His elevation as Uttar Pradesh chief minister might have catapulted Adityanath to the national spotlight but as head of the Gorakhnath temple, the 44-year-old spent large chunks of time away from political parleys, tending to cows and performing “gau seva”.
As the all-powerful head priest, Adityanath is said to control life in eastern UP and the fulcrum of his social appeal revolves around reverence for the cow, considered holy in Hinduism.
“He (Yogi) gets up at 3am. After yoga and daily prayers, he feeds the cows at his ‘gaushala’. He takes his breakfast only after feeding the cows,” said a close associate.
The ‘gaushala’ is set up in across two acres of land on the temple premises. Several volunteers every day tend to the 500-plus cows at the gaushala.
One of the volunteers is a Muslim, identified as Man Mohammad, who has been working at the cow shed since his childhood. His father Inayatullah also used to offer his services at the ‘gaushala’. Man told HT he had been assigned the task of bathing the cows and arranging for their fodder.
“Adityanath calls the cows by their names and feeds them. He has a strong bond with the cows. Nandini is his favourite,” said Sunil Rai, supervisor of the ‘gaushala’.
The ‘gaushala’ has the best breeds of cows including Gujarati, Sehwal, Desi and Gir, which produce over a hundred litres of milk a day. The milk is used for making ‘mattha’ (buttermilk) which is distributed as ‘prasad’ among the devotees visiting the temple.
“Ghee is also prepared from this milk which is used to light earthen lamps at the temple. Milk is also distributed among seers in daily ‘bhandara’ (religious feast). Milk produced here is not sold in the market,” said Rai.
“The cow dung from the ‘gaushala’ is used for making bio-manure,” he said.
The association of cows with the temple and Hindu politics in the region is an old one, fostered by Adityanath’s guru, Avaidyanath, who strongly advocated for anti-cow slaughter measures and gau seva even in Parliament.