Pseudoscience & Religion

Ancient Indian Beef Charitha

In a modern day democracy what one should eat or should not eat should be decided by the person concerned. Government should not interfere in it unless it is an endangered species. Religion of a person has no role in deciding what another person eats.

Sadly India it seems is walking backwards. BJP Governments in many states are interfering more and more in what people should eat. Maharashtra Government has extended the anti cow slaughter law to cover not only cows but also bulls and bullocks. Sale of these animals for slaughter is punishable with a jail term of up to 5 years and a fine of Rs 10000. Even the possession of meat of these animals is a crime now facing a jail term of one year. Haryana Govt has passed a more stringent law banning even the sale of packaged beef.

Actually protection laws for cows are nothing new. Up to 24 of the total 29 states have some kind of cow protection laws already in place. Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Punjab, Odisha, Puducherry, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Delhi, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh all have bans on cow slaughter but not on bulls. Daman & Diu and Goa permit slaughter of those cows which are old or sick, or for medical purposes. Other states such as West Bengal allow slaughter of all cattle but require a ‘fit for slaughter’ certificate. Bulls and bullocks, and buffaloes are permitted to be sold and eaten in most states even where cow slaughter is banned. But some states—Rajasthan, Punjab, J&K and Himachal Pradesh—have more stringent laws that ban the slaughter of all cattle.

Why the cow and its progeny are singled out for special protection laws ? If you ask any Indian, the answer will be that in our culture going back to Vedic period, it is a sacred animal. Cow and its progeny should never be killed but has to be worshipped. The father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi said:

“Cow protection is the gift of Hinduism to the world. And Hinduism will live so long as there are Hindus to protect the cow…… Hindus will be judged not by their TILAKS, not by the correct chanting of MANTRAS, not by their pilgrimages, not by their most punctilious observances of caste rules, but their ability to protect the cow”. (YI, 6-10-1921, p. 36)

This message of Cow worship and sacredness being the basic values of Hinduism are proclaimed so loudly day in and day out by leaders of Hindutva movement all over the country that it became an indisputable truth. The Sangh propaganda made everyone in India believe that cow slaughter began here only after invasion of Muslim rulers. The Wikipedia page on Cattle slaughter in India says “Cow slaughter became prominent in India in the medieval age after 1000 AD, when parts of India was invaded by various Islamic rulers”

Is this the truth? Was Cow slaughter the cardinal sin through out the history of Hinduism ? Was Cow and its progeny never killed in ancient India? I decided to enquire.

Archeological data

Evidences from excavations done in Pune, Kurukshetra ,Haridwar , Gorakhpur and many other places show that cattle (Bos indicus) meat was part of the diet of ancient Indians during Vedic period. Charred bones with tool marks prove it.

Here is an excerpt from Indian Archeology -1973-74 A review published by Archeology Society of India :

Evidence regarding dietary habits of the people, as revealed by bones recovered from the excavation, deserves special mention. Nearly eighty per cent of the animal bones come from VBA-I while the remaining from VBA-II. It was seen that while only cattle bones have been recovered from the latter, the former yielded bones of both cattle and goat. The collection consists of fragments of long bone, ribs and vertebrals and some molars. It was observed that animal bones were confined to the early phase, the later phases being free from such remains. This change could be linked with the establishment of Structures 1 and 2 which may thus represent remains of temples. Probably the present emphasis on vegetarianism in Rishikesh-Hardwar could be traced back to circa sixth century A.D.

Vedic Literature

This verse from Rig Veda clearly indicate cattle were killed as sacrifice during that time.

“Where was the vengeful dart when thou, O Indra, clavest the demon ever beat on outrage?
When fiends lay there upon the ground extended like cattle in the place of immolation?”

Rig Veda 10 – 89 -14

Indra , the primary God of Rig Veda was very found of meat of cow’s progeny, the bull. See the following 2 verses from 86th hymn of 10th mandala

“Wealthy Vrsakapayi, blest with sons and consorts of thy sons,
Indra will eat thy bulls, thy dear oblation that effecteth much. Supreme is Indra over all.
Fifteen in number, then, for me a score of bullocks they prepare,
And I devour the fat thereof: they fill my belly full with food. Supreme is Indra over all”

Rig Veda 10-86-13 and 10-86-14

Brahmanas also give ample evidence for eating of beef by Brahmins.In Sathapada Brahmana sage Yajnavalkya is found to be saying he likes tender beef. Brihadaranyak Upanishad is advising a dish similar to modern day beef biriyani to be eaten by a couple to give birth to a smart son.

