Home | Ved

40-Meat Eating in Ved

Previous | Next

40-Meat Eating in Ved

(1) Meat eating was common during the Vaidik period and it was even a part of the Madhu-park offered to an honored guest
(See Ashwalaayan Grihya Sootra- 1.24,25).
(2) Even sages like Yaagyavalkya is mentioned as consuming meat. (see-Shatapath Braahman
(3) Muni Agastya Jee ate Vaataapi Raakshas - thus it was not only animal meat but was a man or Raakshas' flesh. Otherwise also in those times Rishi used to eat meat, that is how Ilval and Vaataapi could kill many Braahman by feeding them meat. And then Agastya Jee had to come their help.
(4) Tulasee's Maanas refers to a story of the King Peataap Bhaanu in which he feeds meat to Braahman to get control on the whole Earth.
Animals used in sacrificial rtes were cooked and eaten (see- Aitareya Braahman - 6.8)
As Aaryans started cultivation of food crops, eating meat gradually reduced and was looked down upon. Jainism and Buddhism also influenced this. Development of the concept of Ahinsaa and the Bhaagvat cult contributed to the disappearance of the habit. Protection of the cow (mentioned in the Rig Ved - see- Rig Ved, 1.164, 4.1.6, 8.69.21.) became a strong faith. Sasy Aahaar is considered more Saattvik and hence more conducive to spiritual pursuits.

Let us see what Ved say on meat eating and animal killing: (quoted from other sources)
(1) May I be dear to all animals (Atharv Ved, 16.71.4)
(2) May you eat rice (Vrihi); may you eat barley (Yava), also black beans (whole Urad) and sesame seeds (Til).
This is the share allotted to both of you for happy results, O you two teeth (Dantau), may you not injure the father and mother. (Atharv Ved - 6.140.2)
(3) Do not kill any of the Creatures. (Yajur Ved, L 1)
(4) Do not kill the horse. (Yajur Ved, 13.42)
(5) Do not kill quadrupeds. (Yak. 13.44)
(6) Do not kill wool-giving animals. (Yak. 13.47)
(7) Not kill human beings (Yak. 16.3)
(8) May you be illumined by the mighty rags of knowledge and may you not kill the cow, the Aditi (Yajur Ved, 13.43)
(9) Do not kill a cow but treat her as Mother. (Yajur Ved, 12.32)

To begin with, the historian breaks the myth that Muslim rulers introduced beef eating in India. Much before the advent of Islam in India beef had been associated with Indian dietary practices. Also it is not at all tenable to hold that dietary habits are a mark of community identity.

A survey of ancient Indian scriptures, especially the Ved, shows that amongst the nomadic, pastoral Aryans who settled here, animal sacrifice was a dominant feature till the settled agriculture developed. Cattle were the major property during this phase and they offered the same to propitiate the gods. Wealth was equated with the ownership of the cattle.

Even many gods such as Indra and Agni are described as having special preferences for different types of flesh - Indra had weakness for bull's meat and Agni for bull's and cow's. It is recorded that the Marut and the Ashwin were also offered cows. In the Ved there is a mention of around 250 animals out of which at least 50 were supposed to be fit for sacrifice and consumption. In the Mahaabhaarat, there is a mention of a King named Rantidev who achieved great fame by distributing food grains and beef to Braahman. Taittireeya Braahman categorically tells us - "Verily the cow is food" (atho annam via gauh) and Yaagyavalkya's insistence on eating the tender (ansala) flesh of the cow is well known. Even later Braahminical texts provide the evidence for eating beef. Even Manu Smriti did not prohibit the consumption of beef.

As a Medicine
In therapeutic section of Charak Sanhitaa (pages 86-87) the flesh of cow is prescribed as a medicine for various diseases. It is also prescribed for making soup. It is emphatically advised as a cure for irregular fever, consumption, and emaciation. The fat of the cow is recommended for debility and rheumatism.

