Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Beef Eaters of India

There has been an intense debate going on in literary as well as political circles of India about consumption of beef, specifically the meat of cow, an animal considered holy in Hinduism. (Remember the expression Holy Cow? Yes, this is where it comes from.)

I am both amused with the politicians who say that beef-eating was NEVER a part of Indian culture, as well as those pseudo-intellectuals who are citing the same few references at every place to show beef was ALWAYS consumed since Vedic times. Both these factions are nowhere near the truth and are resorting to extremist behavior hence I thought of sharing evidence from Hindu scriptures to stop this pointless argument.

First, let us understand why the COW was and still is considered HOLY in India as well as Nepal (the latter by the way is the only country in the world to have banned beef).

The cow was not just any animal for the predominantly agrarian Indo-Aryan society, it was the provider of MILK, the major source of proteins as well as Calcium for all vegetarians (and there were a lot of those in ancient India). COW-DUNG was essential to improve the fertility of the soil where FOOD grew and was also used to put a clean layer for the floor inside the huts, a practice still followed in thousands of villages. The dung cakes were also used as FUEL in earthen stoves and fifth, its URINE that possesses antiseptic as well as medicinal properties was used in Ayurveda.

The CALF, grew up to provide labor required to till the fields as well as helped travel to distant lands by means of ox-carts. Even the HIDE of the dead animal was useful for it helped create shoes to protect human feet from the harsh terrain. For all these reasons and more, nothing was considered more sinful than killing the animal that provided so much without asking for anything in return except some amount of daily food and affection. 

Cows are intelligent animals who stay in touch with other members in the herd, recognize their owners and show affection to them as well as other farm animals!

Since most city-dwellers would be alien to this idea of being affectionate to a cow, let me just give an example. How many of you like dogs or cats? Many of you who have pets at home may also be non-vegetarian but do you ever dream of eating a dog or a cat? 

Would you ever eat your own pet??

Also do give a consideration to the question why was there so much hue and cry all over the world against a recent Chinese festival where dogs were killed in thousands? Would people have made so much noise if it was lamb or chicken-slaughter? No one even complains about the millions of goats sacrificed on a certain festival that originated in the Arab world then why so much outrage over killing of dogs?

Precisely because dogs are devoted to humans and share their love and affection. Imagine that kind of a bond between a cow and its owner, where it is not just a pet but also immensely useful for the sustenance of an entire  family! BTW If this diatribe made you believe that I am a cow-lover, well I have no shame in accepting that since I love all animals :) 

But this article is not about my personal opinion rather the opinion of our scriptures

So let me first pick on this idea that beef-eating was introduced in India by the Mughals. I am sorry to tell the devout who are being fed this idea that this is not the case. The Mahabharat talks about a certain king Rantideva who is glorified as the utmost host. The reason for his glory is that even though this gentleman was himself a vegetarian, he still served the guests who came to visit him meat including that of cow!

It may sound shocking but yes, there it is. Thousands of animals were sacrificed in his kitchens everyday to cater to the never ending stream of visitors and in fact the river Chambal (earlier known as Charmanvati) gets its name from the blood washed off the hide of these sacrificed animals. 

King Rantideva giving away all his riches

But let me also add here that this generous king gave everything away in charity to the extent that his family had to go without food for 48 days at a stretch. When they did manage to get some food, he was accosted by beggars and he willingly distributed all that he had among them. Clearly he is not a normal man and one of very high virtue so I wouldn't even try to compare myself or any other regular human being with him. He followed the principle of Atithi-Devo-Bhav to the extent that he himself was reduced to penury but really how many of us can do that today?

King Rantideva reduced to a pauper due to his generosity

The Apastambh Grihya Sutra also mentions that cattle may be slaughtered when a guest arrives, or at the occasion of marriage or as an offering to the ancestors in the Shraadh ceremony. These are indications that bovine meat was indeed consumed in ancient India.

There is another verse from Manu Smriti that talks about meat-eating which is being used in online discussions to somehow show that meat = cow meat! My intellectually blinded friends who are copying the same dubious references everywhere please read this particular book just once. It specifically sanctions meat-eating ONLY at the time of a sacrifice offered to the gods and calls those who indulge in it everyday as RAKSHAS or Ogres. 

But now that we have got the elephant out of the bag, lets see the other point of view as well!

