Special thanks to Brother Neer Muhammad, who has been really helpful throughout the writing of this article and also gave valuable points.
Present day Hindu culture is pivoted solely on the cow. Its material and spiritual concepts are both engulfed in cow worship. Such an animal worship is known as zoolatry. The Hindutva brigade propaganda machinery uses the politics of cow to mobilize the blind Hindu masses and works them into a frenzy. The taboo on cow slaughter is one of the pillars of the Hindutva ideology. According to M.S.Golwalkar, a Hindutva ideologue, cow slaughter in India began with foreign domination. “The Muslims started it and the Britishers continued it” (M.S.Golwalkar, Bunch of Thoughts, Pg 496). In the past, several futile attempts have been made by proponents of Hindutva to pass a law to ban the slaughter of cows at the national level. In the NCERT school textbook for Class VI (2002) we read:
“Among the animals the cow was given the most important and sacred place. Injuring or killing of cow was prohibited in the Vedic period. The cow was called Aghnya (is not to be killed or injured). Vedas prescribe punishment for injuring or killing cow by expulsion from the kingdom or by death penalty, as the case may be”
(Social Sciences Textbook for Class VI, Pg 89.).
But the theory that the in Vedic times there was no cow slaughter is historically inaccurate. Although cow was revered and treated as sacred, it was also offered as food to guests and persons of high status. The fact remains that ancient Hindu scriptures clearly permit the consumption of meat, even of cows. True scholars, and not modern frauds, know this. For example, Swami Vivekananda who is considered as a major force in the revival of Hinduism in modern India, admitted that ancient Hindus used to eat meat. He says,
“You will be astonished if I tell you that, according to the old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat beef. On certain occasions he must sacrifice a bull and eat it.”
[The complete works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 3, Pg 536]
In the same volume on page 174 he says,
“There was a time in this very India when, without eating beef, no Brahmin could remain a Brahmin;”
Let us now look at the evidence from Hindu texts, which proves that Hinduism not only permits beef eating but also requires its folowers to institute certain cow sacrifices. I will simultaneously refute the common arguments of Hindus.
Yajna and animal sacrifices
In Hinduism, Yajna is a ritual of sacrifice derived from the practice of Vedic times. It is performed to please the gods or to attain certain wishes. A Vedic yajna is typically performed by an adhvaryu priest, with a number of additional priests such as the hotar, udgatar playing a major role, next to their dozen helpers, by reciting or singing Vedic verses. How to deal with the animal, that is to be sacrificed in the Yajna, be it a goat, a horse or a cow, is mentioned in the Aitareya Brahman of the Rigveda as follows:
“6. …Turn the animal’s feet northwards. Make its eyes go to the Sun, dismiss its breath to the wond, its life to the space, its hearing to the directions, its body to the earth. In this way the Hotar (priest) connets it with these world. Take of the entire skin without cutting it. Before opening the navel tear out the omentum. Stop its breathing within (by stopping its mouth). Thus the Hotar puts breath in the animals. Make of its breast a piece like an eagle, of its arms (two pieces like) two hatchets, of its forearms (two pieces like) two spikes, of its shoulders (two pieces like) two kashyapas (tortoises), its loins should be unbroken (entire); make of its thigs (two pieces like) two shields, of the two kneepans (two pieces like) two oleander leaves; take out its twenty-six ribs according to their order; preserve every limb of its in its integrity. Thus he benefits all its limbs. Dig a ditch in the earth to hide its excrements.
7. Present the evil spirits with the blood.”
[Aitareya Brahman, Book 2, para 6 and 7]
Subsequently, the same Aitareya Brahman instructing on how to distribute different parts of the sacrificial animal says,
“Now follows the division of the different parts of the sacrificial animal (among the priests). We shall describe it. The two jawbones with the tongue are to be given to the Prastotar; the breast in the form of an eagle to the Udgatar; the throat with the palate to the Pratihartar; the lower part of the right loins to the Hotar; the left to the Brahma; the right thigh to the Maitravaruna; the left to the Brahmanuchhamsi; the right side with the shoulder to the Adhvaryu; the left side to those who accompany the chants; the left shoulder to the Pratipasthatar; the lower part of the right arm to the Neshtar; the lower part of the left arm to the Potar; the upper part of the right thigh to the Achhavaka; the left to the Agnidhra; the upper part of the right arm to the Aitreya; the left to the Sadasya; the back bone and the urinal bladder to the Grihapati (sacrificer); the right feet to the Grihapati who gives a feasting; the left feet to the wife of that Grihapati who gives a feasting; the upper lip is common to both, which is to be divided by the Grihapati. They offer the tail of the animal to wives, but they should give it to a Brahmana; the fleshy processes (maanihah) on the neck and three gristles (kikasaah) to the Grahvastut; three other gristles and one half of the fleshy part on the back (vaikartta) to the Unnetar; the other half of the fleshy part on the neck and the left lobe (Kloma) to the Slaughterer (Shamita), who should present it to a Brahmana, if he himself would not happen to be a Brahmana. The head is to be given to the Subrahmanya, the skin belongs to him (the Subrahmanya), who spoke, Svaah Sutyam (to morrow at the Soma Sacriice); that part of the sacrificial animal at a Soma sacrifice which beloings to Ilaa (sacrificial food) is common to all the priests; only for the Hotar it is optional.
All these portions of the sacrificial animal amount to thirty-six single pieces, each of which represents the paada (foot) of a verse by which the sacrifice is carried up…”
“To those who divide the sacrificial animal in the way mentioned, it becomes the guide to heaven (Swarga). But those who make the division otherwise are like scoundrels and miscreants who kill an animal merely.”
“This division of the sacrificial animal was invented by Rishi Devabhaaga, a son of Srauta. When he was departing from this life, he did not entrust (the secret to anyone). But a supernatural being communicated it to Girija,the son of Babhru. Since his time men study it.”
