Far away from India, a Vedic ecosystem rises in Texas Gaushala

Abhinav Goswami

In January 2020, I shared the story of Abhinav Goswami, who decided to bring to America the gifts of ancient India — extraordinary health, ethical A2 dairy products, Vedic education and more. His dream is to build or facilitate 108 Gaushalas all over the world. You can read it here; in fact, I recommend that you read it before you proceed with this article.

The story went viral and I was inundated with emails asking to know more about Abhinav’s plans and wishing him every success in the journey. In November 2019, Abhinav hardly knew anyone in Houston but in a matter of months, he could count hundreds of people in America who were eager to be a part of his journey to create a Vedic ecosystem.

With an IT consulting job in hand, Abhinav managed to gather enough resources to buy a four-acre farmland with an attached house in Cypress, Texas about 24 miles northwest of Downtown Houston. It came with a lily pond and a barn.

Photo: Darshan Dharmadhikari
Photo: Darshan Dharmadhikari

Abhinav’s children began to attend schools nearby while wife Pratibha toiled to keep the grihastha fires burning. Even before he bought furniture for the house, Abhinav got busy in making enquiries about the native Indian cattle breeds available in America. Most of the Indian breed cows in America are raised only for slaughter. These breeds known as Brahman cows originating in India were first imported into the US between 1854 and 1926 because they were hardy and resistant to disease as well as insects. They did not produce copious amounts of milk like the Holstein and other “dairy cattle”, therefore they were quickly consigned to the “beef cattle” category.

“It is horrifying to think of our gau mata being reared for slaughter here,” said Pratibha. “There is no compassion; they are just regarded as a food with no sentience, no Atman,” she reflected.

Unlike India, where horned cows and bulls move freely, in America, the cattle are “dehorned” by a painful process. “There are machines that pull out their horns,” informed Abhinav. It is an extremely painful process that is hardly alleviated even with painkillers. Nowadays, a different process called disbudding is used to remove horn buds in younger animals before they grow into horns. Even this is not without pain. The cattle are also branded on their ears and bodies with numbers using hot irons in order to identify the owners of the animals. The numbers are literally burned into the flesh.

Horned cows are quite common in India.

In August 2020, Abhinav’s family finally brought home a bull, a cow and a female calf, all belonging to the Tharparkar variety of Indian cows. They named them Chaitanya, Gauri and Nandini. To their surprise, the animals were not as human- friendly as the cows of the same breed they knew in India. In fact, they were fearful and moved away at the sight of humans. They stuck close to one another and refrained from even approaching their feed.

Photo: Darshan Dharmadhikari

“If we went to one side of the field, they went to the other; we had not seen cows behaving like this in India,” said Pratibha. The cows would wait until dark and then approach the feeding area. It took weeks for the realization to dawn on them that their new owners had no intention to hurt them. “The only things they have got from humans in this part of the world are pain and suffering,” observed Abhinav. “The dehorning, the branding, the forcible milking, the slaughter — it is hardly surprising that the cows here find it hard to develop trust,” he said.

Soon, Abhinav and Pratibha began posting videos and documenting their experiences on the Facebook page of Texas Gaushala which was eagerly followed by fans who wished to know what the cows were doing. The skipping and prancing of Nandini the calf won many hearts.

Photo: Darshan Dharmadhikari
Photo: Darshan Dharmadhikari

Gauri, her mother was possessive about her baby and would make aggressive gestures if anyone tried to touch her.

Photo: Darshan Dharmadhikari

Chaitanya, the bull had a majestic look with piercing eyes that had a lining of dark black as if someone had applied kaajal (kohl) on them. All three were creamy-white in colour with the trademark folds of skin on the neck and stood out against the green landscape.

Photos: Darshan Dharmadhikari

Pratibha did everything to please the animals — she tried to give them food that cows loved back home in India — jaggery, roti, daals and so on. But the Indian-American cows shunned Indian food! They prefered the store-bought cow feed that they were used to eating.

