Kamadhenu is the mother of all cows. She gives milk to devas and sages and is also capable of granting wishes.
Also known as Surabhi, Nandini as per Bhashabharata Aranyaparva Chapter 9 verse 7, 17 and Adiparva Chapter 99 verse 14.
The scriptures show Surabhi as Daksha’s daughter, Kashyapa’s wife and as his daughter too. But when read collectively, there is a pattern. As per Ramayana Aranyakanda Sarga 14, Daksha’s daughters including Aditi, Danu, Diti, Krodhavasha, Kalika, Tamra, Manu, Anala were married to Marichi’s son Kashyapa. To Krodhavasha was born Surabhi, who had two daughters – Rohini and Gandharvi. From Rohini were born all the cows and from Gandharvi, all the horses. But Surabhi’s children were fathered by Kashyapa, which is why Vishnupurana Ansh 1 Chapter 15 describes him as Surabhi’s husband. Surabhi is also thus Daksha’s granddaughter, but in a larger sense deemed to be his daughter, which would explain the reference in Mahabharata Anushasanaparva Chapter 83 verse 28.
Once Kashyapa’s wife Aditi was pregnant with Vishnu’s incarnation. She used to meditate standing on one leg for the child’s prosperity. During that time, Surabhi had completed 10000 years of praying to Brahma, standing on one leg in Kailash. Brahma appeared before her along with the other devas and blessed that she would become a devi henceforth, above the three worlds, and her descendants – cows would be worshiped by all as per Mahabharata Anushasanaparva Chapter 83.
The scriptures have multiple mentions of Kamadhenu. Vasishta’s hermitage had one. There is a mention of a Kamadhenu in Varuna’s yajna. It is difficult to surmise that there was only one Kamadhenu and sages and devas shared it in turn. It is more likely that Kamadhenu had descendants, or many of its kind were created by Kashyapa. One Kamadhenu was created during the samudra manthan as per Mahabharata Adiparva Chapter 18. Another was created from Brahma’s face as per Bhashabharata Udyogaparva Chapter 102. Brahma became gluttonous immediately after he got amrit and vomited soon after. From this another Kamadhenu was created which lives in Rasatala. Apparently there are other kamadhenus residing on its four sides as per Mahabharata Udyogaparva Chapter 102 – Soubhari in the east, Hamsika in the south, Subhadra in the west and Dhenu in the north.
Another Kamadhenu was born from krishna’s left side. Once Krishna and Radha found a deserted place to spend time with each other. When they were tired, they wished to consume some milk. Krishna created a cow called Surabhi and a calf Manoradha. Sudama reached there and gave the milk to Krishna in a clay bowl. But as he began drinking, the bowl fell from his hand and the milk was scattered around. This place then became the lake Kshirasagara, a place for Radha and the other gopa women to play in. Krishna then created several more cows from Surabhi’s hair and gifted them to the gopa women as per Devibhagavata Navamaskanda.
Thus several kamadhenus are seen in the scriptures. But all these are believed to be different forms of the Kamadhenu that was blessed by Brahma and was the offspring of Kashyapa.
The Ikshvaku king Aruna had a son named Satyavrata. Once he kidnapped a brahmin maiden from her wedding. Aruna banished Satyavrata on hearing this, but the kingdom soon faced a famine. It was during that time that Vishwamitra had started meditating in the forest. When Vishwamitra’s wife found it difficult to fed all her children, she decided to sell one of them. But Satyavrata stopped her and promised to leave the meat he hunted near their house daily. This went on for several days but one day Satyavrata couldn’t find any animal. He stole Kamadhenu from Vasishta’s hermitage. He killed it, ate some and gave the rest to Vasishta’s wife. Vasishta woke up the next morning and realised what had happened. He cursed that since Satyavrata had committed the three sins of angering his father, stealing and killing a cow, he would henceforth be known as Trishanku. Vasishta then revived Kamadhenu as per Devibhagavata Dashamaskanda.
Once while Vishwamitra was a king, he went on a hunt. He reached Vasishta’s hermitage famished and Vasishta used Kamadhenu’s powers to feed him and his army. Vishwamitra was amazed and asked Vasishta to give Kamadhenu to him, in exchange for many cows. But Vasishta did not agree. Vishwamitra tried to take Kamadhenu away forcibly but she transformed into an aggressive being. From her emerged an army that fought with Vishwamitra’s. Vishwamitra’s arrows were blocked by Vasishta and Vishwamitra finally agreed that brahmatejas was greater than kshatriyatejas. From then Vishwamitra gave up his kingdom and began meditating. Soon he became a rajarishi as per Ramayana Balakanda Sarga 52, Mahabharata Shalyaparva Chapter 40 and Adiparva Chapter 175.
See Ashtavasu for the story on how they attacked Kamadhenu.
See Indra to know how Indra made Kamadhenu cry.
See Gautama for how Kamadhenu revived the king Baka.
Kamadhenu’s sons were Ajasa, Ekapat, Twashta, Rudra, Ahirbudhnya. twashta’s son was Vishwarupa as per Agnipurana Chapter 18.
Kamadhenu told Agastya that she wasn’t involved in stealing his lotuses as per Mahabharata Anushasanaparva Chapter 94.
When Krishna held up the Govardhana mountain and defeated Indra, Kamadhenu reached Ambadi and showered him with milk as per Bhagavata Dashamaskanda.
Once Jamadagni prayed to Kamadhenu and appeased her. Kamadhenu gifted her sister Sushila to Jamadagni, who in turn, gave her to his wife Renuka as per Brahmandapurna Chapter 61.