce useful material products or not, they are always productive from the spiritual perspective. But I agree that they will be valued most and consequently protected best when they provide milk and ghee, and can plow the land to grow all that is required to serve Krsna.
HKRL: Thank you very much. Hare Krsna.