Buddha's Role
With the rise of agricultural economy and the massive transformation occurring in society, changes were to be brought in in the practice of animal sacrifice also. At that time there were ritualistic practices like animal sacrifices, with which Braahman were identified. Buddha attacked these practices. There were sacrifices, which involved 500 oxen, 500 male calves, 500 female calves and 500 sheep to be tied to the sacrificial pole for slaughter. Buddha pointed out that Ashwamedh Yagya, Purushmedh Yagya, Baajpeya Yagya did not produce good results. According to a story in Deegh Nikaay, when Buddha was touring Magadh kingdom, a Braahman called Kutadant was preparing for a sacrifice with 700 bulls, 700 goats and 700 rams. Buddha intervened and stopped him. His rejection of animal sacrifice and emphasis on non-injury to animals assumed a new significance in the context of new agriculture.

The emphasis on non-violence by Buddha was not blind or rigid. He did taste beef and it is well known that he died due to eating pork. Emperor Ashok after converting to Buddhism did not turn to vegetarianism. He only restricted the number of animals to be killed for the royal kitchen. So where did matters change and how did the cow become a symbol of faith and reverence to the extent of assuming the status of "motherhood"?

The threat posed by Buddhism to the Braahman value system was too severe. In response to low castes slipping away from the grip of Braahman, the battle was taken up at all the levels. At philosophical level Shankar reasserted the supremacy of Braahman values; at political level King Pushyamitra Shung ensured the physical attack on Buddhist monks, at the level of symbols King Shashaank got the Bodhi tree destroyed. One of the appeals to the spread of Buddhism was the protection of cattle wealth, which was needed for the agricultural economy.  In a way while Braahmanism "succeeded" in banishing Buddhism from India, it had also to transform itself from the animal sacrifice state to the one which could be in tune with the times. It is here that this ideology took up the cow as a symbol of their ideological march. But unlike Buddha whose pronouncements were based on reason, the counteraction of Braahman ideology took the form of a blind faith based on assertion. So while Buddha's non-violence was for the preservation of animal wealth for the social and compassionate reasons the counter was based purely on symbolism. So while the followers of Braahman ideology accuse Buddha of "weakening" India due to his doctrine of non-violence, he was not a cow worshipper or vegetarian in the current Braahmanism sense.

Yes for Eating Meat
Taken from Paradox of the Indian Cow, written by DN Jha -
I found this article very informative and a review type article, that is why it is presented here without references.

--The textual evidence of beef eating which, in fact, begins to be available from the oldest Indian religious text Rig Ved, supposedly of divine origin.
--In the Agnadheya, which was a preparatory rite preceding all public sacrifices, a cow was required to be killed
--In the Ashwamedh, the most important of public sacrifices, first mentioned in the Rig Ved and discussed in the Braahman, more than 600 animals (including wild ones like boars) and birds were killed and its finale was marked by the sacrifice of 21 cows, which, according to the dominant opinion were sterile ones.
-- In the Go-sava, an important component of the public sacrifices like the Raajasooya and Baajapeya, a sterile spotted cow was offered to Maruts and 17 ‘dwarf heifers under three’ were done to death in the pancasaradiyasava. The killing of animals including the cattle figures in several other Yagya including Chaatur-maasya, Sautramani and independent animal sacrifice called Pashubandh or Nirudha Pashubandh. These and several other major sacrifices involved killing of animals including the cattle, which constituted the chief form of the wealth of the early Aryans. They, not surprisingly, prayed for cattle and sacrificed them to propitiate their gods.

--The Vaidik gods, for whom the various sacrifices were performed, had no fixed menu of food. milk, butter, barley, oxen, goats and sheep were offered to them and these were their usual food, though some of them seem to have had their special preferences. Indra had a special liking for bulls (Rig Ved, V.29.7ab; Verse I.17.11b; VIII.12.8ab, X.27.2c;  X. 28. 3c; X.86.14ab). Agni was not a tippler like Indra, but was fond of animal food including the flesh of horses, bulls and cows (Rig Ved,, VIII. 43.11; X. 91.14ab). The toothless Pushan, the guardian of the roads, ate mush as a Hobson’s choice. Som (Som Ras) was the name of a heady drink but, equally importantly, of a god and killing of animals including cattle for him (Rig Ved,, X.91.14ab) was basic to most of the Rig Vaidik Yagya. The Marut and the Ashwin were also offered cows. The Ved mention about 250 animals out of which at least 50 were deemed fit for sacrifice and by implication for divine as well as human consumption. The animal food occupied a place of importance in the Vaidik sacrifices and dietetics and the general preference for the flesh of the cow is undeniable. The Taittireeya Braahman (III.9.8) categorically tells us: “Verily the cow is food” (Atho annam vai gauh) and the Shatapath Braahman (III.1.2.21) refers to Yaagyavalkya’s stubborn insistence on eating the tender (Ansala) flesh of the cow.

