Cow Dung Cakes

Cow Dung Cakes

Category : Other

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Cows are sacred in India. Especially in rural areas, where their milk, and the ghee made from it, is an essential food source, and their dung is used as fuel, fertiliser and – when burned to ash – a form of antiseptic, cows play a vital role in society. Even in the biggest cities they are a common sight, ambling down the road, scavenging for food from both the gutter and market stalls, and it is a rare Indian who will do more than just shoo them away. In fact, Hinduism forbids the eating of beef, and at many religious festivals cows are painted, garlanded with flowers and at the very centre of worship.

It is said there are around 300 million cows in India, which makes for a lot of dung, and no-one travels far in the sub-continent without noticing the hand-kneaded cakes of it plastered to walls and drying in the sun, or stacked in large piles under cover. For many modern Indians, quite apart from the traditional, religious aspects of their use, the smell of dung cakes burning brings back nostalgic memories of the old days in the village, and it has become fashionable for city dwellers to secure a quantity for burning in ritual fires during festivals like Diwali.

So after that first “you have to be kidding” moment when I spotted these on sale in a Mumbai supermarket, it all makes perfect sense. This bag of cow dung cakes, a snip at 70 rupees, was neatly arranged with incense, candles and other religious paraphernalia on a special shelf in the store. Inside, the half dozen or so cakes were surprisingly hard, light and virtually odour free.

You can also apparently order cow dung cakes online from the likes of amazon and ebay, which – should you want to try it – will at least spare you the sort of funny looks I got from the girl at the supermarket checkout…