“On one side of the beef debate are arraigned thoughtless or arrogant Hindus, irreligious—as distinct from non-religious—communists in academia and polity, hysterical Generic Church-funded and controlled media, Nehruvian secularists of the Nayantara Sahgal and Girish Karnad type, anti-Hindu Muslims and Christians and anti-Hindu Dravidianists; on the other side are religious Hindus, animal activists who oppose all kind of animal slaughter and meat-eating and thoughtful, sensitive Muslims who believe cow slaughter, camel slaughter and beef eating are not essential to being a good religious Muslim.” – Radha Rajan
Not long ago a website claiming to tell the truth carried an obnoxious article titled “Hindu view on food and drink” authored by one Shatavadhani Ganesh who quoted from some Sanskrit texts to show Hindus killed cows, ate beef, were voracious meat eaters and allowed rivers of blood to flow. The said article and comments on the article from other Sanskrit-quoting individuals after illuminating ignorant souls with the light of “Sage Yagnavalkya liked tender beef”, “pregnant women should eat beef to beget a son who will grow up to be a great scholar” (conversely, mothers who do not eat beef beget daughters or dim-witted sons) and “Sage Viswamitra ate dog meat after attaining Gayathri Siddhi”, “Hindu women copulated symbolically with a dead horse” concluded with Shatavadhani Ganesh’s gratuitous advice that we should not judge people by their personal habits. That is surprising coming from a Hindu scholar because “we should not judge people by their personal habits” is a neo-liberal Christian social tenet. Since the two most contentious issues in contemporary politics and geo-politics are religion and food neither religion nor eating habits can be confined to the private domain because both have public consequences. Besides, in the Hindu way of life there is no such thing as ‘personal choice’ or ‘individual right’; and not as state-guaranteed social tenet.
The entire debate on beef-eating and beef ban is sharply polarised between those for whom cow is not sacred, who want to eat beef and their Church-driven freedom-of-choice supporters; on the other side of the divide are those who think eating beef is anti-Hindu which violates a core Hindu article of faith—that the cow is sacred, is upalakshana or generic for the sanctity of all beings in Creation (including that which humans label non-sentient) and should therefore not be killed or eaten. Hindu dharma made the sanctity of the cow the red line which the Hindu nation and the Hindu state may not transgress lest they offer violence against very Creation.
Religious Hindus even in the face of hostile intellectual climate and six decades long anti-Hindu polity, insist cow includes male progeny of cow; the self-deceiving national hypocrisy that milch cows alone are sacred while old, aged and dry cows may be sacrificed or sent for slaughter or that the male child of the cow is somehow not cow but cattle which may be killed and eaten stands exposed in the heat and light of the beef and beef ban debate. On one side of the beef debate are arraigned thoughtless or arrogant Hindus, irreligious (as distinct from non-religious) communists in academia and polity, hysterical Generic Church-funded and controlled media, Nehruvian secularists of the Nayantara Sahgal and Girish Karnad type, anti-Hindu Muslims and Christians and anti-Hindu Dravidianists; on the other side are religious Hindus, animal activists who oppose all kind of animal slaughter and meat-eating and thoughtful, sensitive Muslims who believe cow slaughter, camel slaughter and beef-eating are not essential to being a good religious Muslim. This important voice of quiet wisdom from within the Muslim community has been drowned in the frenzied cacophony of beef-eaters and their Hindu supporters like Shatavadhani Ganesh, Pratap Bhanu Mehta [see article], Mani Shankar Iyer and his no less obnoxious brother Swaminathan Anklesaria Iyer. The downright fallacious argument of the Generic Church which has stepped into the beef debate that “beef is the cheapest source of protein of the poor and the downtrodden” (another Church-inspired idiomatic intellectual cliche where we can never say poor without downtrodden tagged to it) has added a neo-colonial dimension to beef-eating. The last is tied to India’s shameful distinction of being the world’s largest exporter of beef.