[Aitareya Brahman, Book 7, Para 1, Translated by Martin Haug]
I have come across certain bigots among Hindus, who make the excuse that these are the translations of a non-Hindu European scholar with ‘ulterior motives’. This is a common response of half-baked Hindus, who have negligible knowledge of Hindu scriptures. To establish the authenticity of the above translations, I will produce before you passages from the ‘Purva Mimamsa Sutras’ of Jaimini, its commentary called ‘Shabarbhasya‘ and the views of renowned Arya Samaj scholar, Pandit Yudhishthira Mimamsak on them.
It must be noted that the Purva Mimamsa Sutras (compiled between 300-200 BCE), written by Rishi Jaimini is one of the most important ancient Hindu philosophical texts. It forms the basis of Mimamsa, the earliest of the six orthodox schools (darshanas) of Indian philosophy.
Commenting on Purv Mimansa Sutra Adhyaya 3, Pada 6, Sutra 18, the Shabarbhasya says,
संति च पशुधर्माः- उपाकरणं, उपानयं, अक्ष्णया बंधः, यूपे नियोजनम्, संज्ञपनं, विशसनमित्येवमादयः
There are also certain details to be performed in connection with the animals, such as (a) Upaakaranam [Touching the animal with the two mantras], (b) Upaanayanam [Bringing forward], (c) Akshanyaa-bandhah [Tying with a rope], (d) Yoope niyojanam [Fettering to the Sacrificial Post], (e) Sanjnapanam [Suffocating to death], (f) Vishasanam [Dissecting], and so forth.
[Shabhar bhashya on Mimamsa Sutra 3/6/18; translated by Ganganath Jha]
Expounding on this, Arya Samaj scholar, Pandit Yudhisthira Mimamsak writes in is ‘Mimamsa Shabar Bhashyam’
“In this case and otherwise it appears from the Jaimini Sutras that the offering of sacrificed animals is to be made in the Yajnas. It is clearly mentioned in the Mimamsa Sutrs.”
[Mimamsa Shabharbhasyam, adhyaya 3, Page 1014]
Moving on let us see Mimamsadarshan Sutra 3/7/28 which says,
शमिता च शब्दभेदात्
The ‘Shamita’ (slaughterer of the animal) is not distinct from the major priests.
Commenting on it the Shabarbhashya says,
क्लोमा चार्द्धवं वैकर्तनं च शमितुः तद् ब्राह्मणाय दद्यात् यद्य ब्राह्मणः स्यात्
“The liver and the upper quarter belongs to the Shamita Priest ; one should give it to a Brahmana if he be a non-Brahmana.”
[Shabhar bhasya on Mimamsa Sutra 3/7/28; translated by Ganganath Jha]
Notice that this is exactly the same things that we saw was said in Aitareya Brahman Book 7; Para 1 above (the highlighted part). This proves that Shabarbhashya is confirming the Aitareya Brahman and the translation is also accurate.
Pandit Yudhisthira Mimamsak also confirms this when he says,
“The division of the meat of the sacrificed animal as instructed in the Aitareya Brahman clearly proves that during the time of the writing of Aitareya Brahman and the time when it was edited by Saunaka, animals were sacrificed in the Yajnas and their meat was consumed by the Brahmins”
Some half-baked Hindus who like to play games might try to call all these references as later interpolations. However, the scholar Yudhisthir Mimamsak outrightly rejects such a bogus conclusion when he says,
“There is no strong evidence to consider these passages as later interpolations.”
[Mimamsa Shabarbhashyam by Yudhishthir Mimamsak Adhyaya 3, Page 1075]
Further in Mimamsa Sutra 3/8/43 it is mentioned,
मांसं तु सवनियानां चोदनाविशेषात
“Only the ‘Savaniya’ cakes should consist of flesh”
All these passages prove that the flesh of the sacrificed animal was consumed as per the instructions of the Hindu texts.
Refuting the modern Hindu polemic of ‘No violence in Yajna’
Hindu Argument (quoted from a Hindu apologetics website)
Yajna never meant animal sacrifice in the sense popularly understood. Yajna in the Vedas meant a noble deed or the highest purifying action.
Adhvara iti Yajnanaama – Dhvaratihimsaakarmaa tatpratishedhah
According to Yaaska Acharya, one of the synonyms of Yajna in Nirukta or the Vedic philology is Adhvara.
Dhvara means an act with himsa or violence. And therefore a-dhvara means an act involving no himsa or no violence. There are a large number of such usage of Adhvara in the Vedas.
This argument is incorrect because the word ‘Adhvar’ has been misplaced and interpreted incompletely. Yaska is merely giving the etymology of the word ‘Adhvar’ and not where it is to be applied and what constitutes violence. To know the true application of the word ‘Adhvar’ we will have to turn to Shatapath Brahman, which gives the complete understanding of why ‘Yajna’ is called ‘Adhvar’. Shatapath Brahman 1/4/1/40 says,
devānha vai yajñena yajamānāṃtsapatnā
asurā dudhūrṣāṃ cakruste dudhūrṣanta eva na śekurdhūrvituṃ te
parābabhūvustasmādyajño adhvaro nāma
“For once when the gods were engaged in sacrificing, their rivals, the Asuras, wished to injure (dhvar) them; but, though desirous of injuring them, they were unable to injure them and were foiled: for this reason the sacrifice is called adhvara (‘not damaged, uninterrupted’).”
Thus the argument of the polemicist turns out to be a deception aimed at fooling those who have no access to the original texts. The passage of Shatapath Brahman makes it clear that ‘Adhvar’ is called so because the priests performing the Yajna did not become victims of violence. It has no connection to the violence of the animals done in the Yajna.
Renowned classical commentator of the four Vedas, Sayana Acharya, also gives the same reason for calling Yajna as ‘Adhvar’. He says in his comments on Rigveda 1/1/4,
अध्वरं हिंसारहितम् ह्वग्निना सर्वतः पालितं यज्ञं राक्षसादयो हिंसितुं प्रभवंति
“Adhvar is called ‘without violence’ because being protected by Agni on all sides it is uninterrupted by Rakshashas or violent enemies, who are unable to mar it.”
