Beef was widely eaten in ancient Hindu India – conclusive proofs, as assessed by Sanjeev Sabhlok

A Buddhist’s analysis of meat and beef eating in ancient India (by Shravasti Dhammika)


There is no evidence that Brahmanism, the main religion during the Buddha’s time, taught vegetarianism. Vedic sacrifices in which animals were slaughtered were still being practiced and are frequently mentioned in the Tipitaka (e.g. Anguttara Nikaya I,66; II,42; IV,41). However, the Vinaya mentions what were called maghata, certain days of the month when animals were not slaughtered and meat was not available in the markets (Vinaya I,217). The Jataka also mentions maghata and adds that they would be announced by the beat of a drum (Jataka IV,115). Were these non-killing days a result of a general unease about meat eating, or due to the influence of Buddhism, or of Jainism? We don’t know. The Kama Sutra (3rd cent CE?) points out that alcohol and dog meat increase a man’s virility but then adds, somewhat halfheartedly, that a circumspect man would nonetheless take neither. It also gives recipes for aphrodisiacs, many of them including animal flesh and organs. So once again we have an ambiguous attitude towards consuming meat.

Neither of the two great Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata teach vegetarianism and both often refer to eating meat as if it were normal and uncontroversial, as indeed it was. In his detailed study of everyday life as depicted in the Ramayana Ananda Guruge writes, “The Aryans of ancient India were not altogether vegetarians. Their diet was a mixed one; they ate fish as was offered to Bharata and his party by Guha. Meat too was consumed quite widely. Not only did Rama say that animals are killed by men for their flesh but he also killed many animals – deer, wild boar, antelope, etc., – for food during his sojourn in the forest. Meat was eaten with relish and a verse which describes a meal of Rama and Sita states, ‘He sat on a rock tempting Sita with meat (saying) this is pure, this is tasty and this is well cooked by fire.’ In Bharadvaja’s hermitage Bharata’s army was supplied with venison, mutton, pork and flesh of the peacock and the snipe Likewise, Kumbhakarna consumed large quantities of venison, beef and pork and drank blood. Although the Vanaras are generally depicted as vegetarians, the Brahmans were actually not. The concept that ‘a purely vegetarian diet is an indication of spiritual progress and an advanced culture’ is a later development in India. Even ascetic Brahmans were not strict vegetarians. Although their usual fare consisted of vegetables, they did not abstain from meat-eating as a principle of either religious or social significance. In fact, Agastya is represented as eating rams and he says, ‘I am able to eat comfortably even one whole ram at a Sraddha ceremony.’ There seems to have been no ban on meat-eating by Brahmans even at the time of Bhavabhuti for his Uttararamacarita depicts Vasistha as eating a tawny calf Further, Valin’s statement specifically mentions the animals whose flesh could be eaten by Brahmans. (The Society of the Ramayana, 1960, p.147-8).

In the chapter on food the Sushruta Samhita (1st– 4th cent CE) recommends all kinds of fish, bird and animal flesh showing that meat eating was commonplace during that period. This and a great deal of other evidence shows that like Buddhists, Hindus were for centuries in two minds about vegetarianism. It was only after the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries that vegetarianism started to become widespread in India. 


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5 thoughts on “A Buddhist’s analysis of meat and beef eating in ancient India (by Shravasti Dhammika)
  1. Alfred

    Very informative. The vedic people in India who started following vegetarianism after mahaveer and Buddhar still call themselves vegetarians while their main diet is completely dairy products. the best part is they even pour milk which is a complete non-vegetarian substance over their deitys (sculptures) in karpa grahams. Vedic hindus and indians in republic of india are the most confused entities when it comes to vegetarian and non-vegetarian concepts. I loved this article. -Zeegod

    1. saddha

      That's nonsense,  Buddhists are allowed to eat any meat.  Buddhist sutras state that it was the Brahmins and Jains were the ones who were restricting beef and eating meat.  

      Buddhism stopped the false external sacrifice of the Brahmanical Vedas and taught the internal sacrifice.

