Conclusive proofs – assessed by Sanjeev Sabhlok

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Archaeological evidence of beef eating in India (Indus Valley, Vedic period, etc.)

Based on preliminary research I've published the following posts on archelogical evidence on this subject:

Conclusive evidence of beef and horsemeat eating in Kurukshetra during the Vedic period
Conclusive evidence of beef eating in the proximity of Ayodhya during the late Vedic period
Evidence of beef eating in the Gangetic plain during the Vedic period
Beef was eaten in the Pune area at least till 1400 BC
Beef was commonly eaten in Rishikesh-Haridwar till 5th century AD
The precise method of cow slaughter in the Indus Valley Civilisation

Other evidence

1) 51. EXCAVATION AT LAL QILA, DISTRICT BULANDSHAHR.— [Indian Archaeology 1969-70 A Review]

Thermoluminiscence dating of a few potsherds of the Ochre Colour Ware from the site, conducted by the Archaeological Research Laboratory at Oxford, indicate a mean date of 1880 B.C. Besides other finds, animal bones were found in large numbers. The cut-marks, present on many of them, suggest that meat was the staple diet. Evidence of some grains
(cereal), suggesting agriculture as a subsidiary occupation, was also available.

2) 62. EXPLORATION IN DISTRICT UDAIPUR. VEDIC PERIOD [Indian Archaeology 1961-62 A Review]

While the occurrence of animal bones attested to a meat diet, querns, pounders and rubbers indicated a grinding-activity suggestive of the use of grains, though no grains were obtained.

3) 81. EXCAVATION AT NARHAN, DISTRICT GORAKHPUR.— [Indian Archaeology 1985-85 A Review]

Deep pits cut into the natural soil containing pottery fragments, animal bones, antlers and loose ashy earth were encountered. Some of the bones and antlers bearing cut mark and occasionally charred, indicated that meat was an important component of their diet. Remains of charred grains were collected by flotation technique.

4) 9. EXCAVATION AT RAMAPURAM, DISTRICT KURNOOL. [Indian Archaeology 1980-81 A Review]

[note this is from possibly a pre-Vedic period]: People domesticated animals like Bos indicus (cattle), Bubalus bubalis  (buffalo), Capra aegagrus (goat), Oris aries (sheep), Sus scrofa cristatus (pig), etc. It is interesting  to know that there is some indication for killing cattle at a very advanced age. If the cattle was  kept only for food purposes, the inhabitants would have killed these animals at an early age, possibly around the age of three when the meat is tender and in plenty. It is possible, therefore, that the inhabitants kept these as domesticated animals, some of them being used for agricultural purposes. As there is a scarcity of vertabrae, ribs and lower parts of the limb-bones in the collection, it seems that majority of these animals were slaughtered outside the habitation and later the flesh-bearing parts brought in. The inhabitants supplemented their food economy by occasionally hunting wild animals like Cervus Unicolor (sambar), Gazella Gazella (chinkara) and birds. It is also certain that they exploited aquatic resources like mollusc and fish. The presence of a few pieces of marine shells indicate that the people might have contacts with outsiders living nearer the sea.

5) 1. Excavation at Gandlur, District Guntur.— [Indian Archaeology 1983-84 A Review]

[Note: This is neolithic, i.e. pre-Vedic] From inside the pits of the dwelling complex, objects of household use were recovered. These included a fragmentary quern, several mullers, pounders, belt hammers, a few stone axes, microliths, dabbars, clay and steatite beads and one terracotta lamp, which interestingly has a tubular provision for inserting wick. Clods of burnt earth were a recurrent phenomenon in the pits; a complete hearth except for one near the rim of the quardrupartite pit was not noticed elsewhere. Pottery and animal bones have been found both inside and outside the dwelling pits. Occasionally full pots in fragments were also present in the pits. The pottery was handmade with coarse fabric. Most of the animal bones appear to be of cattle. There were many cut and charred bones of cattle, probably suggesting consumption of beef. Food grains were also recovered from the dwelling pits which throw some valuable light on the agricultural practices and dietary habits of the people.

6) 65. Excavation at Ganeshwar, District Sikar [Indian Archaeology 1983-84 A Review]

[Note: this is probably from the Indus/pre-Vedic/copper age] A preliminary study of the available bones revealed three groups of animals (1) animals  which were in the process of domestication like cattle, sheep and goat, swine, dog, ass, camel  and fowl, (2) animals that lived in the houses or in the vicinity of township like hog, shrew, rat, etc. and (3) wild animals including those hunted for food like Nilgai, antelope, deer, hyena, wild bore, wolf, comb duck, hare, rabbit and fresh water fish. In case of the bones of cattle, fish, fowl, sheep, goat and wild animals, a number of them bore cut marks, besides being occasionally charred, pointing to their use as food. Evidence for extraction of bone marrow from various bones was also observed.

7) 90. Excavation at Damdama (Warikalan), District Pratapgarh.[Indian Archaeology 1983-84 A Review]

[Note: this is pre-Vedid] The excavations at the site brought to light a large number of animal bones belonging to cattle, sheep/goat, ass, deer, stag, tortoise, fish, birds, in charred, semi-charred or unchar-red condition. The availability of these bones at the site in such a large number furnished evidence not only about the hunting economy of the people but also about the range of animals roaming in the area at that time. Besides, the assemblage also gave some indication about the prevailing climatic conditions during the Mesolithic times in this part of the Ganga Valley.

8) 28. EXCAVATION AT PRABHAS PATAN, DISTRICT JUNAGADH.— [Indian Archaeology 1976-77 A Review]

Interesting feature of the collection is that the bones of horse (Equus caballus) and fish were found only in the early historical period. Bones of cattle (Bos indicus), sheep (ovis orientalis vignei), goat (capra hircus aegagrus) and pig {Sus scrofa cristatus) are found right from chalcolithic to early historical periods, in almost all levels. Bones of camel (camelus dromedarius) occur in the chalcolithic and early historical periods. Most of the bones collected belong to the domesticated animals, except two wild examples of Sambar (Cervus unicolor) and Chital (Axis axis). A few bones of turtles (possibly Trionyx) and rodents have also been collected.

9) 49. EXCAVATION AT DAIMABAD, DISTRICT AHMEDNAGAR.— [Indian Archaeology 1975-76 A Review]

[Note this is chalolithis, i.e. Vedic/pre-Vedic] A preliminary study of the plant remains found elsewhere in this Phase by Shri Kajale of the Deccan College Post-graduate and Research Institute, Pune, revealed that wheat, barley, rice, ragi, safflower, jowar, gram, peas and lentil were cultivated. The large number of animal bones indicate that meat formed an important part of the diet of the chalcolithic people. The animal skeletal remains belonged to sheep, goat, cattle, horse, buffalo, dog, tortoise and fish.


It is not just the prevalance of animal bones that matter in providing insights into meat eating in ancient India. The dental record also matters. It can corroborate the findings of animal bones, since the teech of meat eaters change (and become different) to the teeth of those who eat less meat. An incidental feature of this information is that in the past Indians very often did not cremate, but buried their dead. Most human skeletons recovered in ancient India are from burial sites. The following article corroborates the wide prevalence of meat eating in north India in the mesolithic period (around 

Mesolithic Subsistence in North India: Inferences from Dental Attributes, by John R. Lukacs and J. N. PalSource: Current Anthropology, Vol. 34, No. 5 (Dec., 1993), pp. 745-765.

Research on the vertebrate faunas from MDH and  DDM is still in progress, but preliminary identifications  suggest a wide diversity of mammals, birds, reptiles, gastropods, and fish. The presence of bison, elephant, and hippopotamus in these contexts lends support to the idea of a moister climate than today’s.  Many of the animal bones are charred, most are recovered from hearths, and many yield evidence of cut marks. Taken together, these observations point to the  importance of meat in the diet. This interpretation is  counterbalanced, however, by the fact that querns and  grinding stones are among the most frequently found  stone objects at MDH and DDM, attesting to the dietary  significance of gathered wild grains and roots.

Caries prevalence is dramatically greater at Harappa. The key differences are attributable to the tendency for the Gangetic Plains samples to show severe dental wear, dental abscessing and antemortem tooth  loss attributable to wear rather than caries, a greater  prevalence of calculus (reflecting higher meat consumption), and a greater prevalence of alveolar resorption resulting from heavy masticatory stress in combination with calculus deposition.

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Scriptural citations re: beef eating in ancient India.

Copied for my record from here:


But the theory that in Vedic times there was no cow slaughter is historically inaccurate. Although cow was revered and treated as sacred, it was also offered as food to guests and persons of high status. The fact remains that ancient Hindu scriptures clearly permit the consumption of meat, even of cows. True scholars, and not modern frauds, know this. For example, Swami Vivekananda who is considered as a major force in the revival of Hinduism in modern India, admitted that ancient Hindus used to eat meat. He says,

"You will be astonished if I tell you that, according to the old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat beef. On certain occasions he must sacrifice a bull and eat it."

[The complete works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 3, Pg 536]

In the same volume on page 174 he says,

"There was a time in this very India when, without eating beef, no Brahmin could remain a Brahmin;"

Let us now look at the evidence from Hindu texts, which proves that Hinduism not only permits beef eating but also requires its folowers to institute certain cow sacrifices. I will simultaneously refute the common arguments of Hindus.

Yajna and animal sacrifices

In Hinduism, Yajna is a ritual of sacrifice derived from the practice of Vedic times. It is performed to please the gods or to attain certain wishes. A Vedic yajna is typically performed by an adhvaryu priest, with a number of additional priests such as the hotar, udgatar playing a major role, next to their dozen helpers, by reciting or singing Vedic verses. How to deal with the animal, that is to be sacrificed in the Yajna, be it a goat, a horse or a cow, is mentioned in the Aitareya Brahman of the Rigveda as follows:


"6. …Turn the animal's feet northwards. Make its eyes go to the Sun, dismiss its breath to the wond, its life to the space, its hearing to the directions, its body to the earth. In this way the Hotar (priest) connets it with these world. Take of the entire skin without cutting it. Before opening the navel tear out the omentum. Stop its breathing within (by stopping its mouth). Thus the Hotar puts breath in the animals. Make of its breast a piece like an eagle, of its arms (two pieces like) two hatchets, of its forearms (two pieces like) two spikes, of its shoulders (two pieces like) two kashyapas (tortoises), its loins should be unbroken (entire); make of its thigs (two pieces like) two shields, of the two kneepans (two pieces like) two oleander leaves; take out its twenty-six ribs according to their order; preserve every limb of its in its integrity. Thus he benefits all its limbs. Dig a ditch in the earth to hide its excrements.

7. Present the evil spirits with the blood."

[Aitareya Brahman, Book 2, para 6 and 7]

Subsequently, the same Aitareya Brahman instructing on how to distribute different parts of the sacrificial animal says,


"Now follows the division of the different parts of the sacrificial animal (among the priests). We shall describe it. The two jawbones with the tongue are to be given to the Prastotar; the breast in the form of an eagle to the Udgatar; the throat with the palate to the Pratihartar; the lower part of the right loins to the Hotar; the left to the Brahma; the right thigh to the Maitravaruna; the left to the Brahmanuchhamsi; the right side with the shoulder to the Adhvaryu; the left side to those who accompany the chants; the left shoulder to the Pratipasthatar; the lower part of the right arm to the Neshtar; the lower part of the left arm to the Potar; the upper part of the right thigh to the Achhavaka; the left to the Agnidhra; the upper part of the right arm to the Aitreya; the left to the Sadasya; the back bone and the urinal bladder to the Grihapati (sacrificer); the right feet to the Grihapati who gives a feasting; the left feet to the wife of that Grihapati who gives a feasting; the upper lip is common to both, which is to be divided by the Grihapati. They offer the tail of the animal to wives, but they should give it to a Brahmana; the fleshy processes (maanihah) on the neck and three gristles (kikasaah) to the Grahvastut; three other gristles and one half of the fleshy part on the back (vaikartta) to the Unnetar; the other half of the fleshy part on the neck and the left lobe (Kloma) to the Slaughterer (Shamita), who should present it to a Brahmana, if he himself would not happen to be a Brahmana. The head is to be given to the Subrahmanya, the skin belongs to him (the Subrahmanya), who spoke, Svaah Sutyam (to morrow at the Soma Sacriice); that part of the sacrificial animal at a Soma sacrifice which beloings to Ilaa (sacrificial food) is common to all the priests; only for the Hotar it is optional.

All these portions of the sacrificial animal amount to thirty-six single pieces, each of which represents the paada (foot) of a verse by which the sacrifice is carried up…"

"To those who divide the sacrificial animal in the way mentioned, it becomes the guide to heaven (Swarga). But those who make the division otherwise are like scoundrels and miscreants who kill an animal merely."

"This division of the sacrificial animal was invented by Rishi Devabhaaga, a son of Srauta. When he was departing from this life, he did not entrust (the secret to anyone). But a supernatural being communicated it to Girija,the son of Babhru. Since his time men study it."

[Aitareya Brahman, Book 7, Para 1, Translated by Martin Haug]

I have come across certain bigots among Hindus, who make the excuse that these are the translations of a non-Hindu European scholar with 'ulterior motives'. This is a common response of  half-baked Hindus, who have negligible knowledge of Hindu scriptures. To establish the authenticity of the above translations, I will produce before you passages from the 'Purva Mimamsa Sutras' of Jaimini, its commentary called 'Shabarbhasya' and the views of renowned Arya Samaj scholar, Pandit Yudhishthira Mimamsak on them.

It must be noted that the Purva Mimamsa Sutras (compiled between 300-200 BCE), written by Rishi Jaimini is one of the most important ancient Hindu philosophical texts. It forms the basis of Mimamsa, the earliest of the six orthodox schools (darshanas) of Indian philosophy.

Commenting on Purv Mimansa Sutra Adhyaya 3, Pada 6, Sutra 18, the Shabarbhasya says,

???? ? ?????????- ???????, ??????, ???????? ????, ???? ????????, ????????, ?????????????????

There are also certain details to be performed in connection with the animals, such as (a) Upaakaranam [Touching the animal with the two mantras], (b) Upaanayanam [Bringing forward], (c) Akshanyaa-bandhah [Tying with a rope], (d) Yoope niyojanam [Fettering to the Sacrificial Post], (e) Sanjnapanam [Suffocating to death], (f) Vishasanam [Dissecting], and so forth.

[Shabhar bhashya on Mimamsa Sutra 3/6/18; translated by Ganganath Jha]

Expounding on this, Arya Samaj scholar, Pandit Yudhisthira Mimamsak writes in is 'Mimamsa Shabar Bhashyam'

"In this case and otherwise it appears from the Jaimini Sutras that the offering of sacrificed animals is to be made in the Yajnas. It is clearly mentioned in the Mimamsa Sutrs." 

[Mimamsa Shabharbhasyam, adhyaya 3, Page 1014]

Moving on let us see Mimamsadarshan Sutra 3/7/28 which says,

????? ? ??????????

The 'Shamita' (slaughterer of the animal) is not distinct from the major priests.

Commenting on it the Shabarbhashya says,

?????? ????????? ???????? ? ?????? ??? ?????????? ??????? ???? ????????? ??????

"The liver and the upper quarter belongs to the Shamita Priest ; one should give it to a Brahmana if he be a non-Brahmana."

[Shabhar bhasya on Mimamsa Sutra 3/7/28; translated by Ganganath Jha]

Notice that this is exactly the same things that we saw was said in Aitareya Brahman Book 7; Para 1 above (the highlighted part). This proves that Shabarbhashya is confirming the Aitareya Brahman and the translation is also accurate.

Pandit Yudhisthira Mimamsak also confirms this when he says,

"The division of the meat of the sacrificed animal as instructed in the Aitareya Brahman clearly proves that during the time of the writing of Aitareya Brahman and the time when it was edited by Saunaka, animals were sacrificed in the Yajnas and their meat was consumed by the Brahmins"

Some half-baked Hindus who like to play games might try to call all these references as later interpolations. However, the scholar Yudhisthir Mimamsak outrightly rejects such a bogus conclusion when he says,

"There is no strong evidence to consider these passages as later interpolations."

[Mimamsa Shabarbhashyam by Yudhishthir Mimamsak Adhyaya 3, Page 1075]

Further in Mimamsa Sutra 3/8/43 it is mentioned,

????? ?? ????????? ????????????

"Only the 'Savaniya' cakes should consist of flesh"

All these passages prove that the flesh of the sacrificed animal was consumed as per the instructions of the Hindu texts.

Refuting the modern Hindu polemic of 'No violence in Yajna'

Hindu Argument (quoted from a Hindu apologetics website)

Yajna never meant animal sacrifice in the sense popularly understood. Yajna in the Vedas meant a noble deed or the highest purifying action.

Adhvara iti Yajnanaama – Dhvaratihimsaakarmaa tatpratishedhah
Nirukta 2.7

According to Yaaska Acharya, one of the synonyms of Yajna in Nirukta or the Vedic philology is Adhvara.

Dhvara means an act with himsa or violence. And therefore a-dhvara means an act involving no himsa or no violence. There are a large number of such usage of Adhvara in the Vedas.


This argument is incorrect because the word 'Adhvar' has been misplaced and interpreted incompletely. Yaska is merely giving the etymology of the word 'Adhvar' and not where it is to be applied and what constitutes violence. To know the true application of the word 'Adhvar' we will have to turn to Shatapath Brahman, which gives the complete understanding of why 'Yajna' is called 'Adhvar'. Shatapath Brahman 1/4/1/40 says,

dev?nha vai yajñena yajam?n??tsapatn?
asur? dudh?r??? cakruste dudh?r?anta eva na ?ekurdh?rvitu? te
par?babh?vustasm?dyajño adhvaro n?ma


"For once when the gods were engaged in sacrificing, their rivals, the Asuras, wished to injure (dhvar) them; but, though desirous of injuring them, they were unable to injure them and were foiled: for this reason the sacrifice is called adhvara ('not damaged, uninterrupted')."

Thus the argument of the polemicist turns out to be a deception aimed at fooling those who have no access to the original texts. The passage of Shatapath Brahman makes it clear that 'Adhvar' is called so because the priests performing the Yajna did not become victims of violence. It has no connection to the violence of the animals done in the Yajna.

Renowned classical commentator of the four Vedas, Sayana Acharya, also gives the same reason for calling Yajna as 'Adhvar'. He says in his comments on Rigveda 1/1/4,

?????? ??????????? ????????? ?????? ?????? ????? ?????????? ???????? ????????

"Adhvar is called 'without violence' because being protected by Agni on all sides it is uninterrupted by Rakshashas or violent enemies, who are unable to mar it."

Again we see that Acharya Sayan expresses the same view as that of the Shatapath Brahman i.e the violence referred in the 'adhvar' is not for the sacrificial animal in the Yajna.

Renowned Hindu scholar, Swami Prabhupada explains the so-called violence in the Yajna in the following words,

“Although animal killing in a sacrifice is recommended in the Vedic literature, the animal is not considered to be killed. The sacrifice is to give a new life to the animal. Sometimes the animal is given a new animal life after being killed in the sacrifice, and sometimes the animal is promoted immediately to the human form of life.”

[Bhagavad Gita As It Is 18/3]

Even Manu Smriti echoes the same opinion in a more clear way in Chapter 5, verse 39 when it says,


"Svayambhu (the Self-existent) himself created animals for the sake of sacrifices; sacrifices (have been instituted) for the good of this whole (world); hence the slaughtering (of beasts) for sacrifices is not slaughtering (in the ordinary sense of the word)."

Again Manu Smriti Chapter 5, verse 44 says


"Know that the injury to moving creatures and to those destitute of motion, which the Veda has prescribed for certain occasions, is no injury at all; for the sacred law shone forth from the Veda."

Thus, this argument stands nullified. For more scholarly explanation that the violence of animals in the Yajna is actually no violence please see the last section of this article namely 'The testimony of classical scholars'.

Animal sacrifices in Vedas, including cow sacrifice

Chapter 24 of the Shukla Yajurveda is a unique chapter that will help us throw light on the animal sacrifices in the Vedas. This chapter contains an exact enumeration of animals that are to be tied to the sacrificial stakes, with the names of the deities to which they are dedicated. Several of the animals cannot be identified. This entire chapter is a weird puzzle, which is difficult to solve for the  modern vegetarian Hindus. They are simply unable to explain the coherent meaning of this chapter. You will be amazed to know that even a Vedic scholar like Swami Dayanand is unable to throw any light on it. He merely says that we should know the  qualities of each animal by relating to the qualities of the deity to whom they are dedicated.  This statement of the Swami is itself a puzzle, as it gives no clear beneficial knowledge to us. Even Pandit Devi Chand, an Arya Samaj scholar, who based his English translation of the Yajurveda on Swami Dayanand's work is clueless about the exact meaning of this chapter. He says in  the footnote to verse #1,

"The exact significance of these animals being attached to the forces of nature (or Deities) is not clear to me." (words in brackets  mine)

Does this mean that no Hindu scholar for thousands of years has been able to understand the meaning of this chapter? I would say that is not the case. If we go to the Brahmanas and the classical commentators of the Vedas, the puzzle is solved. According to them each animal dedicated to a particular diety in this chapter has to be sacrificed to that deity. See Shatapath Brahmana 13/2/2/1-10

If this view is not accepted as the correct one, then every verse of this chapter would be a question mark with no answer.  For example, verse 1 dedicates 'a cow that slips her calf' to Indra. But the question is, what will Indra do with such a cow? Is Indra going to give a sermon to her? or is Indra going to punish her? Such questions require satisfactory answers which modern vegetarian Hindus are unable to provide.

In the Yajnas meant for obtaining Rice, meat of bulls was cooked and offered to the diety.

 Rigveda 10/28/3 mentions this as

??????? ?? ?????? ?????? ????? ????????? ????? ????? ??????? |

?????? ?? ??????????? ????? ???????? ??????? ??????? ||

"Your worshippers express with the stone fast flowing exhilarating Soma-juices for you. You drink them. They roast bulls for you, you eat them when you are invoked, Maghavan, to the sacrificial food."

This is interpreted by Sayana Acharya as follows:

"You (O Indra), eat the cattle offered as oblations belonging to the worshippers who cook them for you."

Acharya Sayana explicitly mentions about sacrificing a bull in the introduction to Atharvaveda 9/4/1 as follows


"The Brahman after killing the bull, offers its meat to the different deities. In this hymn, the bull is praised, detailing which parts of the bull are attached to which deity as well as the importance of sacrificing the bull and the rewards of doing the same."

The Ashwamedha Yajna

The 'Practical Sanskrit English Dictionary' by V. S. Apte (1890) gives the following meaning of 'Ashwa-medha'

????? ????????? ??????? ???????? ????

"A Yajna in which a Horse is primarily sacrificed is called Ashwamedha. [A Horse Sacrifice]"

The dictionary further goes on to say

"In Vedic times this sacrifice was performed by kings desirous of offspring."

This statement is right when we turn to Shatapath Brahman 13/1/9/9.

To give readers a brief idea of Ashwamedha Yajna, I will briefly mention the entire ritual based on Hindu texts like Katyayana Srauta Sutra, Apastamba Sutra, etc; but I will not mention the obscene portion of the Ashwamedha ritual as it is irrelevant with the topic at hand.

The horse to be sacrificed is sprinkled with water, and the Adhvaryu and the sacrificer whisper mantras into its ear. Anyone who should stop the horse is ritually cursed, and a dog is killed symbolic of the punishment for the sinners. The horse is then set loose towards the North-East, to roam around wherever it chooses, for the period of one year (or half a year, according to some commentators). The horse is associated with the Sun, and its yearly course. If the horse wanders into neighbouring provinces hostile to the sacrificer, they must be subjugated. The wandering horse is attended by a hundred young men, sons of princes or high court officials, charged with guarding the horse from all dangers and inconvenience. During the absence of the horse, an uninterrupted series of ceremonies is performed in the sacrificer's home.

After the return of the horse, more ceremonies are performed. I HAVE OMITTED THE OBSCENE PORTION OF THIS YAJNA IN THIS ARTICLE. Those who wish to read them can see Shukla Yajurveda Chapter 23; verses 19-31 and the commentary of classical scholars.

After this, the horse, a hornless he-goat, a wild ox are bound to sacrificial stakes near the fire, and seventeen other animals are attached to the horse. A great number of animals, both tame and wild, are tied to other stakes, according to a commentator 609 in total (Yajurveda, chapter 24 consists of an exact enumeration).

Then the horse is slaughtered. The horse is dissected, and its flesh roasted. Various parts are offered to a host of deities. Prayers are made for wealth, offspring and body strength.

In Rigveda, the clearest mention of Ashwamedha is made in Mandal 1 Sookt 162.  I will be quoting those verses of this hymn which directly prove that a horse was sacrificed and consumed. As we have already read the passages of Aitareya Brahman concerning the method of sacrificing the animal and distributing its meat, the following passages of the Rigveda will be easier to comprehend.

 Rigveda 1/162/3 says,

?? ???? ???? ?????? ?????? ?????? ???? ????? ??????????? |

????????? ?? ????????????? ?????????? ????????? ??????? ||

This goat, the portion of Pushan, fit for all the gods, is brought first with the fleet courser, so that Twashtri may prepare him along with the horse, as an acceptable preliminary offering for the (sacrificial) food.

Simultaneous Hindi Translation and Commentary:

Next verse 1/162/4 says,

?? ??????? ????? ??????? ???????????? ???????? ?????? |

????? ?????? ????? ??? ??? ????? ???????? ????????????? ||

'When the priests at the season (of this ceremony) lead forth the horse, the offering devoted to the gods, thrice round the (sacrificial fire) ; then the goat, the portion of Pushan (or Agni), goes first, announcing the sacrifice to the gods.'

That is, the goat is first sacrificed and then the horse.

Simultaneous Hindi Translation and Commentary:

Verse 9 says,

???????? ??????? ???????? ?? ?? ???? ?????? ?????????? |

?? ??????? ????????? ????? ????? ?? ?? ??? ??????????? ||

Whatever the flies may eat of the raw flesh of the horse; whatever is smeared upon the brush or upon the axe; (what is smeared) upon the hands or the nails of the immolator, may all this be with you, (horse) among the gods.

Here we clearly see that the belief of the Vedic people was that horse was not actually dying. It was rather going to the world of the gods to enjoy a much better life, quite similar to the explanation given by Swami Prabhupada above.

Simultaneous Hindi Translation and Commentary:

Verse 10 says,

???????????????????? ? ????? ?????? ????? ????? |

???????? ?????????? ??????????? ???? ???????? ?????? ||

Whatever undigested grass fall from his belly whatever particle of raw flesh may remain;let the immolators make the whole world free from defect, and so cook the pure (offering) that it may be perfectly dressed.

Simultaneous Hindi Translation and Commentary:

verse 11 says,

?? ?? ????????????? ??????????? ???? ?????????????? |

?? ?? ???????? ????? ?? ??????? ??????????????????? ???????? ||

Whatever (portion) of your slaughtered body fall from your carcase when it is being roasted by the fire, (escaping) from the spit; let it not be left on the ground, nor on the (sacred) grass, but let it (all) be given to the longing gods.

Simultaneous Hindi Translation and Commentary:

verse 12 says,

?? ?????? ??????????? ????? ? ?????? ???????????????? |

?? ??????? ???????????????? ??? ???????????????? ?????? ||

Let their exertions be for our good who watch the cooking of the horse; who say, it is fragrant; therefore give us some; who solicit the flesh of the horse as alms.

Simultaneous Hindi Translation and Commentary:

verse 21, addressing the horse says,

? ?? ? ??? ?????? ? ??????? ?????????? ?????? ??????? |

??? ?? ?????? ?????? ?????????????? ???? ???? ??????? ||

Verily at this moment you do not die; nor are you harmed; for you go by auspicious paths to the gods. The horses of Indra, the steeds of the Maruts shall be yoked (to their cars), and a courser shall be placed in the shaft of the ass of the Ashwins (to bear you to heaven).

Again, this verse explicitly proves the belief of the Vedic people that the sacrificial horse did not actually die but was trasported to noble heavenly worlds.

Simultaneous Hindi Translation and Commentary:

After finishing all the rites of the sacrifice, prayers were made for wealth, male offspring and bodily strength as is revealed by verse 22.

??????? ?? ???? ???????? ????? ????????? ?????????? ???? |

??????????? ?? ?????? ??????? ?????? ?? ????? ????? ???????? ||

May this horse bring to us all-sustaining wealth, with abundance of cows, of excellent horses, and of male offspring: may the spirited steed bring us exemption from wickedness: may this horse, offered in oblation, procure for us bodily vigour.

Simultaneous Hindi Translation and Commentary:

This hymn would be nonsense if the horse was not really killed and cooked. That the horse was to be actually immolated and that the body was cut up into fragments is clear ; that these fragments were dressed, partly boiled, and partly roasted, is also undisputable ; and although the expressions may be differently understood, yet there is little reason to doubt that part of the flesh was eaten by the assistants, part presented as a burnt offering to the gods.

Refuting Hindu polemics concerning Ashwamedha

Hindu Argument (quoted from a Hindu apologetics website)

The biggest accusation of cattle and cow slaughter comes in the context of the Yajnas that derived their names from different cattle like the Ashwamedh Yajna, the Gomedha Yajna and the Nar-medh Yajna. Even by the wildest stretch of the imagination the word Medha would not mean slaughter in this context.

It’s interesting to note what Yajurveda says about a horse
Imam ma himsirekashafam pashum kanikradam vaajinam vaajineshu
Yajurveda 13.48

Do not slaughter this one hoofed animal that neighs and who goes with a speed faster than most of the animals.

Aswamedha does not mean horse sacrifice at Yajna. Instead the Yajurveda clearly mentions that a horse ought not to be slaughtered.

In Shathapatha, Ashwa is a word for the nation or empire

The word medha does not mean slaughter. It denotes an act done in accordance to the intellect Alternatively it could mean consolidation, as evident from the root meaning of medha i.e. medhru san-ga-me

Raashtram vaa ashwamedhah
Annam hi gau
Agnirvaa ashwah
Aajyam medhah


Even this argument is not upto the mark.  The tactic used by the Hindu apologists here is quoting only part of a verse (Yajurveda 13.48) and ignoring the rest; thus, attempting to mislead the gullible. Doing so gives a completely different picture that Vedas are instructing people not to kill a horse.

Firstly, we need to ascertain that who is this mantra being spoken to? Is it a legal prohibition or a prayer? Is this general or specific? Let us read the full mantra.


"O Agni, don't harm this one-hoofed beautiful horse, swifter than most animals. I point out to you the wild rhinoceros. Let the wild rhinocerous be harmed by you. Let the enemy whom we hate be harmed by you."

As you can see this is actually a prayer by a selfish person asking his firegod Agni not to harm his own horses but to harm the wild animals, in this case a rhinocerous. So this verse is not a legal prohibition from killing horses. It is also prayer for the welfare of one's own animals as every animal owner will naturally do. For example, there are many shepherds who pray to God to protect their cattle from undue harm so that he can sell them or kill them for food and thus they do not go waste. This prayer is on the same lines and thus cannot be taken as a prohibition of slaughtering horses.

altThe next argument that Ashwa means a nation or empire, in the reference to Shatapath Brahman is also incorrect. For example, we all know that water is essential for the existence of life on this planet. But in many campaigns to prevent the wastage of water, we find slogans like 'Water is Life'. Does this make the meaning of water to be life or the meaning of life to be water? Not at all. It is a mode of speech where figuratively water and life are equated to establish the importance of water. Similarly, in Vedic times, the horse-sacrifice was considered essential for a strong empire so much that it was equated to the nation itself. Performance of this sacrifice depicted the royal granduer. But the meaning of Ashwa can thus never become a nation. To claim so is ignorance.

If we read the quoted Brahman (13.1.63) further, it clearly differentiates between a nation and the ashwamedha by saying, "let him who holds royal sway perform the ashwamedha".

A counter example to further nullify this argument will come from the same Shatapath Brahman. Who does not know that the Sacrifice (Yajna) and the Sacrificer (Yajmaan) are two different things. Yet Rishi Yajnavalkya says in Shatapath Brahman 13:2:2:1

Yajmaano Yajna

meaning the 'Sacriice is the Sacrificer'. This mode of speech is very common in the Brahmanas. Only a person with the intention of twisting the meanings does not reveal this. Seeing all these evidences this argument of the Hindtuva polemicist also turns out to be false.

The final blow to this argument comes from the historical narratives of Mahabharata and Ramayana, where Hindus are clearly shown sacrificing a horse and other animals including cows.

The Ashwamedha Parv of Mahabharata, section 89, shlokas 1-5 says

1 [?]

???????? ???? ?????? ?????? ???????????

????? ?? ??????????? ?????? ????????

2 ??? ????????? ????? ?????? ??????????

????????? ????? ??? ??? ????????????

?????? ?????? ???? ??????? ?????????

3 ???????? ?? ???? ???? ??????????? ??????????

?????? ???? ????????? ????????? ???????

4 ?? ??? ???????? ?? ???????? ???????

????????? ????????? ????????????? ???

5 ????????? ??????? ????? ???? ??????????? ??????

????? ????? ??????? ????? ??????? ????????????

Vaisampayana said, 'Having cooked, according to due rites, the other excellent animals that were sacrificed, the priests then sacrificed, agreeably to the injunctions of the scriptures, that steed (which had wandered over the whole world). After cutting that horse into pieces, conformably to scriptural directions, they caused Draupadi of great intelligence, who was possessed of the three requisites of mantras, things, and devotion, to sit near the divided animal. The Brahmanas then with cool minds, taking up the marrow of that steed, cooked it duly, O chief of Bharata's race. King Yudhishthira the just, with all his younger brothers, then smelled, agreeably to the scriptures, the smoke, capable of cleansing one from every sin, of the marrow that was thus cooked. The remaining limbs, O king, of that horse, were poured into the fire by the sixteen sacrificial priests possessed of great wisdom.

Meat Eating in Vedas including Cow meat

The Sanskrit word for meat is 'Maamsam'. Yaska Acharya's Nirukt 4:3 says 'Maamsam maananam va' (????? ????? ??) and 'Maanasam va' (????? ??). The meaning of the former is 'it is honoured', while the later means 'it is thought'. Durga Acharya, the most important classical commentator of Yaska's Nirukt, explains the phrase 'Maamsam maananam va' to mean, "It is prepared for a person who is honoured". Explaining the phrase 'Maanasam va' he says, "It is enjoyed by a person with hearty pleasure or by those who are intelligent'.

So we see that the very sanskrit word for meat is actually a permission for meat eating.

Atharvaveda 18/4/20 mentions the following.


Rich in cakes, rich in flesh, let the dish (charu) take seat here; to the world-makers, the road-makers, do we sacrifice, whoever of you are here, sharing in the oblation of the gods.

verse 42 of the same hymn reads.


The mingled draught, the mess of rice, the flesh which I present to you, May these be full of food for you, distilling fatness, rich in sweets.

The serving of meat to the guests is confirmed by Shatapath Brahman 3/4/1/2 which says,


Now as to why it is called 'guest-offering.' He, the purchased Soma, truly comes as his (the sacrificer's) guest,–to him (is offered) that (hospitable reception): even as for a king or a Brâhman one would cook a large ox or a large he-goat–for that is human (fare offered to a guest), and the oblation is that of the gods–so he prepares for him that guest-offering.

Goghna- the guest for whom a cow is killed

Literally the word 'Goghna' means a killer of cows. However in the ancient Indian context it has a unique application. The word 'Goghna' occurs in ancient Indian Grammarian Panini's book Ashtadhyayi. He mentions in Ashtadyayi 3/4/73

????????? ?????????

"The words 'daasa' and 'goghna' are irregularly formed and the affix in these denotes the idea of the Dative or Recipient."

 What does Panini mean that the word 'goghna' denotes the idea of recipient? He intends to say that in popular usage 'goghna' does not mean 'the killer of cow' but 'he on whose coming the cow is killed in order to give him, that is to say, a guest'. It is this irregularly formed word 'goghna' which is made applicable to the priests, guests, sons-in-law, and not the regularly formed word 'goghna' which means 'a killer of a cow'.

Thus guests in ancient India were called 'goghna', because on their coming a cow was slaughtered to be served to them.

This is exactly the explanation given in the 14th century grammar book Siddhanta Kaumudi by Pandit Bhattoji Dikshit. This book is taught to university level students across India for learning sanskrit grammar. In it, the sutra of Panini ????????? ????????? is explained in the 'Uttarkradant' chapter as follows:

??? ???? ????? ??????.??????

For it a cow is slaughtered; a guest is called 'goghna'

Almost similar definition of 'goghna' is provided by the Vedic commentator Acharya Sayana in his book Maadhaviya dhaatuvrittih. He writes

????????? ????? ?????? ? ?????? ??????

"A person for whom a cow is slaughtered, is known as 'goghna' and 'atithi' (guest)."

Thus it is clear that in ancient India, cows were slaughtered for honouring the guests.

Refuting the Hindu polemic of cow being called 'Aghnya'

Many Hindus trying to somehow hide these clear evidences give some lame arguments. One common argument is that a cow in Vedic literature is called 'Aghnya' meaning 'not fit to be killed' and therefore a cow cannot in any way be killed. Let us address this argument.

Hindu Argument

Not only the Vedas are against animal slaughter but also vehemently oppose and prohibit cow slaughter.Yajurveda forbids killing of cows, for they provide energizing food for human beings

Ghrtam duhaanaamaditim janaayaagne maa himsiheeh
Yajurveda 13.49

Do not kill cows and bulls who always deserve to be protected.

In Rigveda cow slaughter has been declared a heinous crime equivalent to human murder and it has been said that those who commits this crime should be punished.
Sooyavasaad bhagavatee hi bhooyaa atho vayam bhagvantah syaama
Addhi trnamaghnye vishwadaaneem piba shuddhamudakamaacharantee
Rigveda 1.164.40 or Atharv 7.73.11 or Atharv 9.10.20

The Aghnya cows – which are not to be killed under any circumstances– may keep themselves healthy by use of pure water and green grass, so that we may be endowed with virtues, knowledge and wealth.


As with the previous arguments, this argument also has serious shortcomings. We've already dealt with Yajurveda 13/48 and seen that it wasn't a legal prohibition against killing a horse. Similarly, this verse also is a prayer to protect one's cows. Let me post before you the full mantra to demonstrate my position.


"O Agni, don't harm this our cow, the giver of thousands of comforts, the source of immense milk, yielding butter for the people.  I point out to you the forest cow. Let the wild forest cow be harmed by you. Let the enemy whom we hate be harmed by you."

Again we see, as in verse 48, that there is no legal prohibition in this verse on killing a cow for food. It is a prayer being made to the fire god Agni to protect one's cows from undue harm due to the wrath of the fire god.All cowherds in the world pray to their own god to keep their cows safe from harm, so that they can sell their milk and other dairy products and earn profit. This does not mean that certain cows cannot be killed for food. To say so will be just an assumption.  If this verse was about prohibiting killing of cows, why would it talk about killing the forest cow? Anyone who would read the complete verse will realize that this verse cannot be taken as a prohibition for killing cows. That is why the Hindu polemicists never give the complete verse to their audience.

The next argument was that in the Vedas, a cow is called 'Aghnya' meaning 'not fit to be killed'. By this argument they try to establish that as per the Vedas cows are not to be killed. This is again a flawed argument as even according to the cultures who have beef for food know that certain cows are not fit to be killed who bring more profit through dairy products; but there are also cows who do not give much profit and thus are fit to be killed.  Even the Vedic references where a cow is called 'Aghnya' cannot in any way be generalized for all the cows. 

Consider the following mantra from Rigveda 1/164/27.

??????????? ???????? ?????? ??????????? ??????????? |

?????????????? ??? ????????? ? ??????? ???? ?????? ||

"Making the 'hin' sound, the treasure queen, desiring the calf of treasures with her mind, has approached. Let this cow (aghnya) yield milk for the two Asvins, and may she grow for greater prosperity"

This mantra is speaking about a particular cow which gives milk to the Asvins, the divine twin horsemen in the Rigveda. Again it is not a legal prohibition, but rather is a prayer to yiled milk for the Asvins. Moreover, classical Hindu commentators like Acharya Sayana interpret this verse and the one before it i.e. verse 26 in terms of metaphors of clouds, rain and the earth. He opines that the cow may be the rain cloud, the milk being the rain and the milker Vaayu, the god of wind who causes it to flow. The calf is the world longing for the rain to fall.

Thus, it will be incorrect to insist that this verse is speaking about all cows in the world, referring to them as 'Aghnya'. In order for anything to be prohibited it should be stated explicitly and without any ambiguity, This is the basis of all law. However, nothing on the lines of prohibition can be deduced from this verse and other verses where the word 'Aghnya' exists.

But this one more important point I wish to share with regards to the meaning of the word 'Aghnya'. I agree that a meaning of 'Aghnya' is 'not fit to be killed', however, this does not tell us the entire story. According to Yaska Acharya's Nirukt, the word has two meanings as follows:


Aghnya means 'not fit to be killed' or 'destroyer of sins'

Thus, we see why all the noise is being made on the first meaning of the word i.e. 'not fit to be killed'; while the second meaning i.e. 'destroyer of sins' is being completely brushed under the carpet. This is a clear proof of intellectual dishonesty. Applying the second meaning to the verses where the word 'Aghnya' appears in the Vedas appears to be a more appealing prospect. Let us now read Rigveda 1/164/40 with this very meaning:

??????? ????? ?? ???? ??? ??? ??????? ???? |

????? ??????????? ?????????? ??? ????????????????? ||

"O Aghnya (destroyer of sins), may you be rich in milk through abundant fodder; that we also may be rich (in abundance); eat grass at all seasons, and roaming (at will), drink pure water."

Notice that now this verse speaks nothing about not killing cows. A cow may be called 'destroyer of sins' due to the very fact that it was sacrificed as a burnt offering for cleansing a person's sins. This is not a far fetched conclusion. However, the primary point is that in no terms in this verse and other verses like it implying any prohibition of cow slaughter. Even if 'Aghnya' is taken to mean 'not fit to be killed', it can only be taken to mean a particular kind of cow.

Thus, this argument also is not valid.

Some Hindus still try to show more mantras. which according to them, prohibit the killing of cows. However, when we look at those mantras, we find that they are again quoted out of context. One most commonly used mantra of that sort is Atharvaveda 1/16/4 which says,


"If you destroy a cow of ours, a human being, or a steed, We pierce you with this piece of lead so that you may not slay our men."

Even on a simple reading of this mantra, one cannot conlude that it is prohibiting killing cows for food. It is a merely threat for the enemies to not kill any cow, horse or people of the Vedic people so as to cause loss to them. For example, we know that chicken are bred in poultry farms so that they can later be sold in the market and people can consume them as food. Any owner of such a farm knows this. But still, if someone would want to harm his chicken unnecessarily, it would mean loss of wealth for him. As such he is ready to take protective action and ensure the safety of his chicken. He makes sure that no one steals any chicken from his farm to kill them, even though chicken are meant for food. So, he will ensure that such theieves are punished. Also, there is threat from many animals who might eat the chicken when he is unaware. For that he even kills the harmful animals to save his chicken. Consider that chicken owner saying, "if anyone will harm MY chicken, I will punish him". Will the Hindutvavadis interpret his statement to mean that the chicken are not meant to be eaten? No. That would be totally ridiculous.

Similarly, in the verse of Atharvaveda, it is a threat of punishment for those who harm the cattle of Aryans. It is in no way a prohibition on slaughtering a cow for food. Considering all the evidences presented in this article, insisting that cows and other animals are not meant for food will be illogical.

Other evidences of beef eating

Brihadaranyak Upanishad 6/4/18 suggests a 'super-scientific' way of giving birth to a super intelligent child. It says,


"If a man wishes that a son should be born to him who will be a famous scholar, frequenting assemblies and speaking delightful words, a student of all the Vedas and an enjoyer of the full term of life, he should have rice cooked with the meat of a young bull or of one more advanced in years and he and his wife should eat it with clarified butter. Then they should be able to beget such a son."

Some Hindutvavadis try to play tricks even here by trying to twist the translation of few words like 'Auksha' and 'Aarshabh". They say they refer to certain medicinal plants and not a bull. To refute them, we are fortunate to have available the most ancient commentary on this mantra by none other than Adi Shankaracharya, revered by Hindus as the reviver of Hinduism in India and finishing off Buddhism and Jainism. Commenting on this verse he writes,

?????????????? ?????????. ?????????????????? – ?????? ?? ??????. ????? ?????????? ???????????? ??????. ?????????.????????????? ?????????? ??????.

"Odan' (rice) mixed with meat is called 'Mansodan'. On being asked whose meat it should be, he answers 'Uksha'. 'Uksha' is used for an ox, which is capable to produce semen. Or the meat should be of a 'Rishabh'. 'Rishabh' is a bull more advanced in years than an 'Uksha'."

Thus people trying to twist the mantras have no ground to stand on except deceit and fraud. This verse of Brihadaranyak Upanishad is clearly encouraging the eating of beef.

Animal Sacrifices in Mahabharata

The Anushasan Parv (Book 13); section 88 mentions many animal sacrifices which are can be done to please the Pitris (fathers). I will quote the significant sholkas

1 [?]
      ??? ???? ????? ???????? ?? ????? ?????? ?????

      ??? ???? ?????????? ??? ????????? ??????

"Yudhishthira said, 'O you of great puissance, tell me what that object is which, if dedicated to the Pitris, becomes inexhaustible! What Havi (oblation), again, (if offered) lasts for all time? What, indeed, is that which (if presented) becomes eternal?'"


5 ??? ???? ?? ???? ??????? ???????? ????????? ?

   ???? ????? ?????????? ???????????? ???? ??

6 ???? ????? ???????? ?????? ????? ???

   ??????? ?? ?? ????? ???? ?? ??????? ??

7 ????? ????? ???????? ?????? ???? ??

   ?????? ?? ?????? ??????? ???? ?? ??????

8 ????? ????? ?????? ??????? ??????? ??

   ?????? ????? ??????? ?? ???????? ????????

9 ??? ????? ????????? ????? ??????? ??

   ??????????? ?????? ??????? ????? ????????

10 ????????? ???? ????? ????????? ?????????

   ??????? ? ???? ????? ???????? ??? ??????

Bhishma said, "With fishes offered at Sraddhas, the Pitris remain gratified for a period of two months. With mutton they remain gratified for three months and with the flesh of the hare for four. With the flesh of the goat, O king, they remain gratified for five months, with bacon for six months, and with the flesh of birds for seven. With venison obtained from those deer that are called Prishata, they remain gratified for eight months, and with that obtained from the Ruru for nine months, and with the meat of the Gavaya for ten months. With the meat of the buffalo their gratification lasts for eleven months. With beef presented at the Sraddha, their gratification, it is said, lasts for a full year. Payasa mixed with ghee is as much acceptable to the Pitris as beef. With the meat of the Vadhrinasa the gratification of the Pitris lasts for twelve years. The flesh of the rhinoceros, offered to the Pitris on the anniversaries of the lunar days on which they died, becomes inexhaustible.

Clearly there can be no doubt that meat of all kinds was extensively used in sacrifice rituals to please one's fathers who had died.

Sacrificial slaughter of cows is also  mentioned in Mahabharata, Shalya Parv, Section 41. A king called Rantidev is mentioned in the Vana Parv, section 207 as well as section 199, as follows

7 ?????? ?????? ?????? ??????????? ?? ????

   ??? ?????? ?? ??????? ?????? ?????? ???

8 ?????? ???? ?? ????? ??????????? ???????

   ????? ??????? ???? ?????? ?????????

"And in days of yore, O Brahmana, two thousand animals used to be killed every day in the kitchen of king Rantideva; and in the same manner two thousand cows were killed every day; and, O best of regenerate beings, king Rantideva acquired unrivalled reputation by distributing food with meat every day."

Some Hindus bigots try to claim that these are interpolation and later additions in Mahabharat. However, there is no evidence to conclude that. This is only a bogus claim of those who are unwilling to accept that their ancestors used to eat beef.

Nowadays an effort is being made in India to establish the society based on the principle of Manu, however, no clear-cut picture or its implementation is drawn out. It is interesting that the same Manu permits eating of meat and does not list the killing of cows in the major sins.

Manu Smriti 5/35 mentions,


"But a man who, being duly engaged (to officiate or to dine at a sacred rite), refuses to eat meat, becomes after death an animal during twenty-one existences."

Manu Smriti 5/56 says


"There is no sin in eating meat, in (drinking) spirituous liquor, and in carnal intercourse, for that is the natural way of created beings, but abstention brings great rewards."

The testimony of ancient Indian medical texts

Modern Hindus usually are seen boasting about India's scientific heritage, especially of medical texts like Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita, which they think are proof of the advancement of science in the ancient Hindu society. No doubt that like other nations of the word ancient Hindus too have contributed to our knowledge, epecially science and mathematics. I will now reveal before you the medicinal benefits of cow meat as enshrined in ancient Indian medical texts. I will not be commenting on the medical validity of the passages. They are only given to prove that cow meat was consumed.


"Cow meat is beneficial in curing breathing problems, Ozaena, Ague, dry cough, fatigue, diseases due to burns and marasmus."

[Charaka Samhita, Sutra Sthaanam, 27/79-80]

Charaka Samhita, Chikitsa Sthaanam 8/163 says,


"A person of magnanimous heart who eats meat along with a wine named as 'Maadhveek', is quickly relieved of tuberculosis.

Charaka Samhita, Chikitsa Sathaanam 8/165 says,


"While consuming the above mentioned kinds of meat, one may have a dose of whichever wine is appropriate such as 'Prasanna', 'Vaarooni', 'seedhu', 'arisht', 'aasava' and 'madhu'."

Besides the cow, meat of other animals is also prescribes for various diseases. For example, Sutra 158 of the same chapter says,


"Meat of a peacock, patridge, rooster, goose, swine, camel, donkey, cow and buffalo is beneficial for developing one's body."

Although there are numerous other references from Charaka Samhita prescribing meat for various other ddiseases, I feel the above mentioned passages are sufficient to prove that no meat was prohibited in ancient Indian society. It was freely taken as cure for various diseases and improving one's health.

The testimony of classical scholars

To conclude my article establishing that the Vedas and the subsidiary texts permit beef eating as well as sacrificing animals, I will post the testimony of renowned classical Hindu scholars, besides the other notale scholars I have already quoted.

1. Adi Shankaracharya

Adi Shankaracharya has written an extensive commentary on the famous Brahma Sutras. In his commentary on Brahma Sutra Adhyaai 3, Paada 1, Sutra 25 he writes,

"None therefore can know, without scripture, what is either right or wrong. Now from scripture we derive the certain knowledge that the gyotishtoma-sacrifice, which involves harm done to animals (i.e. the animal sacrifice), is an act of duty; how then can it be called unholy?–But does not the scriptural precept, 'Do not harm any creature,' intimate that to do harm to any being is an act contrary to duty?–True, but that is a general rule, while the precept, 'Let him offer an animal to Agnîshomau,' embodies an exception; and general rule and exception have different spheres of application. The work (i.e. sacrifice) enjoined by the Veda is therefore holy, being performed by authoritative men and considered blameless;"

2. Acharya Ramanuja

Acharya Ramanuja also has written a very famed commentary on the Brahma Sutras called 'Sri Bhasya'. Commenting on the same Sutra 25 he writes,

"Scripture declares that the killing of sacrificial animals makes them to go up to the heavenly world, and therefore is not of the nature of harm. This is declared in the text, 'The animal killed at the sacrifice having assumed a divine body goes to the heavenly world'; 'with a golden body it ascends to the heavenly world.' An action which is the means of supreme exaltation is not of the nature of harm, even if it involves some little pain; it rather is of beneficial nature."

3. Sikand Swami

This 7th century commentator of the Vedas, while commenting on Rigveda 1/1/4 writes,

"Yajna is good for everyone, and no one is injured. The animals who are sacrificed, also gain ultimate good. The ancestors say, "the animals that are sacrificed in the Yajna, obtain the higher worlds"

There must remain no doubt in the anyone's mind after seeing all these testimonies that the Vedic religion permits beef eating and also sacrificing the animals is considered as an investment for greater good.

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Beef eating in the Hindu Tradition by Rohini Bakshi

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Beef eating in the Hindu Tradition

(From my blog:

Ask any Hindu to respond spontaneously to this question: What are the two most holy things in your religion? Chances are the first two responses will be ‘the Vedas’ and ‘the Cow’.  Conflated, these two have been used for years (centuries!) to feed a Hindu abhorrence toward beef eating. How often I’ve heard it said – “Of course the cow is sacred – it says so in the Hindu scriptures. It says so in the Vedas!” The Vedas. Which 99.99% of Hindus haven’t read. We have no clue what they contain. At best we may be able to name them and tell you which is the oldest, since we learnt that in Ancient Indian History at school.

This article aims to correct the misconception that beef eating should be taboo based on what the scriptures supposedly say. I respect a Hindu’s right not to eat beef, or any meat for that matter. But to quote the scriptures in support of this belief is quite ridiculous. To prove my point, I will refer to a variety of ancient Hindu sources including the Samhit?s (oldest portions of the Vedas), the Br?hma?as (Vedic texts which lay down the rules for the Vedic sacrifice) and the Dharma-sutr?s, (post Vedic texts which continue to be the bedrock of orthodox Hindu belief.)

Early Vedic Period

The cow was undoubtedly very important, indeed sacred to Vedic Indians. But not in the way we most of us imagine. It was the ?rya's sustenance, his wealth, his most prized possession. Not surprisingly, it was therefore the best offering to his gods in sacrifice. The laity, as well the priests who conducted the sacrifice partook of the left over (ucchi??a) of the ceremony. In fact in the words of Dr. B.R Ambedkar, “For the brahmin, everyday was a beef-stake day.” (From his 1948 work “The Untouchables…)  

That the ?rya of the ?g Veda ate beef and meat is clear from the text itself.  The killing of cows for guests was so wide-spread that go-ghna (killer of cows) became a synomym of atithi (guest). RV X.68.3 mentions a hero called Atithigva*, which means literally ‘slaying cows for guests’. Madhuparka, an offering for special guests mentioned first in the Jaimin?ya-Upani?ad-Br?hma?a was not just curd and honey as the name might suggest, but a cow was immolated or let loose as part of the welcome. Either way, in no case was Madhuparka complete without beef or some other meat.  Perhaps there were exhortations to limit the killing, reflected in the response of Yajñavalka, a renowned ancient ??i who said “I for one eat it (beef) provided it is tender.” The Taittireya Samhit? tells us how to cut up the animal and gives an idea of the distribution of its flesh (TS 6.3.10. 2-6).