--According to the subsequent Braahmanical texts (e.g. Grhya Sootra and Dharm Shasutra) the killing of animals and eating of beef was very much de rigeur. The ceremony of guest-reception (known as Arghya in the Rig Ved but generally as Madhu-park in subsequent texts) consisted not only of a meal of a mixture of curds and honey but also of the flesh of a cow or bull. Early lawgivers go to the extent of making flesh food mandatory in Madhu-park --- an injunction more or less dittoed by several later legal texts (As Grihya Sootra, I.24.33; Katha Grihya Sootra, 24,20; Shankh Grihya Sootra, II.15.2; Par Grihya Sootra, I.3.29. A guest therefore came to be described by Paanini as a Goghna (one for whom the cow is slain). The sacred thread ceremony was not all that sacred; for it was necessary for a Snaatak to wear an upper garment of the cowhide (Par Grihya Sootra, II.5.17-20).

The slaughter of animals formed an important component of the cult of the dead in the Vedic texts as well as in later Dharmasastra works. The thick fat of the cow was used to cover the dead body (RV, X.14-18) and a bull was burnt along with the corpse to enable the departed to ride with in the nether world. The funerary rites included feeding of the brahmins after the prescribed period and quite often the flesh of the cow/ ox was offered to the dead (Atharv Ved, XII.2, 48). The textual prescriptions indicate the degree of satisfaction obtained by the Manes depending upon the animal offered---- the cow’s flesh could keep them contented for at least a year! The Vaidik and the post-Vaidik texts also often mention the killing of animals including the kine in several other ritual contexts.

Thus in the grhamedha, which has been discussed in several Shraut Sootra, an unspecified number of cows were slain not in the strict ritual manner but in the crude and profane manner.

 In fact, neither Ashok’s list of animals exempted from slaughter nor the Arth Shaastra of Kautilya specifically mentions cow as un-slayable. The cattle were killed for food throughout the Mauryan period.

Meat Eating in Manu Smriti
The law book of Manu (200 BC - 200 AD), which is the most representative of the legal texts and has much to say on the lawful and forbidden food, contains several passages on flesh eating, which have much in common with earlier and later Braahmanical juridical works. Like the earlier law books, it also mentions the animals whose flesh could be eaten. Manu’s list includes the porcupine, hedgehog, iguana, rhinoceros, tortoise and the hare and all those domestic animals having teeth in one jaw only, the only exception being the camel (V.18); and, it is significant that the cow is not excluded from the list of edible animals. Eating meat on sacrificial occasions, Manu tells us, is a divine rule (daivo vidhih smritah), but doing so on other occasions is a demoniac practice (V.31). Accordingly one does not do any wrong by eating meat while honoring the gods, the Manes and guests (Madhu-park cha yagye cha Pitri Daivat Karmaani), irrespective of the way in which the meat was procured (V.32, 41). Manu asserts that animals were created for the sake of sacrifice, that killing on ritual occasions is non-killing (V.39) and injury (Hinsaa) as enjoined by the Veda (Ved Vihit Ahinsaa) is known to be non-injury (V.44).

In the section dealing with rules for times of distress, Manu recalls the legendary examples of the most virtuous brahmins of the days of yore who ate ox-meat and dog-meat to escape death from starvation (X.105-9). Manu’s latitudinarian attitude is clear from his recognition of the natural human tendency of eating meat, drinking spirituous liquor and indulging in sexual intercourse, even if abstention brings great rewards (V.56).

