steed of powerful deity Lord Shiva, and that Lord Krishna was born as a cow-herd.
Many rural households in India, the world's biggest producer of milk, own at least one cow or buffalo. Female buffaloes, in particular, are prized for their creamy milk, while the males are used for pulling carts and ploughs, and their dung keeps home fires burning in villages that have little or no access to power.
Statistically, there are enough cows and buffalo in India for every rural household to have about two. But once cows are past their productive life, owners will often simply turn them out, unwilling to spend on fodder for no return.
Buffaloes and cows are increasingly ending up in abattoirs mushrooming across the country, according to industry participants and officials Reuters spoke with. Buffalo makes up by far the bulk of India's beef exports. Cow meat is banned from export, but animal rights groups say some finds its way abroad.
In all, India has half the buffaloes in the world, according to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, and the largest number of cattle, with 327 million head, according to the USDA. The United States has around 89 million cattle.
BOOMING BEEF INDUSTRY
Sitting in his airy ground-floor office in an abattoir about 8 km (5 miles) from the town of Aligarh in northern India, Mahendra Singh says business is booming. His production of buffalo meat has increased to 150 tonnes a day from 100-120 tonnes around a year ago.
His employer, Hind Agro industries Ltd, has sought the local government's permission to lift its daily output limit to 250 tonnes to meet rising demand.
"Earlier there was only our plant but now there are more than five more units in this area alone," Singh, the plant's General Manager, said.
One of the company's leading suppliers is Salim Qureshi, who cuts an imposing figure dressed all in white as he strides between boot-polish-black buffalo at Gulaothi animal market.
Men greet him warmly, addressing him as Haji Salim in respect for his three pilgrimages to Mecca, and calling him over to see their animals.
Qureshi casts his eye over a large bull and weighs the beast by sight, judging it to be about 300 kg (660 lbs), worth as much as $650. The beast is skin and bone compared to American steers, which can weigh more than twice as much.
"I have around 100 suppliers working for me," Salim says as he settles the