Our ancestors ate beef. So what?

Renuka Narayanan
Renuka NarayananMar 04, 2015 | 11:13

Our ancestors ate beef. So what?

To those who rant that eating beef or meat in general is prohibited by the Hindu religion, I always like to quote from my father’s ancestral sutra, which says: "An offering of beef satisfies the ancestral spirits for a year." (Apasthambha Sutra, Prashna 2, Patala 7, Khanda 16:26).

Knowing these facts about classical Hinduism never hurt anybody's belief today or in the past. It certainly hasn’t hurt mine. If I point out this or that about Hinduism, it is out of belonging, not enmity. How can I deny what is an integral part of me?


So in my view, this absolute denial about beef by Hindutvists makes them look ignorant and like poor perception-managers. It would be more matter-of-fact and rational on their part to say, yes, we ate beef once but having given up long ago, it's a radical lifestyle change and now as repulsive to us as it is to committed vegetarians worldwide. They could discourage it as Professor DN Jha says Hindu and Jain society once did, but to impose a legal dietary ban today is the mark of an Islamic state, not ours. As to which, I wonder if pork was banned in areas under Islamic rule here? And was the last person to impose a wholesale dietary ban Ashoka, after turning Buddhist? It’s all very complicated.

Personally, although I still eat meat sometimes, I now tend to support vegetarianism. But that has to do with growing older and feeling queasy about animal slaughter, the silence of the lamb cutlets, if you will, and not because of religion. It was never a religious taboo for Hindus but a later cultural avoidance that became as powerful as a religious taboo.

My ancestors were just puny mortals. But even Shriman Narayan’s avatar and Sri Lakshmi’s, ate meat. Ram, Sita and Lakshman, says Valmiki (or Valmeeki), set out from Rishi Bharadwaj’s ashram towards Mount Chitrakoot, the "Wonder Hill", of which Mahakavi Kalidas was to say, “Proud as a hump-backed bull is Chitrakoot”.


The exiles crossed the Kalindi on a wooden raft and by-and-by came to a big banyan tree exactly as described by Rishi Bharadwaj. They walked single-file through the forest with Lakshman leading the way, Sita behind him and Ram walking watchfully behind her, having told Lakshman: “Whatever flower or fruit she asks for on the way, get it for her and keep her spirits up.” The brave trio, barely seventeen and used to royal palaces, adapted cheerfully to the hardship of forest life.

And I quote: “Here and in other places, Valmeeki describes how Raama and Lakshmana secured food by hunting. He makes it quite plain that they had to subsist largely on meat. Some good men are troubled by this. But meat was not prohibited for Kshatriyas. Indeed, it has always been the rule in India to permit any food legitimately obtained and consecrated as a sacrifice. Raama was a Kshatriya and he lived in the forest in the Kshatriya way, though abstemiously.”

That’s from Page 120 of the 54th edition (2014) of Ramayana, the English translation by C Rajagopalachari for the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. The first edition came out in 1951. "Rajaji", the first Indian governor-general, was a close friend of that avowed eater of boiled tinda, Mahatma Gandhi, and a super-strict vegetarian himself. But he was a relaxed, confident live-and-let-live liberal Hindu. In her memoir, A Princess Remembers (1976), Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur, the ultimate international socialite and so much more, described Rajaji with respect and affection and as “not tiresomely pious”, having joined his Swatantra Party in 1962 to fight the rising arrogance of the Congress.


The liberal Hindu tradition does not get more mainstream than that. If it was good enough for Rajaji and "MGD", it should be good enough for the Shiv Sena, the Hindu Mahasabha and the rest.But perhaps they have not read Rajaji’s translation from Valmiki - or his translation from Ved Vyas of the Mahabharata which is a prescribed English text for Kurukshetra University? I wonder, in fact, what they read and whose tenets they actually follow.

Last updated: March 04, 2015 | 11:13
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