?g Vedic Indians fed their gods their own favourite foods – milk, butter, ghee, barley, goats and sheep. But Indra, their mightiest god, destroyer of enemy strongholds, preferred the flesh of the bull. Sometimes he ate one, sometimes fifteen, twenty, a hundred, 300 bulls. Even a thousand buffaloes.1 Agni was not so particular. He mostly liked ghee, but was not averse to horses, bulls, oxen, cows and rams. (RV X.91.14). The third most important god was Soma, and in the Soma sacrifice including cows as bali (victim) was crucial. It was the Soma sacrifice that went on to become the defining practice that demarcated ?rya from an?rya.2

Late Vedic Period
The Gopatha Br?hma?a describes 21 types of yajñas (sacrifices), the most important of which included animal sacrifice. The offering varied depending on which god was being propitiated. Bulls were sacrificed to Indra, dappled cows to the Maruts, a copper coloured cow to the A?vins, a regular one to Mitra-Varu?a. The A?vamedha, the R?jas?ya, and the V?japeya yajñas all included animal sacrifice in large numbers, including cows and bulls. In theA?vamedha  for instance, more than 600 animals were killed, and its finalé was the sacrifice of 21 cows. In fact an independent yajña is actually called pa?ubandhapa?u meaning animal (Gopatha Br?hma?a 1.5.7)

There isn’t space to go into the detail of even the main yajña here, but this extract from the ?atapatha Br?hma?a should give you an idea. This is from the Sautr?ma?i rite, which is said to replenish the sacrificer: “He (the priest) consecrates him (the sacrificer) by sprinkling him with the fat gravy of the sacrificial animals, for the gravy of the animals means excellence … But that gravy is also the highest kind of food: with the highest kind of food he thus sprinkles him. There are hoof-cups (of gravy) for on hoofs cattle support themselves: he thus causes him to obtain such a support…”3

While this excerpt raises the question of how the fat was extracted, it doesn’t prove that the priests and the sacrificer actually ate the remains of the sacrificial animal. For this we turn to animal sacrifice in the Soma ceremony. We join the sacrificer’s wife and the adhvaryu priest after the animal has been"quietened" : “They turn the victim over so it lies on its back … the animal is then cut and when the omentum is pulled out it is heated on the cooking fire … then after the basting of the heart of the animal with clotted ghee … then portions are made from various parts of the body …” (?B 3.8.2-4)4. ?B specifies that some portions of the sacrificial animal must not be eaten e.g.the head, but there is no objection to eating other parts of the animal. 

Post Vedic Period

Let us now turn to the Dharma-sutr?s which were normative texts whose core audience was the Brahmin male. There are a lot of them, so rather than bore you, I'll quote briefly from the best known of them all –  Manu. Ch 5 of his law code deals with rules for food.6 "To perform sacrifices Brahmins may kill sanctioned animals and birds, as also to feed their dependants … for at the ancient sacrifices of seers and the Soma offerings … the sacrificial cakes were prepared with the meat of permitted animals and birds." (5.22-23) “He may eat meat when it is sacrificially consecrated, at the behest of Brahmins, when he is ritually commissioned according to rule…” (5.27).  And “There is no fault in eating meat … that is the natural activity of creatures.” (5.56). Undoubtedly the same chapter also argues for not eating meat and the rewards thereof, but I focus on the portion which continues the Br?hma?ical tradition in order to prove that beef/meat eating was extant in the post Vedic period.


Evidently at some stage, the practices mentioned fell into disuse, and Hindus came to abstain from meat, from beef in particular. How that came about is another blog post altogether… To reiterate the purpose of this article however, – if you’re a Hindu and you don’t eat meat, particularly beef, because of a religious sentiment, I respect that completely. But to those who say they are doing it because the Hindu scriptures censure it, I urge you to read the aforementioned texts and decide for yourself. 



*The Myth of the Holy Cow, D.N Jha, Navayana Publication, 2009. I have depended heavily on this book for references. I have not footnoted them in the interest of flow. If you want specifics, write in and I’ll email you.

1 RV X.86.14, XX.28.3, X.27.2, and VI.17.11

2 Dr. Ted Proferes, SOAS lecture, October 2011

3 ?B The ?atapatha Br?hma?a, tr. ulius Eggeling, Sacred Books of the East, Vol 4, ed., Max Mueller4 

4“Animal Sacrifice in the  Br?hma?atexts”, Ganesh Umakant Thite, Numen Vol 17 (Aug 1970) pgs 143-158

5The Law Code of Manu, tr. Patrick Olivelle, Oxford World Classics, 2004

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Beef eating as the root of untouchability: by B R Ambedkar

Here's an article by BR Ambedkar

The Census Returns [of 1910] show that the meat of the dead cow forms the chief item of food consumed by communities which are generally classified as untouchable communities. No Hindu community, however low, will touch cow’s flesh. On the other hand, there is no community which is really an Untouchable community which has not something to do with the dead cow. Some eat her flesh, some remove the skin, some manufacture articles out of her skin and bones.

From the survey of the Census Commissioner, it is well established that Untouchables eat beef. The question however is: Has beef-eating any relation to the origin of Untouchability? Or is it merely an incident in the economic life of the Untouchables? Can we say that the Broken Men to be treated as Untouchables because they ate beef? There need be no hesitation in returning an affirmative answer to this question. No other answer is consistent with facts as we know them.

In the first place, we have the fact that the Untouchables or the main communities which compose them eat the dead cow and those who eat the dead cow are tainted with untouchability and no others. The co-relation between untouchability and the use of the dead cow is so great and so close that the thesis that it is the root of untouchability seems to be incontrovertible. In the second place if there is anything that separates the Untouchables from the Hindus, it is beef-eating. Even a superficial view of the food taboos of the Hindus will show that there are two taboos regarding food which serve as dividing lines. There is one taboo against meat-eating. It divides Hindus into vegetarians and flesh eaters. There is another taboo which is against beef eating. It divides Hindus into those who eat cow’s flesh and those who do not. From the point of view of untouchability the first dividing line is of no importance. But the second is. For it completely marks off the Touchables from the Untouchables. The Touchables whether they are vegetarians or flesh-eaters are united in their objection to eat cow's flesh. As against them stand the Untouchables who eat cow’s flesh without compunction and as a matter of course and habit.

In this context it is not far-fetched to suggest that those who have a nausea against beef-eating should treat those who eat beef as Untouchables.

There is really no necessity to enter upon any speculation as to whether beef-eating was or was not the principal reason for the rise of Untouchability. This new theory receives support from the Hindu Shastras. The Veda Vyas Smriti contains the following verse which specifies the communities which are included in the category of Antyajas and the reasons why they were so included

L.12-13 “The Charmakars (Cobbler), the Bhatta (Soldier), the Bhilla, the Rajaka (washerman), the Puskara, the Nata (actor), the Vrata, the Meda, the Chandala, the Dasa, the Svapaka, and the Kolika- these are known as Antyajas as well as others who eat cow’s flesh.”

Generally speaking, the Smritikars never care to explain the why and the how of their dogmas. But this case is exception. For in this case, Veda Vyas does explain the cause of untouchability. The clause “as well as others who eat cow's flesh” is very important. It shows that the Smritikars knew that the origin of untouchability is to be found in the eating of beef. The dictum of Veda Vyas must close the argument. It comes, so to say, straight from the horse’s mouth and what is important is that it is also rational for it accords with facts as we know them.

The new approach in the search for the origin of Untouchability has brought to the surface two sources of the origin of Untouchability. One is the general atmosphere of scorn and contempt spread by the Brahmins against those who were Buddhists and the second is the habit of beef-eating kept on by the Broken Men. As has been said the first circumstance could not be sufficient to account for stigma of Untouchability attaching itself to the Broken Men. For the scorn and contempt for Buddhists spread by the Brahmins was too general and affected all Buddhists and not merely the Broken Men. The reason why Broken Men only became Untouchables was because in addition to being Buddhists they retained their habit of beef-eating which gave additional ground for offence to the Brahmins to carry their new-found love and reverence to the cow to its logical conclusion. We may therefore conclude that the Broken Men were exposed to scorn and contempt on the ground that they were Buddhists, and the main cause of their Untouchability was beef-eating.

The theory of beef-eating as the cause of untouchability also gives rise to many questions. Critics are sure to ask: What is the cause of the nausea which the Hindus have against beef-eating? Were the Hindus always opposed to beef-eating? If not, why did they develop such a nausea against it? Were the Untouchables given to beef-eating from the very start? Why did they not give up beef-eating when it was abandoned by the Hindus? Were the Untouchables always Untouchables? If there was a time when the Untouchables were not Untouchables even though they ate beef why should beef-eating give rise to Untouchability at a later-stage? If the Hindus were eating beef, when did they give it up? If Untouchability is a reflex of the nausea of the Hindus against beef-eating, how long after the Hindus had given up beef-eating did Untouchability come into being?….

Did the Hindus never eat beef?


TO the question whether the Hindus ever ate beef, every Touchable Hindu, whether he is a Brahmin or a non-Brahmin, will say ‘no, never’. In a certain sense, he is right. From times no Hindu has eaten beef. If this is all that the Touchable Hindu wants to convey by his answer there need be no quarrel over it. But when the learned Brahmins argue that the Hindus not only never ate beef but they always held the cow to be sacred and were always opposed to the killing of the cow, it is impossible to accept their view.

What is the evidence in support of the construction that the Hindus never ate beef and were opposed to the killing of the cow?

There are two series of references in the Rig Veda on which reliance is placed. In one of these, the cow is spoken of as Aghnya. They are Rig Veda 1.164, 27; IV.1.6; V 82-8; V11.69. 71; X.87. Aghnya means ‘one who does not deserve to be killed’. From this, it is argued that this was a prohibition against the killing of the cow and that since the Vedas are the final authority in the matter of religion, it is concluded that the Aryans could not have killed the cows, much less could they have eaten beef. In another series of references the cow is spoken of as sacred. They are Rig Veda V1.28.1.8. and VIII, 101. 15. In these verses the cow is addressed as Mother of Rudras, the Daughter of Vasus, the Sister of the Adityas and the Centre of Nectar. Another reference on the subject is in Rig Veda VIII. 101. 16 where the cow is called Devi (Goddess).

Reliance is also placed on certain passages in the Brahmanas and Sutras.

There are two passages in the Satapatha Brahmana which relate to animal sacrifice and beef-eating. One is at and reads as follows:

“He (the Adhvaryu) then makes him enter the hall. Let him not eat (the flesh) of either the cow or the ox, for the cow and the ox doubtless support everything here on earth. The gods spake, ‘verily, the cow and the ox support everything here; come, let us bestow on the cow and the ox whatever vigour belonged to other species (of animals); and therefore the cow and the ox eat most Hence were one to eat (the flesh) of an ox or a cow, there would be, as it were, an eating of everything, or, as it were, a going to the end (or, to destruction)… Let him therefore not eat (the flesh) of the cow and the ox’.”

The other passage is at 1, 2, 3, 6. It speaks against animal sacrifice and on ethical grounds.

A similar statement is contained in the Apastambha Dharma Sutra at 1, 5, 17, 29. Apastambha lays a general embargo on the eating of cow's flesh.

Such is the evidence in support of the contention that the Hindus never ate beef. What conclusion can be drawn from this evidence?

So far as the evidence from the Rig Veda is concerned the conclusion is based on a misreading and misunderstanding of the texts. The adjective Aghnya applied to the cow in the Rig Veda means a cow that was yielding milk and therefore not fit for being killed. That the cow is venerated in the Rig Veda is of course true. But this regard and veneration of the cow are only to be expected from an agricultural community like the Indo-Aryans. This application of the utility of the cow did not prevent the Aryan from killing the cow for purposes of food. Indeed the cow was killed because the cow was regarded as sacred. As observed by Mr. P.V. Kane: “It was not that the cow was not sacred in Vedic times, it was because of her sacredness that it is ordained in the Vajasaneyi Samhita that beef should be eaten.”

That the Aryans of the Rig Veda did kill cows for purposes of food and ate beef is abundantly clear from the Rig Veda itself. In Rig Veda (X. 86.14) Indra says: “They cook for one 15 plus twenty oxen”. The Rig Veda (X.91.14) says that for Agni were sacrificed horses, bulls, oxen, barren cows and rams. From the Rig Veda (X.72.6) it appears that the cow was killed with a sword or axe.

As to the testimony of the Satapatha Bramhana, can it be said to be conclusive? Obviously, it cannot be. For there are passages in the other Bramhanas which give a different opinion.

To give only one instance. Among the Kamyashtis set forth in the Taittiriya Bramhana, not only the sacrifice of oxen and cows are laid down, but we are even told what kind and description of oxen and cows are to be offered to what deities. Thus, a dwarf ox is to be chosen for sacrifice to Vishnu; a drooping horned bull with a blaze on the forehead to Indra as the destroyer of Vritra; a black cow to Pushan; a red cow to Rudra; and so on. The Taittiriya Bramhana notes another sacrifice called Panchasaradiya-seva, the most important element of which was the immolation of seventeen five-year old humpless, dwraf-bulls, and as many dwarf heifers under three year-old.….

…The killing of cow for the guest had grown to such an extent that the guest came to be called ‘Go-ghna’ which means the killer of the cow. To avoid this slaughter of the cows the Ashvateyana Grahya Sutra (1.24.25) suggests that the cow should be let loose when the guest comes so as to escape the rule of etiquette….

Such is the state of the evidence on the subject of cow-killing and beef-eating. Which part of it is to be accepted as true? The correct view is that the testimony of the Satapatha Brahmana and the Apastamba Dharma Sutra in so far as it supports the view that Hindus were against cow-killing and beef-eating, are merely exhortations against the excesses of cow-killing and not prohibitions against cow-killing. Indeed the exhortations prove that cow-killing and eating of beef had become a common practice. And that, notwithstanding these exhortations, cow-killing and beef-eating continued. That most often they fell on deaf ears is proved by the conduct of Yajnavalkya, the great Rishi of the Aryans. The first passage quoted above from the Satapatha Brahmana was really addressed to Yajnavalkya as an exhortation. How did Yajnavalkya respond? After listening to the exhortation this is what Yajnavalkya said: “I, for one, eat it, provided that it is tender.”

That the Hindus at one time did kill cows and did eat beef is proved abundantly by the description of the Yajnas given in the Buddhist Sutras which relate to periods much later than the Vedas and the Brahmanas. The scale on which the slaughter of cows and animals took place was colossal. It is not possible to give a total of such slaughter on all accounts committed by the Brahmins in the name of religion. Some idea of the extent of this slaughter can however be had from references to it in the Buddhist literature. As an illustration reference may be made to the Kutadanta Sutta in which Buddha preached against the performance of animal sacrifices to Brahmin Kutadanta. Buddha, though speaking in a tone of sarcastic travesty, gives a good idea of the practices and rituals of the Vedic sacrifices when he said:

“And further, O Brahmin, at that sacrifice neither were any oxen slain, neither goats, nor fowls, nor fatted pigs, nor were any kind of living creatures put to death. No trees were cut down to be used as posts, no Darbha grasses mown to stress around the sacrificial spot. And the slaves and messengers and workmen there employed were driven neither by rods nor fear, nor carried on their work weeping with tears upon their faces.”

Kutadanta on the other hand in thanking Buddha for his conversion gives an idea of the magnitude of the slaughter of animals which took place at such sacrifices when he says:

“I, even I betake myself to the venerable Gotama as my guide, to the Doctrine and the Order. May the venerable One accept me as a disciple, as one who, from this day forth, as long as life endures, has taken him as his guide. And I myself, 0, Gotama, will have the seven hundred bulls, and the seven hundred steers, and the seven hundred heifers, and the seven hundred goats, and the seven hundred rams set free. To them I grant their life. Let them eat grass and drink fresh water and may cool breezes waft around them.”

In the Samyuta Nikaya (111,1-9) we have another description of a Yajna performed by Pasenadi, king of Kosala. It is said that five hundred bulls, five hundred calves and many heifers, goats and rams were led to the pillar to be sacrificed.

With this evidence no one can doubt that there was a time when Hindus-both Brahmins and non-Brahmins ate not only flesh but also beef.

Why did non-Brahmins give up eating beef?

THE food habits of the different classes of Hindus have been as fixed and stratified as their cults. Just as Hindus can be classified on their basis of their cults so also they can be classified on the basis of their habits of food. On the basis of their cults, Hindus are either Saivites (followers of Siva) or Vaishnavites (followers of Vishnu). Similarly, Hindus are either Mansahari (those who eat flesh) or Shakahari (those who are vegetarians).

For ordinary purposes the division of Hindus into two classes Mansahari and Shakahari may be enough. But it must be admitted that it is not exhaustive and does not take account of all the classes which exist in Hindu society. For an exhaustive classification, the class of Hindus called Mansahari shall have to be further divided into two sub-classes: (i) Those who eat flesh but do not eat cow's flesh; and (ii) Those who eat flesh including cow’s flesh. In other words, on the basis of food taboos, Hindu society falls into three classes: (i) Those who are vegetarians; (ii) Those who eat flesh but do not eat cow’s flesh; and (iii) Those who eat flesh including cow's flesh. Corresponding to this classification, we have in Hindu society three classes : (1) Brahmins; (2) Non-Brahmins; and (3) The Untouchables. This division though not in accord with the fourfold division of society called Chaturvarna, yet it is in accord with facts as they exist. For, in the Brahmins we have a class which is vegetarian, in the non-Brahmins the class which eats flesh but does not eat cow’s flesh and in the Untouchables a class which eats flesh including cow’s flesh.

This threefold division is therefore substantial and is in accord with facts. Anyone who stops to turn over this classification in his mind is bound to be struck by the position of the Non-Brahmins. One can quite understand vegetarianism. One can quite understand meat-eating. But it is difficult to understand why a person who is a flesh-eater should object to one kind of flesh namely cow’s flesh. This is an anomaly which call for explanation. Why did the Non-Brahmin give up beef-eating? For this purpose it is necessary to examine laws on the subject. The relevant legislation must be found either in the Law of Asoka or the Law of Manu.


To begin with Asoka. The edicts of Asoka which have reference to this matter are Rock Edict No.I and Pillar Edict Nos.II and V. Rock Edict No.l reads as follows:

“This pious Edict has been written by command of His Sacred and Gracious Majesty) the King. Here (in the capital) no animal may be slaughtered for sacrifice, nor may the holiday feast be held, because His Sacred and Gracious Majesty, the king sees much offence in the holiday feasts, although in certain places holiday feasts arc excellent in the sight of His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the king.

