In the Chaitanya Charitamrita, the traditional biography of Gaudiya Vaishnava founder Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a Muslim Kazi asks Chaianya Mahaprabhu about the Gomedha Yagna, a Vedic fire-ritual where cows were sacrificed. Here is his response:

As a learned scholar, the Kazi challenged Caitanya Mahāprabhu, “In Your Vedic scriptures there is an injunction for killing a cow. On the strength of this injunction, great sages performed sacrifices involving cow-killing.”

Refuting the Kazi’s statement, the Lord immediately replied, “The Vedas clearly enjoin that cows should not be killed. Therefore every Hindu, whoever he may be, avoids indulging in cow-killing. In the Vedas and Purāṇas there are injunctions declaring that if one can revive a living being, one can kill it for experimental purposes. Therefore the great sages sometimes killed old cows, and by chanting Vedic hymns they brought them back to life for perfection. The killing and rejuvenation of such old and invalid cows was not truly killing but an act of great benefit. Formerly there were powerful brāhmaṇas who could make such experiments using Vedic hymns, but now, because of the Kali-yuga, brāhmaṇas are not so powerful. Therefore the killing of cows and bulls for rejuvenation is forbidden.”

My question is, why does Chaitanya Mahaprabhu say that cows sacrificed in the Gomedha Yagna were brought back to life? Is he right that there are references "in the Vedas and Puranas?"

This seems rather strange to me, because the Vedas have plenty of descriptions of the afterlife of the sacrificed animal. The Sri Vaishnava Acaharya Ramanujacharya cites various such Vedic verses in the Sri Bhashya, his commentary on the Brahma Sutras:

For Scripture declares that the killing of sacrificial animals makes them to go up to the heavenly world, and therefore is not of the nature of harm. This is declared in the text, 'The animal killed at the sacrifice having assumed a divine body goes to the heavenly world'; 'with a golden body it ascends to the heavenly world.' An action which is the means of supreme exaltation is not of the nature of harm, even if it involves some little pain; it rather is of beneficial nature.--With this the mantra also agrees: 'Thou dost not die, thou goest to the gods on easy paths; where virtuous men go, not evil-doers, there the divine Savitri may lead thee.'

It seems odd that those scriptural passages wouldn't mention the soul of the sacrificed animal coming back into its own body.

This chapter of the Drona Parva of the Mahabharata says the same thing about the Yagnas of the great king Rantideva (whom I discuss in my answer here):

Of rigid vows and always engaged in due performance of sacrifices, countless animals, desirous of going to heaven, used to come to him of their own accord. So large was the number of animals sacrificed in the Agnihotra of that king that the secretions flowing from his kitchen from the heaps of skins deposited there caused a veritable river which from this circumstance, came to be called the Charmanwati.

So clearly the animals didn't come back to life if their skins were heaped up.

In any case, does anyone know what scriptures Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had in mind when he made his statement?

  • Not sure about the valitidy/authenticity of these verses. There have been a lot of interpolations in Puranas over time. Also, note that medha(sacrifice) is not necessarily killing as in the case of Ashwamedha sacrifice. Animals have no Karma - hence no heaven/hell/rebirths for them. – Naveen Jun 28 '15 at 1:48
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    Well, Ramanujacharya's scriptural references are based on Baudhayana's ancient commentary on the Brahma Sutras, so it's unlikely that at least the particular passages he cites here are interpolations. And it is emphatically not true that animals have no afterlife. Some people believe that the actions of animals do not generate any new karma. I'm not sure whether that's true or not (a question was asked about it here), but regardless of whether that's true, the fact remains that animals have souls, and those souls will still have an afterlife. – Keshav Srinivasan Jun 28 '15 at 3:19
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    @Naveen Some of our texts say that a person has to be in around 84 lakh yonis before getting human birth again. Yoni's here mean that he has to take birth as different other beings (animals, insects, mosquitos, etc) in order to pay for his sins and then attain human birth. – Aby Jun 29 '15 at 15:34

I have read this reply by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu earlier also but I wasn't convinced earlier and even now also.

According to Rigveda (6/17/1) Indra loves Cow/Bull/Buffalo/horse meat.

