By Swami Harshananda
Anustaraṇi literally means ‘a secondary animal that is spread over’.
An old cow which is set free during the funeral rites and which is believed to help the deceased to cross the Vaitaraṇī (a fetid river between the earth and naraka or the nether world) is technically called anustaraṇi.
Since the root ‘stṛ’ has the sense of ‘spreading,’ anustaraṇi may also refer to an old cow which is immolated during the funeral rites, dissected and its various limbs spread on the dead body. This practice, however, ceased to exist long back.
The anustaraṇi is sometimes called rājagavī also.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore