Save the cow, target the tiger: Twisting an old tale

The controversy over the politicisation of a poem on honesty may have died down but the tiger continues to get a bad name. | Illustration - Prathap Ravishankar

Govina haadu (Song of the Cow) is a popular Kannada folk ballad that has touched the hearts of generations. A pious cow, Punyakoti, is accosted by Arbudha, a tiger in the forest. The cow says she has to feed her calf and would return to the tiger to become her prey. The tiger lets her go and as promised, she returns to the tiger. Struck by the cow’s honesty, the tiger is overcome by remorse. Saying God will not like it if it kills the cow, Arbudha takes its own life by jumping off the cliff.

This simple ode to honesty had acquired political overtones a few years back, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) distorting it to suit its pet “cow is sacred” and “beef eating is immoral” line.

In 2012, when the BJP was in power, it changed the conclusion of the poem in a Hindi high school textbook. In that version, the tiger doesn’t end its life but takes a pledge not to eat cows hereafter. Secularists saw red and when the Congress rode to power in 2013, they came up with their own distortion of the original poem. This version changed the title of the poem to Huliya haadu (Song of the Tiger), but more on that later.

The controversy over the politicisation of the poem may have died down but the tiger continues to get a bad name. The statement by the BJP’s “rajaguru” of sorts, Vishvesha Teertha, the seer of Pejavar Mutt, likening the tiger to a terrorist because “the two share the same core character” is bizarre. But it should be seen in the context of the campaign to make cow the national animal getting shriller by the day.

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