Hindus and Cows

Recently a person asked about the controversy regarding the law banning beef in India. Here is my reply. I thought more people might be interested in it.

Hinduism is a very dynamic religion. It is not frozen in the past. Customs and laws will change with time. It is allowed and this flexibility is the speciality of Hinduism.

For example, in olden days wars were very common and ordinary people were often called to fight. So the number of males in the society was less. So polygamy was the norm. Today there are regular armies and not much wars. So there are more men and so the Hindu society switched to monogamy and even passed law that polygamy is illegal. Similarly with corporeal punishments. In olden days punishments like cutting of hands, giving lashes, etc. were there. As the over all violence in the society reduced, people became more and more sensitive to less violent punishments. So simple imprisonment itself had the deterrent effect. So the laws became less violent.

Coming to beef eating, it is true that Vedic society ate beef. The sages, rishis, Rama, Krishna, etc. were all non-vegetarians and beef-eaters too. Over a period of time, the Hindu society became less non-vegetarian. Today, a sizable population is vegetarian and even among the non-vegetarian Hindus, the consumption of meat is very less.

Over a period of time, the Hindu society has picked up a sentiment for cows because of its giving milk, peaceful nature, sensitivity, utility of bulls in various ways, etc. etc. It is true that the sentiment is a bit eccentric. But this is the way the society has developed.

Vegetarian diet is prescribed for people who want to practice Yoga asanas, pranayama, meditation, etc. A vegetarian diet is more conducive to a calm and devoted mind. This concept is there in many religious and spiritual traditions, not only in Hinduism.

Now, should there be a law to ban beef is still debatable. However, just because the Vedic society ate beef does not mean that Hindus should eat beef today. That would be going back. Then by the same argument we will have to accept polygamy, corporeal punishment, etc. That is not the direction we want to take.

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One Response to Hindus and Cows

  1. gokulmuthu says:

    A few people asked for references that beef was eaten by Hindus in ancient times. There are a few references in Vedas, Puranas, etc. You can download the Apastambha Gruhya Sutras, which governed the life, traditions, rituals, etc. of Hindus a few centuries back from http://practicalphilosophy.in/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/apastamba__dharma_grihya_sutras.pdf (Credits to Sri Matham website for this document: http://www.srimatham.com/) You can see the following in it:
    Page 81:
    dhenu ana?uhor bhak?yam || 30 ||
    30. [But the meat] of milch-cows and oxen may be eaten.

    Page 142:
    A guest is also called goghna, ‘cow-killer,’ because formerly a cow used to be
    killed on the arrival of a distinguished guest. The rite is described by A?val?yana
    G?hya-s?tra 1:24, 31-33

    Page 199:
    9. These are the occasions for slaughtering a cow: [the arrival of] a guest, [the A??aka
    sacrifice offered to] the Ancestors, and marriage.

    Page 205:
    25. The slaughter [of a cow] on the arrival of a guest [should be performed as stated
    below] without alterations.

    Page 212:
    16. After the guest has recited the next mantra, (M.2:10,6] over [the cow, the host kills
    it and] cooks its omentum, and having performed the ‘spreading under” and the
    sprinkling over [of ?jya], he sacrifices it with the next verse (M.2;10,7) with a pal??a
    leaf from the middle or the end [of the stalk].

    Page 221:
    4. Having silently offered five ?jya oblations, and having cooked the omentum of the
    [cow], and performed the “spreading under” and the “sprinkling over” [of ?jya], he
    oblates [the omentum] with the next mantra, (M.2:20—28) with a Pal??a leaf from the
    middle or the end [of the stalk].
    5. [He oblates] boiled rice together with the meat [of the cow] with the next verses.
    (M.2:20,29—35).
    11. Having left over from the meat of the [cow], (see above, 3.4) as much as is required, on the day after [the A??ak?] [he performs] the rite of the Anva??ak?.

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