History of Brahmin diet

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Vegetarianism is an integral part of most schools of Hinduism[1] although there are a wide variety of practices and beliefs that have changed over time.[2] An estimated 20 to 30% of all Hindus are vegetarians.[3][4] Some sects of Hindus do not observe vegetarianism.[5] Dietary habits and dietary customs were factors that have played roles in the formation, evolution and development of Indian caste system.[6]

Dietary habits in Hindu scriptures[edit]

Brahmins are not supposed to eat non vegetarian food as it taints their mind away from the focus on the scriptures. Meat is proven to cause sleepiness and drowsiness and therefore it is a cost and not a benefit on Brahmins. In general it is seen, that all Brahmins in India are vegetarian with the exception of Saraswat Brahmins and Bengali Brahmins, who both eat fish. The Kashmiri Pandits, a subsect of the Saraswat Brahmins, who lived in Kashmir, are known to be heavy consumers of meat, including lamb, with the exception of beef. Beef is the only meat which is prohibited for all Hindus, and thereby all Brahmins. This is because the cow is seen to give many products(Panchgavya) and to be like the mother of humankind (Kamadhenu).


The earliest Hindu scriptures belong or refer to the Vedic period which lasted till about 500 BCE according to the chronological division by modern historians. In the historical Vedic religion of Hinduism, meat eating was not banned in principle, but was restricted by specific rules.

The Rig Veda (10.87.16-19) speaks about the flesh of the cattle and the horses:[7]

The fiend who smears himself with flesh of cattle, with flesh of horses and of human bodies,
Who steals the milch-cow's milk away, O Agni,—tear off the heads of such with fiery fury.

The cow gives milk each year, O Man-regarder let not the Yātudhāna ever taste it.
If one would glut him with the biesting, Agni, pierce with thy flame his vitals as he meets thee.

Let the fiends drink the poison of the cattle; may Aditi cast off the evildoers.
May the God Savitar give them up to ruin, and be their share of plants and herbs denied them.

Agni, from days of old thou slayest demons never shall Rākṣasas in fight o’ercome thee.
Burn up the foolish ones, the flesh-devourers let none of them escape thine heavenly arrow.

Rig Veda (10.87.16-19)

Some consider this as a disapproval of the cow slaughter and meat eating in general.[8] Others put it in the context of demons and evil spirits (Yātudhāna) stealing the cattle and the milk, and mention that the beef eating was common in the Vedic times.[9][10] Multiple Rigvedic verses, contain references to the slaughter of cattle, horses and other animals, as well as meat eating; however, translation is debated:

In Magha days are oxen slain, in Arjuris they wed the bride.

Rig Veda (10.85.13)[11]

When thrice the men lead round the Steed, in order, who goeth to the Gods as meet oblation,
The goat precedeth him, the share of Pūṣan, and to the Gods the sacrifice announceth.

Dirghatamas, Rig Veda (10.162.4)[12]

What part of the Steed's flesh the fly hath eaten, or is left sticking to the post or hatchet,
Or to the slayer's hands and nails adhereth,—among the Gods, too, may all this be with thee.
Food undigested steaming from his belly, and any odour of raw flesh remaining,
This let the immolators set in order and dress the sacrifice with perfect cooking.

Dirghatamas, Rig Veda (10.162.10)[13]

They who observing that the Horse is ready call out and say, the smell is good; remove it;
And, craving meat, await the distribution,—may their approving help promote labour.
The trial-fork of the flesh-cooking caldron, the vessels out of which the broth is sprinkled,
The warming-pots, the covers of the dishes, hooks, carving-boards,—all these attend the Charger.

Dirghatamas, Rig Veda (10.162.12-13)[14]

The Atharva Veda bans only the eating of the raw flesh and the human flesh:

Those who eat flesh uncooked, and those who eat the bleeding flesh of men,
Feeders on babes unborn, long-haired, far from this place we banish these.

Atharva Veda (8.6.23)[15]

The Yajurveda mentions Ashvamedha or the horse sacrifice,[16] and even Purushamedha or the Human sacrifice(Yajurveda (VS 30–31)). The Purushamedha or Human sacrifice was purely ritualistic, and there is no proof of a human ever being sacrificed.[17]

Later texts[edit]

Several highly authoritative scriptures also bar violence against domestic animals except in the case of ritual sacrifice. This view is clearly expressed in the Mahabharata (3.199.11-12;[18] 13.115; 13.116.26; 13.148.17), the Bhagavata Purana (11.5.13-14), and the Chandogya Upanishad (8.15.1). For instance, many Hindus point to the Mahabharata's maxim that "Nonviolence is the highest duty and the highest teaching,"[19] as advocating a vegetarian diet. It is also reflected in the Manu Smriti (5.27-44), a particularly renowned traditional Hindu law book (Dharmaśāstra). These texts strongly condemn the slaughter of animals and meat eating.