“If a man wishes that a son should be born to him who will be a famous scholar, frequenting assemblies and speaking delightful words, a student of all the Vedas and an enjoyer of the full term of life, he should have rice cooked with the meat of a young bull or of one more advanced in years and he and his wife should eat it with clarified butter. Then they should be able to beget such a son.” [Brihadaranyak Upanishad 6/4/18]

Evidence from the epics


Meat eating has been described in several places in the epic Ramayana. In many instances it involved sacrificing cows and eating it.

Having arrived at the middle of Yamuna river, Sita offered salutation to the river and prayed as follows:

“Oh, goddess of Yamuna! Adieu! I am crossing you! May my husband complete his vow! When Rama safely comes back again towards the city of Ayodhya, ruled by Ikshvaku kings I shall propitiate you by offering a thousand cows and a hundred drinking vessels.” [Ramayana 2-55 19/20]

Was this offering of cows to river Yamuna meant sacrificing it ? See what Sita offered to river Ganga few verses before.

“Oh, goddess! After reaching back the city of Ayodhya, I shall worship you with thousand pots of spirituous liquor and jellied meat with cooked rice well prepared for the solemn rite.” [Ramayana 2-52-89]


Verses from the Mahabharata also indicates that slaughtering cows was not a big sin. Actually King Rantideva is seen being praised for it.

“And in days of yore, O Brahmana, two thousand animals used to be killed every day in the kitchen of king Rantideva; and in the same manner two thousand cows were killed every day; and, O best of regenerate beings, king Rantideva acquired unrivalled reputation by distributing food with meat every day. For the performance of the fourmonthly rites animals ought to be sacrificed daily. ‘The sacred fire is fond of animal food,’ this saying has come down to us. And at sacrifices animals are invariably killed by regenerate Brahmanas, and these animals being purged of sin, by incantation of hymns, go to heaven. If, O Brahmana, the sacred fire had not been so fond of animal food in ancient times, it could never have become the food of any one. And in this matter of animal food, this rule has been laid down by Munis :– Whoever partakes of animal food after having first offered it duly and respectfully to the gods and the manes, is not polluted by the act.” [Mahabharata Vana Parva 207]

Meat of cow had a superior status when offered during Sraddha ceremony performed to pay homage to ancestors. See what Bhishma is saying here.

With fishes offered at Sraddhas, the Pitris remain gratified for a period of two months. With mutton they remain gratified for three months and with the flesh of the hare for four. With the flesh of the goat, O king, they remain gratified for five months, with bacon for six months, and with the flesh of birds for seven. With venison obtained from those deer that are called Prishata, they remain gratified for eight months, and with that obtained from the Ruru for nine months, and with the meat of the Gavaya for ten months. With the meat of the buffalo their gratification lasts for eleven months. With beef presented at the Sraddha, their gratification, it is said, lasts for a full year. [Mahabharata Anusasana Parva 88]

Manu Smriti

Though there is advice not to eat camels, mushrooms, garlic and onions , cow is not included in that list in Manu Smrithi, indicating it was not a banned food.

The porcupine, the hedgehog, the iguana, the rhinoceros, the tortoise, and the hare they declare to be eatable; likewise those (domestic animals) that have teeth in one jaw only, excepting camels. [v.5.18.]

A twice-born man who knowingly eats mushrooms, a village-pig, garlic, a village-cock, onions, or leeks, will become an outcast. [v.5.19.]

There is also advice to Brahmins not to refuse meat offered as sacrifice:

But a man who, being duly engaged (to officiate or to dine at a sacred rite), refuses to eat meat, becomes after death an animal during twenty-one existences. [v.5.35.]