“Formerly, in the kitchen of His Sacred and Gracious Majesty the King, each day many hundred thousands of living creatures were slaughtered to make curries. But now, when this pious edict is being written, only three living creatures are slaughtered (daily) for curry, to wit, two peacocks and one antelope: the antelope, however, not invariably. Even those three living creatures henceforth shall not be slaughtered.”

Pillar Edict No.II was in the following terms:

“Thus saith His Sacred and Gracious Majesty, the King: “The Law of Piety is excellent. But wherein consists the Law of Piety? In these things, to wit, little piety, many good deeds, compassion, liberality, truthfulness and purity.

The gift of spiritual insight I have given in manifold ways: whilst on two-footed and four-footed beings, on birds and the denizens of the waters, I have conferred various favours-even unto the boon of life; and many other good deeds have I done.

For this purpose, have I caused this pious edict to be written, that men may walk after its teaching, and that it may long endure; and he who will follow its teaching will do well.”

Pillar Edict V says:

“Thus said His Sacred and Gracious Majesty, the king:

When I had been consecrated twenty-six years the following species were declared exempt from slaughter, namely: parrots, starlings adjutants, Brahmany ducks, geese, pandirnukhas, gelatas, bats, queen-ants, female tortoises, boneless fish, vedaveyakas, gangapuputakas, skate, (river) tortoise, porcupines, tree-squinrels, barasingha stag, Brahmany bulls, monkeys, rhinoceros, grey doves village pigeons, and all fourfooted animals which are not utilised or eaten.

She-goats, ewes, cows, that is to say, those either with young or in milk, are exempt from slaughter as well as their off-spring up to six months of age. The caponing of cocks must not be done. Chaff must not be burned along with the living things in it Forests must not be burned either for mischief or so as to destroy living creatures.

The living must not be fed with the living. At each of the three seasonal full moons, and at the full moon of the month Tishya (December-January) for three days in each case, namely, the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the first fortnight, and the first day of the second fortnight, as well as on the first days throughout the year, fish is exempt from killing and may not be sold.

On the same days, in elephant-preserves or fish-ponds no other classes of animals may be destroyed.

On the eighth, fourteenth and fifteenth days of each fortnight, as well as on the Tishya and Punarvasa days and festival days, the castration of bulls must not be performed, nor may he-goats, rams, boars and other animals liable to castration be castrated.

On the Tishya and Punarvasa days, on the seasonal full moon days, and during the fortnights of the seasonal full moons the branding of horses and oxen must not be done.

During the time upto the twenty-sixth anniversary of my consecration twenty-five jail deliveries have been effected.”

So much for the legislation of Asoka.


Let us turn to Manu. His Laws contain the following provisions regarding meat-eating:

V.11. Let him avoid all carnivorous birds and those living in villages, and one hoofed animals which are not specially permitted (to be eaten), and the Tithbha (Parra) Jacana.

V.12. The sparrow, the Plava, the Hamsa, the Brahmani duck, the village-cock, the Sarasa crane, the Raggudal, the woodpecker, the parrot, and the starling.

V.13. Those which feed striking with their beaks, web-footed birds, the Koyashti, those which scratch with their toes, those which dive and live on fish, meat from a slaughter-house and dried meat.

V.14. The Baka and the Balaka crane, the raven, the Khangartaka (animals) that eat fish, village-pigs, and all kinds of fishes.

V.15. He who eats the flesh of any (animals) is called the eater of the flesh of that (particular) creature, he who eats fish is an eater of every (kind of) flesh; let him therefore avoid fish.

V.16. (But the fish called) Pathine and (that called) Rohita may be eaten, if used for offering to the gods or to the manes; (one may eat) likewise Ragivas, Simhatundas, and Sasalkas on all occasions.

V.17. Let him not eat solitary or unknown beasts and birds though they may fall under (the categories of) eatable creatures, not any five-toed (animals).

V.18. The porcupine, the hedgehog, the iguana, the rhinoceros, the tortoise, and the hare they declare to be eatable; likewise those (domestic animals) that have teeth in one jaw excepting camels."


Here is survey of the legislation both by Asoka and by Manu on the slaughter of animals. We are of course principally concerned with the cow. Examining the legislation of Asoka the question is: Did he prohibit the killing of the cow? On this issue there seem to be a difference of opinion. Prof. Vincent Smith is of opinion that Asoka did not prohibit the killing of the cow. Commenting on the legislation of Asoka on the subject, Prof. Smith says: “It is noteworthy that Asoka's rules do not forbid the slaughter of cow, which, apparently, continued to be lawful.”

Prof. Radhakumud Mookerji joins issue with Prof. Smith and says that Asoka did prohibit the slaughter of the cow. Prof. Mookerji relies upon the reference in Pillar Edict V to the rule of exemption which was made applicable to all four-footed animals and argues that under this rule cow was exempted from killing. This is not a correct reading of the statement in the Edict. The Statement in the Edict is a qualified statement. It does not refer to all four-footed animals but only to four-footed animals, which are not utilised or eaten. 'A cow cannot be said to be a four-footed animal which was not utilised or eaten. Prof. Vincent Smith seems to be correct in saying that Asoka did not prohibit the slaughter of the cow. Prof. Mookerji tries to get out of the difficulty by saying that at the time of Asoka the cow was not eaten and therefore came within the prohibition. His statement is simply absurd for the cow was an animal which was very much eaten by all classes.

It is quite unnecessary to resort as does Prof. Mookerji to a forced construction of the Edict and to make Asoka prohibit the slaughter of the cow as though it was his duty to do so. Asoka had no particular interest in the cow and owed no special duty to protect her against killing. Asoka was interested in the sanctity of all life human as well as animal. He felt his duty to prohibit the taking of life where taking of life was not necessary. That is why he prohibited slaughtering animal for sacrifice which he regarded as unnecessary and of animals which are not utilised nor eaten which again would be want on and unnecessary. That he did not prohibit the slaughter of the cow in specie may well be taken as a fact which for having regard to the Buddhist attitude in the matter cannot be used against Asoka as a ground for casting blame.

Coming to Manu there is no doubt that he too did. not prohibit the slaughter of the cow. On the other hand he made the eating of cow's flesh on certain occasions obligatory.

Why then did the non-Brahmins give up eating beef? There appears to be no apparent reason for this departure on their part. But there must be some reason behind it. The reason I like to suggest is that it was due to their desire to imitate the Brahmins that the non-Brahmins gave up beef-eating. This may be a novel theory but it is not an impossible theory. As the French author, Gabriel Tarde has explained that culture within a society spreads by imitation of the ways and manners of the superior classes by the inferior classes. This imitation is so regular in its flow that its working is as mechanical as the working of a natural law. Gabriel Tarde speaks of the laws of imitation. One of these laws is that the lower classes always imitate the higher classes. This is a matter of such common knowledge that hardly any individual can be found to question its validity.

That the spread of the cow-worship among and cessation of beef-eating by the non-Brahmins has taken place by reason of the habit of the non-Brahmins to imitate the Brahmins who were undoubtedly their superiors is beyond dispute. Of course there was an extensive propaganda in favour of cow-worship by the Brahmins. The Gayatri Purana is a piece of this propaganda. But initially it is the result of the natural law of imitation. This, of course, raises another question: Why did the Brahmins give up beef-eating?

What made the Brahmins become vegetarians?


THE non-Brahmins have evidently undergone a revolution. From being beef-eaters to have become non-beef-eaters was indeed a revolution. But if the non-Brahmins underwent one revolution, the Brahmins had undergone two. They gave up beef-eating which was one revolution. To have given up meat-eating altogether and become vegetarians was another revolution.

That this was a revolution is beyond question. For as has been shown in the previous chapters there was a time when the Brahmins were the greatest beef-eaters. Although the non-Brahmins did eat beef they could not have had it every day. The cow was a costly animal and the non-Brahmins could ill afford to slaughter it just for food. He only did it on special occasion when his religious duty or personal interest to propitiate a deity compelled him to do. But the case with the Brahmin was different. He was a priest. In a period overridden by ritualism there was hardly a day on which there was no cow sacrifice to which the Brahmin was not invited by some non-Brahmin. For the Brahmin every day was a beef-steak day. The Brahmins were therefore the greatest beef-eaters. The Yajna of the Brahmins was nothing but the killing of innocent animals carried on in the name of religion with pomp and ceremony with an attempt to enshroud it in mystery with a view to conceal their appetite for beef. Some idea of this mystery pomp and ceremony can be had from the directions contained in the Atreya Brahamana touching the killing of animals in a Yajna.

The actual killing of the animal is preceded by certain initiatory Rites accompanied by incantations too long and too many to be detailed here. It is enough to give an idea of the main features of the Sacrifice. The sacrifice commences with the erection of the Sacrificial post called the Yupa to which the animal is tied before it is slaughtered. After setting out why the Yupa is necessary the Atreya Brahamana proceeds to state what it stands for. It says:

“This Yupa is a weapon. Its point must have eight edges. For a weapon (or iron club) has eight edges. Whenever he strikes with it an enemy or adversary, he kills him. (This weapon serves) to put down him (every one) who is to be put down by him (the sacrificer). The Yupa is a weapon which stands erected (being ready) to slay an enemy. Thence an enemy (of the sacrificer) who might be present (at the sacrifice) comes of all ill after having seen the Yupa of such or such one.”

The selection of the wood to be used for the Yupa is made to vary with the purposes which the sacrificer wishes to achieve by the sacrifice. The Atreya Brahamana says :

“He who desires heaven, ought to make his Yupa of Khadira wood. For the gods conquered the celestial world by means of a Yupa, made of Khadira wood. In the same way the sacrificer conquers the celestial world by means of a Yupa, made of Khadira wood.

“He who desires food and wishes to grow fat ought to make his Yupa of Bilva wood. For the Bilva tree bears fruits every year; it is the symbol of fertility; for it increases (every year) in size from the roots up to the branches, therefore it is a symbol of fatness. He who having such a knowledge makes his Yupa of Bilva wood, makes fat his children and cattle.

“As regards the Yupa made of Bilva wood (it is further to be remarked), that they call light Bilva. He who has such a knowledge becomes a light' among his own people, the most distinguished among his own people.

“He who desires beauty and sacred knowledge ought to make his Yupa of Palasa wood. For the Palasa is among the trees of beauty and sacred knowledge. He who having such a knowledge makes his Yupa of Palasa wood, becomes beautiful and acquires sacred knowledge.

“As regards the Yupa made of Palasa wood (there is further to be remarked), that the Palasa is the womb of all trees. Thence they speak on account of the palasam (foliage) of this or that tree (i.e. they call the foliage of every tree palasam). He who has such a knowledge obtains (the gratification of) any desire, he might have regarding all trees (i.e., he obtains from all trees any thing he might wish for).”


Given these facts, no further evidence seems to be necessary to support the statement that the Brahmins were not merely beef-eaters but they were also butchers.

Why then did the Brahmins change front? Let us deal with their change of front in two stages. First, why did they give up beef-eating?


As has already been shown cow-killing was not legally prohibited by Asoka. Even if it had been prohibited, a law made by the Buddhist Emperor could never have been accepted by the Brahmins as binding upon them.

Did Manu prohibit beef-eating? If he did, then that would be binding on the Brahmins and would afford an adequate explanation of their change of front. Looking into the Manu Smriti one does find the following verses:

V. 46. He who does not seek to cause the sufferings of bonds and death to living creatures, (but) desires the good of all (beings), obtains endless bliss.

V. 47. He who does not injure any (creature), attains without an effort what he thinks of, what he undertakes, and what he fixes his mind on.

V. 48. Meat can never be obtained without injury to living creatures, and injury to sentient beings is detrimental to (the attainment of) heavenly bliss; let him therefore shun (the use of) meat.

V. 49. Having well considered the (disgusting) origin of flesh and the (cruelty of) fettering and slaying corporeal beings, let him entirely abstain from eating flesh.

If these verses can be treated as containing positive injunctions they would be sufficient to explain why the Brahmins gave up meat-eating and became vegetarians. But it is impossible to treat these verses as positive injunctions, carrying the force of law. They are either exhortations or interpolations introduced after the Brahmins had become vegetarians in praise of the change. That the latter is the correct view is proved by the following verses which occur in the same chapter of the Manu Smriti:

V. 28: The Lord of creatures (Prajapati) 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.

V. 29. 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.

V. 30. 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 (for those special purposes).

V. 56. There is no sin in eating meat, in (drinking) spirituous liquor, and in carnal intercourse, for that is the natural way of created beings, but abstention brings great rewards.

V. 27. . One may eat meat when it has been sprinkled with water, while Mantras were recited, when Brahmanas desire (one's doing it) when one is engaged (in the performance of a rite) according to the law, and when one's life is in danger.

V. 31. The consumption of meat (is befitting) for scrifices,' that is declared to be a rule made by the gods, but to persist (in using it) on other (occasions) is said to be a proceeding worthy of Rakshasas.

V. 32. He who eats meat, when he honours the gods and manes commits no sin, whether he has bought it, or himself has killed (the animal) or has received it as a present from others.

V. 42. A twice-born man who, knowing the true meaning of the Veda, slays an animal for these purposes, causes both himself and the animal to enter a most blessed state.

V. 39. Swayambhu (the self-existent) himself created animals for the sake of sacrifices; sacrifices (have been instituted) for the good of this whole (world); hence the slaughtering (of beasts) for sacrifice is not slaughtering (in the ordinary sense of the word).

V. 40. Herbs, trees, cattle, birds, and other animals that have been destroyed for sacrifices, receive (being reborn) higher existences."

Manu goes further and makes eating of flesh compulsory. Note the following verse:

V. 35. But a man who, being duly engaged (to officiate or to dine at a sacred rite), refuses to eat meat, becomes after death an animal during twenty-one existences.

That Manu did not prohibit meat-eating is evident enough. That Manu Smriti did not prohibit cow-killing can also be proved from the Smriti itself. In the first place, the only references to cow in the Manu Smriti are to be found in the catalogue of rules which are made applicable by Manu to the Snataka [brahmin student-scholar]. They are set out below:

1. A Snataka should not eat food which a cow has smelt.
2. A Snataka should not step over a rope to which a calf is tied.
3. A Snataka should not urinate in a cowpan.
4. A Snataka should not answer call of nature facing a cow.
5. A Snataka should not keep his right arm uncovered when he enters a cowpan.
6. A Snataka should not interrupt a cow which is sucking her calf, nor tell anybody of it.
7. A Snataka should not ride on the back of the cow.
8. A Snataka should not offend the cow.
9. A Snataka who is impure must not touch a cow with his hand.

From these references it will be seen that Manu did not regard the cow as a sacred animal. On the other hand, he regarded it as an impure animal whose touch caused ceremonial pollution.

There are verses in Manu which show that he did not prohibit the eating of beef. In this connection, reference may be made to Chapter III. 3. It says:

“He (Snataka) who is famous (for the strict performance of) his duties and has received his heritage, the Veda from his father, shall be honoured, sitting on couch and adomed with a garland with the present of a cow (the honey-mixture).”

The question is why should Manu recommend the gift of a cow to a Snataka? Obviously, to enable him to perform Madhuparka [a dish whose essential element is flesh and particularly cow’s flesh served to six types of guests – (1) Ritwija or the Brahmin called to perform a sacrifice, (2) Acharya, the teacher, (3) The bridegroom (4) The King (5) The Snatak, the student who has just finished his studies at the Gurukul and (6) Any person who is dear to the host. Some add Atithi to this list. Except in the case of Ritvija, King and Acharya, Madhuparka is to be offered to the rest once in a year. To the Ritvija, King and Acharya it is to be offered each time they come.] If that is so, it follows that Manu knew that Brahmins did eat beef and he had no objection to it.

Another reference would be to Manu’s discussion of the animals whose meat is eatable and those, whose meat is not. In Chapter V.18 he says: “The porcupine, the hedgehog, the iguana, the rhinoceros, the tortoise, and the hare they declare to be eatable, likewise those (domestic animals) that have teeth in one jaw only, excepting camels.”

In this verse Manu gives general permission to eat the flesh of all domestic animals that have teeth in one jaw only. To this rule Manu makes one exception, namely, the camel. In this class of domestic animals those that have teeth in one jaw only- falls not only the camel but also the cow. It is noteworthy that Manu does not make an exception in the case of the cow. This means that Manu had no objection to the eating of the cow's flesh.

Manu did not make the killing of the cow an offence. Manu divides sins into two classes (i) mortal sins and (ii) minor sins. Among the mortal sins Manu includes:

XI. 55. Killing a Brahmana, drinking (the spirituous liquor called Sura) stealing the (gold of Brahmana) a adultery with a Gum's wife, and associating with such offenders.

Among minor sins Manu includes:

XI. 60. Killing the cow, sacrificing for those unworthy to sacrifice, adultery, setting oneself, casting off one's teacher, mother, father or son, giving up the (daily) study of the Veda and neglecting the (sacred domestic) fire.

From this it will be clear that according to Manu cow-killing was only a minor sin. It was reprehensible only if the cow was killed without good and sufficient reason. Even if it was otherwise, it was not heinous or inexplicable. The same was the attitude of Yajnavalkya.

All this proves that for generations the Brahmins had been eating beef. Why did they give up beef-eating? Why did they, as an extreme step, give up meat eating altogether and become vegetarians? It is two revolutions rolled into one. As has been shown it has not been done as a result of the preachings of Manu, their Divine Law-maker. The revolution has taken place in spite of Manu and contrary to his directions. What made the Brahmins take this step? Was philosophy responsible for it? Or was it dictated by strategy?

Two explanations are offered. One explanation is that this deification of the cow was a manifestation of the Advaita philosophy that one supreme entity pervaded the whole universe, that on that account all life human as well as animal was sacred. This explanation is obviously unsatisfactory. In the first place, it does not fit in with facts. The Vedanta Sutra which proclaims the doctrine of oneness of life does not prohibit the killing of animals for sacrificial purposes as is evident from 11.1.28. In the second place, if the transformation was due to the desire to realise the ideal of Advaita then there is no reason why it should have stopped with the cow. It should have extended to all other animals.

Another explanation more ingenious than the first, is that this transformation in the life of the Brahmin was due to the rise of the doctrine of the Transmigration of the Soul. Even this explanation does not fit in with facts. The Brahadamyaka Upanishad upholds the doctrine of transmigration (vi.2) and yet recommends that if a man desires to have a learned son born to him he should prepare a mass of the flesh of the bull or ox or of other flesh with rice and ghee. Again, how is it that this doctrine which is propounded in the Upanishads did not have any effect on the Brahmins upto the time of the Manu Smriti, a period of at least 400 years. Obviously, this explanation is no explanation. Thirdly, if Brahmins became vegetarians by reason of the doctrine of transmigration of the soul how is it, it did not make the non-Brahmins take to vegetarianism?