Baudhayana says (Baudhayana Dharmasutra), carnivorous animals, tamed birds, pigs, cocks should not be eaten. Five toed animals, animals with cloven hoofs, birds that feed scratching with their feet, etc. may be eaten. Apastamba (Apastamba Dharmasutra) gives another list of animals not to be eaten. He also mentioned that during Shraddha meat should be offered to the ancestors.[20]

Brahmins of South India[edit]

Some of the south Indian Brahmins during the sutra period, like those of North India were meat eaters.[20] Kapilar(Puṟanāṉūṟu, poems 113,119), a poet in ancient Tamil Country, says:

..My hands have become soft because they do know of no harder work than eating rice and meat boiled with tamarind. The sweet smell of its smoke might counteract the smell of the pieces of meat.[20]

There is a dispute as to all early Brahmins of Kerala were vegetarians in those days.Kurumthokai and Perumpanattuppatai give details of vegetarian food and not meat dishes. But the above mentioned poet Kapilar is seen to extol the non- vegetarian dishes and liquors and hailed from part of Tamil country which is now known as state of Kerala.[21]

Buddhism and Jainism[edit]

Starting from the last few centuries B.C., Buddhism and Jainism contributed much to the belief that nonviolence is supremely valued which stimulated growing hostility to the slaughter of live animals.

In 4th and 5th century AD. in India, the followers of Vishnu and Shiva, had to fight against those of the Jains and Buddhists, as many Hindus were converting to the new religions. The Vaishnava and Shaiva could not make much headway against the Jains (who believed in non-violence and vegetarianism), if they did not give up eating of flesh.[20] Hence they adopted abstention from meat and liquor as one of their fundamental principles.[20]


  1. ^ Simoons, Frederick (1994). Eat not this flesh: food avoidances from prehistory to the present. Univ of Wisconsin Press. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-299-14254-4. 
  2. ^ Klostermaier, Klaus K.. A survey of Hinduism (Edition: 2 ed.). SUNY Press. p. 165. ISBN 0791421090. ISBN 978-0-7914-2109-3. 
  3. ^ Schmidt, Arno; Fieldhouse, Paul (2007). The world religions cookbook. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 99. ISBN 978-0-313-33504-4. 
  4. ^ Badlani, Dr. Hiro G. (23 September 2008). "48". HINDUISM PATH OF THE ANCIENT WISDOM. Global Authors Publishers. p. 260. ISBN 978-0-595-70183-4. Retrieved 13 June 2010. 
  5. ^ Antoine Dubois, Jean; Carrie Chapman Catt. Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies: The Classic First Hand Account of India in the Early Nineteenth Century. Henry K. Beauchamp. Courier Dover Publications. p. 110. ISBN 0486421155. 
  6. ^ Sagar, Sunder Lal (1975). "Food and caste system (Pages:49-64)". Hindu culture and caste system in India. Uppal Book Store. pp. 234 pages. 
  7. ^ http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rigveda/rv10087.htm
  8. ^ Editors of Hinduism Today (15 April 2007). What Is Hinduism?: Modern Adventures Into a Profound Global Faith. Himalayan Academy Publications. p. 346. ISBN 978-1-934145-27-2. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
  9. ^ Raj Pruthi (1 January 2004). 11. Vedic Civilization. Discovery Publishing House. p. 2. ISBN 978-81-7141-875-6. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
  10. ^ Sri M P Pandit (1 June 1990). Wisdom of the Veda. Lotus Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-941524-55-1. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
  11. ^ Rigveda 10.85.13 (HYMN LXXXV. Sūrya's Bridal)
  12. ^ Rigveda 10.162.4 (HYMN CLXII. The Horse)
  13. ^ Rigveda 10.162.10 (HYMN CLXII. The Horse)
  14. ^ Rigveda 10.162.12-13 (HYMN CLXII. The Horse)
  15. ^ Atharva Veda 8.6.23
  16. ^ Kashyap, Rangasami Laksminarayana (2003). Kr̥ṣṇayajurvedīya Taittirīya-saṃhitā. Sri Aurobindo Kapāli Sāstry Institute of Vedic Culture. p. 766. ISBN 978-81-7994-005-1. 
  17. ^ E Ragozin, Zanaide. History of Vedic India. Mittal Publications. 
  18. ^ Mahabharata 3.199 is 3.207 according to another count.
  19. ^ Mahabharata 13.116.37-41
  20. ^ a b c d e Iyengar, P. T. Srinivasa (2001). History of the Tamils: from the earliest times to 600 A.D. History / Asia / India & South Asia (4, reprint ed.). Asian Educational Services. pp. 635 pages. ISBN 81-206-0145-9. ISBN 9788120601451. 
  21. ^ Leela Devi, R. (1986). History of Kerala. Vidyarthi Mithram Press & Book Depot. p. 40.