By Krishna Pandey:
Even when Hindus worship cow as God and drink its urine as nectar, India became No. 1 exporter of beef last year with 2.4 million tonnes of beef. Despite that piece of information, in a parallel reality, thousands of Hindu extremists will gather around and kill you if they receive a WhatsApp message which claims that you have beef in your fridge. You may be beaten brutally in public for skinning dead cows. ‘Hindutva’ forces will make your life a living hell by anonymous threat calls if you are writing a well-researched book on the history of beef eating in India.
Though Veer Savarkar, father of Hindutva, advocated eating beef during famines and was a self-claimed beef eater. Sentiments of Hindu extremists are hurt, and they are offended when it comes to beef. They worship cows but remain silent on beef exports even when there is a seemingly Hindutva government in the centre because beef is now a vote bank for politicians and a source of income for the self-proclaimed ‘Gau Rakshaks’ aka Protectors of God.
The cow has long been considered a symbol of the religion of Hinduism, and therefore of holiness, in India. Butchery of cows, let alone consuming it is considered sacrilegious for Hindus. General perception among Hindus is that slaughtering of cows for food began with Muslim conquests in India. But historian Prof. D.N. Jha’s well-researched book ‘Myth of the Holy Cow’ says otherwise. The aim of the text is to prove that cows weren’t always considered as sacred as they are today.
In his book, Jha mentions the Rig Veda which frequently refers to the cooking of the flesh of an ox as an offering to gods, especially Indra. At one place Indra states, ‘they cook for me fifteen plus twenty oxen’. At another place, he is said to have eaten the flesh of bulls. The god Agni is described in the Rig Veda as ‘one whose food is the ox and barren cow’.
The later Vedic texts provided descriptions in detail of sacrifices and frequently refer to cattle slaughter and the Gopatha Brahmana alone mentions 21 yajnas. A bull was sacrificed to Indra, a dappled cow to Marutis and copper coloured cows to Ashvinis. A cow was also sacrificed to Mitra and Varuna.
In most public sacrifices (the Ashvamedha, Rajasuya, Vajapeya) flesh of various types of animals, especially the cow/ox/bull was required. The Agnyadheya which was a preparatory rite before all public sacrifices needed a cow to be killed. A passage in Taittriya Samhita makes it clear that the sacrificial victim was generally meant for consumption. More explicit is Gopatha Brahmana of Atharvaveda, according to which the carcas was to be divided into 36 shares by the samitara, who killed the victim by strangulation.
Jha’s book goes on about how cows were slaughtered on festive occasions deriving references from Vedic texts. Whether or not the Vedic Aryans ate beef or the flesh of other animals, the heart of the matter is that cattle including the cows weren’t sacred during the Vedic period and post-Vedic centuries.
It is pointed out that even Manusmriti doesn’t prohibit the consumption of beef. In Charak Samhita, the flesh of the cow is described as medicine for various diseases. It is prescribed as soup and emphatically as a cure for irregular fever, consumption and emaciation. The fat of cow is recommended for debility and rheumatism.
Jha writes that it was later with the rise of an agricultural economy that cattle were seen with importance and worship of cows began. According to a survey of ancient Indian scriptures, the Vedas in particular, show that amongst the nomadic, pastoral Aryans who lived here, for them sacrificing an animal was a dominant feature till the concept of settled agriculture emerged. The significant chunk of their properties consisted cattle and was offered to propitiate the gods. The more cattle one had, the more wealthy he was considered.
Today we are on the top of the table when it comes to beef exports, our Vedic texts don’t say anything against butchery of cows or consuming their flesh. In fact, they speak of medicinal benefits of the meat of cows.
We forcefully entrusted the duty of cleaning the carcases on an oppressed group for centuries and called them untouchables. And now for the sake of our communal politics we are beating them up for doing their duty which we forcefully assigned to them years ago. Clearly, this is politically laden beefy hypocrisy of India.