Both these above examples (except that of Manu-Smriti) show us that cow-meat was offered to the guests or for an extremely important ceremony but what about the HOST? Was he also supposed to consume the cattle he was rearing? 

The same Grihya-Sutras that mention the offering of cow ALSO tell the householder to let the cow loose when a guest arrives so that he does NOT have to sacrifice it to entertain the guest! In fact, even the guest is urged to let go of the cow and at multiple times at multiple places they suggest that cow's flesh should be substituted with that of a goat or a ram or even better, cooked grain or payasam (kheer in Hindi).

A Yagna does not necessitate animal sacrifice

At the very maximum, one may charge the writers of these Sutras with duplicitous behavior as regards offerings to guests but you can not charge them with the promotion of beef-eating! In fact, it gives more credence to the belief that they actually DID NOT want the cow to be slaughtered hence suggest an escape route to the host.

Some online articles talk about mention of Indra, the leader of the gods eating cows and let me tell you that is balderdash. One particular verse Rig Veda 6.17.1 is claimed to say that Indra ate the meat of cow, calf, horse and buffalo! In truth the verse eulogizing Indra for the feat of killing the dragon Vritra who had taken away water from the Earth causing a famine. If any one of you find a mention of a cow or even a horse being consumed by Indra in this particular verse kindly feel free to enlighten me - {Rig Veda verse 6.17 in English}.

The Vedic Thunder-god Indra
{Art by Lingar Bramanty}

Another verse that is being bandied about everywhere is {Rig Veda verse 10.85} which is supposed to say that on the occasion of a girl's marriage, cow and oxen are slaughtered. The verse is in fact talking about the wedding of Surya, the sun-god and even in that particular wedding, though there is a mention of oxen but surprise surprise, NO COWS!

I could find only one verse where cow, that too a barren one is supposed to be offered to Agni along with Ram or Oxen and this is - {Rig Veda verse 10.91.14}. Again the verse talks about a sacrifice being offered to a god NOT about the consumption of the said meat by humans. I have seen some other similar verses mentioned but none of them talk about consumption of this meat by humans!

On the other hand, there are multiple verses that mention the cow as Aghnya or one who should not be hurt and I am giving examples for the same.

In {Rig Veda verse 7.56.17} the supplicant has equated the lives of men with those of cattle by praying to the Maruts to keep their storms away that kill them both. It is noteworthy that no other animal has been mentioned except cattle which shows how strong the bond between men and their cattle was. Again the {Rig Veda verse 1.164.40} wishes cows good fortune to find great pastures in every season so that the men can also stay healthy and wealthy. Again the word used for cow here is Aghnya or inviolable.

A Holy cow in an Indian village

{Rig Veda verse 10.87.16} goes so far as to wish violent death for those who kill cattle, horses and humans showing once again that the lives of each were equally precious. I quote here the Griffith translation - The fiend who smears himself with flesh of cattle, with flesh of horses and of human bodies. Who steals the milch-cow's milk away, O Agni,—tear off the heads of such with fiery fury.

The entire 28th sukta of Book 6 shared here - {Rig Veda 6.28} in fact talks about how cows enjoyed freedom from persecution in the Vedic society - These are ne’er lost, no robber ever injures them: no evil-minded foe attempts to harass them.... These Cows, the cattle of the pious worshipper, roam over widespread pasture where no danger is..Never be thief or sinful man your matter, and may the dart of Rudra still avoid you!

{Atharva Veda verse 10.1.29} says again in the words of Griffith - The slaughter of an innocent O Kritya is an awful deed. Slay NOT our COWS, Horses or Men!

{Yajur Veda verse 1.1} mentions and I quote again - O Savitar.. guard thou the cattle of the supplicant! The word used for cattle in this verse is the same Aghnya I mentioned above.

Again {Yajur Veda verse 13.43} mentions - Harm NOT the cow Aditi, widely ruling

{Yajur Veda verse 30} offers prayers to the Solar god Savitar who is the brother of Indra and Surya, to provide many things to the people who deserve it. Its a beautiful verse which shows the ingenuity of the composer where each couple is perfectly matched viz. - Dexterity is matched with a chariot-maker, Laughter with an artist, Misfortune with a eunuch, Welfare with a farmer, Beauty with a jeweler, serpents for an untrustworthy man and the most relevant for us, DEATH for one who kills a COW!

