Humanitarian Diet – The Vedic approach

Author- Vasudevarao Ji Arya


Religion is meant to elevate human soul from ordinary humanity to a more respectable divinity, and therefore, a true and benevolent religion can never sanction such acts which may bring down humanity to the low level of bestiality. Religion, culture, and civilization are not the terms antagonistic to one another and therefore every inhuman act ought to be equally repulsive to the notions of civilization and culture also.

Living on flesh of fellow creatures is an act no less than cannibal, and the society which advocates it is certainly going towards barbarism.The Vedas have been regarded as the bedrock of religion [Dharma], culture and civilization. It pains one when many of our writers like Raja Rajendralal Misra[ Beef in ancient India a chapter in Indo-Aryans vol.I] and D.N. jha [ The myth of holy cow. verso books 2002 London]making unsuccessful attempts to advocate the practice of meat-eating- even beef- on the basis of ancient authorities. There is no space here to clarify all the misapprensions, but an attempt would be made here to bring forth a few of the evidences to show that the Vedic religion was originally against any such inhuman practice. Certainly, at a later stage, people associated all sorts of intolerances with these scriptures.

Vedas againstMeat eating.

The etymological argument:The Vedic Lexicon, Nighantu, gives amongst other synonyms of Gau[ or cow] the words Aghnya. Ahi, and Aditi. Yaska the commentator on Nighantu, defines these terms as follows.

Aghnya is one that ought not to be killed

Ahi is one that must not be slaughtered.

Aditi is one that ought not to be cut into pieces.

[Nighantu 11.4]

These three names of cow signify that the animal ought not to be put to tortures. Mahabharatha[ shanti parva.[ Chapter263] also says that cows are known as aghnya, and they ought not to be killed. Anybody who kills a cow or bull is a great sinner. This sentiment is supported by a Vedic dictum Anago hatya y bheemah [Atharvaveda 10.2.29] which means that it is great sin to kill innocent animals. In this context let us hear what Manu in Manusmrithi says,

Anumantha vishasitha nihantaa krayavikrayee|

Samskrtha chopahartha cha khadakaschethi ghatakah||

{Manusmrithi 5.51}

Meaning. Those who permit the slaying of animals, and those who bring the animals for slaughter, those who slaughter, those who sell the meat, those who purchases the meat, those who prepare the dish out of it, those who serve that food, and those who eat that meat are all Villains.

Yagna never means animal sacrifice in the sense popularly understood. Yagna in the Veda means Sresthamaya karma [yajurveda 1.1] or the highest purifying action. One of the synonyms of Yagna in Nighantu is Adhvara which according to Yaska means as follows.

Adhvara is a synonym for Yagna. Dhvara means an act with himsa or torture. And therefore adhvara means an act involving no tortures. Were animals permitted to be sacrificed then Yagna should have been called as Sadhvara. However this is not the position. Rigveda says on the contrary calls Yagna as Adhvaraas clear from the following Mantra.

Agne yam yagnamadhavaram vishwathah paribhurasi|

Sa id deveshu gacchati||[Rigveda 1.1.4]

Meaning; [Agne] O lord of effulgence![sah it], [yam adhvaram yajnam] over which non-violent Yajna,[vishvatah paribhuh asi] you prescribe from all sides, [devesu gacchati] touches divine proportions or is accepted by noble souls.

In Vedic literature when Yagna is described as Adhvara throughout, with what stretch of imagination then should one conclude that the Vedas permit violence to or slaughter of animals and birds? Partly on account of gross ignorance, and partly on the inability to control their minds and sense-organs and partly due to the influence of Greeks and Romans with whom our ancient people had to come into contact because of trade, commerce, and politicsthe people started indulging in slaughter of innocent animals andmeat eating. Further the mischievous meanings given to Vedic Mantras by men who never cared to know what Niruktha said in the matter was another reason. Otherwise how do you explain the justification of cow/ox and other animals being killed when the killing is clearly prohibited as clear from the following?

  • Ga maa himsiradhitim virajam [yaj13.43]

[Do not kill the cow which is splendor of life and [which is] inviolable.

