Will I become a better Sikh if I don't eat meat? Or worse if I do?

Let me turn to Guru Nanak for my food.

 |  3-minute read |   15-07-2017
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Since 2014, meat has once again become the predominant flavour of Indian politics.

But conflicts over foods are as old as our civilisation.

Almost every faith pursues some dietary restrictions.

So does the Sikh faith: halal and kosher are definitely forbidden for its followers.

They are forbidden mainly because of rituals and beliefs associated with them. 

The Gurus - from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh - rejected expiatory animal sacrifices. 

Slaughtering an animal with a prayer makes no flesh sacrosanct or atones wrongdoing, commanded Guru Gobind Singh. Also, foods can't be imposed, he declared in the face of a fierce Mughal rule.

But is non-halal, non-kosher meat also banned in the Sikh faith? 

The community appears to be divided as much as others over meat-eating, if not more.

RelIgious leaders presiding over Amrit Sanchaar, or the formal initiation, give out varying prescriptions.

Some say "no", some say "yes". Some say meat-eating is allowed so long as it is not halal or kosher; some call it a taboo, no matter how the animal is slaughtered.

Research reveals Guru Granth Sahib is replete with astonishing metaphors and imagery around foods - meat, vegetables, fruits, sweets, salts and so forth.

In what was a pre-science, a pre-microbiology age, Guru Nanak dismissed notions of so-called untouchability over kitchens.

He admonished prejudices stemming from food choices.

"Jae kar sootak maneeai sabh tai sootak hoi; gohae attay lakaree andar keera hoi," he wrote, which when translated means: If you are looking at "impurity", it's everywhere; even cow-dung and wood are riddled with worms.

"Jaytey daane ann ke jia baajh na koi; pahila paani jeeo hai jitt hareya sabh koi" - no foodgrain is without life. Life exists in water, which greens the surroundings, the Guru noted.

On numerous occasions, he made a startling demarcation between foods for the human body on the one hand and food for thought on the other.

Guru Nanak gave a stroke of commonality to all forms of physical diets, so long as they aren't ritualistic.

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In the period and the region he lived and travelled, meat, jaggery, dried-fruits, flour and ghee were rated as nutritious foods.

Mansions, silky upholstery and cavalries were the hallmarks of aristocracy.

When he alluded to foods and clothing in his characteristic writing, Guru Nanak didn't differentiate between vegetarianism and meat-eating, silks or rags as appropriate or inappropriate for human consumption.

Rather, he accentuated probity.

"Kya khadhey kya paidhaey hoi; jaa mann naahin sacha soi.

"Kya mewa, kya gheo gur meetha; kya maida kya maas; kya kappad, kya sej sukhaali, keejay bhog bilaas. 

"Kya laskar, kya neb khawaasi, awey mahli vaas; Nanak sachey naam vin sabhey tol vinaas."

Here, he speaks about the futility of top foods of the time - vegetarian and meats alike - and of opulent royal lifestyles if not backed by rectitude.

Classical singing is a key component of Sikh religious tradition.

Most of the collective writings of the Gurus and other thinkers, as compiled in Guru Granth Sahib, are written to classical raags.

I wonder if meat was banned in the faith, as some protagonists of vegetarianism say, so should have been the pakhawaj, the tabla, the nagaaras (large drums) and various stringed musical instruments.

After all, they all are made from animal products, primarily leather.

But they aren't classified as profanities. Instead, these instruments are played to the accompaniment of sacred hymns from the sanctum of Sri Darbar Sahib (the Golden Temple) to every other gurdwara across the world.

From whatever I have understood, meat-eaters are as good as veggies.

But both can be as bad as each other if they accord "spirituality" to foods of their choice.

For now, I’m okay with non-sacrificial, non-beef meat till my doctor advises otherwise.

Also read: There's pleasure in biting into meat; but can you deny the violence?

Writer

Harmeet Shah Singh Harmeet Shah Singh @harmeetss

The writer is Editor with India Today TV.

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