Again we see that Acharya Sayan expresses the same view as that of the Shatapath Brahman i.e the violence referred in the ‘adhvar’ is not for the sacrificial animal in the Yajna.
Renowned Hindu scholar, Swami Prabhupada explains the so-called violence in the Yajna in the following words,
“Although animal killing in a sacrifice is recommended in the Vedic literature, the animal is not considered to be killed. The sacrifice is to give a new life to the animal. Sometimes the animal is given a new animal life after being killed in the sacrifice, and sometimes the animal is promoted immediately to the human form of life.”
[Bhagavad Gita As It Is 8/13]
Even Manu Smriti echoes the same opinion in a more clear way in Chapter 5, verse 39 when it says,
“Svayambhu (the Self-existent) himself created animals for the sake of sacrifices; sacrifices (have been instituted) for the good of this whole (world); hence the slaughtering (of beasts) for sacrifices is not slaughtering (in the ordinary sense of the word).”
Again Manu Smriti Chapter 5, verse 44 says
“Know that the injury to moving creatures and to those destitute of motion, which the Veda has prescribed for certain occasions, is no injury at all; for the sacred law shone forth from the Veda.”
Thus, this argument stands nullified. For more scholarly explanation that the violence of animals in the Yajna is actually no violence please see the last section of this article namely ‘The testimony of classical scholars’.
Animal sacrifices in Vedas, including cow sacrifice
Chapter 24 of the Shukla Yajurveda is a unique chapter that will help us throw light on the animal sacrifices in the Vedas. This chapter contains an exact enumeration of animals that are to be tied to the sacrificial stakes, with the names of the deities to which they are dedicated. Several of the animals cannot be identified. This entire chapter is a weird puzzle, which is difficult to solve for the modern vegetarian Hindus. They are simply unable to explain the coherent meaning of this chapter. You will be amazed to know that even a Vedic scholar like Swami Dayanand is unable to throw any light on it. He merely says that we should know the qualities of each animal by relating to the qualities of the deity to whom they are dedicated. This statement of the Swami is itself a puzzle, as it gives no clear beneficial knowledge to us. Even Pandit Devi Chand, an Arya Samaj scholar, who based his English translation of the Yajurveda on Swami Dayanand’s work is clueless about the exact meaning of this chapter. He says in the footnote to verse #1,
“The exact significance of these animals being attached to the forces of nature (or Deities) is not clear to me.” (words in brackets mine)
Does this mean that no Hindu scholar for thousands of years has been able to understand the meaning of this chapter? I would say that is not the case. If we go to the Brahmanas and the classical commentators of the Vedas, the puzzle is solved. According to them each animal dedicated to a particular diety in this chapter has to be sacrificed to that deity. See Shatapath Brahmana 13/2/2/1-10
If this view is not accepted as the correct one, then every verse of this chapter would be a question mark with no answer. For example, verse 1 dedicates ‘a cow that slips her calf’ to Indra. But the question is, what will Indra do with such a cow? Is Indra going to give a sermon to her? or is Indra going to punish her? Such questions require satisfactory answers which modern vegetarian Hindus are unable to provide.
In the Yajnas meant for obtaining Rice, meat of bulls was cooked and offered to the diety.
Rigveda 10/28/3 mentions this as
अद्रिणा ते मन्दिन इन्द्र तूयान सुन्वन्ति सोमान पिबसि तवमेशाम |
पचन्ति ते वर्षभानत्सि तेषां पर्क्षेण यन्मघवन हूयमानः ||
“Your worshippers express with the stone fast flowing exhilarating Soma-juices for you. You drink them. They roast bulls for you, you eat them when you are invoked, Maghavan, to the sacrificial food.”
This is interpreted by Sayana Acharya as follows:
“You (O Indra), eat the cattle offered as oblations belonging to the worshippers who cook them for you.”
Acharya Sayana explicitly mentions about sacrificing a bull in the introduction to Atharvaveda 9/4/1 as follows
“The Brahman after killing the bull, offers its meat to the different deities. In this hymn, the bull is praised, detailing which parts of the bull are attached to which deity as well as the importance of sacrificing the bull and the rewards of doing the same.”
The Ashwamedha Yajna
The ‘Practical Sanskrit English Dictionary’ by V. S. Apte (1890) gives the following meaning of ‘Ashwa-medha’
अश्वः प्रधानतया मेध्यते हिंस्यते अत्र
“A Yajna in which a Horse is primarily sacrificed is called Ashwamedha. [A Horse Sacrifice]”
The dictionary further goes on to say
“In Vedic times this sacrifice was performed by kings desirous of offspring.”
This statement is right when we turn to Shatapath Brahman 13/1/9/9.
To give readers a brief idea of Ashwamedha Yajna, I will briefly mention the entire ritual based on Hindu texts like Katyayana Srauta Sutra, Apastamba Sutra, etc; but I will not mention the obscene portion of the Ashwamedha ritual as it is irrelevant with the topic at hand.
The horse to be sacrificed is sprinkled with water, and the Adhvaryu and the sacrificer whisper mantras into its ear. Anyone who should stop the horse is ritually cursed, and a dog is killed symbolic of the punishment for the sinners. The horse is then set loose towards the North-East, to roam around wherever it chooses, for the period of one year (or half a year, according to some commentators). The horse is associated with the Sun, and its yearly course. If the horse wanders into neighbouring provinces hostile to the sacrificer, they must be subjugated. The wandering horse is attended by a hundred young men, sons of princes or high court officials, charged with guarding the horse from all dangers and inconvenience. During the absence of the horse, an uninterrupted series of ceremonies is performed in the sacrificer’s home.
After the return of the horse, more ceremonies are performed. I HAVE OMITTED THE OBSCENE PORTION OF THIS YAJNA IN THIS ARTICLE. Those who wish to read them can see Shukla Yajurveda Chapter 23; verses 19-31 and the commentary of classical scholars.
After this, the horse, a hornless he-goat, a wild ox are bound to sacrificial stakes near the fire, and seventeen other animals are attached to the horse. A great number of animals, both tame and wild, are tied to other stakes, according to a commentator 609 in total (Yajurveda, chapter 24 consists of an exact enumeration).