He further breaks loose the constraints when he says: "The Lord of creatures (Prajaapati) created this whole world to be the sustenance of the vital spirit; both the immovable and the movable (Creation is) the food of the vital spirit. What is destitute of motion is the food of those endowed with locomotion; (animals) without fangs (are the food) of those with fangs, those without hands of those who possess hands, and the timid of the bold. The eater who daily even devours those destined to be his food, commits no sin; for the creator himself created both the eaters and those who are to be eaten” (V.28-30). This injunction removes all restrictions on flesh eating and gives an unlimited freedom to all desiring to eat animal flesh and since Manu does not mention beef eating as taboo one can infer that he did not treat cow as sacrosanct. Manu contradicts his own statements by extolling Ahinsaa (X.63), but there is no doubt that he permitted meat eating at least on ritual occasions (Madhupark, Shraaddh etc) when the killing of the cow and other cattle, according to his commentator Medhaatithi (9th century), was in keeping with the Vaidik and post- Vaidik practice (govyajamamsamaproksitambhaksyed…   madhuparkovyakhyatah tatra govadhovihitah).

Yaagyavalkya on Eating Meat
Yaagyavalkya (100 - 300 AD), like Manu, discusses the rules regarding lawful and forbidden food. Although his treatment of the subject is less detailed, he does not differ radically from him. Yaagyavalkya mentions the specific animals (deer, sheep, goat, boar, rhinoceros etc) and birds (e.g. partridge) whose flesh could satisfy the Manes (I.258-61). According to him a student, teacher, king, close friend and son-in-law should be offered Arghya every year and a priest should be offered Madhu-park on all ritual occasions (I.110). He further enjoins that a learned Braahman (Shrotriya) should be welcomed with a big ox or goat (mahoksam va mahajam va shrotriya yopakalpayet) delicious food and sweet words. This indicates his endorsement of the earlier practice of killing cattle at the reception of illustrious guests. Yaagyavalkya, like Manu, permits eating of meat when life is in danger, or when it is offered in sacrifices and funerary rites (I.179). But unconsecrated meat (vrit Maansam, anupakrit maansaani), according to him, is a taboo (I.167, 171) and any one killing animals solely for his own food and not in accordance with the Vaidik practice is doomed to go to hell for as many days as the number of hair on the body of the victim (I.180).

Brihaspati on Eating Meat
Similarly Brihaspati (300 - 500 AD), like Manu, recommends abstention from liquor (Madya), flesh (Maans) and sexual intercourse only if they are not lawfully ordained which implies that whatever was lawful was permitted. The lawgivers generally accept as lawful all those sacrifices, which, according to them, have Vaidik sanction. The sacrificial slaughter of animals and domesticated bovines was a Vaidik practice and therefore may have been fairly common among the Braahman circles during the early Christian centuries and even well into the later half of the first millennium AD - (500 - 1000 AD). It would be, however, unrealistic to assume that the Dhaarmik precept of restricting animal slaughter to ritual occasions was always taken seriously either by Braahman for whom the legal injunctions were meant or by other sections of society. It is not surprising, therefore, that Brihaspati, while discussing the importance of local customs, says that in Madhya Desh the artisans eat cows (Madhya Deshe karmakarah silpinasch gavasinah).

Mahaabhaarat and Raamaayan on Eating Meat
The evidence from the epics is quite eloquent. Most of the characters in the Mahaabhaarat are meat eaters and it makes a laudatory reference to the king Rantidev in whose kitchen two thousand cows were butchered everyday, their flesh, along with grains, being distributed among the Braahman (III.208.8-9). Similarly Vaalmeeki Raamaayan also makes frequent reference to the killing of animals including the cow for sacrifice as well as food. Raam was born after his father Dasharath performed a big sacrifice involving the slaughter of a large number of animals declared edible by the Dharm Shaastra, which, as we have seen, sanction ritual killing of the kine. Seetaa, while crossing the Yamunaa River, promises her that she would worship her with thousand cows and a hundred jars of wine when Raam accomplishes his vow and they come back to their kingdom all right. Her fondness for deer meat drives her husband crazy enough to kill Maareech, a deer in disguise. Bharadwaaj welcomes Raam by slaughtering a fatted calf in his honor.