In Ayurvedic samhithas beef has been mentioned several times as part of therapeutic diet. Charaka samhitha talks about cow meat like this:

These animals are heavy, hot and sweet. They promote strength and development. They are aphrodisiac. They alleviate vatha. They are useful for people who exercise regularly and have strong digestive power. It’s useful in chronic rhinitis, intermittent fevers, dry cough, fatigue, excess agni and wasting of muscles.

Now let us see what Swami Vivekananda had to say about cow slaughter in ancient India:

“There was a time in this very India when, without eating beef, no Brahmin could remain a Brahmin; you read in the Vedas how, when a Sannyasin, a king, or a great man came into a house, the best bullock was killed”.

In short though cow and its progeny did have a higher position among animals during ancient India it did not mean it was not killed and eaten. Beef was considered to be a special dish. Sacrificing a cow when a special guest comes home was the rule. Also in yagnas and Sraddhas killing a cow was considered as a higher sacrifice than killing other animals. Cow protection was not a gift of Vedic Hinduism to the world. Cow slaughter in India did not begin with invaders professing other religions. A Hindu who consider Vedas as sacred have no reason to get offended if beef is eaten in India. A Hindu who consider Ramayana and Mahabharatha as part of Indian culture should be able to accept beef eating also as an integral part of it.

As I have shown the movement to protect cow and make it a sacred symbol have nothing to do with religion as such. It’s a political movement to bring division in society so as to divide and rule. Laws that criminalise killing of cows or eating beef is a blot on secular polity of India.

(A Malayalam version of this article was first published in Yukthiyugam, April 2015 issue)

1. The Myth of the Holy Cow – D.N.Jha
2. Source of Vivekananda’s quotes
3. Beef eating in Ancient India

About the author

Arun N.M.

I am a skeptic , humanist and feminist. I am an MD in Internal Medicine practicing in Kerala.


  • Makes a good article only to read. People are very good to pick & choose the Vedas. Nowhere in the Vedas the cruelty of the animals is accepted especially the pain the present generation factory farmed animals go through. Btw all those vegetarians who condemn these articles never mention the dairy industry. We need not go to the Vedas.In the present day, behind all the milk used during abhishekas, ghee poured into lamps & havans there is a mother crying for her calf who was snatched away from her & her milk stolen. She also has to endure few more pregnancies knowing the calf will be taken away from her again.Most of the cows in the beef industry are the aging dairy cows.
    Going Vegan is the only solution for the animals, for the environment & for humanity to survive.

    • In these modern days there is no need to harm any living being for food or anything else.Humans are not the same old cave men of ancient times.Becoming intelligent means becoming compassionate towards all forms of life.If evolution is the key then going vegan and only that is the next stage.

    • No , going Vegan is no solution. First , it deprives us of many nutrients that are actually profuse only in animals. This deficiency of nutrients & its ramifications will be more egregious among poorer sections. Secondly , there is Food-web & controlling population of animals , particularly the likes of cows , dogs , pigs etc.They anyways will have to be culled for population control.

      Though yes , agreed that it seems that many Atheists are also searching for problems & solutions in Vedas etc. just for the sake of proving their point to Religious people. Good job , only to the extent of showing them that history was different . But has , Religion or even Society ever been static ?

      • I do not agree, going vegan is solution to many environmental problems, secondly who told u that by eating meat humans are completing the food chain, its not so. 99% of meat humans consume is raised in farms as livestock and this has led to severe reduction of common grazing areas ” tragedy of the commons ” , raising livestock is 10 times more water intensive + as nearly all these animals are feed grains( not grass , which is their natural diet) this puts serious pressure on food grain production of the world. people do not appreciate the fact but meat consumption is one of the problems for global hunger . if everyone reduce meat substantially in their diet then we produce enough food grains to feed the world + 4 billion extra people.

        P.S everyone keep saying that fossil fuel are reason for environmental degradation, though true it is, but meat consumption is reason for 30-35% of environmental degradation.

  • We should explain this to skeptics. Of course some people will be hard to convince and many will be in denial. But we might receive a strong number of people who will understand us.

    And Atheists should point out the things in the Vedas and archeological evidence to say, “look!”

  • Great example of a pandering article that has no basis in facts and shows how poor understanding of Sanskrit results in pathetic insights. Pasha means animal not cow. The Ramayana story you quote clearly shows how poor your argument is. In one shlock, Sita offers utensils and cows as gifts. In another 3 Sargas later, she offers meat as offering. It will take a real bigot with no objectivity to connect the two. But this is definitely in line with what one can expect from your kind.