Then the horse is slaughtered. The horse is dissected, and its flesh roasted. Various parts are offered to a host of deities. Prayers are made for wealth, offspring and body strength.
In Rigveda, the clearest mention of Ashwamedha is made in Mandal 1 Sookt 162. I will be quoting those verses of this hymn which directly prove that a horse was sacrificed and consumed. As we have already read the passages of Aitareya Brahman concerning the method of sacrificing the animal and distributing its meat, the following passages of the Rigveda will be easier to comprehend.
Rigveda 1/162/3 says,
एष छागः पुरो अश्वेन वाजिना पूष्णो भागो नीयते विश्वदेव्यः |
अभिप्रियं यत पुरोळाशमर्वता तवष्टेदेनं सौश्रवसाय जिन्वति ||
This goat, the portion of Pushan, fit for all the gods, is brought first with the fleet courser, so that Twashtri may prepare him along with the horse, as an acceptable preliminary offering for the (sacrificial) food.
Simultaneous Hindi Translation and Commentary: http://vedamu.org/VedaImages/192708.GIF
Next verse 1/162/4 says,
यद धविष्यं रतुशो देवयानं तरिर्मानुषाः पर्यश्वं नयन्ति |
अत्रा पूष्णः परथमो भाग एति यज्ञं देवेभ्यः परतिवेदयन्नजः ||
‘When the priests at the season (of this ceremony) lead forth the horse, the offering devoted to the gods, thrice round the (sacrificial fire) ; then the goat, the portion of Pushan (or Agni), goes first, announcing the sacrifice to the gods.’
That is, the goat is first sacrificed and then the horse.
Simultaneous Hindi Translation and Commentary: http://vedamu.org/VedaImages/192709.GIF
Verse 9 says,
यदश्वस्य क्रविषो मक्षिकाश यद वा सवरौ सवधितौ रिप्तमस्ति |
यद धस्तयोः शमितुर्यन नखेषु सर्वा ता ते अपि देवेष्वस्तु ||
Whatever the flies may eat of the raw flesh of the horse; whatever is smeared upon the brush or upon the axe; (what is smeared) upon the hands or the nails of the immolator, may all this be with you, (horse) among the gods.
Here we clearly see that the belief of the Vedic people was that horse was not actually dying. It was rather going to the world of the gods to enjoy a much better life, quite similar to the explanation given by Swami Prabhupada above.
Simultaneous Hindi Translation and Commentary: http://vedamu.org/VedaImages/192711.GIF
Verse 10 says,
यदूवध्यमुदरस्यापवाति य आमस्य करविषो गन्धो अस्ति |
सुक्र्ता तच्छमितारः कर्ण्वन्तूत मेधं शर्तपाकं पचन्तु ||
Whatever undigested grass fall from his belly whatever particle of raw flesh may remain;let the immolators make the whole world free from defect, and so cook the pure (offering) that it may be perfectly dressed.
Simultaneous Hindi Translation and Commentary: http://vedamu.org/VedaImages/192713.GIF
verse 11 says,
यत ते गात्रादग्निना पच्यमानादभि शूलं निहतस्यावधावति |
मा तद भूम्यामा शरिषन मा तर्णेषु देवेभ्यस्तदुशद्भ्यो रातमस्तु ||
Whatever (portion) of your slaughtered body fall from your carcase when it is being roasted by the fire, (escaping) from the spit; let it not be left on the ground, nor on the (sacred) grass, but let it (all) be given to the longing gods.
Simultaneous Hindi Translation and Commentary: http://vedamu.org/VedaImages/192713.GIF
verse 12 says,
ये वाजिनं परिपश्यन्ति पक्वं य ईमाहुः सुरभिर्निर्हरेति |
ये चार्वतो मांसभिक्षामुपासत उतो तेषामभिगूर्तिर्न इन्वतु ||
Let their exertions be for our good who watch the cooking of the horse; who say, it is fragrant; therefore give us some; who solicit the flesh of the horse as alms.
Simultaneous Hindi Translation and Commentary: http://vedamu.org/VedaImages/192714.GIF
verse 21, addressing the horse says,
न वा उ एतन मरियसे न रिष्यसि देवानिदेषि पथिभिः सुगेभिः |
हरी ते युञ्जा पर्षती अभूतामुपास्थाद वाजी धुरि रासभस्य ||
Verily at this moment you do not die; nor are you harmed; for you go by auspicious paths to the gods. The horses of Indra, the steeds of the Maruts shall be yoked (to their cars), and a courser shall be placed in the shaft of the ass of the Ashwins (to bear you to heaven).
Again, this verse explicitly proves the belief of the Vedic people that the sacrificial horse did not actually die but was trasported to noble heavenly worlds.
Simultaneous Hindi Translation and Commentary: http://vedamu.org/VedaImages/192719.GIF
After finishing all the rites of the sacrifice, prayers were made for wealth, male offspring and bodily strength as is revealed by verse 22.
सुगव्यं नो वाजी सवश्व्यं पुंसः पुत्रानुत विश्वापुषं रयिम |
अनागास्त्वं नो अदितिः कर्णोतु कषत्रं नो अश्वो वनतां हविष्मान ||
May this horse bring to us all-sustaining wealth, with abundance of cows, of excellent horses, and of male offspring: may the spirited steed bring us exemption from wickedness: may this horse, offered in oblation, procure for us bodily vigour.
Simultaneous Hindi Translation and Commentary: http://vedamu.org/VedaImages/192720.GIF
This hymn would be nonsense if the horse was not really killed and cooked. That the horse was to be actually immolated and that the body was cut up into fragments is clear ; that these fragments were dressed, partly boiled, and partly roasted, is also undisputable ; and although the expressions may be differently understood, yet there is little reason to doubt that part of the flesh was eaten by the assistants, part presented as a burnt offering to the gods.
