Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum

Vegetarianism in India

India is known as the homeland for flourishing the vegetarian lifestyle even though some Western and European thinkers and philosophers believed and followed vegan food in the ancient past. Ever since the beginning of the early civilizations, Indians attached religious and spiritual significance for being vegetarians, while westerners saw it as an experimental and physiological satisfaction of the bodily requirements.  However, nowadays, due to the culmination and transformation of both the eastern and western civilizations, vegetarianism is seen and followed by men and women who wanted to lead a “unique style of living with a serious note on health issues”.  More and more people are learning the pros and cons of being a vegetarian and quit their meat intakes. Many are being inspired by great men like Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and venture into meatless food living a healthy, peaceful life.


India has pioneered in the field of food, especially the vegetarian food that comes in wide varieties catering to all the nutritious needs of the body.  Thousands of years ago, Indian ancestors started believing that hunting and killing of animals bring sickness to their health. They believed that infections and poisonous substances (chemicals which weren’t discovered at that time) transit from animals to humans through food. Agriculture and plant food gained importance as many began to switch over to feeding on plant life. Wise men and religious heads started preaching the evils of animal food. Those who could not quench their appetite on vegetarian food continued their hunting and ate meat, forming a different group. They felt that they could grow more muscles and strength by taking meat. Large groups of population were on this side sticking to meat while only a few left to eat plants. Unfortunately along the side, this small divide triggered a larger divide of two sections of the society, with weaker vegetarians and stronger, muscled non-vegetarians.


Subsequently, vegetarianism and vegans became a slimmer section of the society with a greater influence on the others. Vegetarianism led to invention of many scientific and technical miracles while cannibalism took most of the time in a day for hunting and killing animals. Men got tired of chasing animals; did not have techniques of controlling and breeding them in large numbers.


Wise men, mostly the rishis and siddhas, preached about the laws of food, of both the kinds. Varnashrama Dharma was also formulated which gave shape to these laws, categorizing people, food, their profession, and their abilities. Meat was not completely eliminated in Indian Vedas and religious scriptures. They specified the auspicious and inauspicious days on which one should or should not take meat.  They did some calculations based on sun and moon transitional positions indicating the movement of animals and directions for hunting. Even Indian Gods are adorned with meat while worshipping. 


Many kings and emperors were fascinated by hunting and took it as their hobby. Besides using them as food, they did use the parts of the animal bodies to make ornaments and artworks. Ordinary people live on what they could earn or do in a day. Sometimes, people offered their hunted animals to the rulers as gift and exchanged them with grains and gems.


Lord Buddha, Lord MahaVir and other saintly princes influenced vast number of people to live on vegan food. King Ashoka quit killing animals and refrained from engaging in war with enemies. Upper and a smaller section of the societies continued to rely on plants and promote vegetarianism. Spiritual Gurus and religious saints continued to live on no-food or only plant-based food. Even cow’s milk and chick-less eggs are considered as non-vegetarian item. Gandhi took Goat’s milk as it does not contain life-particles. Meanwhile, modern inventions and theories connect healthy human life with vegan-food trying to give a different picture all about veganism.


With strictly formed societies, Indians were restrained to take less meat food. Religious rituals, belief in God, nature worship, Time and effort needed for hunting – all these have made Indians to stick to veggies. Only on certain days, they have meat in their cuisine. Until recently, a couple of centuries ago, Indians were taking only 10% of the meat what the rest of the world was consuming.


With the advent of modern techniques and cultural invasions, meat has been becoming an essential food in India nowadays. Larger chains of foreign restaurants cater variety of non-veg food changing the pattern and style of eating as many are changing their food habits. New breeding techniques of edible animals provide economically viable ways of promoting non-veg food. Vegetarianism has become a mere concept while in many places people are compelled to take meat-based food. Vegetarians are treated as weaker and unhealthier.  Vegetarians are also considered as sexually weaker and disoriented. Some vegetarians believe that their sexual orientations are due to their strict vegetarianism.


Statistics show that there are over 500 million vegetarians in India putting the country on the top of the charts for the favorite veggie destination. While China has 50 million for its toll, India’s figures are relatively striking. However, one cannot ignore the rest of population of India, roughly around 700 million are still eating meat. The uniqueness of India’s vegetarians’ count has been vanishing with the growing population of meat lovers. All the glittering goodness of vegetarianism lies not on the vegetarians, but the cuisine with thousands of flavors and tastes that are peculiar only to India.


We must recall what Gandhiji said in order to remove the myths and reveal the truth about vegetarianism: The correct way for the people to spread vegetarianism was to reason out its beauties, which should be exhibited in their lives.

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