To my mind, it was strategy which made the Brahmins give up beef-eating and start worshipping the cow. The clue to the worship of the cow is to be found in the struggle between Buddhism and Brahmanism and the means adopted by Brahmanism to establish its supremacy over Buddhism. The strife between Buddhism and Brahmanism is a crucial fact in Indian history. Without the realisation of this fact, it is impossible to explain some of the features of Hinduism. Unfortunately students of Indian history have entirely missed the importance of this strife. They knew there was Brahmanism. But they seem to be entirely unaware of the struggle for supremacy in which these creeds were engaged and that their struggle, which extended for 400 years has left some indelible marks on religion, society and politics of India.

This is not the place for describing the full story of the struggle. All one can do is to mention a few salient points. Buddhism was at one time the religion of the majority of the people of India. It continued to be the religion of the masses for hundreds of years. It attacked Brahmanism on all sides as no religion had done before.

Brahmanism was on the wane and if not on the wane, it was certainly on the defensive. As a result of the spread of Buddhism, the Brahmins had lost all power and prestige at the Royal Court and among the people. They were smarting under the defeat they had suffered at the hands of Buddhism and were making all possible efforts to regain their power and prestige. Buddhism had made so deep an impression on the minds of the masses and had taken such a hold of them that it was absolutely impossible for the Brahmins to fight the Buddhists except by accepting their ways and means and practising the Buddhist creed in its extreme form. After the death of Buddha his followers started setting up the images of the Buddha and building stupas. The Brahmins followed it. They, in their turn, built temples and installed in them images of Shiva, Vishnu and Ram and Krishna etc – all with the object of drawing away the crowd that was attracted by the image worship of Buddha. That is how temples and images which had no place in Brahmanism came into Hinduism. The Buddhists rejected the Brahmanic religion which consisted of Yajna and animal sacrifice, particularly of the cow. The objection to the sacrifice of the cow had taken a strong hold of the minds of the masses especially as they were an agricultural population and the cow was a very useful animal. The Brahmins in all probability had come to be hated as the killer of cows in the same way as the guest had come to be hated as Gognha, the killer of the cow by the householder, because whenever he came a cow had to be killed in his honour. That being the case, the Brahmins could do nothing to improve their position against the Buddhists except by giving up the Yajna as a form of worship and the sacrifice of the cow.

That the object of the Brahmins in giving up beef-eating was to snatch away from the Buddhist Bhikshus the supremacy they had acquired is evidenced by the adoption of vegetarianism by Brahmins. Why did the Brahmins become vegetarian? The answer is that without becoming vegetarian the Brahmins could not have recovered the ground they had lost to their rival namely Buddhism. In this connection it must be remembered that there was one aspect in which Brahmanism suffered in public esteem as compared to Buddhism. That was the practice of animal sacrifice which was the essence of Brahmanism and to which Buddhism was deadly opposed. That in an agricultural population there should be respect for Buddhism and revulsion against Brahmanism which involved slaughter of animals including cows and bullocks is only natural. What could the Brahmins do to recover the lost ground? To go one better than the Buddhist Bhikshus not only to give up meat-eating but to become vegetarians- which they did. That this was the object of the Brahmins in becoming vegetarians can be proved in various ways.

If the Brahmins had acted from conviction that animal sacrifice was bad, all that was necessary for them to do was to give up killing animals for sacrifice. It was unnecessary for them to be vegetarians. That they did go in for vegetarianism makes it obvious that their motive was far-reaching. Secondly, it was unnecessary for them to become vegetarians. For the Buddhist Bhikshus were not vegetarians. This statement might surprise many people owing to the popular belief that the connection between Ahimsa and Buddhism was immediate and essential. It is generally believed that the Buddhist Bhikshus eschewed animal food. This is an error. The fact is that the Buddhist Bhikshus were permitted to eat three kinds of flesh that were deemed pure. Later on they were extended to five classes. Yuan Chwang, the Chinese traveller was aware of this and spoke of the pure kinds of flesh as San-Ching, The origin of this practice among the Bhikshus is explained by Mr. Thomas Walters. According to the story told by him –

“In the time of Buddha there was in Vaisali a wealthy general named Siha who was a convert to Buddhism. He became a liberal supporter of the Brethren and kept them constantly supplied with good flesh-food. When it was noticed abroad that the Bhikshus were in the habit of eating such food specially provided for them, the Tirthikas made the practice a matter of angry reproach. Then the abstemious ascetic Brethren, learning this, reported the circumstances to the Master, who thereupon called the Brethren together. When they assembled, he announced to them the law that they were not to eat the flesh of any animal which they had seen put to death for them, or about which they had been told that it had been slain for them. But he permitted to the Brethren as ‘pure’ (that is, lawful) food the flesh of animals the slaughter of which had not been seen by the Bhikshus, not heard of by them, and not suspected by them to have been on their account. In the Pali and Ssu-fen Vinaya it was after a breakfast given by Siha to the Buddha and some of the Brethren, for which the carcass of a large ox was procured that the Nirgianthas reviled the Bhikshus and Buddha instituted this new rule declaring fish and flesh ‘pure’ in the three conditions. The animal food now permitted to the Bhikshus came to be known as the ‘three pures’ or ‘three pure kinds of flesh’, and it was tersely described as ‘unseen, unheard, unsuspected’, or as the Chinese translations sometimes have it ‘not seen, not heard nor suspected to be on my account’. Then two more kinds of animal food were declared ‘lawful for the Brethren viz., the flesh of animals which had died a natural death, and that of animals which had been killed by a bird of prey or other savage creature. So there came to be five classes or descriptions of flesh which the professed Buddhist was at liberty to use as food. Then the ‘unseen, unheard, unsuspected’ came to be treated as one class, and this together with the ‘natural death’ and ‘bird killed’ made a san-ching.”

As the Buddhist Bhikshus did eat meat the Brahmins had no reason to give it up. Why then did the Brahmins give up meat-eating and become vegetarians? It was because they did not want to put themselves merely on the same footing in the eyes of the public as the Buddhist Bhikshus.

The giving up of the Yajna system and abandonment of the sacrifice of the cow could have had only a limited effect. At the most it would have put the Brahmins on the same footing as the Buddhists. The same would have been the case if they had followed the rules observed by the Buddhist Bhikshus in the matter of meat-eating. It could not have given the Brahmins the means of achieving supremacy over the Buddhists which was their ambition. They wanted to oust the Buddhists from the place of honour and respect which they had acquired in the minds of the masses by their opposition to the killing of the cow for sacrificial purposes. To achieve their purpose the Brahmins had to adopt the usual tactics of a reckless adventurer. It is to beat extremism with extremism. It is the strategy which all rightists use to overcome the leftists. The only way to beat the Buddhists was to go a step further and be vegetarians.

There is another reason which can be relied upon to support the thesis that the Brahmins started cow-worship gave up beef-eating and became vegetarians in order to vanquish Buddhism. It is the date when cow-killing became a mortal sin. It is well-known that cow-killing was not made an offence by Asoka. Many people expect him to have come forward to prohibit the killing of the cow. Prof. Vincent Smith regards it as surprising. But there is nothing surprising in it.

Buddhism was against animal sacrifice in general. It had no particular affection for the cow. Asoka had therefore no particular reason to make a law to save the cow. What is more astonishing is the fact that cow-killing was made a Mahapataka, a mortal sin or a capital offence by the Gupta Kings who were champions of Hinduism which recognised and sanctioned the killing of the cow for sacrificial purposes. As pointed out by Mr. D. R. Bhandarkar:

“We have got the incontrovertible evidence of inscriptions to show that early in the 5th century A. D. killing a cow was looked upon as an offence of the deepest turpitude, turpitude as deep as that involved in murdering a Brahman. We have thus a copper-plate inscription dated 465 A.D. and referring itself to the reign of Skandagupta of the Imperial Gupta dynasty. It registers a grant and ends with a verse saying : 'Whosoever will transgress this grant that has been assigned (shall become as guilty as) the slayer of a cow, the slayer of a spiritual preceptor (or) the slayer of a Brahman. A still earlier record placing go-hatya on the same footing as brahma hatya is that of Chandragupta II, grandfather of Skandagupta just mentioned. It bears the Gupta date 93, which is equivalent to 412 A.D. It is engraved on the railing which surrounds the celebrated Buddhist stupa at Sanchi, in Central India. This also speaks of a benefaction made by an officer of Chandragupta and ends as follows : … … "Whosoever shall interfere with this arrangement .. he shall become invested with (the guilt of) the slaughter of a cow or of a Brahman, and with (the guilt of) the five anantarya" Here the object of this statement is to threaten the resumer of the grant, be he a Brahminist or a Buddhist, with the sins regarded as mortal by each community. The anantaryas are the five mahapatakas according to Buddhist theology. They are: matricide, patricide, killing an Arhat, shedding the blood of a Buddha, and causing a split among the priesthood. The mahapatakas with which a Brahminist is here threatened are only two : viz., the killing of a cow and the murdering of a Brahman. The latter is obviously a mahapataka as it is mentioned as such in all the Smritis, but the former has been specified only an upapataka by Apastamba, Manu, Yajnavalkya and so forth. But the very fact that it is here associated with brahma-hatya and both have been put on a par with the anantaryas of the Buddhists shows that in the beginning of the fifth century A.D., it was raised to the category of mahapatakas. Thus go-hatya must have come to be considered a mahapataka at least one century earlier, i.e., about the commencement of the fourth century A.D.”

The question is why should a Hindu king have come forward to make a law against cow-killing, that is to say, against the Laws of Manu? The answer is that the Brahmins had to suspend or abrogate a requirement of their Vedic religion in order to overcome the supremacy of the Buddhist Bhikshus. If the analysis is correct then it is obvious that the worship of the cow is the result of the struggle between Buddhism and Brahminism. It was a means adopted by the Brahmins to regain their lost position.

Why should beef eating make broken men untouchables?


THE stoppage of beef-eating by the Brahmins and the non-Brahmins and the continued use thereof by the Broken Men had produced a situation which was different from the old. This difference lay in the face that while in the old situation everybody ate beef, in the new -situation one section did not and another did. The difference was a glaring difference. Everybody could see it. It divided society as nothing else did before. All the same, this difference need not have given rise to such extreme division of society as is marked by Untouchability. It could have remained a social difference. There are many cases where different sections of the community differ in their foods. What one likes the other dislikes and yet this difference does not create a bar between the two.

There must therefore be some special reason why in India the difference between the Settled Community and the Broken Men in the matter of beef eating created a bar between the two. What can that be? The answer is that if beef-eating had remained a secular affair-a mere matter of individual taste-such a bar between those who ate beef and those who did not would not have arisen. Unfortunately beef-eating, instead of being treated as a purely secular matter, was made a matter of religion. This happened because the Brahmins made the cow a sacred animal. This made beef-eating a sacrilege. The Broken Men being guilty of sacrilege necessarily became beyond the pale of society.

The answer may not be quite clear to those who have no idea of the scope and function of religion in the life of the society. They may ask: Why should religion make such a difference? It will be clear if the following points regarding the scope and function of religion are borne in mind.

To begin with the definition of religion. There is one universal feature which characterises all religions. This feature lies in religion being a unified system of beliefs and practices which (1) relate to sacred things and (2) which unite into one single community all those who adhere to them. To put it slightly differently, there are two elements in every religion. One is that religion is inseparable from sacred things. The other is that religion is a collective thing inseparable from society.

The first element in religion presupposes a classification of all things, real and ideal, which are the subject-matter of man's thought, into two distinct classes which are generally designated by two distinct terms the sacred and the profane, popularly spoken of as secular.

This defines the scope of religion. For understanding the function of religion the following points regarding things sacred should be noted:

The first thing to note is that things sacred are not merely higher than or superior in dignity and status to those that are profane. They are just different. The sacred and the profane do not belong to the same class. There is a complete dichotomy between the two. As Prof. Durkhiem observes:

“The traditional opposition of good and bad is nothing beside this; for the good and the bad are only two opposed species of the same class, namely, morals, just as sickness and health are two different aspects of the same order of facts, life, while the sacred and the profane have always and everywhere been conceived by the human mind as two distinct classes, as two worlds between which there is nothing in common.”

The curious may want to know what has led men to see in this world this dichotomy between the sacred and the profane. We must however refuse to enter into this discussion as it is unnecessary for the immediate purpose we have in mind.

Confining ourselves to the issue the next thing to note is that the circle of sacred objects is not fixed. Its extent varies infinitely from religion to religion. Gods and spirits are not the only sacred things. A rock, a tree, an animal, a spring, a pebble, a piece of wood, a house, in a word anything can be sacred.

Things sacred are always associated with interdictions otherwise called taboos. To quote Prof. Durkhiem again:

“Sacred things are those which the interdictions protect and isolate; profane things, those to which these interdictions are applied and which must remain at a distance from the first.”

Religious interdicts take multiple forms. Most important of these is the interdiction on contact. The interdiction on contact rests upon the principle that the profane should never touch the sacred. Contact may be established in a variety of ways other than touch. A look is a means of contact. That is why the sight of sacred things is forbidden to the profane in certain cases. For instance, women are not allowed to see certain things which are regarded as sacred. The word (i.e., the breath which forms part of man and which spreads outside him) is another means of contact. That is why the profane is forbidden to address the sacred things or to utter them. For instance, the Veda must be uttered only by the Brahmin and not by the Shudra. An exceptionally intimate contact is the one resulting from the absorption of food. Hence comes the interdiction against eating the sacred animals or vegetables.

The interdictions relating to the sacred are not open to discussion. They are beyond discussion and must be accepted without question. The sacred is 'untouchable' in the sense that it. is beyond the pale of debate. All that one can do is to respect and obey.

Lastly the interdictions relating to the sacred are binding on all. They are not maxims. They are injunctions. They are obligatory but not in the ordinary sense of the word. They partake of the nature of a categorical imperative. Their breach is more than a crime. It is a sacrilege.

The above summary should be enough for an understanding of the scope and function of religion. It is unnecessary to enlarge upon the subject further. The analysis of the working of the laws of the sacred which is the core of religion should enable any one to see that my answer to the question why beef-eating should make the Broken Men untouchables is the correct one. All that is necessary to reach the answer I have proposed is to read the analysis of the working of the laws of the sacred with the cow as the sacred object. It will be found that Untouchability is the result of the breach of the interdiction against the eating of the sacred animal, namely, the cow.

As has been said, the Brahmins made the cow a sacred animal. They did not stop to make a difference between a living cow and a dead cow. The cow was sacred, living or dead. Beef-eating was not merely a crime. If it was only a crime it would have involved nothing more than punishment. Beef-eating was made a sacrilege. Anyone who treated the cow as profane was guilty of sin and unfit for association. The Broken Men who continued to eat beef became guilty of sacrilege.

Once the cow became sacred and the Broken Men continued to eat beef, there was no other fate left for the Broken Men except to be treated unfit for association, i.e., as Untouchables.

Before closing the subject it may be desirable to dispose of possible objections to the thesis. Two such objections to the thesis appear obvious. One is what evidence is there that the Broken Men did eat the flesh of the dead cow. The second is why did they not give up beef-eating when the Brahmins and the non-Brahmins abandoned it. These questions have an important bearing upon the theory of the origin of untouchability advanced in this book and must therefore be dealt with.

The first question is relevant as well as crucial. If the Broken Men were eating beef from the very beginning, then obviously the theory cannot stand. For, if they were eating beef from the very beginning and nonetheless were not treated as Untouchables, to say that the Broken Men became Untouchables because of beef-eating would be illogical if not senseless. The second question is relevant, if not crucial. If the Brahmins gave up beef-eating and the non-Brahmins imitated them why did the Broken Men not do the same? If the law made the killing of the cow a capital sin because the cow became a sacred animal to the Brahmins and non-Brahmins, why were the Broken Men not stopped from eating beef? If they had been stopped from eating beef there would have been no Untouchability.

The answer to the first question is that even during the period when beef-eating was common to both, the Settled Tribesmen and the Broken Men, a system had grown up whereby the Settled Community ate fresh beef, while the Broken Men ate the flesh of the dead cow. We have no positive evidence to show that members of the Settled Community never ate the flesh of the dead cow. But we have negative evidence which shows that the dead cow had become an exclusive possession and perquisite of the Broken Men. The evidence consists of facts which relate to the Mahars of the Maharashtra to whom reference has already been made. As has already been pointed out, the Mahars of the Maharashtra claim the right to take the dead animal. This right they claim against every Hindu in the village. This means that no Hindu can eat the flesh of his own animal when it dies. He has to surrender it to the Mahar. This is merely another way of stating that when eating beef was a common practice the Mahars ate dead beef and the Hindus ate fresh beef. The only questions that arise are : Whether what is true of the present is true of the ancient past? Can this fact which is true of the Maharashtra be taken as typical of the arrangement between the Settled Tribes and the Broken Men throughout India.

In this connection reference may be made to the tradition current among the Mahars according to which they claim that they were given 52 rights against the Hindu villagers by the Muslim King of Bedar. Assuming that they were given by the King of Bedar, the King obviously did not create them for the first time. They must have been in existence from the ancient past. What the King did was merely to confirm them. This means that the practice of the Broken Men eating dead meat and the Settled Tribes eating fresh meat must have grown in the ancient past. That such an arrangement should grow up is certainly most natural. The Settled Community was a wealthy community with agriculture and cattle as means of livelihood. The Broken Men were a community of paupers with no means of livelihood and entirely dependent upon the Settled Community. The principal item of food for both was beef. It was possible for the Settled Community to kill an animal for food because it was possessed of cattle. The Broken Men could not for they had none. Would it be unnatural in these circumstances for the Settled Community to have agreed to give to the Broken Men its dead animals as part of their wages of watch and ward? Surely not. It can therefore be taken for granted that in the ancient past when both the Settled Community and Broken Men did eat beef the former ate fresh beef and the latter of the dead cow and that this system represented a universal state of affairs throughout India and was not confined to the Maharashtra alone.