In India’s trade parlance after 2004 beef is only cow meat while the meat of the male progeny of the cow is classified as cattle meat and meat of the hapless Domestic Asian Water Buffalo is just buff or buffalo meat. It is the nation’s worst kept secret that while officially GoI does not export cow meat, buff also includes beef. In fact according to government sources over 90% of all meat exports is buff. Until and upto 2004, according to Ministry of Agriculture website bovine meat included beef and veal which is meat of young calf. The current classification of meat production makes no mention of beef or veal but does classify bovine meat as cattle meat and buffalo meat.
There is no Hindu view, only Hindu worldview
Shatavadhani Ganesh’s wholly suspicious argument that Rantideva is worshipped because he killed thousands of animals everyday to feed his people is today translated to mean if Hindus believe the whole world is one family it is Hindu India’s responsibility to keep this whole-world-is-one-family supplied with meat of our animals including our cows, cattle and buffalo.
The Hindu view, unlike Abrahamic ‘cultures’ deriving from One Book or from the life and practices of the Last Prophet, is not linear and is not frozen in time. The Hindu view is also not cemented in the Vedas. If hermeneutics were all, then there would be no epistemology, bhakti and gnana (as distinct from vidya) in Hindu philosophy. If the Vedas were all then Hiranyakashipu, Ravana and Bhasmasura, who were vaidikas and who performed the most austere Vedic penances to attain extraordinary siddhis, would be beyond reproach. The Hindu view which is actually worldview is a living phenomenon and, while it originates in the Vedas, it is also moving, growing, changing, pruning, shedding and evolving. The Hindu worldview may be compared to a free-flowing perennial river or a big and beautiful green tree whose branches like human nature may be straight, bent, twisted, deformed, inward-looking, all-embracing or reaching for the skies. The tree of dharma is not just the roots which are unseen but hold the tree in place or just the branches and the leaves which give the tree its physical form and metaphysical self-identity; or even a large perennial river which may gather everything in its path into itself and is, in the end, absorbed into the ocean.
The uniqueness and intellectual brilliance of Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism is that it is both the roots and the branches and leaves and the ground which supports them; it is both the river and the ocean, and the earth of which the ground and the ocean are part, and of the entire cosmos beyond of which the earth itself is but one infinitesimal part. In Hindu understanding all beings in Creation exist in a state of perfect order because all beings have their designated place in space and time. In Hindu dharma no single being is positioned or privileged over other beings; if anything, dharma mandates humans to know and uphold the inherent order in Creation. This breathtaking perspective on Creation and the inter-relationship of all creatures in it, sentient and non-sentient is Hindu worldview; in Kali Yuga this is the inherited wisdom of my grandmother and Sri Sita’s power-packed words of wisdom and warning to Sri Rama while on their way to Dandakaranya testifies to the fact that in the Treta Yuga too the daughter of a king, the daughter-in-law of another king and the wife of a future king too had inherited the same wisdom from her grandmother.
Shatavadhani Ganesh presents a broken, withered and twisted branch of selective quotes to his readers and calls it a tree. That Hindus worship the cow, that Hindus think every creature is sacred and a manifestation of the divine, that Hindus think it is mahapapa to eat beef and that Hindus think the country should have a uniform law against cow and cattle slaughter, that the Hindu nation must stop exporting any meat to any country is not hinged to alleged animal sacrifice in Vedic times or to seriously flawed translation of quotes which say this or that rishi ate meat and this or that king slaughtered thousands of animals everyday for meat. Hindu dharma is not cemented in the Vedas and is not encumbered by Hindu hadith. Hindu dharma, like the free-flowing river does not reject Shatavadhani Ganesh, Swaminathan Anklesaria Iyer who said he wants the right to follow the Hindu tradition of a beef-eating Brahmin like Vasishta, Rajdeep Sardesai and Sagarika Ghose who wants her steak dripping with blood; that is simply not the Hindu way. Historically, Hindu society simply swept up their foolish chatter along the way and subsumed it all into the ocean of Sri Sita’s wisdom.