Even hard rock begins to wear out under the sheer perseverance of flowing water. Slowly and surely, the constant stream of affection showered by the Goswami family began to have an impact on the cattle. The calf was the first to become friendly and began to frequently come closer to the Goswami family members. The two adults also slowly overcame their distrust to sometimes take their feed right from the hands of their masters.

Photo: Darshan Dharmadhikari

And then a time came when they allowed even visitors to come close to them. Abhinav believes that if every Indian bought a cow and donated to a gaushala somewhere, there would be no cow-torture and cow-slaughter in America.

Texas Gaushala began to attract attention. Volunteers offered to come and help with various tasks in the farm and also bonded with the cows.

Soon Pratibha found herself managing several Whatsapp groups for volunteers. There was a great deal of cleaning to do in the barn. The soil had to be levelled for planting flowers and vegetables. Many wild shrubs and weeds had to be removed. It was arduous labour under the hot Texan sun. But everyone knew that it would lead to something amazing.

Abhinav set up a chulha (clay stove) behind the house where one could make roti (round flatbread) in Indian village style. Dry twigs, branches and even cow dung cakes were used as fuel. Friends and volunteers often dropped in during the weekends to have delicious Indian meals accompanied by the traditional rotis. It was a dream-come-true for Indians irrespective of which state of India they hailed from. When my husband and I were treated to the fresh, inflated rotis emerging from the chulha, and ate while gazing at the cows in the distance, we were transported to timeless India. I watched with astonishment when Abhinav walked away to give the first roti that came off the chulha to the cows. This was exactly what was prescribed in Hindu Shastras! Among the five Mahayajnas that householders have to perform is the Bhuta Yajna which involves the offering of food to animals, birds, insects and beings of the invisible world.

Meanwhile, two individuals, one in Russia and one in California (who happened to read my Medium article on Abhinav in January 2020) decided to donate one cow each to the gaushala. This time Abhinav selected two brown cows from the Sahiwal breed. They were named Asha and Kamala. The new cows made themselves comfortable faster than the first ones had, and soon they were all feeding and wandering together.

“They might be just five cows but I get the satisfaction that we saved them from slaughter,” said Pratibha.

The cows were still not being milked. Both Abhinav and Pratibha were unwavering in their decision to not use force. “Getting cow’s milk requires tapasya,” said Abhinav. “Until the cows willingly allow us to take their milk, we will wait,” he added. “And even when they get old, this is their home.”

But milk is just one of the gifts given by cows. Dried cow dung has been used as fuel, manure, an ingredient in Panchagavya (Ayurvedic formulation), pesticide, antibacterial cleaner and plaster for millennia in India. It is the stuff of folklore. Pratibha and her children lost no time in collecting cow dung and drying them into cakes of various sizes. It was hard work. Since the cows were free to walk all over the estate, they could drop their dung anywhere, which meant that collecting it involved a great deal of walking.

During one of my walks with Abhinav, he pointed out that wherever the cows had dropped their dung, the grass around it had grown in thick clusters. It was indeed true! There were clumps of grass sticking out in different parts of the meadow. Suddenly I remembered the thick grass clusters I had seen in childhood but never thought about the phenomenon. How oblivious we are of the subtle workings of nature.

Once the flyers announcing the sale of cow dung cakes were circulated, many Hindus began placing orders to buy them from mid-October. Gomaya (cow dung) is considered very auspicious to use in yajna or fire ceremonies. During the Navaratri festival, many individuals and temples perform yajna. The Gomaya from Texas Gaushala was donated by many Hindus to temples.

“Until now, we were only using Gomaya substitutes in our yajnas; we are glad there is a gaushala now to supply us with real Gomaya,” said the priest of Sri Krishna Vrundavana, a Hindu temple in Houston. Orders began to come even from other parts of the US.

As more and more people learned about Texas Gaushala, Pratibha was flooded with calls from people who wished to drop in to see the cows, feed them, do seva for them, pick up cow dung cakes and so on. Some would drop in unannounced, even on weekdays which became rather inconvenient. Soon, Pratibha framed rules for visiting. Only weekends were kept open for visitors. She noticed that many loved to linger and did not feel like leaving.

