India’s Newest Internet Sensation: Cow Dung Patties

For recent migrants to the country’s booming megacities, nothing says nostalgia like a pile of cow poo

Cow Tails
Cow dung cakes hold a nostalgic place in the memories of many Indians who recall burning the cakes for ritual fires and to stay warm during festivals like Diwali and Lohri. Denis Bringard/Hemis/Corbis

Feeling nostalgic? There's no better way to take yourself back than with your nose: Research shows that aromas can bring back powerful memories. And for some in India, nothing brings back childhood quite like the distinct smell of cow poop. As the Associated Press reports, patties made of dried cow dung and hay has become an internet sensation for nostalgic shoppers, who use the fragrant cakes for fuel and in ritual fires. 

The Associated Press writes that cow dung cakes are selling out on websites like Amazon. The cakes appear to be selling mainly to urban areas that do not have a ready supply of cow dung, with demand spiking around traditional festivals such as Diwali in November or the upcoming Lohri in January.

India has a massive bovine population—nearly 300 million as of 2012. All those cows produce a lot of poop, which is then used as both fertilizer and fuel. Chris Copp writes for Full Stop India that dung is "a commodity so intertwined with daily survival that it is nearly impossible to think of life without it." India is thought to use as much as 400 million tons of cow dung for cooking fuel alone each year, with approximately 30 percent of rural fuel production dependent on animal waste.

But rapid urbanization in India means that more and more people are moving from rural areas to cities that don't rely on cow dung for fuel. That's leading to new demand for cow dung in urban areas—and thanks to sites like Amazon and eBay, cow patties are just a click away. The cakes are selling out around Hindu festivals, when people burn the cakes for ritual fires and to stay warm. And yes, smell is a factor: A spokesperson for Amazon India tells the Associated Press that "people who grew up in rural areas find the peaty smell of dung fires pleasant" and nostalgic.

Before you sniff at the idea of people flocking to get a whiff of some burning cow dung, ask yourself: Is it really any weirder than perfume that smells like a cat's forehead or a cell phone that transmits smells? Probably not—and to some noses, it's worth paying a premium.

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