This disposes of the first objection. To turn to the second objection. The law made by the Gupta Emperors was intended to prevent those who killed cows. It did not apply to the Broken Men. For they did not kill the cow. They only ate the dead cow. Their conduct did not contravene the law against cow-killing. The practice of eating the flesh of the dead cow therefore was allowed to continue. Nor did their conduct contravene the doctrine of Ahimsa assuming that it has anything to do with the abandonment of beef-eating by the Brahmins and the non-Brahmins. Killing the cow was Himsa. But eating the dead cow was not. The Broken Men had therefore no cause for feeling qualms of conscience in continuing to eat the dead cow. Neither the law nor the doctrine of Himsa could interdict what they were doing, for what they were doing was neither contrary to law nor to the doctrine.

As to why they did not imitate the Brahmins and the non-Brahmins the answer is two fold. In the first place, imitation was too costly. They could not afford it. The flesh of the dead cow was their principal sustenance. Without it they would starve. In the second place, carrying the dead cow had become an obligation though originally it was a privilege. As they could not escape carrying the dead cow they did not mind using the flesh as food in the manner in which they were doing previously.

The objections therefore do not invalidate the thesis in any way.

(Excerpted from Chapters 11 to 14 of B.R. Ambedkar’s 1948 work The Untouchables: Who Were They and Why They Became Untouchables? as reprinted in Volume 7 of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, published by Government of Maharashtra 1990.

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Beef eating in Indus Valley Civilisation

Along with the vegetarian food items the people of Indus valley civilization also consumed meat that was evident from the fact that meat was included in the offerings made for the dead. With the excavation of number of artefacts like sling balls of clay, copper fish hooks, the arrow heads, the flying knives etc strongly prove that these were required to kill and rear animals and birds which were dressed with these instruments and included in their food items after cooking. Their food items as such included beef, mutton, pork and poultry products, the flesh of Gharial or crocodile, turtle and tortoise, flesh of fresh local fishes from nearby rivers and dried fish from sea coasts. The bones and shells in hard form has been found in and around the houses of the Indus valley civilization. [Source]

Archaeologists can tell what Indus Valley people ate by examining the teeth and bones of skeletons they discover. They also examine rubbish pits for animal bones, seafood shells, fruit seeds and other food remains for clues to their diet.  Indus people kept cattle, pigs, sheep and goats for food. Cows provided milk and meat. [BBC]

Meat came mainly from cattle, but the Harappans also kept chickens, buffaloes and some sheep and goats, and hunted a wide range of wildfowl and wild animals such as deer, antelopes and wild boar. They also ate fish and shellfish from the rivers, lakes and the sea; as well as being eaten fresh, many fish were dried or salted – many bones from marine fish such as jack and catfish were found at Harappa, far inland. [Source]

People of Indus Valley civilization were familiar with dogs, bulls, sheep, goats, buffaloes, horses, and elephants. They were also aware of a number of wild-game and animal products, such as milk, curd, ghee, and meat. Fish was their main animal food. These people were fond of mutton, beef, chicken, and meat of tortoise. [Source]  

The most comprehensive article is this one: Harappan settlement of Gola Dhoro: a reading from animal bones

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Sankalia on beef eating in ancient India

“After a survey of the evidence from various excavations since 1921, the doyen of Indian archaeologists, H.D. Sankalia, has opined that ‘ the attitude towards cow slaughter shows that until the beginning of the Christian era the cow/ ox were regularly slaughtered for food and for the sacrifice etc., in spite of the preaching of Ahimsa by Mahavira and the Buddha. Beef eating, however, did decrease owing to these preachings, but never died out completely’

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Beef Eating in the Ancient Tamizhagam

Came across this:

K. V. Ramakrishna Rao (A paper presented during the 57th session of Indian History Congress held at Madras from December 27-29, 1996).

Introduction: Eating of fish, mutton, beef, venison, meat in general is found in many references in the ancient Tamil literature, hereinafter mentioned as “Sangam literature” for convenience1. Though, emphasis has been given for food produced with the combination of water and earth and thus, rice eating or vegetarian food2, it is evident that a differentiation between vegetarian and non-vegetarian food was not made in those days. Surprisingly, there have been many references which reveal about mixing of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food together and taking by the ancient Tamils3. This again goes to prove that religious restriction was not there or religion did not play any role in the food habits.

Though, scholars4 previously discussed about cattle-raiding / lifting vividly and compared with “gogharana” of Vedic / Sanskrit literature, the subject of beef eating has not been discussed by them. Definitely, they were perplexed by observing the contradictory habit of beef-eating by the so-called “cattle-protectors”. They have dealt with the subject on the basis of so called “Brahmanical interpretation” or “Sanskrtic interpretation” and perhaps, thus totally missed the significance or prevalence of beef-eating in the supposedly “Aryanized” Tamil / Dravidian society.

The transition from beef-eating to cow deification leading to banning of the former must have taken place during the complete change over of the social factors with the strong religious and political conditions and compulsions, that too within a short period, as it could not have been implemented immediately. Then, the society should have been conducive and favourable enough to accept such change.

Man has every right to eat anything. He can eat beef, mutton, pork, fish, venison or meat of any animal or bird. If he wants, he can eat man also, as history is replete with many such examples. During food shortage, the concept of “survival of the fittest” works faithfully according to the principles of natural selection and evolution. Then, when he must have shunned a particular flesh for eating? Why he should have stopped eating man at a particular time? Why vegetarianism should be advocated against non-vegetarianism? The answers to these questions should be found only in the cultured, refined, advanced and civilized society. When the ancient Tamils stopped beef-eating, shunned meat and advocated vegetarianism, definitely such exigency could have arisen due to well planned design to change.

Different words used for meat: Many words have been used in the literature to denote meat of different varieties5. They are Un (meat), Thu, Thasai (flesh), Thadi, Ninam (fat), Pulal (dried meat with smell / dried salt-fish), Vidakkudai, Muri (removed flesh) characteristically.

References found about Beef-eating: The specific references found in the Sangam literature about beer-eating are mentioned and discussed.

Mazhavar ate the flesh of a fatty cow in the palai (desert) region (Agam.129:12).

The place where Mazavar killed a calf and ate its flesh was filled with the bad smell (pulal visum) of meat, again in the palai region (Agam.249:12-13).

A fatty cow was sacrificed at the bottom of a neem tree where a God resided, its blood sprinkled and then its flesh cooked by the Mazhavar – Vetch virar – warriors who captured cows during their raids from the depradators – Karandai, again in the palai region (Agam.309:1-5).

A Panan, with the instrument “Tannumai” killed a calf, stripped off and ate its flesh, in the marudha region (Nat.310.9). As the instrument is mentioned along with his act of killing a calf, it may be implied that the leather used for it might be that of a calf. Tannumai is a leather instrument, used to beat to drive away cattle lifter and Aralai kalavar or to warn about their presence and attack. Here, the irony is the “Tannumai” made of calf-leather is to be used to drive away the “cattle-lifters”, though, the “Tannumai”-player happened to be – not only a beef-eater, but also not a “cattle-protector”. Therefore, from the above references, Mazhavar, Aalai kalvar, Panar resorted to beef-eating.

Leather usage and Cattle-killing: Leather usage implies obtaining such leather from the dead or killed cattle. References are there how leather was obtained after the death of bull / ox. Agananuru and Purananuru6 refer to it: In a bull fight, the victorious bull is taken and its leather is used for the manufacture of Royal drum / tabour, implying the skin of fallen bull / or ox after killing is used for the purpose mentioned and the flesh for eating. Accordingly, it is evident that bull / ox was killed wantonly for the purpose mentioned. But, again there was no evidence for killing a cow in the context.

The references found about the usage of such leather for drums / tabours are as follows:

ó  The skin of an Ox, which was without any blemish and not used in any other work, was used to cover the drum (Madu.732-733).

ó  The skin of a beautiful Ox, which daringly killed a tiger, was selected for covering the drum (Agam.334).

ó  Two Bulls were selected and made them to fight. Of which, the winner’s skin was used for the drum (Puram.288).

Why Beef should be eaten? Eating of flesh of cow or for that matter any animal, that too raw with blood, shows the status of the evolutionary man at lower pedestal determined by archaeological factors. Then, justification of beef-eating based on the following arguments put forward by advanced, civilized and scientific man do not hold water:

  1. Beef is nutritious, cheaper, easily available, and digestible – cow-protection can thus be controlled effectively. Cows are bred and protected for their value.
  2. Scientific and rational – though sanctioned in a particular religion etc., there is no meaning in continuance of keeping the aged cattle.

Therefore, if the ancient Tamils were eating beef, mutton, meat, fish etc., singing Sangam poems, then, their status should be carefully assessed. Again, it may be noted that beef-eating in such an advanced, civilized and refined state would not deprive their status.

How were cows available for killing? Was there any organized cow killing during Sangam period for beef-eating with abattoirs? The answer is definitely not, as we do not come across breeding of cows, capturing cows of others – using, buying cows from others for the purpose, milking till they last and then killing for beef and leather. The act of Mazhavar / Kalvar / Panar shows their barabaric, uncivilized and uncultured nature, as there are references, where they used to kill travelers also irrespective of their status and hide their bodies covering7. Again, it is not specifically mentioned in the literature as to whether they were keeping the human bodies for concealing from others to hide their inhuman crime or for other purposes to suspect cannibalism. Then, one cannot become wild, when it was prevalent in the golden age of Sangam literature or “Aryans” cannot be blamed for.

If the “Aryanization” had been complete and total or the influence of Jains and Buddhists was so predominant, then, the ancient Tamil literature should not have given a mosaic food habit of the Tamils.  Archaeological evidences of megalithic culture8, which have been compared with the Sangam, period as depicted by the literature itself give such mosaic picture with contradicting food habits. The main problem is due to the clear mixing up of poems together belonging to different periods under the category of “Sangam literature” restricted it to c.500 BCE to 500 CE or 300 BCE to 300 CE. Therefore, the issue should be analyzed without racial and linguistic bias, prejudice and bigotry.

Beef-eating and Priests: Whether the “priestly class” of the Sangam society ate beef? Did “Brahmans / Brahmins” stop meat-eating to project themselves as superior to ahimsa preaching Jains? These are the interesting and crucial questions to be covered in the context.

The presence of a priestly class in a society should be a normal indicator for an established religion or popular religion acceptable to the majority of people, so their influence could create an impact on the fellow members. However, such a priestly class of the Sangam society should only be “Brashmans / Brahmins” as has been popularly believed is not supported by the Sangam literature, as no “Brahman / Brahmin” word is found.

Though, P. T. Srinivasa Iyengar discussed about “Brahmans” eating meat quoting Kapilar, but he was silent about his reference about rice-eating (Puram.337:13-15). Kapilar addresses to a Chera king, “Your hands have become hard due to warfare and giving alms to poets, whereas, the hands of poets have become soft, as they used to sing about you and eat smelling meat, seasonings of food, curry and boiled with rice with meat” (Puram.14:12-14). Again, at another place, when he leaves Parambunadu, he praises it, “You used to provide us opened jars filled with liquor, slayed rams, boiled rice and curry with friendship. Now, as Pari was dead, I am going away from you ………(Puram.113:1-3). Taking these references, P. T. Srinivasa Iyengar interprets that Kapilar himself as desiring them as reward of his poems. However, none has pointed out significantly that they ate beef also. The famous and favourable argument put forward by some scholars is that the meat / beef-eating Brahmans suddenly stopped it to promote cow-protection to project themselves to superior to ahimsa-preaching Jains or they had to fight the atheistic Jains and Buddhists were preaching and practicing non-violence, they should and could not have been so cruel to meat / beef eating, so that the Brahmans could found an ingenous trict to take over them.

The glaring example of Kalabras and their attitude towards Tamils, in spite of their Jaina or Buddhist religious affiliation is a clear mark of contradiction. So also the contradicting position of the meat eating Buddhists, as they were preaching love, ahimsa etc., at one side and eating meat at another side. Definitely, this must have created a strong impression upon the minds of the men and women of Sangam society. If we take the example of Kapilar, it can be said that only certain Parppar ate meat, but not all Parppar. Moreover, nothing is mentioned to prove that Andanar, Aruthozhilalar, Aravor, Maraiyavar, Muppirinulor, Pusurar, Vedhiyar, Mudhalvar, Kuravar and other classes of Sangam society, who are also considered as “Brahmans / Brahmins” ate meat. As the Vela Parppar were cutting conch shells and manufacturing bangles, there might have been some Parppar eating meat as referred to by Kapilar.

Incidentally, the conch-shell bangle manufacture involves removal of fleshy material from inside, cleaning it and then used for further processing. A Brahman by nature might not be accustomed to do such undesirable act. Therefore, a question arises as to whether he himself does such work or the Vela-Parppan group received cleaned conch-shells for cutting, sawing, polishing and painting completing the process of manufacture.

Therefore, as for as Tamizhagam is concerned, the argument that “Brahmans / Brahmins” ate beef or stopped beef eating to browbeat Jains and Buddhists in their maneuvers has no basis at all, as nothing is mentioned in the Sangam literature. The failure of Jainism and Buddhism in Tamizhagam proves the impossibility of co-existence of contradictory precept, preaching and practices. Therefore, if beef-eating Brahmins were performing yagnas or cow were sacrificed during yagnas, definitely, they would have been opposed by the public for their contradiction or totally wiped out from the society or they would not have been recognized and respected. What had happened to Jains and Buddhists should have happened to them also. But, that the atheist groups dwindled down proves the minimal acceptance of such contradicting practices. If general public had hated anything against their culture, tradition and heritage, definitely, such practices could not have been imposed on them, whether such method of imposition was carried out overtly or covertly with authority or submission.

When Cow was deified? The cow protecting communities were living in the Mullai region of the Sangam geography, Mayon (the Black one) or Tirumal (sacred mountain, ancient mountain, Black) or Nediyon (the Lengthy / Tall One, Great) was their God, who is identified with Vishnu or Krishna. Though, Indra Vizha (festival of Indra, the god of Marudha nilam) is mentioned, deification of cow or festival of cows is not found. Neither he nor Mayon is implied as “Govindan or “Gopalan” (= protector or saviour of cows). As Krishna stopped the celebration of festival meant for Indra, after his victory over him and advised their followers to celebrate the same in the his name, there should have been some “Vizha” commemorating him, but we do not find any festival meant for Mayon, except “Tainniradal” by women. The name “Kannan” equivalent to of “Krishna” has been so popular in the literature, as even pots have it as suffixes. As he is the god of mullai region, automatically, the cow should have also received due respect theologically. As Pongal festival has closely been associated with cow deification and the culture of the ancient Tamils, it is implied that such deification of cow might have begun, as supported by the Neolithic / megalithic cattle keepers, periodical burning of cow-pans etc. however, deification of cow is also not found in the Sangam literature, in spite of many references about cow and cattle-raidings and this, again clearly proves the independent food habit of the ancient Tamils or non-infiltration of the so called “Aryan influence” or principles of the Tamil society.

The different words used for cow in the literature are – a, an, aninam, aniral, avinam, anirai etc. The Vedic names for cow are aghnya, ahi, aditi etc. In fact, they mean aghnya = not to be killed, ahi = not to be slaughtered, aditi = not to be cut into pieces. Therefore, it is evident, that the Tamil words used to denote cow also started to convey such meaning and thus, they were to be protecxted by Kings and others.

Protectors of Cows: Though, Kovalar, Idaiyar, Kongar, Ayar, Andar and other communities specifically lived depending upon cattle with Mayon as their God, it could not prevent Mazhavar / aralai kalvar of Palai from preventing killing of cows and beef-eating, even though, they were also supposedly worshipping Kotravai, who is nothing but sister-in-law of Mayon, according to the interpretation of the commoners. On the other hand, the cattle lifters were Kalvar, Mazhavar, Panar, Maravar and Vadugar. And all were part of the Sangam society and considered “Dravidians”. But, how then certain groups of “Dravidians” had been “cow-slaughterers” and some others “Cow-protectors” is not known.

Protection of Cows: the emphasis is given in the literature for the protection of cows is also noted9. Netrimaiyar (Velalar by caste), a Tamil poet records that cows having the character of weak should be protected, by grouping such categories – cow, women and the sick. Another poet, Alattur Kizhar (Vellalar) notes that the crime of cutting off of a udder of a cow tops the list of heinous crimes committed by anybody. Then comes the destruction of foetus of pregnant ladies and crime committed against “kuravar”, implying priestly class. Tiruvalluvar10 also emphasizes in more or less in the same way. He says that there is redemption for any sin / crime committed against good act, but not against ingratitude. Again in another place, he points out that if ruler does not rule or protect properly, the fruits of cows would decrease and those with six duties (Arutozhilalatr) forget their books / scriptures. Therefore, it is evident that the respect for cows and its protection got importance in the Sangam society. Moreover, another important point should be noted is that why Velalar should advocate cow protection, while Anthanar / Parppar poet Kapilar was aping for meat, if not for beef. Tiruvalluvar is quoted here, as he has been totally against flesh-eating of anykind.

Yagnas and Cows: Vedic infiltration has been detected at many places, because of the performance of yagna by the Tamil kings and so on. Palyagasalai Mudhukudimi Peruvazhudhiyan, as his name connotes a Pandya King, performer of many yagnas with lengthy tuft, but not in a poem referring to his yagnas records about the cow sacrifice. Rasasuyam was also performed by a Chola King by earning name “Rasasuyam Vettiya Perungilli”. But, no reference of sacrifice of “horse” in Rasasuyam is there, though goat was sacrificed repeatedly by Velan to please Murugu / Muruga / Murugan during Veriyadal. If beef-eating was so intimately connected with or mandatory for yagnas, then, definitely, it should have been mentioned to record its performance.

Sanction and Prohibition of Beef: Sanction or prohibition of eating anything starts from the association of it with God, Prophet or religion itself. Ample examples can be seen in the world religious literature about such evolution as pointed out by Frazer, Blavatsky and others. Depending upon myth, theology and social necessity, such evolution mostly embraces economic factors. That is why economic or social necessity gets sanctified with religious order or political dominance with authority enforced. So also prohibition starts for producing counter factors. Thus, what is sanctioned in one religion is prohibited in another religion and vice versa. Thus, beef-eating, pork-eating, carrion-flesh eating, fish eating etc., are sanctioned and prohibited in the world religions.

Beef eating and yagna practices were definitely prevalent among the ancient Tamils. Therefore, if combination of such could have been effected, had they been really any such affinity between and necessity for them. Even, the invading, alien culture imposing or “dominating Aryans” could have manipulated it seizing the wonderful prevailing opportunity. But, neither the Aralai kalvar stopped their beef-eating without yagnas nor the “Aryanized kings” performed yagnas killing cows. Here, the “Aryan-Dravidian” interpretation falls down completely.