Perhaps the most touching sight was of urban children bonding with cows — children who knew nothing about Gau Mata or what she symbolized — they instinctively touched and reacted with joy.

Meanwhile, some donors came forward to propose the idea of building a Pitru Dham at the extreme corner of the estate. Making specific food offerings to one’s departed parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and other ancestors and following other pitru rituals are considered extremely important in Vedic society. Elaborate pitru rituals are performed every year by millions of Hindus. Pitru yajna is one of the five Mahayajnas that householders have been prescribed. The others are Rishi Yajna, Deva Yajna, Bhuta Yajna and Manushya Yajna. Bhuta Yajna, the offering to animals was mentioned earlier in this article.

However, living in America, it is extremely hard to maintain authenticity in the rituals. This is because the food offerings have to also be made to the ancestors through the medium of creatures such as cows, birds, dogs, and even fish. Despite the many Hindu temples found in America today, one cannot find the actual ambience needed to perform Pitru rituals. But in Texas Gaushala, the cows are already there. Birdhouses will soon attract birds. The lily pond will have fish and ducks. If things go as per plan, Texas Gaushala will be a trendsetter with its facilities for performing an ancient ritual with deep significance.

A small open-air theatre cum classroom is also being built near the grazing land of the gaushala in which discourses on Bhagvad Gita, Bhagwat Purana and various other Dharmic subjects can be held. I am hoping that classical music concerts will also be staged. What if Shri Hari Prasad Chaurasia ji himself played the flute here and the cows came closer to listen— my mind began to paint a picture of paradise. There are plans to build a number of huts in which families can come to spend a Vedic weekend at the gaushala. As the demand grows, more land can perhaps be purchased around the estate.

Among the many people who wrote in response to my article on Abhinav in January was Ryan F Beylikjian, an ex-coastguard who was studying Regenerative Organic Agriculture at the Maharishi International University Fairfield, Iowa. He wished to spend three months at the Gaushala and complete one of the practical components of his course. Abhinav informed him that he did not have facilities for lodging. But for Ryan with his mobile trailer, that was no problem. He drove from Ohio right to the Gaushala and began to live in a tent on the estate with an additional room in the barn to keep his belongings. The Goswami family generously shared meals with him and let him use their facilities at home for a month before other arrangements could be made.

Abhinav bought a tractor to till the land. When the tractor was delivered, a puja was performed on the vehicle in typical Hindu fashion. After all, tools, instruments and vehicles are treated as sacred objects by traditional Hindus.

With Ryan’s help, Abhinav embarked on his project of growing selected crops in one part of the estate. He decided to experiment with saffron which is the world’s most expensive spice and is also an important ingredient in Ayurvedic formulations. Extraneous shrubs and foliage were first removed from the selected area. Rows of beds were laid out and holes were punched into the soil with the help of volunteers.

Photo: Darshan Dharmadhikari

Fed up with the single-hole dibblers in the market, Ryan did some improvisation and built a multi-dibbler which could quickly punch 15 holes at one time for planting the saffron bulbs. He and Abhinav engaged in many discussions on sowing practices and Ryan keenly documented Abhinav’s techniques.

To everyone’s astonishment, the saffron grew quickly and could be harvested within a week’s time. The possibilities seemed to be endless.

The festival of lights — Deepavali was approaching. Pratibha began to make diyas (lamps) out of Panchagavya. The lamps sold out in no time.

On the first day of Deepavali, many families landed up at Texas Gaushala in order to perform Gau Pooja. This is a ritual in which cows are honoured as givers of many life-giving gifts — as mothers and nurturers. In ancient times, cows were regarded as wealth. Even possessing just one cow was enough to sustain a family and be free of disease.