  2. Aditya Kumar

    Author: Sandhya Jain

    Publication: Deccan Herald

    Under the pretext of disseminating

    true knowledge about the past to

    young, impressionable school children,

    a perverse assault has been launched

    upon the religious sensitivities of the

    Hindu community. Marxist historians

    allege that ancient Hindus ate beef, that this is recorded in their sacred

    scriptures, and that this should be taught to school children. The Hindu

    prohibition on cow slaughter, they say, is a more recent development and

    Hindus are shying away from this truth because it is intimately linked with

    their sense of identity.

    A Marxist specialist on ancient India, ignorant in both Vedic and Panini 's

    Sanskrit, claims that the Shatapatha Brahmana and Vasistha Dharmasutra

    clearly state that guests were honoured by serving beef. She also cites

    archaeological evidence as reported by H.D. Sankalia and B.B. Lal. While the

    lady thinks her evidence is irrefutable, I have decided to pick up the gauntlet.

    To begin with, the Shatapatha Brahmana is Yajnavalkya's commentary on the

    Yajur Veda, and not a revealed text. As for the Vasistha Dharmasutra, the

    legendary Sanskritist, late P.V. Kane, said, "beyond the name Vasistha there is

    hardly anything special in the dharmasutra to connect it with the Rgveda."

    Kane also added, "grave doubts have been entertained about the authenticity

    of the whole of the text of the Vas.Dh.S. as the mss. (manuscripts) contain

    varying numbers of chapters from 6 to 30, and as the text is hopelessly corrupt

    in several places. many verses.bear the impress of a comparatively late age."

    Kane tentatively places this text between 300-100 B.C., that is, long after the

    end of the Vedic age.

    According to archaeologists, the early Vedic age tentatively falls between the

    fourteen century BC to the first millennium BC. The later Vedic period lies

    between 1000 BC to 600-700 BC. But if we go by astronomical dating of some

    of the hymns, we get a period of 7000 BC for a portion of the Vedas.

    The honest question, however, is whether the Vedas offer evidence about

    cow slaughter and beef-eating, and if not, how the controversy arose in

    the first place. A few clarifications are in order before we proceed. The word

    'cow' (gau), for instance, is used throughout the Vedas in diverse senses, and,

    depending on the context of the verse, could mean the animal cow, waters,

    sun-rays, learned persons, Vedic verses, or Prithvi (earth as Divine Mother).

    Did Vedic people really eat cow? 1 Newsletter Spotlight

    1. Did Vedic people really

    eat cow?

    2. Make friendship with

    Krishna’s cows

    3. New Born

    4. Adoption of the month

    5. Back to Vrindavan

    village- Asvamedha-yajnas

    or Gomedha-yajnas

    If one is trained to honor

    and worship the cows and

    brahmanas, he is actually

    civilized. SB 6.18.52 Purport

    The arguments in the West for

    cow slaughter are no more

    uncontested. There are better

    sources of protein than beef.

    Any dietician's chart shows

    that beef with 22 per cent

    protein ranks below soyabean

    (43), groundnut (31) and

    pulses (24 per cent).

    Quote from scripture

    Is this advancement?

    Then, Vedic society was heterogeneous, pluralistic, and non-vegetarian. In theory, it is possible that the cow was killed and

    eaten. The fact, however, is that throughout the Vedas the cow is called a non-killable animal, or "aghnya."

    According to "An Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Sanskrit on Historical Principles" (Vol. I, Deccan College, Poona),

    "aghnya" means "not to be killed or violated" and is used for cows and for waters in the presence of which oaths

    were taken.

    The Rig and Sama Veda call the cow "aghnya" and "Aditi", ie. not to be murdered (Rig 1-64-27; 5-83-8; 7-68-9; 1-

    164-40; 8-69-2; 9-1-9; 9-93-3; 10-6-11; 10-87-16). They extol the cow as un-killable, un-murderable, whose milk purifies

    the mind and keeps it free from sin. Verse 10-87-16 prescribes severe punishment for the person who kills a cow. The

    Atharva Veda recommends beheading (8-3-16) for such a crime; the Rig Veda advocates expulsion from the

    kingdom (8-101-15).

    Hence, it seems unlikely that the cow would be slaughtered to entertain guests, as claimed by Marxist historians.

