VegHist Episode 1: Ahimsa

In the Ganges plain in Northen India in the middle of the first millennium BCE, the idea of “ahimsa” – non violence – emerges.

Episode 1: Ahimsa

Ian visits the intellectual hub of iron age India – the Kingdom of Magadha. He discovers a subculture of vagabond philosophers that developed two world religions; and the vegetarian order of monks and nuns who became the torchbearers of ahimsa.

Play or download (41MB MP3) (via iTunes) or read transcript.



Prayer Halls and Museum at Veerayatan, Rajgir


Recording diary

I’d only been told about Rajgir the day before arriving. I was staying at the refounded University of Nalanda for a couple of nights, where I interviewed two people who lived in the block in which I was staying. Institutions like that are fantastic for my research. But one interviewee – Deepak Anand – told me the real place I needed to go to was Rajgir. My desk research had led me to places like Vaisali – which will turn up via Buddhist texts in episode two – but at Rajgir, modern Jains celebrated and could talk about what happened there two and a half thousand years ago.

Finding guests with good English is obviously helpful. So it was gratifying to learn that the Veerayatan Institution at Rajgir was led by Jain sadhvis (nuns) who were very used to communicating with foreign and English-speaking audiences, because of their outreach overseas.

When I got there, I discovered all the English-speaking sadhvis were overseas doing outreach. So I had very little time to find both a learned sadhvi, and a way of interviewing her. An English-speaking physician, a glaucoma consultant from the hospital on the other side of the site, helped me out and acted as interpreter; and I’m very grateful to her indeed. Dubbing a non-English speaking guest is a lot more work (Yasājhe’s words were retranslated carefully and then read by actress Sandeep Garcha) but I’m glad now that the first words you hear from a guest in the series are in Hindi.

This left me not much time to get to the station for the train back to Patna – later Magadha capital and current Bihar state capital.

The background noise at the start of the show was from two different journeys: a crowded auto-rickshaw in Mahabodhi, and that train I took back to Patna. Both were travelling the kinds of routes Śramaṇas would have taken within ancient Magadha.


Particular thanks to Dr. Smita Bagrecha for interpreting Yasājhe at short notice. The featured pic is public domain painting of Mahavira, Rajasthan, circa 1900.


Where there are no established Anglicisations (eg “ahimsa” for “ahiṃsā”), I have rendered Indic languages in Latin letters with marks called diacritics, loosely following the IAST standard explained at Jainpedia. For example “ś” is a soft “sh”, and a bar over a vowel lengthens it.

Bronkhorst, Johannes. 2000. “The Riddle of the Jainas and Ājīvikas in Early Buddhist Literature.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 28: 511–29.
Balbir, Nalini. 1984. “Normalizing Trends in Jaina Narrative Literature.” Indologica Taurinensia 2: 25–38.
Gombrich, R. F. 2009. What the Buddha Thought. Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies Monographs. London: Equinox Pub.
Alsdorf, Ludwig, and Hanns-Peter Schmidt. 2010. The History of Vegetarianism and Cow-Veneration in India. Routledge Advances in Jaina Studies. London: Routledge.
Nattier, J. J., and C. S. Prebish. 1977. “Mahasamghika Origins: The Beginnings of Buddhist Sectarianism.” History of Religions. An International Journal for Comparative Historical Studies 16 (3): 237–72.
Jha, D. N. 2002. The Myth of the Holy Cow. London; New York: Verso.
Basham, Arthur Llewellyn. 1951. History and Doctrines of the Ajivikas: A Vanished Indian Religion. London: Luzac & Company.
Dundas, Paul. 2002. The Jains. 2nd ed. Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices. London ; New York: Routledge.
Haussleiter, Johannes. 1935. Der Vegetarismus in der Antike. A. Töpelmann.
Smith, Brian K. 1990. “Eaters, Food, and Social Hierarchy in Ancient India: A Dietary Guide to a Revolution of Values.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion LVIII (2): 177–206.

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About Ian

London. Formerly known as New Media. Vegan since 1992.

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