By Doctors
The non-vegetarian dietary practices find an important place in the early Indian medical treatises. Charak (1st - 2nd century), Sushrut (3rd –4th century) and Vaagbhat (7th century) provide an impressive list of the variety of fish and flesh and all three of them speak of the therapeutic uses of beef.  In the Gupt period, Kaalidaas alludes to the story of Rantidev who killed numerous cows every day in his kitchen. More than two centuries later, Bhavabhooti (700 AD) refers to two instances of guest reception, which included the killing of a heifer. In the 10th century Raajasekhar mentions the practice of killing an ox or a goat in honor of a guest. In the 12th century Shree Harsh mentions a variety of non-vegetarian delicacies served at a dazzling marriage feast and refers to two interesting instances of cow killing, though, in the same century Someshwar shows clear preference for pig flesh over other meat types and does not mention beef at all.

Cow Slaughtering in Modern Period
While the above references, albeit limited in number, indicate that the ancient practice of killing the kine for food continued till about the 12th century, there is considerable evidence in the commentaries on the Kaavya literature and the earlier Dharm Shaastra texts to show that the Braahmanical writers retained its memory till very late times. Among the commentators on the secular literature, Chandoo Pandit (late 13th century) from Gujaraat, Narahari (14th century) from Telengaanaa in Aandhra Pradesh, and Malleenaath (14th-15th century), who is associated with the King Devaraaya II of Vidyaa Nagar (Vijayanagara), clearly indicate that, in earlier times, the cow was done to death for rituals and hence for food. As late as the 18th century Ghanashyaam, a minister of a Tanjore ruler, states that the killing of cow in honor of a guest was the ancient rule.

Similarly the authors of Dharm Shaastra commentaries and religious digests from the 9th century onwards keep alive the memory of the archaic practice of beef eating and some of them even go so far as to permit eating beef in specific circumstances. For example, Medhaatithi (9th century), probably a Kashmeerian Braahman, says that a bull or ox was killed in honor of a ruler or any one deserving to be honored and unambiguously allows eating the flesh of cow (Govyaj Maansam) on ritual occasions. Several other writers of exegetical works seem to lend support to this view, though some times indirectly. Vishwaroop (9th century), a Braahman from Maalavaa and probably a pupil of Shankar, Vigyaaneshwar  (11th century), who may have lived not far from Kalyaan in modern Karnaatak, Haradatt (12th century), also a Southerner (Dakshinatya), Lakshmeedhar (12th century), a minister of the Gahadwal King, Hemaadri (late 13th century), a minister of the Yaadav of Devagiri, Narasinh / Nrsimha (14th century), possibly from Southern India, and Mitraa Misraa (17th century) from Gopachal (Gwaalior) support the practice of killing a cow on occasions like guest-reception and Shraaddh in ancient times. As recently as the early 20th century, Madan Upaadhyaaya from Mithilaa refers to the ritual slaughter of milch cattle in the days of yore. Thus even when the Dharm Shaastra commentators view cow killing with disfavor, they generally admit that it was an ancient practice and that it was to be avoided in the Kali age.

The cow and its products (milk, curds, clarified butter, dung and urine) or their mixture called Panchgavya had been assuming a purificatory role from much earlier times. The Vaidik texts attest to the ritual use of cow’s milk and milk products, but the term Panchgavya word occurs for the first time in the Baudhaayaan Dharm Sootra. The law books of Manu, Vishnu, Vashishth, Yaagyavalkya and those of several later lawgivers like Atri, Deval and Paraashar mention the use of the mixture of the five products of the cow for both purification and expiation. The commentaries and religious digests, most of which belong to the medieval period, abound in references to the purificatory role of the Panchgavya. The underlying assumption in all these cases is that the Panchgavya is pure. But several Dharm Shaastra texts forbid its use by women and the lower castes. If a Shoodra drinks Panchgavya, we are told, he goes to hell.


Home | Ved


Previous | Next

Created by Sushma Gupta on 3/15/06
Updated on 03/20/13