Read Transcript of Ep 8: Contacts

Devangari text. (from Bhanuchandra Gani)

Alternatively, follow this link to hear the episode & read the show notes. Transcription by Amy Carpenter.

[A group of men chant. A bell chimes.]

Ian [speaking over the chanting, which fades down]:

Jain evening prayers at Hutheesing temple, in Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat, north west India.

This ornate 9th Century temple is on Ahmedabad’s Delhi Road, now lined with low-rise shops and cafés. It’s just outside the old city walls.

[Car horns and traffic noise]

This part of India is where both Jainism and the worship of Vishnu are strongest, the most vegetarian strands of India’s religious life.

But the ruler who founded this city, in 1411 was Muslim. By the 15th Century many Indian kingdoms, particularly in the north, are Muslim Sultanates.

And in the 16th Century, Europeans discover the route around Africa and start arriving in numbers, planting Christian colonies.

Indian vegetarianism is already known in Europe from the occasional ancient or medieval travelogue. It fascinates the new arrivals. In 1515 an Italian explorer, Andrea Corsali, reports to his boss:

Andrea Corsali [actor reading]:

Certain infidels called Gujarati do not feed upon anything that contains blood, nor do they permit among them that any injury be done to any living creature, like our Leonardo da Vinci.

[Bell chiming and Jain chanting in background]

Ian:

This episode, we look at how Indian vegetarianism reacts to the power of Islam or Christianity, even as Christianity is changed and challenged by the Renaissance.

We’ll discover gurus who welcome both Hindus and Muslims, a Mughal ruler so influenced that he was even rumoured to convert from Islam to Jainism, and new vegetarian religious movements that stem from this conversation that goes both ways.

[Theme starts – music with sound of gongs]

Vegetarianism: The Story So Far. With Ian McDonald.

Episode eight: Contacts.

[Theme ends]

Ian:

Islam and Christianity were already in India – brought by traders in the first millennium.

But Muslim rule came from central Asia, advancing east down the Ganges plain in the 13th Century. We heard last episode how they sacked monasteries. They’d also rebuilt the main temples as mosques.

But this didn’t mean everybody dropped their food rules and became a Muslim. On a rainy day in New Delhi, I went to Jawaharlal Nehru University. And in a building plastered with rival political posters, Dr Pius Malekandathil told me how Islam gradually won converts.

Pius Malekandathil:

Now we don’t find the many instances of [a] compelling situation, or coercive situation, where Islam is being introduced with force.

Ian [as narrator]:

Rulers differed. Indian history has sultans who supported other religions, or forced conversions at swordpoint, or who more often just offered converts tax incentives. And we’ll discover later how one of the most powerful was also one of the most tolerant.

Malekandathil:

In many part of north India, Islam spread through the Sufi channels. There are many Sufi khanqahs, Sufi dargahs. People who went there, they came from different cultural backgrounds. They maintain same cultural traditions, same food traditions, while they visited the dargahs and khanqahs.

Ian [as narrator]:

Sufi shrines.

Malekandathil:

And later, the second or third generation actually embraced Islam in its pristine purity. Till then it was a fluvial Islam.

[Sufi singing begins. She continues in the background]

Ian [to Malekandathil]:

A fluvial, a flowing, an adopting, a …

Malekandathil:

Yeah. Adopted both the traditions.

[Sufi singing begins (male lead singer with group). Continues under narration]

Ian [as narrator]:

This is Qawwaali, a type of Sufi devotional singing that developed in 13th Century Delhi.

Sufism is the ascetic mystical strand of Islam. And fortunately for us, in this era is the most veg-friendly one.

And devotional singing like this is one of the reasons that this strand was the one that took hold in India – it’s not a million miles away from the Indian Bhakti devotions – chanting of the names of God, seeking a oneness with the define.

Sufis and bhaktis both venerate shrines. In fact, some of the local deities were simply recast as Sufi saints. And today, many Sufi shrines are venerated by both Muslims and Hindus.

In the 16th Century, there was even a dictionary that translated every concept in Vishnu-worshipping bhakti devotional songs into a metaphor for something Muslim, so that the Sufis could use the Hindu songs without even having to change the lyrics.

