Milk from the Water-buffalo

Milk from the Water buffalo


Partha Desikan





Long ago, roughly when Kennedy and Krushchaev faced each other eyeball to eyeball and nearly precipitated a world war with Cuba as first base, and perhaps a few months after Astronaut Glenn was feted for his venturing into space, an Indian post doctorate fellow at a national laboratory in Ottawa, Canada was comparing notes with a French Canadian colleague about coffee preparation mores. He told Bert Chenier that back home in Madras, buffalo milk was the preferred option for mixing with properly brewed coffee. Bert was taken aback. He asked, almost in a whisper born out of a new found respect for people of South India, ‘Desikan, d’ya mean to say you guys back home can actually hold a buffalo and milk it?’


The avatarapurusha who spoke the Gita for the edification of Partha and through him, of the world, is believed to have lived the life of a cowherd as a young lad. The oldest revelations of the world, the Vedas and Upanishads, speak of the glory that is the cow, the provider of supreme nourishment to man. The buffalo did not get domesticated that early.


The ninth century Tamil poetess Andal visualizes Sri Krishna’s Gokula in her Tiruppavai verses and makes more than one mention of buffaloes in the households of the Gopas. It is possible that she reflects the state of the dairy practice of her times. The incomparable Sanskrit poet Kalidasa has compared the autumnal full moon to curds made from buffalo’s milk. Kalidasa must have lived at the beginning of the Vikrama era, which starts less than a century before the Christian one. Guided by western researchers, there are some historians who would place his period at as late as the fifth century in the Christian era. The noted historian Srinivasa Iyengar would consider the domestication of wild buffaloes, goats, wild cows and bulls by the Tamils moving from the hilly kurinji regions to the forest plains or mullai regions as simultaneous events. This must have taken place over two or three millennia before the Christian era. It is possible that the cattle breeder had greater success with the bovines than with the buffaloes and as a result the poets of the interim period were more inclined to consider the buffalo rather than the cow as a symbol of taamasic or raakshasa behaviour. It would have been easy enough for them to accept the divinity of Kamadhenu and Nandi from existing lore of the land and by the same token the unpleasant nature of Mahishaasura.


In more modern practice in India, the water buffalo is well established as a dairy animal. The cooperative dairying establishment in Tamilnadu state for instance looks after and utilizes nearly 200,000 buffaloes as against over 1.2 million cows. An extract from the policy statement issued in 2005-06 by the TAMIL NADU CO-OPERATIVE MILK PRODUCERS’ FEDERATION LTD., (TCMPF) reads as follows:


‘The Tamil Nadu Co-operative Milk Producers’ Federation Limited is an apex body of 17 District Co-operative Milk Producers’ Unions. The Federation has four dairies in Chennai, one at Ambattur with a capacity of 4.00 LLPD (lakh litres per day), another at Madhavaram with a capacity of 2.00 LLPD and the third dairy at Sholinganallur with a capacity of 4.00 LLPD. These dairies collect milk from District Unions, process and pack in sachets and send for sale to the consumers in and around Chennai City. The fourth dairy is the product dairy at Ambattur, which is engaged in the manufacture of milk products such as Yogurt, Ice Cream, Khova, and Gulab jamun, Buttermilk, Lassi, Curd and Mysore Pa.

The marketing of Milk and Milk Products of the Federation is being carried out by the wings namely:

1.      Metro Liquid Milk marketing.

2.      Metro Product marketing.

3.      Up-country marketing.

Marketing of the products in Chennai Metro and suburbs are directly carried out by the product wing of the Federation located at Nandanam in Chennai. These products are stored at the godown of Ambattur and distributed to the outlets.

Four types of milk sold in sachets are:

1.      Double Toned Milk – 2% Fat 9% SNF (solid non-fat)

2.      Toned Milk – 3% Fat 8.5% SNF

3.      Standardised Milk – 4.5% Fat 8.5% SNF

4.      Full Cream Milk – 6% Fat 9% SNF

The sale of milk in sachets is being carried out through 24 zones, 517 Depots, 390 Distribution Points, 40 Whole Sale Milk Distributors, 88 Milk Retailers and 50 Milk Consumers’ Co-operative Societies. The sale of milk products is being carried out through 42 parlours, 154 Franchise Retail Outlets (FROs), 12 Wholesale dealers, and 2900 Retailers. The Federation also caters to the needs of the functions like marriages by booking special orders.

Standardised milk, buffalo milk and double toned milk are being sold through 218 Automatic Vending Machines (AVMs) and 165 FROs to the city consumers. Milk products are also sold in certain AVM Units. Sachet milk sale is also done through AVMs.’

It will be noted that the word buffalo occurs only once in the above passage taken from the policy paper, though the full document refers to this provider adequately. But those who know that cow’s milk typically contains only 4.0 to 4.5 % fat while buffalo milk contains as much as 7.0 %, will look at the percentages of milk in the various types of milk sold by the Federation and understand the role of blending. Thus while the Tamilnadu co-op milk may be called Aavin, meaning cow’s milk, it is only substantially so and this is usually not a point of contention with the consumers.

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