I can go on and with such verses but above examples are more than enough to show that cow was ALWAYS considered sacred in India right from time immemorial since the Vedas are the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. Cow was as much a member of the family as other humans and the tradition of respect and love can still be seen in smaller towns and villages all over the Indian sub-continent.

For many Indians even today cattle is like family

Based on the scriptures shared above, it should be abundantly clear that for a practicing Hindu, cattle especially cow was considered sacred, holy and indestructible and the death penalty is to be given to those who attempt to kill cattle, horses or men.

So what changed? How did Kings like Rantideva begin killing cows? 

If you know the chronology of Hindu scriptures, the Vedas are the oldest and Mahabharat and Ramayan come much later. Out of the two, Mahabharat is supposed to be even more recent, ushering in the dreaded age of Kaliyuga that we now live in.

This text does show that the cow that was considered inviolable in Vedas was being consumed by a few people during Mahabharat time. Yet, the very fact that king Rantideva is mentioned to have served this meat to guests but not consume it HIMSELF shows what his own opinion about eating cow was! Those who cite his example conveniently forget that the said king was a man of high virtue and did not mind accumulating the sin to please his guests but are we really of that caliber?

Nevertheless, this change in behavior is a reflection of the changing norms of that particular society that was on the brink of Kaliyuga, the last and most evil of all four Yugas where beef-eating is listed as one of the sins. 

I shall share with you why I am calling it a sin by countering one more argument thrown by supporters of beef consumption from the Satpatha Brahmana, presumably written by Rishi Yajnavalkya. In verse he is supposed to have stated - I for one eat 'maans' since it is very soft and tender - {Satpatha Brahmana, 3rd Kand, 1st Adhyaye, 2nd Brahmana}. 

I found this verse in the said scripture which BTW doesn't specifically mention cow meat but I also found something that is NEVER mentioned whenever this verse is quoted!

The text before this admission of the writer goes as follows - Accordingly they bestowed on the cow and the ox whatever vigour belonged to other species; and therefore the cow and the ox eat most. Hence, were one to eat an ox or a cow, there would be a going on to the end (destruction). Such a one indeed would likely be reborn as a strange being, (as one of whom there is) evil report........let him therefore NOT eat (the flesh) of the cow and the ox. 

So the author, a learned rishi, even if we assume he is admitting that he does eat the flesh of sacrificed animals is ALSO admitting that it is a SIN. Wonder how this particular line never got mentioned before in any online article?? Selective propagation of truth to suit one's own convenience perhaps?

People who give the above mentioned examples conveniently forget that in the very same Mahabharat that talks about such instances, Shri Krishna who is declared as the Supreme Lord, is also called the Go-pal or the protector of cows. But again who would wish to talk about that inconvenient truth?

Krishna, the Go-pal

The truth is that cows specifically and animals in general have ALWAYS been considered sacred in India. Even today, according to data from the NSSO (National Sample Survey Office) the major beef-eating community in India is of Muslims (that too 40% not the complete population) followed by Christians (26.5% of the total). According to the same data less than 2% of Hindus eat cow or buffalo meat. More data available here - {Who are the Beef-eaters in India}.

I as an animal lover would love to see ALL animals living a free life but irrespective of my personal beliefs, I have to say that the evidence given in the Vedas is foolproof that cow-meat is NOT to be consumed by religious or devout Hindus irrespective of which caste or region they belong to. Even today festivals like Pongal & Makar Sankranti involve worship of the cattle that help a largely agrarian Indian economy survive! Millions of Hindus all over the world still revere the cow as sacred so if you can't stop eating beef at least don't malign their beliefs!

My city-dweller friends who believe more in logic than religion should also know that Article 48 of Indian Constitution MANDATES the state to PROHIBIT the slaughter of cows, calves and other milch as well as draught cattle. In fact the Honorable Supreme Court has also upheld the constitutional validity of anti-cow slaughter laws enacted by different state governments in 2005.

Whether you are a Hindu or non-Hindu who consumes beef, I have no personal comment about your choices but this article is to counter those false claims being made in the online forums that beef-eating was actually ALLOWED and SANCTIONED in Vedic scriptures! Eat what you want but don't twist the teachings of an ancient religion to justify your choices..

