Holy Antelopes

by Kumar Prashant

Poorest nation, richest nation (Issue III+IV/2018)


A nilgai, known to be the biggest antelope in Asia. Illustration: Getty Images

As they evolved into each pair, the two copulated, thus creating more beings. One of their last transformations was the nilgai antelope. A masculine nilgai is grey-blue and the female is red-brown. Translated from Hindi, the name literally means “blue cow”. Cows are the most holy creatures in Hinduism, and that means that any kind of cow is sacrosanct. That’s even though nilgais are not actually cows, they are the largest species of antelope in Asia. They’re very shy yet cause enormous damage as they move through farmers’ fields. That is why in agriculture-dependent Indian states like Bihar, angry farmers have often demonstrated about the nilgai’s protected status. They felt that they were alone in trying to protect their livelihoods. Some states began allowing people to hunt the nilgai.

However because many still considered them holy creatures, hardly anyone did hunt them. It was only when the authorities renamed the creatures – rojad, or “forest antelope”, instead of nilgai – that things began to change. Now at least they were no longer named after cows. Despite all the controversy, Delhi still decided to make the nilgai a symbol of the city. On the university campus in the early morning you often see nilgais roaming peacefully between the trees. 

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