  • Imam Maa himseedvipadam pashum [yaj 13.48]

[Do not kill the animal with unsplit hooves]

  • Imam utsam ma himsi [yaj13.49]

[Do not kill the Ox]

  • Imam urnayam ma himsihi [yaju 13.50]

[Do not kill this sheep]

Such are the Vedic injunctions.

The Vedas advocate humane treatment to animals— At number of places; the Vedas are full of prayers and sanctions aiming at the protection of animals.

1.O God! Protect the cattle of Yajamam (yajamanasya pashunpahi) yaj 1.1

2. Do not ye torture man and other animals [Maa himsi purusham jagat] yaj 6.3

3. Ye men and women, both of you together protect your cattle [pashustreetheyatam] yaj 6.11

The Vedas are definitely against killing cow horse or other creatures.—the following mantras are very clear in this respect.

1.A man who nourishes himself on the flesh of man , horse or other animals or birds or who having killed untorturable cows , debars them from their milk , OAgni, the King, award him the highest punishment or give him the sentence of death [ Atharveda8.3.25]

2.The one who protects and sustains hundreds and thousands, one who is the fountain of milk, one who supplies people with milk , one who is aditi[ who ought not to be cut into pieces] do not torture such cow in this world[ yajurveda 12.49]

The passages given above show that the Vedas never sanctioned the torture of animals either in Yagnas or for any other reasons. Further, Charaka one of the founders of Ayurveda traces the origin of ati-sara [Diarrhea] to the animal meat. He says cow –meat is heavy, hot and Unnatural, causes inactivity of metabolism and dulls the intellect [Vide charaka chikitsa section ch. 10]

Thus it is clear, that the cow slaughter was introduced at much later period. It was not prevalent in the times of Manu even.

Aswamedha does not mean horse sacrifice at Yagna.

It is impossible to give an exposition of Aswamedha ceremony in this article. The Yajurveda clearly mentions that a horse ought not to be slaughtered.

Do not slaughter this one hoofed animal that neighs and who goes with a fast speed faster than most of the animals [Y.13.48]

The one-hoofed animal is definitely a horse, as is clear from the following statement of the Sathapatha Brahmana:

By one hoofed is meant a horse. Do not slaughter him [VII, v, ii 33]

In Shathapatha, Aswa is a name of Rastra. Or empire and Yagna done with a view to consolidate an empire is named as Aswamedha. The word medha does not mean slaughter. It is done simply an act done in accordance to the intellect [or medhas]Alternatively it could mean consolidation, as evident from the root meaning of medha i.e. medhru sangame.

Ajamedha is not the goat-sacrifice. It is a Yagna done with grains. The word aja means goat as well as grain. This duality of meaning has given rise to notion that ajamedha means goat sacrifice. The following passage from Mahabharata clarifies this point very definitely.

“The sense of the Veda is to perform Yagna with grains or seeds. Aja is another name for seed. It is not desirable to slaughter goats. Good people do not indulge in slaughter of animals. This krtayuga is the best of all; how can the killing of animals be permissible during the period? [Shantiparva]”

The passages from panchatantra also substantiate these views. “Those who sacrifice animals in Yagna are great fools; they do not the real sense of Veda. The Veda simply says; the Yagna should be performed through the oblations of aja; but the word aja means ‘paddy seven years old’. It does not signify any special animal. [Tantra.3, katha 2]

This is what meant by Aswamedha Yagna and Aja medha Yagna. We hear in Ramayana that Aswamedha Yagna was performed by setting loose a decorated horse carrying a state emblem. Whoever stopped or impounded the horse the king used to enquire and if this meant defiance to authority war was initiated to submit them. Precisely this is what was meant by Aswamedha.

Maharshi Dayananda Saraswathi, a doyen among our religious and social reformers was an outstanding scholar of Vedas as well. Dismissing the meaning that Aswamedha meant horse sacrifice he states in his immortal work Satyartha prakash {Light of Truth} as under.

“They interpolated these and similar other verses into the works of the seers, and also wrote books in the name of many great sages and savants, and thus introduced such sacrifices as Gomedha—a sacrifice in which cows were slaughtered – and Aswamedha—one in which horses were killed. They declared that by slaughtering these animals and offering them as a sacrifice both—the animals sacrificed and the Yajamana—went to Heaven. This evil practice seems to have originated on account of their ignorance of the true meanings of such words as Aswamedha, Gomedha, and Naramedha that occur in the Brahmanas, for had they understood them; they would not have committed such blunders.