May there be Peace & Love for ALL ANIMALS!



Manali Acharya said...

Seriously, thank you! Where can I find vedas and scriptures in english? Wish i could read sanskrit

Bhumi Punit Sagar said...

Kudos to u ! The efforts u put in for ur research is truely commendable.... . May God bless you :)

Dr. Vineet Aggarwal said...

@Manali thanks a lot.. You can find the Griffith version online at www.sacredtexts.com but do note that all english translations are from the 80s and have a lot of colonial bias but still this is the closest we can get!

Thanx a lot Bhumi for your kind words :)

Priyanka Nikumbh said...

speechless! Your doing great job.!.. God bless you

Roma Kaul said...

Did I ever tell you..... You are genius

Dr. Vineet Aggarwal said...

Thanks so much @Priyanka!

Haha @Roma ji no you never did but now is a good time to start ;)

Sadhna Malik said...

Ooooh! There's so much to know! Your research is mind blowing

Dr. Vineet Aggarwal said...

Thank you @Sadhna.. am glad you liked it :)

Navin Devda said...

Great doc!

Dr. Vineet Aggarwal said...

Thanks a lot bro.. I just want people to know the real truth and not get swayed by extremist views of either side!

Kapil Varshney said...

Grt work,Very informative

Dr. Vineet Aggarwal said...

Thank you @Kapil!

San said...

What detailed research you did! And what good conclusions you drew. I wish this article with the touching pictures could get published elsewhere too, to educate others.

There are also some who don't touch beef while in India, but do so outside saying those cows are 'not Indian' and therefore, exempt from the Vedic scriptures which call for their protection. It's twisted logic.

Please continue to research and write more on this topic...including perhaps the value placed on different life forms as all being part of the divine.

Very good work~

Dr. Vineet Aggarwal said...

Thank you so much :)
I have written an article earlier on the sanctity of all life forms in Indian philosophy and religions and you can check it out here: http://decodehindumythology.blogspot.in/2012/05/ecology-in-hinduism.html

Nirlipta Pathy said...

Nice article Dr. Vineet Aggarwal. The problem with the extremists is; they choose to quote mythology and religion according to their own convenience. And the funniest part of it is; more than half of those so called intellectuals; never read Holy Scriptures!

Yvette Claire Rosser said...

Dr. Vineet Aggarwal,

That was a beautiful piece on references to beef eating in ancient
Hindu scriptures.
Thank you.
I have no idea why these so-called liberals in India would glorify
beef eating. Liberals are suppose to support "Mother Earth" and be
environmentally conscious and personally involved in making a
difference: recycling, actively trying to leave a smaller carbon
footprint and obviously the most productive way of leaving a smaller
carbon footprint is not eating beef. Eating beef is integral to the
rightwing, neo-capitalist, corporate American power structure.

Dr. Vineet Aggarwal said...

Yes Yvette ji its baffling! India is full of pseudo-liberals today for whom the only meaning of liberalization is defaming and destroying old traditions!

Unknown said...

Very well versed article .. Most of the things are new to me... Thanks for sharing readings of Rig Vedas n other Vedas. What i could judge after reading ur piece of work is that people talk without even knowing the true script behind their logics. Simply...its a man-made issue without any end. I wish many people to share this article so that people can judge this matter well n try not to get onto devastating conclusions without knowledge. Thanks winniee for sharing it. Great work n references. Keep it up buddy

Dr. Vineet Aggarwal said...

Thanks a ton Pratibha.. little knowledge is a dangerous thing and that's what most people are indulging in currently! I am trying my best to share the knowledge with as many people as possible so yes I do hope others share it as well!

dinu_dr said...

Vineet you are a genius!

Dr. Vineet Aggarwal said...

Haha thanks so much Dinesh :)

Unknown said...

U did not mention one thing amongst Hindus also most are the South Indians who eat Beef,,, It's strange but it's not sin acc to them ,,, donno why! Anyways very nice article, indeed it's about being conscious enough to be empathic.

Sree said...

Awesome write up. Thank you so much for preserving the belief of non beef eaters!!

JayZ said...

Excellent much needed sharing.

Dr. Vineet Aggarwal said...

My pleasure completely!

Avimanyu said...

Kudos to your extensive research bro! Keep up the great work :) !