Refuting Hindu polemics concerning Ashwamedha
Hindu Argument (quoted from a Hindu apologetics website)
The biggest accusation of cattle and cow slaughter comes in the context of the Yajnas that derived their names from different cattle like the Ashwamedh Yajna, the Gomedha Yajna and the Nar-medh Yajna. Even by the wildest stretch of the imagination the word Medha would not mean slaughter in this context.
It’s interesting to note what Yajurveda says about a horse
Imam ma himsirekashafam pashum kanikradam vaajinam vaajineshu
Do not slaughter this one hoofed animal that neighs and who goes with a speed faster than most of the animals.
Aswamedha does not mean horse sacrifice at Yajna. Instead the Yajurveda clearly mentions that a horse ought not to be slaughtered.
In Shathapatha, Ashwa is a word for the nation or empire
The word medha does not mean slaughter. It denotes an act done in accordance to the intellect Alternatively it could mean consolidation, as evident from the root meaning of medha i.e. medhru san-ga-me
Raashtram vaa ashwamedhah
Annam hi gau
Even this argument is not upto the mark. The tactic used by the Hindu apologists here is quoting only part of a verse (Yajurveda 13.48) and ignoring the rest; thus, attempting to mislead the gullible. Doing so gives a completely different picture that Vedas are instructing people not to kill a horse.
Firstly, we need to ascertain that who is this mantra being spoken to? Is it a legal prohibition or a prayer? Is this general or specific? Let us read the full mantra.
“O Agni, don’t harm this one-hoofed beautiful horse, swifter than most animals. I point out to you the wild rhinoceros. Let the wild rhinocerous be harmed by you. Let the enemy whom we hate be harmed by you.”
As you can see this is actually a prayer by a selfish person asking his firegod Agni not to harm his own horses but to harm the wild animals, in this case a rhinocerous. So this verse is not a legal prohibition from killing horses. It is also prayer for the welfare of one’s own animals as every animal owner will naturally do. For example, there are many shepherds who pray to God to protect their cattle from undue harm so that he can sell them or kill them for food and thus they do not go waste. This prayer is on the same lines and thus cannot be taken as a prohibition of slaughtering horses.
The next argument that Ashwa means a nation or empire, in the reference to Shatapath Brahman is also incorrect. For example, we all know that water is essential for the existence of life on this planet. But in many campaigns to prevent the wastage of water, we find slogans like ‘Water is Life’. Does this make the meaning of water to be life or the meaning of life to be water? Not at all. It is a mode of speech where figuratively water and life are equated to establish the importance of water. Similarly, in Vedic times, the horse-sacrifice was considered essential for a strong empire so much that it was equated to the nation itself. Performance of this sacrifice depicted the royal granduer. But the meaning of Ashwa can thus never become a nation. To claim so is ignorance.
If we read the quoted Brahman (13.1.63) further, it clearly differentiates between a nation and the ashwamedha by saying, “let him who holds royal sway perform the ashwamedha”.
A counter example to further nullify this argument will come from the same Shatapath Brahman. Who does not know that the Sacrifice (Yajna) and the Sacrificer (Yajmaan) are two different things. Yet Rishi Yajnavalkya says in Shatapath Brahman 13:2:2:1
meaning the ‘Sacrifice is the Sacrificer‘. This mode of speech is very common in the Brahmanas. Only a person with the intention of twisting the meanings does not reveal this. Seeing all these evidences this argument of the Hindtuva polemicist also turns out to be false.
The final blow to this argument comes from the historical narratives of Mahabharata and Ramayana, where Hindus are clearly shown sacrificing a horse and other animals including cows.
The Ashwamedha Parv of Mahabharata, section 89, shlokas 1-5 says
शमयित्वा पशून अन्यान विधिवद दविजसत्तमाः
तुरगं तं यथाशास्त्रम आलभन्त दविजातयः
2 ततः संज्ञाप्य तुरगं विधिवद याजकर्षभाः
उपसंवेशयन राजंस ततस तां दरुपदात्मजाम
कलाभिस तिसृभी राजन यथाविधि मनस्विनीम
3 उद्धृत्य तु वपां तस्य यथाशास्त्रं दविजर्षभाः
शरपयाम आसुर अव्यग्राः शास्त्रवद भरतर्षभ
4 तं वपा धूमगन्धं तु धर्मराजः सहानुजः
उपाजिघ्रद यथान्यायं सर्वपाप्मापहं तदा
5 शिष्टान्य अङ्गानि यान्य आसंस तस्याश्वस्य नराधिप
तान्य अग्नौ जुहुवुर धीराः समस्ताः षॊडशर्त्विजः
Vaisampayana said, ‘Having cooked, according to due rites, the other excellent animals that were sacrificed, the priests then sacrificed, agreeably to the injunctions of the scriptures, that steed (which had wandered over the whole world). After cutting that horse into pieces, conformably to scriptural directions, they caused Draupadi of great intelligence, who was possessed of the three requisites of mantras, things, and devotion, to sit near the divided animal. The Brahmanas then with cool minds, taking up the marrow of that steed, cooked it duly, O chief of Bharata’s race. King Yudhishthira the just, with all his younger brothers, then smelled, agreeably to the scriptures, the smoke, capable of cleansing one from every sin, of the marrow that was thus cooked. The remaining limbs, O king, of that horse, were poured into the fire by the sixteen sacrificial priests possessed of great wisdom.
Meat Eating in Vedas including Cow meat
The Sanskrit word for meat is ‘Maamsam‘. Yaska Acharya’s Nirukt 4:3 says ‘Maamsam maananam va‘ (मांसं
माननं वा) and ‘Maanasam va‘ (मानसं
वा). The meaning of the former is ‘it is honoured’, while the later means ‘it is thought’. Durga Acharya, the most important classical commentator of Yaska’s Nirukt, explains the phrase ‘Maamsam maananam va‘ to mean, “It is prepared for a person who is honoured”. Explaining the phrase ‘Maanasam va‘ he says, “It is enjoyed by a person with hearty pleasure or by those who are intelligent’.
So we see that the very sanskrit word for meat is actually a permission for meat eating.
Atharvaveda 18/4/20 mentions the following.
