Gopasthami is celebrated on the eighth day of Kartik Shuklapaksha. It is on this day that Indra, the king of gods conceded defeat after flooding brajbhoomi with torrential rainfall for continous seven days, when bhagwan Sri Krishna lifted the Govardhan Parvat with his index finger on the first day of rainfall to save the inhabitants of Brajbhoomi from the incessant rainfall. On this day cows are worshipped, being the provider of prosperity and well being to hindu households. Hence the name Gopashtam.
Kamadhenu or Surabhi, the miraculous cow is revered by all hindus as Gau Mata. She is the divine bovine goddess, who is the embodiment of wellness and prosperity as she is believed to bestow on her owner, whatever the latter desires. Hence all cows are considered as the earthly incarnation of Gau mata and are respected and worshipped by all devout hindus. It is for this reason that the need was not felt to dedicate any specific temple to Gau Mata but to worship her earthly incarnates.
We are all aware that cows had a very special place in the heart of Bhagwan Sri Krishna, who was brought up as a cowherd in Gokul, the abode of his foster father, Maharaj Nand. It is for this reason that Sri Krishna is also known as Govinda (someone who keeps cows happy) and Gopala (someone who protects cows). He says, “I can be worshipped within the Cows by offerings of grass and other suitable grains and paraphernalia for the pleasure & health of the Cows”– Srimad Bhagavatam 11.11.43.
Worshipping and caring for the cow is not for any mean reason or a figment of superstition because we are all aware that cow milk is an important drink for all human beings, right from the time that one is a toddler till one grows old. Besides drinking raw milk, the milk contributes to the production of various milk products which are significant contributors towards a healthy diet. Besides milk, cow dung is also of tremendous utility, being used as fuel and manure for the growth of plants.
Presence of a cow in any hindu household was considered to be a harbinger of good luck and a sign of prosperity. They were treated as family members in olden times. Our literature and art forms bear evidence to this unique and loving relationship between man and the cow.