    • “Pasha” doesn’t mean animal either. Pasha in Sanskrit originally mean “knot” or “loop” and is often translated as “supernatural weapon”. Hindu deities such as Ganesha, Yama and Varuna are depicted with the pasha in their hands.

      In general usage, the pasha is used to bind a foe’s arms and legs or for hunting animals.

      Pasha also represents worldly attachment as well as power of a deity to capture and bind evil and ignorance.

      source –


  • Beef ban is definitely a Hindu propaganda since cow, bull and bullock finds a mention in the Hindu scriptures. If it is really about animal cruelty then why not ban chicken, goat, pig, birds etc. It is interesting that Hindus do not have problem with slaughtering of these animals. I know someone will come with the argument that meet eating is discouraged in Hinduism. Yes I know that but the fact that they are not really concerned (there is no agitation by them for the other animals, show their double standards) with the killing of the other mentioned animals.

    What is even more shocking and surprising is that Hindus seems to be fine with the killing of buffalo which also belongs to the same family (family Bovidae). Just recently a guy was arrested as he caught with stored meat which the police thought was either cow’s, or bull’s or bullock’s meat.

    On doing the lab analysis it turned out to be Buffalo’s meat and the guy was let go. Poor buffalo must be thinking why my reference is not there in the scriptures !


  • Gods, Gods, for everything one has to quote from Vedams? Stop it, it is just some tribal books for some tribal people. Now, these Sanskrittan people say Sanskrit is “perfect” language but are unable to translate even one sentence unambiguously!

    If one doesn’t want to kill and eat the cows, he or she can be free. Why go and make it a rule for others? It makes no sense.

    Anyway, as law abiding citizens, if this is the law, we must abide by it whether one is Christian or Muslim or Hindu.

    The main problem in India is that of fundamentalist people.

    • How was Pre-Babur and post-Babur periods different, when it comes to vegetarianism . The author himself iterates that Non-Vegetarianism existed among the Indians back then. Even Brahmins ate beef.

  • Its a very good article. I think that most of the people who fought against the cow slaughter and consider cows as religious have probably never read Vedas or any samhitas. They are just following what their godmans/religious leaders says.

  • Slaughter of cows and horse was never permitted in the Vedic period. It is not at all possible to interpret the cryptic language of Veda without having correct knowledge of Nirukta and Nighantu i.e. Vedic Grammar texts.The Position of ‘Cow’ in the Context of Veda

    “Veda is the creation of an age anterior to our intellectual philosophies.” The ancient Rishis or sages of the highest enlightenment heard the Divine Word in their inner ears; Veda came down to Earth in the form of vibrations. The ancient Seers made them fit for acquisition of the eternal knowledge. Veda is not a religion as there was no founder of it and there was no Prophet to preach it. It was the most impersonal knowledge made itself accessible through the two forms i.e. “drishti” (inner vision) and “shruti” (hearing). It was the revelatory knowledge of the Supreme perceivable by the wisest men of the Vedic period in the highest awakening state of intuition.

    There are a number of books written by different authors claiming to explain the meanings of Vedic literature. But most of them misrepresent facts; thus Veda has been misinterpreted in the hands of self-proclaimed scholars. Veda is not a scripture of any Sectarian Community nor does it represent any codified social ethics to be followed blindly by the common mass.

    In order to have correct comprehension of Veda, one must first of all practise the life of austerity, celibacy, and self-study.

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    The intrinsic meaning of the cryptic language of the Veda can never be explained with the help of ordinary Sanskrit Grammar followed by the students. One must have access to the depth of Panini’s Grammar; study of Basic Grammatical rules enunciated in the text by great Sage Yaskacharya and study of Bhasya, Nighantu, and Brahmana are most essential. Otherwise none can ever interpret and explain Veda without having the above prerequisites.
    The modern man thinks himself to be more civilized and whatever he professes or practises is being considered as authentic by him. In fact, he at times imposes his opinions upon others and forces them to accept these as commandments. The Cult of Cannibalism is in vogue in the name of Religion and Spirituality; killing of animals like cow, buffalo, sheep, goat etc. are rampant in society in the name of cheap foods having high nutritional values. Let each one have his way, but when it comes to the topic of “animal sacrifice in the Vedic Age” it certainly makes a great deal of difference. Let people eat whatever they like but it should not be under the pretext of Veda. This certainly will be a complete erroneous interpretation of the Vedic text.