Rich in cakes, rich in flesh, let the dish (charu) take seat here; to the world-makers, the road-makers, do we sacrifice, whoever of you are here, sharing in the oblation of the gods.
verse 42 of the same hymn reads.
The mingled draught, the mess of rice, the flesh which I present to you, May these be full of food for you, distilling fatness, rich in sweets.
The serving of meat to the guests is confirmed by Shatapath Brahman 3/4/1/2 which says,
Now as to why it is called ‘guest-offering.’ He, the purchased Soma, truly comes as his (the sacrificer’s) guest,–to him (is offered) that (hospitable reception): even as for a king or a Brâhman one would cook a large ox or a large he-goat–for that is human (fare offered to a guest), and the oblation is that of the gods–so he prepares for him that guest-offering.
Goghna- the guest for whom a cow is killed
Literally the word ‘Goghna‘ means a killer of cows. However in the ancient Indian context it has a unique application. The word ‘Goghna‘ occurs in ancient Indian Grammarian Panini’s book Ashtadhyayi. He mentions in Ashtadyayi 3/4/73
“The words ‘daasa’ and ‘goghna’ are irregularly formed and the affix in these denotes the idea of the Dative or Recipient.”
What does Panini mean that the word ‘goghna’ denotes the idea of recipient? He intends to say that in popular usage ‘goghna’ does not mean ‘the killer of cow‘ but ‘he on whose coming the cow is killed in order to give him, that is to say, a guest’. It is this irregularly formed word ‘goghna’ which is made applicable to the priests, guests, sons-in-law, and not the regularly formed word ‘goghna’ which means ‘a killer of a cow’.
Thus guests in ancient India were called ‘goghna’, because on their coming a cow was slaughtered to be served to them.
This is exactly the explanation given in the 14th century grammar book Siddhanta Kaumudi by Pandit Bhattoji Dikshit. This book is taught to university level students across India for learning sanskrit grammar. In it, the sutra of Panini दाशगोघ्नौ
संप्रदाने is explained in the ‘Uttarkradant’ chapter as follows:
गां हंति तस्मै गौघ्नो.अतिथिः
For it a cow is slaughtered; a guest is called ‘goghna’
Almost similar definition of ‘goghna’ is provided by the Vedic commentator Acharya Sayana in his book Maadhaviya dhaatuvrittih. He writes
गौर्यस्मै दातुं हन्यते स गोघ्नः अतिथिः
“A person for whom a cow is slaughtered, is known as ‘goghna’ and ‘atithi’ (guest).”
Thus it is clear that in ancient India, cows were slaughtered for honouring the guests.
Refuting the Hindu polemic of cow being called ‘Aghnya’
Many Hindus trying to somehow hide these clear evidences give some lame arguments. One common argument is that a cow in Vedic literature is called ‘Aghnya‘ meaning ‘not fit to be killed‘ and therefore a cow cannot in any way be killed. Let us address this argument.
Not only the Vedas are against animal slaughter but also vehemently oppose and prohibit cow slaughter.Yajurveda forbids killing of cows, for they provide energizing food for human beings
Ghrtam duhaanaamaditim janaayaagne maa himsiheeh
Do not kill cows and bulls who always deserve to be protected.
In Rigveda cow slaughter has been declared a heinous crime equivalent to human murder and it has been said that those who commits this crime should be punished.
Sooyavasaad bhagavatee hi bhooyaa atho vayam bhagvantah syaama
Addhi trnamaghnye vishwadaaneem piba shuddhamudakamaacharantee
Rigveda 1.164.40 or Atharv 7.73.11 or Atharv 9.10.20
The Aghnya cows – which are not to be killed under any circumstances– may keep themselves healthy by use of pure water and green grass, so that we may be endowed with virtues, knowledge and wealth.
As with the previous arguments, this argument also has serious shortcomings. We’ve already dealt with Yajurveda 13/48 and seen that it wasn’t a legal prohibition against killing a horse. Similarly, this verse also is a prayer to protect one’s cows. Let me post before you the full mantra to demonstrate my position.
“O Agni, don’t harm this our cow, the giver of thousands of comforts, the source of immense milk, yielding butter for the people. I point out to you the forest cow. Let the wild forest cow be harmed by you. Let the enemy whom we hate be harmed by you.”
Again we see, as in verse 48, that there is no legal prohibition in this verse on killing a cow for food. It is a prayer being made to the fire god Agni to protect one’s cows from undue harm due to the wrath of the fire god.All cowherds in the world pray to their own god to keep their cows safe from harm, so that they can sell their milk and other dairy products and earn profit. This does not mean that certain cows cannot be killed for food. To say so will be just an assumption. If this verse was about prohibiting killing of cows, why would it talk about killing the forest cow? Anyone who would read the complete verse will realize that this verse cannot be taken as a prohibition for killing cows. That is why the Hindu polemicists never give the complete verse to their audience.
The next argument was that in the Vedas, a cow is called ‘Aghnya‘ meaning ‘not fit to be killed‘. By this argument they try to establish that as per the Vedas cows are not to be killed. This is again a flawed argument as even according to the cultures who have beef for food know that certain cows are not fit to be killed who bring more profit through dairy products; but there are also cows who do not give much profit and thus are fit to be killed. Even the Vedic references where a cow is called ‘Aghnya’ cannot in any way be generalized for all the cows.
Consider the following mantra from Rigveda 1/164/27.
हिङकर्ण्वती वसुपत्नी वसूनां वत्समिछन्ती मनसाभ्यागात |
दुहामश्विभ्यां पयो अघ्न्येयं स वर्धतां महते सौभगाय ||
“Making the ‘hin’ sound, the treasure queen, desiring the calf of treasures with her mind, has approached. Let this cow (aghnya) yield milk for the two Asvins, and may she grow for greater prosperity”
This mantra is speaking about a particular cow which gives milk to the Asvins, the divine twin horsemen in the Rigveda. Again it is not a legal prohibition, but rather is a prayer to yiled milk for the Asvins. Moreover, classical Hindu commentators like Acharya Sayana interpret this verse and the one before it i.e. verse 26 in terms of metaphors of clouds, rain and the earth. He opines that the cow may be the rain cloud, the milk being the rain and the milker Vaayu, the god of wind who causes it to flow. The calf is the world longing for the rain to fall.
