beef eating in the Veda

Robert J. Zydenbos zydenbos at
Thu Feb 13 07:51:27 UTC 1997

Thanks to all who have responded, publicly and privately, to my query.

To George Thompson (in re his second reply):

gt> Perhaps I have misunderstood RZ's request here: are you looking for
gt> references to secondary literature, or to *Vedic passages* where
gt> beef eating is "unambiguously" referred to? 
gt> I assumed that you meant the latter.

Correct, I meant the latter, although references to good secondary
literature which gives references to such Vedic passages are also
welcome (my big problem is, however, that I cannot look at such
literature until I am in Europe again, this spring, since such
literature is hardly available here in Mysore).

What I am *not* interested in (at least at present) is how later Hindu
theologians (re-)interpreted Vedic passages in "symbolic" ways and
argued that though the texts say something (e.g. "we eat meat, also
beef") we should understand this as meaning something entirely
different. Though such interpretations may be interesting in themselves,
they are a different matter - just as the (non-)desirability of
beef-eating at the end of the 20th century is again a different matter.
As for the term "Vedic", I would like to exclude everything later than
the older Upanishads.

gt> For example, we know that Agni was a beef-eater at RV 8.43.11. Is
gt> this "unambiguous evidence" of Vedic beef eating?

That could (if one would insist, in a dryly legalistic manner) be a
matter of debate, I suppose; although personally I would assume that
people who themselves abhor the eating of beef would not propitiate
beef-eating gods. I have never come across Jaina divinities that eat
meat, to give a reasonable example.

gt> Likewise, the sacrifice of cows and oxen is undisputed in Vedic and
gt> it seems clear that the cooked portions of the sacrificial victim
gt> were distributed among the priests who were present. Is this
gt> "unambiguous evidence" of beef eating in Vedic?

That is unambiguous: people (priests) who eat sacrificial cows. But
still nicer would be passages describing everyday, non-ritualistic food
habits, if such can be found. (Sorry to the other respondents, but as I
mentioned above, I am not in a position right now to go through the
secondary literature to which you have referred. Perhaps that literature
would indeed help.) Agehananda Bharati mentions in passing that passages
mentioning the eating of beef as a common, daily foodstuff are also
there in the Ramayana, but he gives no precise references. (Again: if
anyone can give such precise references, please do so.)

Apart from arousing my historical curiosity, Bharati's remarks reminded
me of statements made by a Jaina author in polemical writings in Kannada
(in as late as the 12th century) that the Jainas have a lifestyle which
he considers superior to that of the Vaidikas because the latter are not
vegetarians, and that if non-Jainas insist on being vegetarians, it is
due to Jaina ideological influence. This seems to be a recurring theme in
southern Jaina literature (as well as in contemporary Jaina conversation)
and it is spoken about as a matter of common knowledge that needs no
explicit proof. Hence I was interested in evidence which could be
adduced in support of this Jaina claim.

Secondly, Bharati's remarks are part of his general attack on the
majority of modern Hindu religious leaders, who in his view are not
only anti-historical in their outlook, but also anti-Sanskritic and / or
intellectually dishonest, as they lack the ability to go through the
texts in name of which they preach and / or withhold historical truths
from the public because they think that the truth is not good for the
people. This is a serious matter, and I was curious about to what extent
and in what detail Bh.'s arguments hold good. His basic attitude seems
correct, but I wanted to check the details.


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