Social Scientist. v 7, no. 83 (June 1979) p. 51.


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Beef-Eating in Ancient India

BEEF-EATING was not peculiar to the people of the Western countries alone, but was popular with the Vedic Indians also. The food items of the Vedic Indian can be gathered from the list of sacrificial victims because what man ate he usually presented to his gods.1 Practically all the important ceremonies and sacrifices were attended with slaughter of bulls and cows. The Gomedha and Asvamedha sacrifices are important in this respect. The Sulagava sacrifice, in which the bull, as the name implies, seems to have been pierced with a spike or lance to appease Rudra, is described in detail in the grhyasutras,

Restrictions in Vedic Literature

In a hymn of the Rgveda it is said that "Indra will eat thy bulls."2 In another hymn of the Rgveda3 Agni is styled Uksanna and Vasanna i.e. "eater of bulls and barren cows." Not only for the purpose of sacrifices but for food also, the bovine species were killed in regular slaughter-houses and this is evident from another hymn of the Rgveda.4- Again, it is suggested in the Rgveda that the cow was cut up with a sword or axe.5 It is interesting to note in this context that the modern Hindu practice of Jhatka-bali, that is, severing the head of the animal at one stroke, had not yet come into fashion. There are ample evidences how the Rgvedic people were fond of beef-eating. Even in funeral ceremony beef-eating was considered an essential part.6

Interestingly enough in the same Veda the cow is sometimes considered inviolable as indicated by her designation aghnya ('not to be slain5) which occurs sixteen times in the entire Rgveda^ as opposed to three instances of aghnya8 (masculine). But this fact cannot be regarded as showing that beef-eating was condemned in the Rgvedic period. In this connection, we should point out that the Sanskrit word used for the sacrificial cow is Vasa (i.e. 'sterile cow') and a milch cow was seldom sacrificed.9 It is only in this way that one can explain the lavish praise bestowed on



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