Thus, it will be incorrect to insist that this verse is speaking about all cows in the world, referring to them as ‘Aghnya‘. In order for anything to be prohibited it should be stated explicitly and without any ambiguity, This is the basis of all law. However, nothing on the lines of prohibition can be deduced from this verse and other verses where the word ‘Aghnya‘ exists.
But this one more important point I wish to share with regards to the meaning of the word ‘Aghnya‘. I agree that a meaning of ‘Aghnya‘ is ‘not fit to be killed’, however, this does not tell us the entire story. According to Yaska Acharya’s Nirukt, the word has two meanings as follows:
Aghnya means ‘not fit to be killed’ or ‘destroyer of sins‘
Thus, we see why all the noise is being made on the first meaning of the word i.e. ‘not fit to be killed’; while the second meaning i.e. ‘destroyer of sins’ is being completely brushed under the carpet. This is a clear proof of intellectual dishonesty. Applying the second meaning to the verses where the word ‘Aghnya’ appears in the Vedas appears to be a more appealing prospect. Let us now read Rigveda 1/164/40 with this very meaning:
सूयवसाद भगवती हि भूया अथो वयं भगवन्तः सयाम |
अद्धि तर्णमघ्न्ये विश्वदानीं पिब शुद्धमुदकमाचरन्ती ||“O Aghnya (destroyer of sins), may you be rich in milk through abundant fodder; that we also may be rich (in abundance); eat grass at all seasons, and roaming (at will), drink pure water.”
Notice that now this verse speaks nothing about not killing cows. A cow may be called ‘destroyer of sins’ due to the very fact that it was sacrificed as a burnt offering for cleansing a person’s sins. This is not a far fetched conclusion. However, the primary point is that in no terms in this verse and other verses like it implying any prohibition of cow slaughter. Even if ‘Aghnya’ is taken to mean ‘not fit to be killed’, it can only be taken to mean a particular kind of cow.
Thus, this argument also is not valid.
Some Hindus still try to show more mantras. which according to them, prohibit the killing of cows. However, when we look at those mantras, we find that they are again quoted out of context. One most commonly used mantra of that sort is Atharvaveda 1/16/4 which says,
“If you destroy a cow of ours, a human being, or a steed, We pierce you with this piece of lead so that you may not slay our men.”
Even on a simple reading of this mantra, one cannot conlude that it is prohibiting killing cows for food. It is a merely threat for the enemies to not kill any cow, horse or people of the Vedic people so as to cause loss to them. For example, we know that chicken are bred in poultry farms so that they can later be sold in the market and people can consume them as food. Any owner of such a farm knows this. But still, if someone would want to harm his chicken unnecessarily, it would mean loss of wealth for him. As such he is ready to take protective action and ensure the safety of his chicken. He makes sure that no one steals any chicken from his farm to kill them, even though chicken are meant for food. So, he will ensure that such theieves are punished. Also, there is threat from many animals who might eat the chicken when he is unaware. For that he even kills the harmful animals to save his chicken. Consider that chicken owner saying, “if anyone will harm MY chicken, I will punish him”. Will the Hindutvavadis interpret his statement to mean that the chicken are not meant to be eaten? No. That would be totally ridiculous.
Similarly, in the verse of Atharvaveda, it is a threat of punishment for those who harm the cattle of Aryans. It is in no way a prohibition on slaughtering a cow for food. Considering all the evidences presented in this article, insisting that cows and other animals are not meant for food will be illogical.
Other evidences of beef eating
Brihadaranyak Upanishad 6/4/18 suggests a ‘super-scientific’ way of giving birth to a super intelligent child. It says,
“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.”
Some Hindutvavadis try to play tricks even here by trying to twist the translation of few words like ‘Auksha’ and ‘Aarshabh”. They say they refer to certain medicinal plants and not a bull. To refute them, we are fortunate to have available the most ancient commentary on this mantra by none other than Adi Shankaracharya, revered by Hindus as the reviver of Hinduism in India and finishing off Buddhism and Jainism. Commenting on this verse he writes,
मांसमिक्षमोदनं मांसौदनम्. तन्मांसनियमार्थमाह – औक्षेण वा मांसेन. उक्षा सेचनसमर्थः पुंगवस्तदीयं मांसम्. रिषभस्ततो.अप्यधिकवयास्त दीयमार्षभं मांसम्.
“Odan’ (rice) mixed with meat is called ‘Mansodan’. On being asked whose meat it should be, he answers ‘Uksha’. ‘Uksha’ is used for an ox, which is capable to produce semen. Or the meat should be of a ‘Rishabh’. ‘Rishabh’ is a bull more advanced in years than an ‘Uksha’.”
Thus people trying to twist the mantras have no ground to stand on except deceit and fraud. This verse of Brihadaranyak Upanishad is clearly encouraging the eating of beef.
Animal Sacrifices in Mahabharata
The Anushasan Parv (Book 13); section 88 mentions many animal sacrifices which are can be done to please the Pitris (fathers). I will quote the significant sholkas
किं सविद दत्तं पितृभ्यॊ वै भवत्य अक्षयम ईश्वर
किं हविश चिररात्राय किम आनन्त्याय कल्पते
“Yudhishthira said, ‘O you of great puissance, tell me what that object is which, if dedicated to the Pitris, becomes inexhaustible! What Havi (oblation), again, (if offered) lasts for all time? What, indeed, is that which (if presented) becomes eternal?’”
