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

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) or read transcript.



  • 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. )


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.


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.

De Bary, William Theodore. 1958. Sources of Indian Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press.
Basham, Arthur L, and Kenneth G Zysk. 1991. The origins and development of classical Hinduism. New York [u.a.: Oxford Univ. Press.
Ulrich, Katherine E. 2007. “Food Fights.” History of Religions 46 (3): 228–61.
Alsdorf, Ludwig, and Hanns-Peter Schmidt. 2010. The History of Vegetarianism and Cow-Veneration in India. Routledge Advances in Jaina Studies. London: Routledge.
Peterson, Indira V. 1998. “Śramaṇas against the Tamil Way: Jains As Others  in Tamil Śaiva Literature.” In Open Boundaries: Jain Communities and Cultures in Indian History, edited by John E Cort. Albany (N. Y.): State university of New York press.
Davis, Richard H. 1998. “The Story of the Disappearing Jains: Retelling the Śaiva-Jain Encounter in Medieval South India.” In Open Boundaries: Jain Communities and Cultures in Indian History, edited by John E Cort. Albany (N. Y.): State university of New York press.
Chakravarti, A, and Prākr̥ta Bhāratī Akādamī. 1994. Neelakesi. Jaipur: Prakrit Bharati Academy.
Hiltebeitel, Alf. 2001. Rethinking the Mahabharata: A Reader’s Guide to the Education of the Dharma King. University of Chicago Press.
Ganguli, Kisari Mohan, trans. 1883. “The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa Translated into English Prose.” In . Vol. 14. Calcutta: Bharata Press.
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.

Tags: ,

About Ian

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *