“Prof. D.N. Jha needs no introduction…” – it was the claim made by various speakers presented at the public meeting on “Agrarian Crisis, Cow Politics and Lynching” called by Bhumi Adhikar Andolan held at Constitution Club of India on July 7, 2017. Prof. Jha was a speaker there, and he speaks on issues related to the cow, which he is famous for. He summarized his famous and controversial (to some people) book “The Myth of the Holy Cow” in that talk. He tracked down the history of scholars – Indian and Western – who speak about eating of beef by the Hindus (formerly Vedic people). According to Prof. Jha, Prof H.S. Wilson of Oxford was the first Western scholar who claimed that the Hindus were beef-eaters.
In 1883, Rajan Lal Mitra, a scholar close to Rabindranath Tagore, made the same claim and in the year 1940, Prof. P.V. Kane, a famous Sanskrit scholar, in his history of Dharamshastras mentioned about the beef-eating habits of the Hindus. In 1963, H. D. Sankalia, an archaeologist, in his works, argued about evidence that proves Prof. Jha’s claim that “Hindus or specifically Brahmins were beef-eaters”. In this way, Prof. Jha provides us a chronologically consistent and historically enriched survey to debunk the myth of the ‘Holy Cow’.
But in his discourse, he uttered a myth himself. He claimed that “the Buddha died of meat-eating”. Prof. Jha says that “Buddha died of pork-eating” and “phrase for that (in Pali) is sūkar-maddava”. He believed and claimed that ‘sūkara-maddava’ is nothing but pork. Whatever Prof. Jha says about Buddha and cause of his death is nothing more than Wikipedia-centric knowledge. This is not a very simple claim because, if we accept it, it will create a serious ontological threat to Buddhism’s core teaching, i.e., ahimsa (non-violence).
‘Sūkara-maddava’ has been diversely translated by scholars. Herbert Franke, a German sinologist in his studies on China, translated ‘sūkara-maddava’ as “soft (tender) boar’s flesh”, Oldenberg and Fleet follow suit. Ivan Morris’s account of Arthur Waley gives various interpretations of ‘sūkara-maddava’ viz. ‘a pig’s soft food (food for pig)’, ‘pig’s delight’, ‘food crushed by a pig’.
So, in contradiction to Prof. Jha’s claim, Buddhist scholars suggest that ‘sūkara-maddava’ is not pork. In fact, the word in Pali, which is used for pork, is ‘sūkar mamsa‘ and not ‘sūkar-maddava’. The most cited and acclaimed of the Buddhist scholars, T.W. Rhys Davis, translated ‘sūkar-maddava’ as ‘quantity of truffles’, while some Buddhist scholars argued that there are compounds in Pali which start with the prefix ‘sūkar’, but mean radically different than pork. For e.g., ‘sūkar-sali’ means wild rice.
So, it can be said that Prof. Jha has a serious myth regarding Buddha’s death, which needs to be debunked.