5 दवौ मासौ तु भवेत तृप्तिर मत्स्यैः पितृगणस्य ह
तरीन मासान आविकेनाहुश चातुर्मास्यं शशेन तु
6 आजेन मासान परीयन्ते पञ्चैव पितरॊ नृप
वाराहेण तु षण मासान सप्त वै शाकुनेन तु
7 मासान अष्टौ पार्षतेन रौरवेण नवैव तु
गवयस्य तु मांसेन तृप्तिः सयाद दश मासिकी
8 मासान एकादश परीतिः पितॄणां माहिषेण तु
गव्येन दत्ते शराद्धे तु संवत्सरम इहॊच्यते
9 यथा गव्यं तथायुक्तं पायसं सर्पिषा सह
वाध्रीणसस्य मांसेन तृप्तिर दवादश वार्षिकी
10 आनन्त्याय भवेद दत्तं खड्गमांसं पितृक्षये
कालशाकं च लौहं चाप्य आनन्त्यं छाग उच्यते
Bhishma said, “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 buffalotheir gratification lasts for eleven months. With beef presented at the Sraddha, their gratification, it is said, lasts for a full year. Payasa mixed with ghee is as much acceptable to the Pitris as beef. With the meat of the Vadhrinasa the gratification of the Pitris lasts for twelve years. The flesh of the rhinoceros, offered to the Pitris on the anniversaries of the lunar days on which they died, becomes inexhaustible.
Clearly there can be no doubt that meat of all kinds was extensively used in sacrifice rituals to please one’s fathers who had died.
Sacrificial slaughter of cows is also mentioned in Mahabharata, Shalya Parv, Section 41. A king called Rantidev is mentioned in the Vana Parv, section 207 as well as section 199, as follows
7 राज्ञॊ महानसे पूर्वं रन्तिदेवस्य वै दविज
दवे सहस्रे तु वध्येते पशूनाम अन्वहं तदा
8 समांसं ददतॊ हय अन्नं रन्तिदेवस्य नित्यशः
अतुला कीर्तिर अभवन नृपस्य दविजसत्तम
“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.
Some Hindus bigots try to claim that these are interpolation and later additions in Mahabharat. However, there is no evidence to conclude that. This is only a bogus claim of those who are unwilling to accept that their ancestors used to eat beef.
Nowadays an effort is being made in India to establish the society based on the principle of Manu, however, no clear-cut picture or its implementation is drawn out. It is interesting that the same Manu permits eating of meat and does not list the killing of cows in the major sins.
Manu Smriti 5/35 mentions,
“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.”
Manu Smriti 5/56 says
“There is no sin in eating meat, in (drinking) spirituous liquor, and in carnal intercourse, for that is the natural way of created beings, but abstention brings great rewards.”
The testimony of ancient Indian medical texts
Modern Hindus usually are seen boasting about India’s scientific heritage, especially of medical texts like Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita, which they think are proof of the advancement of science in the ancient Hindu society. No doubt that like other nations of the word ancient Hindus too have contributed to our knowledge, epecially science and mathematics. I will now reveal before you the medicinal benefits of cow meat as enshrined in ancient Indian medical texts. I will not be commenting on the medical validity of the passages. They are only given to prove that cow meat was consumed.
“Cow meat is beneficial in curing breathing problems, Ozaena, Ague, dry cough, fatigue, diseases due to burns and marasmus.”
[Charaka Samhita, Sutra Sthaanam, 27/79-80]
Charaka Samhita, Chikitsa Sthaanam 8/163 says,
“A person of magnanimous heart who eats meat along with a wine named as ‘Maadhveek’, is quickly relieved of tuberculosis.
Charaka Samhita, Chikitsa Sathaanam 8/165 says,
“While consuming the above mentioned kinds of meat, one may have a dose of whichever wine is appropriate such as ‘Prasanna’, ‘Vaarooni’, ‘seedhu’, ‘arisht’, ‘aasava’ and ‘madhu’.”
Besides the cow, meat of other animals is also prescribes for various diseases. For example, Sutra 158 of the same chapter says,
“Meat of a peacock, patridge, rooster, goose, swine, camel, donkey, cow and buffalo is beneficial for developing one’s body.”
Although there are numerous other references from Charaka Samhita prescribing meat for various other ddiseases, I feel the above mentioned passages are sufficient to prove that no meat was prohibited in ancient Indian society. It was freely taken as cure for various diseases and improving one’s health.
The testimony of classical scholars
To conclude my article establishing that the Vedas and the subsidiary texts permit beef eating as well as sacrificing animals, I will post the testimony of renowned classical Hindu scholars, besides the other notale scholars I have already quoted.
1. Adi Shankaracharya
Adi Shankaracharya has written an extensive commentary on the famous Brahma Sutras. In his commentary on Brahma Sutra Adhyaai 3, Paada 1, Sutra 25 he writes,
“None therefore can know, without scripture, what is either right or wrong. Now from scripture we derive the certain knowledge that the gyotishtoma-sacrifice, which involves harm done to animals (i.e. the animal sacrifice), is an act of duty; how then can it be called unholy?–But does not the scriptural precept, ‘Do not harm any creature,’ intimate that to do harm to any being is an act contrary to duty?–True, but that is a general rule, while the precept, ‘Let him offer an animal to Agnîshomau,’ embodies an exception; and general rule and exception have different spheres of application. The work (i.e. sacrifice) enjoined by the Veda is therefore holy, being performed by authoritative men and considered blameless;”
2. Acharya Ramanuja
Acharya Ramanuja also has written a very famed commentary on the Brahma Sutras called ‘Sri Bhasya’. Commenting on the same Sutra 25 he writes,
“Scripture declares that the killing of sacrificial animals makes them to go up to the heavenly world, and therefore is not of the nature of harm. This is declared in the text, ‘The animal killed at the sacrifice having assumed a divine body goes to the heavenly world’; ‘with a golden body it ascends to the heavenly world.’ An action which is the means of supreme exaltation is not of the nature of harm, even if it involves some little pain; it rather is of beneficial nature.”
3. Sikand Swami
This 7th century commentator of the Vedas, while commenting on Rigveda 1/1/4 writes,
“Yajna is good for everyone, and no one is injured. The animals who are sacrificed, also gain ultimate good. The ancestors say, “the animals that are sacrificed in the Yajna, obtain the higher worlds”
There must remain no doubt in the anyone’s mind after seeing all these testimonies that the Vedic religion permits beef eating and also sacrificing the animals is considered as an investment for greater good.