It was now time for the grandest festival that the Goswamis liked to celebrate — the Govardhan Puja which comes every year on the fourth day of Deepavali. It is associated with Bhagwan Krishna who lifts up the Govardhan mountain in order to shelter his devotees from torrential rain. In India, the festival comes at a time when winter is about to step in; there’s usually a nip in the air. The markets overflow with both summer and winter vegetables; thus the bhog prepared to offer to Krishna consists of mostly vegetable dishes typically 56 dishes (chhapan bhog).

I had only heard about the Govardhan Puja but never witnessed one so it was with great excitement that I shopped for vegetables to prepare the bhog I would offer. Eventually I used eleven different vegetables to prepare the dish. Onions and garlic were, of course, a no-no as they were disallowed in bhog. I prayed it would turn out right because I had not tasted it while cooking as per bhog rules.

People turned up in good numbers at Texas Gaushala to celebrate the festival, each bringing a bhog dish which ultimately added up to more than a hundred dishes! Volunteers had created an elaborate Krishna out of cow dung as per tradition and they decorated it with colours and a variety of accessories. The atmosphere was like nothing I had experienced before. It was like India but not like India. It felt familiar but yet so new!

The puja was performed by a Narayan, a volunteer who doubled up as priest.

The parikrama was led by the oldest person present while Abhinav sang traditional songs. Most people present were unfamiliar with the songs native to Vrindavan and Mathura. Perhaps, the coming years will create an interest in learning folk songs.

Abhinav has also received enquiries from a psychologist who wishes to experiment with cow therapy. In recent times there has been much focus on therapeutic contact with animals such as horses, goats, dogs, cats and dolphins. In October, BBC carried a new piece mulling on cow hugging as a new wellness trend. People reported benefits from leaning against cows, giving them a rub, hugging them and even getting licked by them. But the spiritual presence of cows has been known to Indians for millennia. In the ancient gurukulas of India where students lived in the ashrams with their gurus, one of their tasks was to tend to cows. Spending time with cows gave them deep spiritual insights. Even today, the gurukulas in India often have an attached gaushala where the children frolic with cows.

Vaidika Bharata Gurukula in Uttar Pradesh

It all begins with a cow according to Abhinav. “We tend to think that for the Vedic ecosystem to revive, we need to teach our children Sanskrit, teach them the Vedas, teach them shlokas, take them to temples, and conduct various ceremonies but actually, all you need is a cow,” he explained. “Other things follow naturally and before you know you it, you are a part of a Vedic ecosystem.”

It all begins with a cow according to Abhinav. “We tend to think that for the Vedic ecosystem to revive, we need to teach our children Sanskrit, teach them the Vedas, teach them shlokas, take them to temples, and conduct various ceremonies but actually, all you need is a cow,” he explained. “Other things follow naturally and before you know you it, you are a part of a Vedic ecosystem.”

All his life, Abhinav wanted to wake up at the holy hour of Brahma Muhurta but his busy working lifestyle did not allow him to do that. Yet, when he started his first gaushala in Aligarh, his eyes would miraculously open at the holy hour without even trying. And like magic, things started happening — it was if the cow was pulling together those same invisible strands that had once made India into a spiritual, cultural and economic powerhouse.

“You are creating something big,” I told Abhinav. “You’ve no idea of the enormity of what you are doing. You are connecting everyone to Gau Mata, to soil, to Yoga, to Mahayajnas, to knowledge, to the world’s most ancient civilization…and all in America!”

“But I am not the doer! I am just the instrument! It is Krishna. He lights up the path for me and I just walk on it. I meet people. Things happen. When did I ever do anything?”

This article was first published on Medium and has been reproduced here with the author’s consent

Sahana Singh: Sahana Singh is an author and commentator who writes on a variety of issues including water management, environment and Indian history. Her book “The Educational Heritage of Ancient India - How an Ecosystem of Learning Was Laid to Waste” has been appreciated for awakening Indians to the role played by India in spreading knowledge around the world. Her second book on the same subject is awaiting publication. Sahana’s articles have been published in Reader’s Digest, Washington Post, Discovery Channel Asia, Asian Water Magazine, Swarajya, IndiaFacts and other publications. She is passionate about travelling and connecting the dots across different societies, civilizations and disciplines.