O—what are then the true meanings of such words as Aswamedha, Gomedha, and Naramedha?

A—their meanings are noted what the Vamamargis think. Nowhere in the scriptures and other authentic books it is written that horses, cows and human beings should be killed and offered as sacrifice in the sacred fire called Homa. It is only in the books of the Vamamargis that such absurd things are written. Whatever in the authentic books of the sages the sanction of such a sacrifice is found, it should be understood that the verse or the passage has been interpolated by the Vamamargis. Now mark! What the Shathapatha Brahmana says on the subject: “A king governs his people justly and righteously. This is called Aswamedha. “A learned man gives a free gift of knowledge to people. This is called Aswamedha. Again “the burning” of clarified butter and odoriferous and nutritious substances in the fire in order to purify the air is also called Aswamedha”. “To keep the food pure or to keep the senses under control, or to make the food pure or to make a good use of the rays ofSun or keep the earth free from impurities[clean] is called Gomedha”. “The cremation of the body of a dead person in accordance with the principles laid down in the Vedas is called Naramedha”.

The Vedas do not advocate meat eating either.

Meat eaters have always been looked down in Vedic literature. They have been separated from human society and generally known as Rakshasas. The other synonyms for them are

Kravy da –kravya[ meat obtained from slaughter] + Ada [ the eater]—the meat eater.

Pisacha– pisita [meat] +asa [eater]—the meat eater.

Asutrpa — Asu [breath of life] + trpa [one who satisfies himself on]—one who takes others life for his meals.

Garba da and Anda da – the foetus and egg eaters.Mans da – the meat eaters.

All these words are synonyms of demons or devils that have been out-cast from the human society.

We are quoting below a few of the passages to show that the Vedas are emphatically against meat-eating.

[i] O teeth! You eat rice, you eat barley, you eat masa [phaseolus radiatus] and you eat sesame. These cereals are specifically meant for you. Do not kill those who are capable of being fathers and mothers [male and female animals] Atharveda 6.140.2

[ii] We ought to destroy them who eat ammansa [cooked as well as uncooked meat, and also the cow meat] and pauruseya kravi [meat involving the destruction of males and females] who eat foetus [including eggs] and them who have thus made their bodies graveyards. [Atharveda. 8.6.23]

Thus it is crystal clear that Vedas do not advocate meat eating and Yagna involving violence. However as already pointed it was due to wrong interpretation of Vedic Mantras coupled with selfishness the beneficial Yagnas like Aswamedha, Gomedha, and Ajamedha came under cloud. The barbaric practices done in the name of Vedas led to movement like Buddhism and Jainism which thought that it was God and Vedas that were responsible for these inhuman practices and therefore started movements which negated the god and Veda. However these movements got degenerated in course of time and in order to remove the havoc caused by them Acharya Shankar came up denouncing these atheistic religions. Soon” no god” was replaced by “all god” and this also had a deleterious effect on our society.

The 19th century was an important landmark in the history of Bharat. It witnessed emergence of an outstanding Vedic scholar, sterling patriot and crusader of socio-religious reforms in the personality of Swami Dayanand Saraswathi who saw the havoc done by atheistic religions represented by Buddhism and Advaith religion represented by Shanker. He made a critical examination of both these religions in the background of what is stated in Vedas and rescued Hinduism from further degradation. He cut asunder all the myths and irrational practices surrounding Vedas and demonstrated the grace and glory of Vedic Dharma. The Aryasamaj he founded gave a virile and at the same time a practical blue print for the reconstruction of society based on the wholesome Vedic philosophy for the Hindus to follow. He provided right clues or a correct key to understand the Vedas and it is therefore desired that those who intend to pass judgment on Vedic practices would do well to study his books in the interest of Truth.


[i] Light of Truth or Satyarth Prakash. By Swami Dayananda Saraswathi.

[ii] Humanitarian Diet.By Satya prakash.

[iii] Grace and Glory of Vedic Dharma. By Pt|| Sudhakara chaturvedi.


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Posted on September 26, 2011, in Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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