"Indra used to eat the meat of cow, calf, horse and buffalo".

So if that's true then cow/animal sacrifice is, in a way, the food being offered to God, so no question of cow getting alive again if it is consumed. In case of Ashwamedha yagna also, the main queen was said to cut the horse in parts which was later consumed by Rishis. Again, if it is consumed, then how will the animal be resurrected again.

If we look into Jainism, Neminath (cousin of Lord Krishna) was getting married and he saw that different animals were to be slaughtered for the marriage feast. He empathized with them, cancelled his marriage, renounced the worldly affairs and took Sanyas. Same is depicted under the following section of the wiki article:

According to both religions, Krishna negotiated his marriage with Rajamati, the daughter of Ugrasena, but Neminatha, empathizing with the animals which were to be slaughtered for the marriage feast, left the procession suddenly and renounced the world. Some writers of the Jain scriptures say that Tirthankara Neminatha was the master of Krishna.

Hence here also animal slaughter was for consumption and if animals were to be made alive again then Neminatha wouldn't have taken Sanyas.

Secondly, if it is known that cow/animal will be set alive after the yagna then what is the use of killing it at first instance. Sacrifice means that we are getting away with something (animal in our case), but if we know that we will get it back again, it will not be a sacrifice.

In my opinion, either there might be different beliefs prevailing in ancient times where one group believes that animal should not be sacrificed and consumed while other group believes the vice versa. Or there might be written something else in texts which was later changed. If we take the latter one into consideration then might be Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is correct but looking at the current textual references it seems that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was not correct.

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    Thanks for your answer, but first of all Rig Veda Book verse 6.17.1 is a verse heard by sage Bharadwaja and addressed to Indra (see my answer here), but all it says is "Drink Soma, Mighty One, for which, when lauded, thou breakest through the cattle-stall, O Indra; thou who, O Bold One, armed with thunder smotest Vṛtra with might, and every hostile being." sacred-texts.com/hin/rigveda/rv06017.htm So perhaps youre thinking of some other verse? But yeah, the fact that the animal is cut into pieces is a clear indication that it stays dead. – Keshav Srinivasan Jun 29 '15 at 15:43
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    "Secondly, if it is known that cow/animal will be set alive after the yagna then what is the use of killing it at first instance." Well, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's claim is that people would do this to old and cows so that they would become healthy again, but again I don't know of any scriptural basis for this. – Keshav Srinivasan Jun 29 '15 at 15:45
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    @Keshav, the Rig Veda verse I picked from an earlier SE question hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/6660/… but I am sure I have read this earlier at some other place as well. I will once again search and confirm the verse. Also, regarding your point that old cows were sacrificed, I think in case of Ashwamedh yagna, the best of the healthy and beautiful horses were selected. Similarly, in all other religions also, one of the best, healthiest, beautiful and non handicap animal is chosen for sacrifice as that is being offered to God. – Aby Jun 29 '15 at 15:58
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    @Keshav, for "Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's claim is that people would do this to old and cows so that they would become healthy again,", all i can think of taking into consideration cutting of the old or sick animals is that animal will be dead and free from all its pain and sufferings and will then take rebirth in a healthy body (may be in animal or human or any other form). It might then be a kind of putting an end to its painful life by killing it. But again I am not convinced with offering old and sick animals to God. – Aby Jun 30 '15 at 8:02
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    I just found a chapter of the Shatapatha Brahmana of the Yajur Veda which discusses sacrificing cows: sacred-texts.com/hin/sbr/sbe26/sbe2661.htm And it contains no mention of bringing them back to life. – Keshav Srinivasan Jun 30 '15 at 14:35

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was right in describing the same. Ancient Indian sages were very rich in their knowledge and resources. The mankind has come to realize the same today only. Cloning has made it possible today to resurrect the dying animal into a new body. A billionaire businessman is offering the same to human beings also claiming that he has got all scientific facts and technology almost ready.That Chaitanya Mahaprabhu knew all this at that time though it was not known to anyone, is really interesting.

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    Welcome to hinduism.stackexchange, hope you will gain more knowledge here. Kindly remember to add sources for your answer. – ABcDexter Mar 1 '16 at 17:08

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