    But before coming to any conclusion, the archaeological evidence should also be examined. Archaeologists have

    excavated bones of cattle in huge quantity, "cattle" is a collective noun which includes the cow, bull, buffalo, nilgai

    and all other bovine animals. Nowhere in the world can experts differentiate between the bones of cows and other

    cattle recovered from excavations.

    There are good reasons for this difficulty. Most of the bones found are not whole carcasses, but large pieces of limbs. Experts

    feel that these could be the remains of animals that died naturally and were skinned for their hide and bones. Ancient man

    used bones to make knives and other tools; the splintered bones found could be part of the tool-making exercise. In all

    honesty, therefore, cattle bone finds do not prove cow slaughter or the eating of cow meat, especially when all literary

    evidence points in the opposite direction.

    There has been talk about cut-marks on the bones. But apart from tool-making, even if a tanner skins dead cattle for the

    hide, he will inflict cut marks on the carcass. Scientifically, it is not possible to say if the marks on the bones are ante-mortem

    or post-mortem. This can be determined only where the body is intact (animal or human), by analyzing blood vessels, tissue,

    rigor mortis and other factors. Fortunately, there is now clinching evidence why the Marxist claim on cow-flesh rests on

    false premises. As already stated, the allegation rests mainly on literary sources and their interpretation, and we are in a

    position to trace the source of the mischief – the Vachaspatyam of Pandit Taranath and his British mentors.

    Pandit Taranath, a professor of grammar at the Calcutta Sanskrit College, compiled a six-volume Sanskrit-to-

    Sanskrit dictionary, which is used by scholars to this day. The Vachaspatyam is a valuable guide for scholars because

    there are certain words in the samhita (mantra) section of the Vedas that are not found later in the Puranas.

    What most Sanskrit scholars have failed to notice is that Taranath artfully corrupted the meanings of a few crucial

    words of the Vedic samhita to endorse the meaning given by Max Muller in his translation of the Vedas. Swami

    Prakashanand Saraswati has exposed this beautifully in "The True History and the Religion of India, A Concise

    Encyclopedia of Authentic Hinduism" (Motilal Banarsidass).

    The British idea was that Max Muller would translate the Rig Veda "in such a scornful manner that Hindus

    themselves should begin to reproach their own religion of the Vedas," while a Hindu pandit would "compile an

    elaborate Sanskrit dictionary that should exhibit disgraceful meanings of certain words of the Vedic mantras." As

    Hindus would not question a dictionary by a Hindu pandit, the British would be able to claim that whatever Max

    Muller wrote about the Vedas was according to the dictionary of the Hindus.

    Swami Prakashanand Saraswati focuses on two words – goghn and ashvamedh. "Goghn" means a guest who receives a

    cow as gift. Panini created a special sutra to establish the rule that goghn will only mean the receiver of a cow (and

    will not be used in any other sense). But Taranath ignored Panini's injunction and wrote that "goghn" means "the

    killer of a cow." He similarly converted the ashvamedh yagna from 'ritual worship of the horse' to the "killing of the


    The Swami proves the British hand in this mischief through the patronage given to Taranath by the Government of

    Bengal in 1866, when Lt. Governor Sir Cecil Beadon sanctioned ten thousand rupees for two hundred copies of his

    dictionary. This was a king's ransom in those days, as even in the 1930s the headmaster of a vernacular primary school

    received a salary of twenty rupees a month. Today, ten thousand rupees is the equivalent of two million rupees.

    When the basic premise upon which all modern translations rest is thus knocked off its pedestal, what beef is left in the

    theory that Vedic Hindus enjoyed the flesh of the cow? I rest my case.

