Cow Urine As Panacea?

Krishna the cow with Sankar Sastri at the Lakshmi Cow Sanctuary in Bangor, Pa., June 5. Sastri, who moved to the United States from India in 1964, runs the 42-acre sanctuary, one of a scattered web of safe havens across the country protecting the animals from slaughter. AP

From constipation to cancer, diarrhea to diabetes, they offer to cure nearly everything — with medicines made from cow urine. India's Hindu nationalists, who were ousted from power last May, have a new job: promoting cow products that many Indians believe have great therapeutic value.

A stall at the headquarters of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party showcases more than two dozen tonics, potions, pills and a line of cosmetics. The products are sold under the brand name Goratna, or "jewels of the cow."

"It's very good, very effective. You must try some of these," said S.P. Sharma, a BJP official, as he offered to buy a pack of face cream he said helped his daughter get rid of pimples.

"My daughter tried all kinds of things. Nothing worked," Sharma said. "But this one is working wonders for her. Last week, I bought one pack and today I am buying one more."

The Goratna offerings use five key cow products — butter, milk, curd, urine and dung. Purushottam Toshniwal, the general secretary of the cooperative that manufactures the cosmetics, said workers there followed a "solid scientific process" based on India's ancient herbal remedies, known as ayurveda.

Ayurveda has seen a big boom in India in recent years, with everything from shampoos to spa treatments advertised as ayurvedic. Indians "are realizing modern medicines are no good. Moreover, they make a big hole in your pocket," Toshniwal said.

Although many Indian scientists and doctors believe in the efficacy of some ayurvedic medicines, few agree there is proof that cow urine enhances their impact.

Cows are sacred to India's more than 800 million Hindus, and Hindu nationalist parties have often used cows as a symbol to further their political goals.

The most expensive item on the stall is sanjivani ark, a transparent urine-based potion sold as a cancer treatment. It costs 80 rupees (US$1.80) for a month's dose, and comes packed in plastic bottles with no expiration date.

"There is no expiry date for ayurvedic medicines. Because there is no chemical in it," said Manoj Kumar, who manages the stall.

Kumar said the response has been very good since the stall opened last week. The best seller has been kamdhenu ghanvati — a multipurpose pill that Kumar says cures liver diseases, diabetes, hemorrhoids and asthma.

"More and more people are visiting the stall after reading about it in the newspapers," Kumar said.

The science and technology minister in the previous Hindu nationalist-led government pushed officials to file an application with the U.S. Patent Office for a patent on cow urine distillate. The patent was granted in 2002.

"Even in the United States, they now recognize the worth of cow urine," Toshniwal said.

But a patent doesn't guarantee scientific validity.

Even some scientists who believe in traditional medicine have warned against the beliefs in cow urine espoused by some in the previous government.

"Neither the reported experiments nor the grant of the U.S. patent vindicates the use of cow urine as a bio-enhancer," said M.D. Nair, a retired government scientist. "Much more needs to be done before we can even consider its potential utility."
  • John Esterbrook

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