Shatavadhani Ganesh should read the Sree Valmikiya Ramayanam, preferably the Gorakhpur edition.
Quoting classical texts versus dharma in practice
Quoting selectively from some classical texts without choosing the time, without choosing the appropriate context, or selecting the right audience is akin to a farmer broadcasting his seeds on a field whose soil has not been prepared, and is therefore not fertile. An unprepared soil cannot yield crops just as foolishness cannot lead to wisdom. This article is flawed in its entirety—in conception and execution, and like wasted seeds, it served no meaningful purpose except to provide fuel to the likes of Mani Shankar and Swaminatha Iyer. Shatavadhani Ganesh’s article claiming to present the Hindu view actually distorted the Hindu worldview and the website which hosted the article presented distortion as truth.
Some excerpts from Ganesh’s article are reproduced below to drive home the point how unwise it is to broadcast quotations without context:
- “There are many references to meat-eating in our scriptures. In the oldest composition of them all, the Rigveda Samhita, we see that our ancients cooked the flesh of oxen and offered it to the gods, especially Indra (see RVS 10.86.14 or 10.27.2, for example). Horses, bulls, oxen, barren cows, and rams were sacrificed for Agni (RVS 10.91.14). Satapatha Brahmana 184.108.40.206 says that sage Yajnavalkya would eat the meat of cows and oxen, provided it was tender. Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 6.4.18 says that if a couple wants to beget a son who will grow up to be a great scholar, they have to eat rice cooked with beef, along with ghee. Satapatha Brahmana 220.127.116.11 goes on to say that meat is the best kind of food!”
- “In Rantideva’s kitchen, two thousand animals were killed every day as were two thousand cows. Rantideva became famous because he fed meat to all his people.”
- “In the prelude to Act IV of Bhavabhuti’s play, Uttararamacarita (8th century CE), there is a delightful dialogue between two ascetics, Saudhataki and Dandayana. Saudhataki is curious about the guest who is visiting their ashrama and learns that it is Vasistha. He tells Dandayana, ‘I thought it was a tiger or a wolf. My poor calf was terrified since his arrival.’”
- “When a great scholar visits us, we should offer the madhuparka with beef or mutton, as it is said in the dharmasutras!”
- “Saudhataki says, ‘You contradict yourself. A calf was sacrificed for Vasistha but when King Janaka came, he was offered just milk and curds. The calf was set free.’”
- “What the dharmasutras say in this matter applies to those who have not given up meat. King Janaka is a vegetarian.”
- “It is interesting to note that there are references for both Rama and Krishna partaking alcohol and/or meat. Rama offers meat to Sita and coaxes her to try it out since it is well-cooked (Ayodhyakanda / Book 2, 96.1-2). When Hanuman meets Sita in the Asoka Vatika, he tells her that Rama has been pining for her, and afflicted by sorrow, he has turned vegetarian and a teetotaller (Sundarakanda / Book 5, 36.41). Later, there is another section where Rama feeds Sita with wine, meat, and fruits (Uttarakanda / Book 7, 42.18-20).”
- “Similarly, there is a segment where Krishna and Arjuna get totally drunk in a party along with Draupadi and Satyabhama (Udyoga Parva / Book 5, 58.5).”
Prof K. Ramasubramanian wise beyond his years, member of the teaching faculty in IIT Mumbai, born to Vaidika parents, whose father was conferred with the high honour, Mahamahopadhyaya by the Sree Kanchi Matham (this should compare favourably with the honorific shatavadhani) when shown Ganesh’s article dismissed it as a “silly article written without gauging the repercussions it may have. In my view it hardly serves any purpose except to add to the confusion that already exists. It’s very unfortunate that scholarship has been used to create confusion; and the effects of such confusion on unprepared or arrogant minds, caused by thoughtless scholarship is no less destructive to society than effects of war.”