    Make friendship with Krishna’s Cows 2

    New Born

    Tatoo No 051


    Asvamedha-yajnas or Gomedha-yajnas, sacrifices in which a horse or a bull is sacrificed,

    were not, of course, for the purpose of killing the animals. Lord Caitanya said that such

    animals sacrificed on the altar of yajna were rejuvenated and a new life was given to

    them. It was just to prove the efficacy of the hymns of the Vedas. By recitation of the

    hymns of the Vedas in the proper way, certainly the performer gets relief from the

    reactions of sins, but in case of such sacrifices improperly done under inexpert

    management, surely one has to become responsible for animal sacrifice. In this age

    of quarrel and hypocrisy there is no possibility of performing the yajnas perfectly

    for want of expert brahmanas who are able to conduct such yajnas. Maharaja

    Yudhisthira therefore gives a hint to performing sacrifices in the age of Kali. In the

    Kali-yuga the only sacrifice recommended is the performance of hari-nama-yajna

    inaugurated by Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. But one should not indulge in animal

    killing and counteract it by performing the hari-nama yajna. Those who are devotees of the Lord never kill an animal for

    self-interest, and (as the Lord ordered Arjuna) they do not refrain from performing the duty of a ksatriya. The whole purpose, therefore, is served when everything is done for the will of the Lord. This is possible only for the devotees.

    Also, 'mansa' mainly meant any pulp and not meat. When children drink mother's milk they are not called cannibals therefore that argument does not hold water.

    Thank You.


  3. jay

    You said like Buddhists, Hindus were in two minds about vegetarianism etc..

    Why do some people try so hard in order to make a distinction between Hindu and Buddhist in this manner ? As if they are two totally different? Stuff like this has pride/ego crisis  written all over it and usually work of western mindset. You know one is derived from the other and from within the same social and cultural fabric. The difference is really thin as in between sunyata a kind of nihility or emptyness vs nirakar sat chit anand. Buddhist thought and culture was product and fruit of Hindu ethos. It's like a beatiful picture which needs to be laid upon the fabric of background screen. Or a beautiful golden harvest on the well ploughed land. Don't get carried away and run off with the crop like a theif and forget to pay your gratitude and respect and give due credit to the quality of the glorious arable soil that made the verdant crop possible and all the work and succesive generations of families that strove for tilling it through the season. Not that you are one of these superficial ones. But I sometimes get sick of all these modern day 'Buddhist'  slaves having an identity crisis and trying to separate themselves from anything to do with Hindus or Sanatana Dharma  so desparately. 

  4. jay

    Dear Sir,

    Sorry didn't mean to claim that your article was making such a distinction. I admit I might have got carried away a little but I just wanted to make the point here as there is an ongoing effort from an element of concerned western community to malign, downplay and as far as possible to sever any and all socio, cultural, philosophical, linguistic, artistic, religious connection with these 'idol worshipping', 'cow and other animal worshipping', dark skinned lowly Hindus (because they have been slinging mud on Hindu thought and practices for atleast a century now, right from the british days, and somehow they are ashamed of following any ethos that have any connection to these otherwise detestable people and culture), but it needed such a 'diabolical' and 'superstitious'  dark and lowly thought culture to produce a Buddha, a Nagarjuna, a Bodhidharma,… just to speak of so called 'buddhist' teachers (although, in their time, they wouldn't refer to themselves as 'buddhist' etc.. only as teacher and helpers of Humanity's thought evolution who just accidentally happened to be of Hindu ancestory but such thoughts are useless and irrelevant identity complexes. I have travelled the world over and I assure you that this sort of ego/pride issue is mostly a western malady but they are infecting the whole world with this desease nowadays. I am also a casualty of it now but I feel like I have to raise my voice before they poison the whole world with their innate effeminate nature which is the cause for this kind of thought process and identity crisis. It's because among western europeans and especially Americans, their secondary sexual characteristics and traits are dominating. If you analyze carefully, you'l see that this is the reason they have the highest incidencies of Homos and gays too. ) So back to the issue, not just the so called 'Buddhist' branded teachers but countless many many many …. teachers that were born to give wisdom in those days of the punya bhumi  of Bharat  and that's all this land had been churning out from countless ages. Belittling Hindus, like this fool above has done, is the wrong way to go about gaining knowledge. There is an old Hindu saying that any learning will be of no avail if you don't give a 'Guru Dakshina' to the Guru and /or his family. This is the reason why very few westerners etc.. are able to gain wisdom. Because, they insult their Guru's land of birth and belittle the Guru's descendents and lineage. By doing that, they are indirectly seeing their Guru or Teacher as belonging to and being a product of an inferior culture and race than the superior breed that they see themselves as.


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