Since coming to power in 2014, Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party has earmarked millions of dollars for research into products using cow dung and urine.
Although there is no scientific evidence, several politicians from Modi’s BJP party have advocated using the dung and urine to cure the coronavirus.
Millions of Indians agree with them, or are at least prepared to give it a go.
However, doctors in India are warning against the practice of using cow dung to ward off Covid-19, saying there is no scientific evidence for its effectiveness and that it risks spreading other diseases.
In the western state of Gujarat, some believers have been going to cow shelters once a week to cover their bodies in cow dung and urine in the hope that it will boost their immunity against, or help them recover from, the coronavirus, Reuters is reporting.
In Hinduism, the cow is a sacred symbol of life and the earth, and for centuries, Hindus have used cow dung to clean their homes and for prayer rituals, believing it has therapeutic and antiseptic properties.
“Even doctors come here. Their belief is that this therapy improves their immunity, and they can go and tend to patients with no fear,” said Gautam Manilal Borisa, associate manager at a pharmaceuticals company, who told Reuters cow dung helped him recover from Covid-19 last year.
He has since been a regular at the Shree Swaminarayan Gurukul Vishwavidya Pratishthanam, a school run by Hindu monks with its own cow shelter.
As participants wait for the dung and urine mixture on their bodies to dry, they hug or otherwise honour the cows at the shelter, and practice yoga to boost energy levels. They are then washed off with milk or buttermilk.
Doctors and scientists in India and across the world have repeatedly warned against practising alternative treatments for Covid-19, saying these can lead to a false sense of security and complicate health problems.
“There is no concrete scientific evidence that cow dung or urine works to boost immunity against Covid-19. It is based entirely on belief,” said Dr JA Jayalal, national president of the Indian Medical Association.
“There are also health risks involved in smearing or consuming these products – other diseases can spread from the animal to humans.”
There are also concerns that the practice could contribute to the spread of the virus as it involves people gathering in groups.
Cow dung, in fact, has been used medicinally in India for centuries. A mixture of cow dung and cow urine has long been believed to cure diabetes, cancer, and arthritis.
Indian’s way of thinking about sacred cows is against eating them, however their excrement and urine falls under the category of diary products. In shops in some states you can find cow dung and urine next to the milk and yoghurt.