VegHist Ep 6: Hinduism. On Indian Vegetarianism, Vaishnavism, Satvik, and Mahayana Buddhism; with Sanjukta Gupta, Deepak Anand, and Ranjan Garavu; at Ananta Vasudeva Temple, Bhubaneswar and Nalanda Mahavihara

A smiling man, wrapped in saffron cloth, sits cross-legged on a carved stone platform

In the first millennium CE, Indian vegetarianism advances from an ascetic fringe to a mainstream high-status lifestyle.

Episode 6: Hinduism

How did vegetarianism permeate Indian society? Ian tracks the changes in India’s religious life during the first millennium, following the vegetarian strands of the tapestry that we now call Hinduism.

Ian travels to a temple to Vishnu in eastern India to understand the importance of vegetarianism to his worshippers. He talks to theologians and historians in Oxford and Delhi about the factors that caused the change. He uncovers heated arguments about vegetarianism and animal advocacy in the leaves of India’s sacred texts. And he explores the medieval Buddhist monastic university of Nalanda, in the company of a lecturer from its modern namesake.

Play or download (42MB MP3) (via iTunes)

Contributors:

Readings

  • Rules for student Brahmins, from the Gautama Dharmasūtra. Translation by Muller.
  • Extracts from Laws of Manu on vegetarianism (V26/7, V39, V48). Translation by Bühler
  • Defence of the cow to be sacrificed by Brahmins from Manimekalai.
  • The argument about the sacrifice of a goat, from The Anugita Parva of the Mahābhārata, based on the translation by Ganguli in consultation with John Smith.
  • The half-golden Mongoose, from the Mahābhārata
  • Extracts from Nīlakēci’s argument with Buddhist nun Kuṇṭalakēci, in the Tamil Jain epic Nīlakēci’s, translation by Katherine Ulrich
  • Shaivite condemnation of Jains by Campantar and Appar, taken from the Teveram, translation by Katherine Ulrich
  • The Lankavatara Sutra, translation by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki

Half-Golden Mongoose

You might be wondering what the deal with the half-golden Mongoose in the Mahabharata was. He was looking for a perfect sacrifice to remove his curse (of being a half-golden Mongoose), and had hoped that the immense horse sacrifice at the end of this truly epic war might be it. But he learns that whatever makes an offering perfect, victory in war and animal sacrifice isn’t it.

Pun of the Month

One reading I didn’t get a time to include was from the Laws of Manu, about how meat-eaters will be consumed in return:

“He whose meat in this world do I eat will in the other world me eat. Wise men say this is why meat is called meat.

This is just because of the heroic act of punning that renders the Sanskrit folk etymology (“mamsa” = meat, “mam” = me, “sa” = he) into English in a way that still makes sense. (Alas, I’ve lost the name of the first translator to do this. )

Credits

I’d like to thank Sanjeeb Kumar (YouTube) of the artistic Kanti Centre for practical help in Bhubaneswar. Katherine Ulrich and John Smith helped enormously with historical advice and translations.

Music by Robb Masters. The actors were Sandeep Garcha, Chetan Pathak, and Selva Rasalingam.

Bibliography

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.

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About Ian McD

I’m a British new media person with a passion for radio, and interested in the kind of stories best told when we see humans as part of the world of animal minds. I blogged about why I’m producing The Vegan Option.

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