    It is an irrefutable fact that the Vedic Rishis were neither eaters of any type of animal flesh nor there was any reference to sacrifice of animals like cows in the Vedic Age. It is needless to explain the Vedic Grammar here, but it is indispensable to throw some light upon the validity of the statement regarding cow being worshipped as one’s mother in the ancient period as the matter to-day has aroused controversy among politicians and social activists. In the well-known chapters of Rig Veda, ‘cow’ has ever been worshiped as mother.

    ”mata rudranam duhita basunam swamadityanamamru tasya nabhih

    Pra nu bocham chikitushe janaya, magamanagamaditim badhistha”

    (Rig Veda 8.101.15)

    The correct meaning of it is : “ cow is Basu, the daughter of Rudra and Adityas. She must be given the status of one’s own mother and sister. She gives milk which is a form of nectar. She is Aditi, do not ever kill her.”

    Besides this particular ‘sloka’ of Rig Veda, the hymn of Yajur Veda (8/13) gives different synonyms for the word ‘go’ i.e. cow in English.

    “ide rante habye kamye chandre jyotiditye saraswati mani bishruti

    Eta te aghnye namani debebhyo ma sukrutam brutat” (Yajur Veda 8/43)

    Each of the above synonyms for the word cow is of high significance. One name assigned to cow is Ida. The word Ida according to Vedic Grammatical interpretation is the giver of food and nutrition to the universe. Ida is also the mighty source of inspiration in all activities of life.

    Habya—another synonym for ‘go’ (cow). The term Habya in Vedic Sanskrit symbolizes an object of great reverence and worship.

    Kamya—this name of cow signifies ‘gracefulness’

    Chandra—Na- me given to cow is Chandra which depicts her beautiful features.

    Jyoti—Cow as Jyoti is an ever-illumined consciousness capable of giving prosperity, well-being to everybody.

    Aditi—the term cow as Aditi stands for indivisibility of existence.

    Saraswati—Name of cow as Saraswati stands for divine essence in life.

    Aghnya—Name of the cow as Aghnya in the Vedic literature emphatically asserts the fact that ‘cow’ is not meant for killing.

    Many people comment the explanation of the Vedic text to be the fancy of the writer; let them think whatever they like as freedom of thought is there but only persons who want to defame the Vedic text with a planned deliberation can utter such derogatory statements regarding slaughter of cows in Vedic Age. Quite to the contrary, the Vedic Law awards punishment to people doing harm to the sacred animal ‘cow.’ The rules of punishment as has been described in Veda are stated as follows.

    “antakaya goghatam” Yajur 13/18) The person doing harm to the cow like inflicting any injury upon her and killing too must be hanged.

    “are te godanamuta poorasaghnam” (Rig Veda 1/114/10) The slaughterer of cow and the murderer of man must be given the same punishment. They must be driven out of their country.

    Therefore, it is the unalterable Truth that eating of beef (cow’s meat) was never in practice in the Vedic Age among the Hindus. In fact, no killing of animals took place in the above said period. The Vedic seers were strict vegetarians, they ever led life of sanctity and austerity to achieve the state of intuitive revelation.

    The book entitled “Hindu Civilisation” by Sri Radha Kumud Mukhopadhyaya states in one of his statements the following words.

    ‘The COW was already deemed Aghnya—never to be killed.’

    (thoughts taken from the text ‘Tapobhumi Narmada’)

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  • Do not dare to give such defamatory statement regarding Vedic texts as you do not have the proper knowledge of interpreting Vedic texts according to Nighantu and Nirukta, the only authentic Vedic Grammar texts to interpret the language. Animal sacrifice was never permitted in Vedic Age. If you have ability to read the original text in Sanskrit do give inference. Otherwise refrain from defiling our ancient esoteric heritage by such unfair means.

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