Animal slaughter and meat-eating are predicated on the assumption that the human species is positioned and privileged in Creation over animals and other beings; that humans are vested with divine right to kill in human interest. While this is true of the Bible and the Koran, there is not one sentence or sutra which issues such a commandment or an inviolable demand in unambiguous words in the Vedas, shastras, itihasas or puranas. Shatavadhani Ganesh cannot cite any text which says killing is good, eating meat is dharma or that consuming meat is essential for life, or that animal sacrifice is the only way to worship or please the gods. For every quotation which Ganesh presents to claim Hindus killed cows, ate beef and slaughtered animals, there will be several which say all creatures are sacred, protect the voiceless, do not cause injury to that which does not cause harm, keep your five senses—shabdh, sparsh, roop, rasa, gandha—under strict control and self-denial is a sign of wisdom. As I said, dharma is not cemented in the Vedas; it flows like a river, changes like a tree. Bhavabhuti’s play which Ganesh translated badly and misunderstood even worse, which supposedly says Sri Rama’s Guru Sage Vasishta munched upon beef is like quoting James Laine on Chatrapati Shivaji or Wendy Doniger on Hindu history to fortify shoddy scholarship compounded by dubious motive.
Did Hindus offer animals as ‘bali’ in yagas?
They may have, or again they may not have. Did our rishis eat the meat thereof? They may have, or again, they may not have. Can any Hindu, no matter how learned, speak authoritatively about the Vedas and say this is so or this is not so? The Vedas are four: Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharvana Veda; and each four is in turn sub-divided in four: Mantra, Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanishad. One lifetime is not enough to study one Veda in its entirety. How can any individual claim to speak or write authoritatively about the Vedas, about sixteen distinct segments of information, knowledge and wisdom? And how can any intelligent Hindu make this claim? Accepting ignorance is the beginning of wisdom.
Dr M. D. Srinivas and Dr. Jatinder Bajaj of Centre for Policy Studies assert that all our classical texts of the last 2000 years say the same things about the responsibilities of a grihasta, of a woman, of the king, of society and of nation. The classical texts are also unanimous about what constitutes best among human conduct, what are the ideals humans should aspire for and what constitutes papa and what is punya. Papa and punya incidentally should not be used interchangeably with good and evil. There is no concept of evil in Hindu dharma; however all human action accrues papa or punya. Seen in this light, as stated earlier in this article Shatavadhani Ganesh cannot point to one text which says animal slaughter is the only way to worship the divine or that eating meat is high ideal, is essential to life or begets punya. On the other hand our classical texts will assert that the ideal would be not to kill, not to cause injury, not to eat meat when there are other foods to eat, and not do anything which would disturb social harmony or affect the inherent order in Creation. This is Hindu dharma, dharmic tradition and Hindu customs. This is also the clearly definable aspect of Hindu culture.
Sri Sita’s words of warning and caution to Sri Rama
The following must be kept in mind to internalise Sri Sita’s priceless words of wisdom:
- Hindu dharma originates in the Vedas but is also ever dynamic and resides in its varied forms and dimensions in the best among men and women in every yuga and is expressed in their words and actions.
- Ahimsa, or the voluntary adherence to one aspect of dharma, is conscious decision to not offer injury to any being in Creation; not to deprive any being of life if it poses no threat to the laws of nature or to the inherent order of Creation. Ahimsa is predicated in the Hindu understanding that all Creation is divine and sacred because Creation is only the divine manifest.
- Ahimsa is not the ideal only for Brahmins; it is binding upon Kshatriyas too.
- The kshatriya is mandated not only to protect the rashtra and rajya from external and internal dangers and threats but to bear in mind that the rashtra includes voiceless animals and birds, rivers and mountains, forests and oceans and it is the primary responsibility of the kshatriya in Hindu rajya to protect them all; kshatriya dharma is essentially two-fold: to eliminate all threats to dharma, to practice ahimsa.
After taking leave of Guru Suthikshina, Sri Rama, Sri Sita and Lakshmana proceed towards Dandakaranya. Before leaving the ashram, Sri Sita hands Sri Rama and Lakshmana their bows and the quivers with arrows. On the way to Dandakaranya, Sri Sita pauses for a while and addresses Sri Rama thus:
“Aryaputra, I am beginning to get the feeling that you could fall prey to a very subtle form of adharma. Since you have risen above two of the three self-destructive temptations of kama, I am sure you can rise above the third allure too. More dangerous than the lure of flattery and the temptation to betray the institution of marriage is the allure of misusing your power to wage war or injure or unleash violence in words and action against those who do not cause harm and pose no threat. Only they can stay firmly on the path of satya and dharma, only they may be called ‘jitendriya’ who have their five senses under control. Sri Rama while you have never been touched by the first two manifestations of kama, the very real danger of inflicting violence against other beings, the danger of killing other beings stands before you. I am deeply worried about the fact that you two brothers are entering Dandakaranya with weapons allegedly to be used against rakshasas. While your intentions may be good, I am concerned that weapons in the hands of kshatriyas is like adding fuel to fire; is like placing inflammable objects near fire. It is the duty of a kshatriya to protect all beings from danger, to protect the life of all beings in the forest. It is my duty to caution you that the world will frown upon you should you wage war or kill any being even if he is a rakshasa if he offers no offence and poses no threat.”
Why animal slaughter and meat-eating are violence against Creation
Sri Sita’s abiding commitment to dharma and dharmic ahimsa compelled her to warn Sri Rama of the impending danger of forgetting that with the immense power to eliminate threats comes the immense responsibility to protect all life. No other religion, no culture, no civilization has laid the kind of responsibility on humans that Hindu dharma has laid upon Hindus to protect all life. No religion other than Hindu dharma has said all Creation is the manifestation of the one, undivided, timeless Paramatma. The paramatma pervades all Creation and the atma which suffuses the ant, the elephant, the river, ocean, forests and mountains suffuses humans too. Humans cannot kill one being in Creation and offer its lifeless body, blood and bones as worship to Creation itself. If killing humans as bali is horrendous how can killing one being in Creation as bali to Creation be less horrific?
The purpose of human life is to aspire for some ideal that our itihasas and puranas say is best as human endeavour. Pursuit and achievement of high ideals begins with becoming vegetarians, begins with not killing for food or for religious sacrifice, a being that is frightened and would run away of it could. Animals, birds, insects and humans—we all share three things in common: hunger, thirst and fear of death; we also have the same atma in all of us. When one of the mahavakyas says tat tvam asi or ‘thou art that’ it means I am Brahman. If I am Brahman then so are all beings in Creation. Killing any being in Creation is therefore violence against all Creation and the Creator which some cultures call God or Truth.
Protecting the cow is therefore the highest ideal that the Hindu nation can aspire for. Modi sarkar must bring in a uniform all-India law which bans cow slaughter; cow includes the male child of the cow. Modi sarkar must stop all meat export and stop all subsidies to meat industry. The Hindu nation must wipe the stain of being the world’s largest exporter of beef from its face and the blood of innocent animals from its hands. Ahimsa is not what Gandhi imposed upon Hindus during the struggle for our freedom; that ahimsa disarmed the kshatriya. Ahimsa as the ideal for all Hindus is Sri Sita’s exposition on kshatriya dharma—do not kill any being which gives no offence, poses no threat. Chicken, goats, sheep, cows, bulls and buffalo which we kill as religious sacrifice and which we kill for meat give us no offence, pose no threat.
Tailpiece: Only Hindu dharma has the strength to change and adapt, and only Hinduism has the resilience to withstand even radical changes as history of Hindus will prove. And as proof of this inner strength and resilience, the Gadhimai Temple Trust has announced that there will be no more animal sacrifices during the quinquennial festival when at least 500,000 animals are offered as religious sacrifice. – Vigil Online, 7 October 2015
» Radha Rajan is an author, animal rights activist in Chennai, and political commentator. She edits the website Vigil Online.
- Where is the beef? – Krishen Kak
- The hidden cost of beef eating – Radha Rajan
- The global meat industry and irreversible consequences – Radha Rajan
- The historical roots of our ecological crisis – Lynn White
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