Chronological Puzzles: Moreover., the Jaina and Buddhist infiltration could have been taken place during 3rd. century BCE. But, their scholarly works, mostly covered under Padinemkizhkanakku, which strongly advocate non-abstinence from meat, praise of vegetarianism etc., are dated to 1st to 8th cent. CE. Therefore, if the priestly class was already sacrificing cows in the yasgnas and eating beef, why they should have started to write against it later period? Why their persecution should start in the 8th cent. CE, when they were already supporting vegetarianism, non-eating of meat etc?

It is also intriguing to note the Neolithic and megalithic Tamils with Iron technology were composing Sangam literature and leading refined, cultured and advanced social life as depicted in the literature itself, but historians dub them as living in “barabaric condition” or in a “tribal state” without any “state formation”.

Archaeological Evidences: There are many archaeological evidences found at Neolithic and megalithic burials prove the mixed food habit of the ancient Tamils11. Lower Neolithic people were leading pastoral life heavily depending upon cattle and agriculture, tallying with the depiction of mullai region. Upper neoloithic people were practicing mixed farming, a combination of fishing  (hooks found), hunting (different hunting implements, charred bone showing roasting of meat, cut marks on the bones proving the extraction of marrow from them etc) and gathering (deer, squirrel, tortoise, udumbu = guna lacerta ignana etc), domestication of animals (cattle, sheep, pigs, fowls – Gaudhar = patridge, kadai = quail etc) and agriculture (growing rice, ragi, maize, millets, horse gram etc).

The nature of settled life led is proved by the megalithic evidences. Food habits show more or less the same pattern as that of Neolithic culture with more refined implements. Use of ferrous and non-ferrous technology was however prevalent with both the cultures. As the archaeological evidences of both cultures overlap or exhibit almost similar structure and carbon datings have extremities of c.3000 to 300 BCE, a thorough study in consonance with literary study may reveal further interesting details about the Sangam society.

Conclusion: Based on the above discussion, the following conclusions are arrived at:

È  Sangam society as depicted in the Sangam literature adated and adopted mixed food habit.

È  Beef-eating was prevalent in the Sangam period without any religious compulsion or restriction.

È  Aralai kalver / Mazhavar / Panar etc., ate beef. Some of the Parppar might have eaten meat, but not beef and such Parppar did not belong to priestly class or engaged in the performance of yagnas.

È  Yagnas were performed, but no cow, horse or any animal was sacrificed.

È  Mostly goat and cock were sacrificed during veriyadal and other occassins and cow in few occasions to please nature, but such sacrificial rites cannot be considered yagnas. Similarly, “Kala velvi”, the so called yagnas conducted at the battle fields as depicted by the poets, is nothing to do with “velvi”.

È  Chronologically, nothing could be specifically mentioned about the starting and introduction of beef-eating in the Tamizhagam based on the evidence of religion and theology.

È  Racial and linguistic interpretation does not help to find facxts about the Sangam society.

È  The exact penetration of “Krishna myth” and worship of cow as “Goddess” into the minds of the ancient Tamils must had taken place, if Mayon is a “Black Dravidian God”, since time immemorial based on the literary evidence.

Notes and References

1.     In Pattuppattu and Ettuttogai, as there have been hundreds of references about the topic and sub-topics dealt with in this paper, for the sake of convenience and sace constraint only selected poem references are given.

Venison = meat of deer (Puram.33: 1-6; 152.26).

Fork (Puram.177:12-16; 379:8; Porunatru.343-345; Malai.175-177).

Elephant (Agam.106:10).

Tortoise (Puram.212:3).

Porcupine (Malai.176).

Fowl (Puram.320:11; 324:2).

2.     Puram. 18: 19-24: 186:1.

3.     Mixing of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food together:

Puram. 14:13 – Meat with rice and vegetable curry.

Venison with butter – 33:1-6

Milk with the flesh of deer – 168:12-16

Chicken, bird and fish with millet – 320:10-11.

Mutton with rice – 366:16-18

Pork roasted in ghee and mixed with rice 379:8-10.

Meat with rice mixed with milk, jaggery etc – 381:1-3.

Roasted meat in ghee mixed with rice – 382: 8-10.

Meat with rice – 391:3-6.

Rabbit meat with old rice – 395: 3-5.

Flesh of rabbit with rice – 396:12-13.

Venison with rice – 398: 13-14,

Meat, fish with fruits – 399:1-6.

Malai. 422-425; 563-566.

Agam. 60:3-6.

Natri.41:8; 45”6; 60:6; 281:6.

4.     P. T. Srinivasa Iyengar, History of Tamils from the Earliest times to 600 A. D., C. Coomarasamy Naidu & Sons, Madras, 1929, Madras.

He, while discussing about meat-eating by Brahmans, wonders as to when and why South Indian Brahmanas (part of ancient Tamil society) gave up meat-eating being an interesting problem. He concludes that with the rise of Bakti cult and teaching kf Jainas, theyt gave up meat = eating to become first teachers of Vaishnava and Saiva Agamas (pp.121-122). Though he quiotes Kapilar to prove that Brahmans ate meat, he has not specifically noted that they ate beef also. In fact, Kailar talks about eice eating in a poem (Puram 337:14).

N. Subramaniam, Sangam Polity, Ennes Publications, Madurai, 1980.

M. G. S. Narayanan, Social History from the Text Book of Poetrics in The Sangam Age (A Study of Tolkappiyam – Section IV. Porulatikaram), Proceedings of Indian History Congress, Calcutta, 1990, p.96.

He wonders about the cow protectors becoming cow sacrifiucers and eaters. He comments: “The cow protectors of Prof. Subramaniam appear in fierce light as cow sacrificres and cow eaters in another song in the same collection”.

He again accuses him for interpreting vetchi as the opening in war, meant for protecting the valuable life of the cows which could not protect themselves. “However, the present writer found a group of poems in Purananuru which gave an entirely different picture, singing the praise of the warrior chiefs who would go to neighboring villages, plunder the cattle and make a grand feat with meat and drink or distribute them in gifts to their followers. These poems received the true nature of the tribal practice”.

But, he is totally wrong as the reference is found in Agananuru and not in Purananuru. Moreover, the so called warriors are “Mazhavar” who are in the habit of committing heinous crimes including killing the travelers as pointed out above.

C. E. Ramachandran, Ahananuru in its Historical Setting, University of Madras, Madras, 1974, pp.72-74.

Though, references about beef-eating are available in Agananuru, he is conspicuously silent about it in his work, while discussing about food habits of the ancient Tamils.

F. R. Allchin, Neolithic Cattle Keepers of South India, Cambridge University Press, London, 1963.

He records that the bones recovered almost all from living areas wewre mosytly cut up as if purposes of food (p.174). though over 200 specimen of cattle bones were identified, he opines that it is not clear whether this indicates the presence of two separate breeds one milch variety and the other used for transport and ploughing purposes (p.45). in introduction, he mentions about the western attitude towards cows, cowdung, cow worship, gosalas etc., (pp.ix-x).

5.     Un                 Puram.14.13; 96.6; 381:1-3; 382:8

Thu        Padit.51:33.

Dhasai   Puram.14:12-16, 64:3-4; 74:1-2; 168:6-10; 235:6-7; 396:15-16;

Pernatru. 336, 343-345,

Malai. 175-177, 422-426, 563-566.

Agam.60:3-6; 193:6-10; 265:12-17;




Ninam   Puram.150.9; 152.26; 325:9; 396:12.

Vidakkudai Natri.281.6.

Muri      Puram. 391:5.

6.     Agam. 334:1-3; Puram. 288: 1-4; Madurai.732-733.

7.     Nat. 252:2-3.


Agam.113:18; 161:2-4; 175:1-6; 313: 12-132.

8.     S. Gurumurthy, Archaeology and Tamil Culture, University of Madras, Madras, 1974, p.25.

He asserts that megalithic people were living during the Sangam period and it can be put within 1000 to 500 BCE and the Sangam literature shows their cultural traits.

9.     Puram.9:1-2; 34:1.

10.  Tirukkural.110, 560.

11.  A. Ghose (Ed.), An Encyclopedia of Indian Archaeology, 2 vols.,, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, 1989.

K. S. Ramaschandran, Neolithic Cultures of <st1:country-region>India</st1:country-region>, Department of Archaeology, Madras, 1980.

B. K. Gururaja Rao, The Megalithic Culture in South India, University of Mysore, Mysore, 1982.

S. B. Deo, Problem of South Indian Megaliths, Karnatak University, Dharwar, 1974.

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Beef eating in India today

A very large number of Indians abroad eat beef. I have personally experienced this. However, even in India, beef is eaten in at least a few places, including Kerala and Mizoram.

Kappa Beef in Kerala:

Kappa beef recipe: here.

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Beef-Eating in Ancient India

By Mahadev Chakravarti, Social Scientist, Vol. 7, No. 11 (Jun., 1979), pp. 51-55 [Word]

BEEF-EATING was not peculiar to the people of the Western countries alone, but was popular with the Vedic Indians also. The food items of the Vedic Indian can be gathered from the list of sacrificial victims because what man ate he usually presented to his gods.[1] Practically all the important ceremonies and sacrifices were attended with slaughter of bulls and cows. The Gomedha and Asvamedha sacrifices are important in this respect. The Sulagava sacrifice, in which the bull, as the name implies, seems to have been pierced with a spike or lance to appease Rudra, is described in detail in the grhyasutras.
Restrictions in Vedic Literature
In a hymn of the RgVeda it is said that “Indra will eat thy bulls.”[2] In another hymn of the RgVeda[3] Agni is styled Uksanna and Vasanna i.e. “eater of bulls and barren cows.” Not only for the purpose of sacrifices but for food also, the bovine species were killed in regular slaughter-houses and this is evident from another hymn of the RgVeda.[4] Again, it is suggested in the RgVeda that the cow was cut up with a sword or axe.[5] It is interesting to note in this context that the modern Hindu practice of Jhatka-bali, that is, severing the head of the animal at one stroke, had not yet come into fashion. There are ample evidences how the Rgvedic people were fond of beef-eating. Even in funeral ceremony beef-eating was considered an essential part.[6]
Interestingly enough in the same Veda the cow is sometimes considered inviolable as indicated by her designation aghnya (‘not to be slain’) which occurs sixteen times in the entire RgVeda,[7] as opposed to three instances of aghnya[8] (masculine). But this fact cannot be regarded as showing that beef-eating was condemned in the Rgvedic period. In this connection, we should point out that the Sanskrit word used for the sacrificial cow is Vasa (i.e. ‘sterile cow’) and a milch cow was seldom sacrificed.[9] It is only in this way that one can explain the lavish praise bestowed on the cow in the RgVeda where she is described in a number of hymns as “the mother of Rudras, the daughter of the vasus, the sister of Adityas, and the centre of nectar.”[10]
Although we have three references of aghnya in the RgVeda, still apparently no strict restriction in regard to the slaughter of bulls (as opposed to milch cows) is found. It seems probable that some composers of Rgvedic hymns were pre-Aryan (non-Aryan) Indians (who disliked beef-eating) who became Aryanized like the Asuras and the Vratyas and labelled the whole bovine species inviolable, because outside India this inviolability is utterly unknown.[11]
In the days of Atharva Veda beef-eating remained unaltered, although it was censured here and there in that Veda. During the Brahmana period the habit of beef-eating seems to have increased. Among the Kamya Ishtis or minor sacrifices set forth in the Taittiriya Brahmana different bovine species were sacrificed to different gods, namely, a dwarf ox to Visnu, a drooping horned bull with a blaze on the forehead to Indra, a red cow to Rudra, a white barren cow to Surya and so on. The Aitareya Brahmana lists the bull as one of the sacrificial animals.[12] From the Taittiriya and the Pancavimsa Brahmanaswe learn that the sage Agastya slaughtered hundred bulls at a sacrifice.’[13] The Satapatha Brahmana gives a picture of the inordinate fondness of Yajnavalkya for beef who said: “I for one eat it, provided it is tender (amsala)”.[14] But, strangely enough, we are to face two exhortations in the same Brahmana against eating beef.[15]
Among the Sutras, kalpasutra and grhyasutra, display less reticence and distinctly suggest beef as an item of food on different occasions of life. According to Sankhyayanasutra a bull or a sterile cow should be killed in the house of the father of the bride on the wedding day and also in the house of the bridegroom when the husband and the wife arrive after marriage.[16] Even at sraddhas or periodical oblations to the manes, the sacrifice of a bull or cow is recommended by the Apastamba and Paraskara grhyasutras.[17] Yajnavalkya indicates how the aroma of beef was thought to be an ailment for the spirits.[18] According to Vasisthasutra “an ascetic who, invited to dine at a sacrifice . . . rejects meat shall go to hell for as many years as the slaughtered beast has hairs.”[19] The Khadira and GobhilaSutras prescribed the sacrifice of a black cow to the deity of the dwelling-houses when a new house was constructed.[20]
Distinguished guests like one’s teachers, priests, kings, bridegrooms and Vedic students on their return home after the completion of their studies are to be honoured with the presentation of a bull or a barren cow to be slaughtered – hence, a guest is denominated in the Vedic literature as goghna or cow-killer.[21] The ceremony of madhuparka is notable in this context. The madhuparka ceremony seems to have been very old because the custom of entertaining a distinguished guest with beef is found both in the Satapatha Brahmana[22] and the Aitareya Brahmana[23] and it was in all likelihood known also in the Rgvedic period.
Moral Codes and Beef-eating
We now turn to the Smrti literature. Manu, like Vasistha, sanctions the consumption of the flesh of all domestic animals which have but one row of teeth.[24] That this would obviously include beef becomes clear from the comments of even such orthodox pundits like Medhatithi and Raghavananda.[25] Manu also recommends the madhuparka with beef for the reception of kings.[26] The Yajnavalkya-smrti distinctly lays down that a mah-oksa or ‘big bull’ is to be slaughtered on such occasions.[27] In fact, both the Manu and Yajnavalkya-Smrtis permit the killing of bovine species on such special occasions, in sacrifices and in rites for manes etc.; otherwise beef-eating was regarded as upapataka or minor offence, though not mahapataka or mortal sin.[28] In spite of the individual predilections of the author of Manu-Smrti, who was a staunch upholder of ahimsa, who even said that no flesh can be had without killing living beings and killing such beings cannot lead to heaven and so one should give up flesh eating,[29] the general usage was different in his times and centuries were required before the views propounded by Manu became predominant.[30]
From Ancient Science and Literature
The ancient medical works like the Charaka Samhita recommend beef for pregnant women, but prohibits it for everyday use for everybody.[31] R L Mitra enlightens us that in some medieval Indian medical works beef soup is especially recommended for people recovering from fainting fits.[32]
The Epics allude to the gomedha without any details. In the ‘Vanaparva’ of the Mahabharata[33] it is stated that animals killed in sacrifices to the accompaniment of Vedic mantras went to heaven and it narrates the story of king Rantideva in whose sacrifices two thousand animals, including cows, were killed every day. In the ‘Udyogaparva’ king Nahusha was cursed and hurled down from heaven by the great sage Agastya because he ventured to cast doubts on the Vedic injunctions for the sacrifice of cows and offered insult to a Brahmana.[34]
Bhavabhuti in his Uttara-Rama-Charita (Act IV) describes how the venerable poet Valmiki, when preparing to receive the sage Vasistha, slaughtered a number of calves for the entertain- ment of his guest. From the Mahaviracharita of the same author it is evident how Vasistha, in his turn, likewise entertained Visvamitra, Janaka, Satananda and other sages with ‘fatted calf’, and tempted Jamadagnya by saying: “The heifer is ready for sacrifice and the food is cooked in ghee.”[35]
In Kautilya’s Arthasastra cattle are classified, where bulls are intended for the slaughter-house, but the killing of the milch cows, and calves, though permitted for sacrificial purposes, is forbidden for butchers’ stalls.[36] Asoka in his Rock Edict I and Pillar Edict I declared how originally thousands of animals were killed in the royal kitchen. Considering the popularity of beef-eating among the people even Asoka, the great propagator of ahimsa, resolved later on to discontinue the slaughter of animals only for some days in the year; for example, he included the breeding bull but not the cow in the list of animals not to be slaughtered on those days.[37]

[1] A A Macdonell and A B Keith, Vedic-Index, Varanasi, 1958, Vol II, p 147.

[2] Rgveda X 85, 13-14.

[3] Ibid., VIII 43, 11.

[4] Ibid., X 89, 14.

[5] Ibid., X 79, 6.

[6] Ibid., X 16, 7.

[7] Ibid., I 164, 27 and 40, IV 16, V 83, 8, VIII 69, 21. X 87, 16 etc.

[8] A A Macdonell Vedic Mythology, Delhi, 1974, p 151.

[9] D R Bhandarkar Some Aspects of Ancient Indian Culture, Madras.

[10] Rgveda VI 28, 1-8, VIII 101. 15-16.

[11]D R Bhandarkar op. cit., p 73.

[12] Aitareya Brahmana VI 8.

[13] Taittiriya Brahmana II 7, 11/1; Pancavimsa Brahmana XXI/14,5.

[14] Satapatha Brahmana III 1, 2, 21.

[15] Ibid., I 2 3, 6-9.

[16] Sankhyayanasutra I 12, 10.

[17] Apastamba II 7, 16-26; Paraskara III 10, 41-49.

[18] Yanavalkya I 258-60.

[19] Vajsistha XI 34.

[20] Khadira IV 2, 17, Gobhila IV 7, 27. 54

[21] Asiatic Researches VII p 289; according to Panini (III 4 73): gam hantitasinai goghno.

[22] Satapatha III 4 1 2.

[23] Aitareya I 3 4.

[24] Manu-Smrti V 18.

[25]D R Bhandarkar Op. cit., p 77.

[26] Manu-Smrti III 119-20.

[27] Yajnavalaka Smrti I 109-10.

[28] Manu V 27-44, XI 60; Yajnavalkya I 109-10.

[29] Manu V 48.

[30] P V Kane, History of Dharmasastra, 1941, Poona, pp 779-80.

[31] R L Mitra, Indo-Aryans, Calcuta, 1881, p 360.

[32] Loc. cit.

[33] Mahabharata 208, 11-12.

[34] E W Hopkins, Epic Mythology, New Delhi, 1968, p 19.

[35]R L Mitra op. cit., pp 357-58

[36] Arthasastra II 26, 29.

[37] Journal of the Asiatic Society, VII, p 249; R L Mitra op. cit., p 359.

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