By the late middle ages, it seems to be normal – not a rule, not universal, just normal – for Sufis to be vegetarian. Sometimes, not just out of asceticism, but out of ahimsa, opposition to violence, too. Such as the 13th Century Sufi, the reclusive learned, Hamidu’d-Din Nagori, said to actively preach vegetarianism to his followers in the new Delhi Sultanate.

In 14th Century Kashmir, in the northwestern Himalayan foothills, a Hindu holy woman seems to inspire a Sufi order.

Lalla worshipped Shiva and condemned Brahminical sacrifices.

She inspires Nuru’d-Din, a Sufi said to live in a cave on wild spinach and leaves. He says that though meat might be permissible under Islamic law, he still considers it cruel.

His order is called the Rishis, and that’s a Sanskrit word for a religious ascetic. Many see them as a Muslim take on the Hindu Sanyassin.

This is how Jahangir, a 17th Century Mughal emperor we’ll get back to later, describes them:

Jahangir [from his memoirs, actor reading]:

There is also a body of fakirs whom they call “rishis”. Though they have not religious knowledge or learning of any sort, yet they possess simplicity, and are without pretence.

They abuse no one, they eat no flesh, they have no wives, and always plant fruit-bearing trees in the fields, so that men may benefit by them, themselves deriving no advantage.

[Sufi singing begins again and continues in background]

Ian:

And the poet Kabir, in the 15th Century, saw the Muslim/Hindu divide as idle boasting, a distraction from the universal ineffable truth of God.

Both Bhakti Hindus and Sufi Muslims claimed him as one of their own.

His poetry condemned both the violence of Brahminical animal sacrifice and Muslim ritual slaughter.

Kabir [from Guru Granth – actor reading]:

The dinner of rice and beans is sublime, when seasoned with bloodless salt. Who would cut his throat to have meat with his bread?

Ian:

Kabir’s followers today, the Kabir Panth, are teetotal vegetarians.

So vegetarianism persists within Indian Islam. In fact, in the 16th Century Mughal court, the figure of speech for vegetarianism is sufyaneh – “Sufi food”.

[Chanting music with accordion, continues in background]

Ian:

Those lines of Kabir come to us via the holy book of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth.

Sikhism develops in Punjab in the centuries after Kabir from the kind of influences we’ve been talking about. It’s casteless, monotheistic, and its scriptures include Kabir and Hamidu’d-Din Nagori, as well as the other bhaktis, Sufis, and of course the Sikh gurus.

Mainstream Sikhism is quite definitely very omnivorous. Though, like Bhaktis and Sufis, it has communal meals that are usually vegetarian to be inclusive. And with tens of thousands of people eating there every day, The Sikh Golden Temple at Amritsar does the biggest free veggie meal in the world.

And some dissenting strands of Sikhism strongly argue, looking back to some of those poets, that the Sikhs should indeed be vegetarian.

We will look to the eastern India Bhaktis later.

Dr Pius Malekandathil specialises in the first European colonists – the Portuguese – and they become one of the less tolerant rulers.

Malekandathil:

The Portuguese came to Goa in 1510. But this forceful intervention in the culture of Goa happened from 1540 onwards.

Ian [as narrator]:

And by 1540, the southwestern trading port of Goa is the headquarters of a dozen Portuguese forts, possessions, and territories spread around the subcontinent’s coastline.

Malekandathil:

After 1540, that corresponds with the time of the counter-reformation movements in Europe.

Ian [as narrator]:

Martin Luther’s 95 theses are gathering momentum. Henry VIII has wiped out England’s monasteries.

Malekandathil:

Which coincides also with the Council of Trent.

Ian [to Malekandathil]:

Which is the Vatican’s reaction to the reformation movements, an assertion of a lot of traditional beliefs as well as trying to tackle some of the criticism.

Malekandathil:

Yeah.

Ian [as narrator]:

The Portuguese crown is mainly interested in ethnically Jewish refugees.

Half a century ago in 1492 The Emirate of Granada, the Iberian peninsula’s last Muslim holdout, fell. Its Jews fled persecution. In Goa, they can meet local Jews, rediscover their suppressed faith, and perhaps shed their forced conversion.

The church takes a dim view of that. In 1545, the Pope’s man in Goa, Jesuit priest Francis Xavier, requests the inquisition, though the idea takes a while to get going. When it does, it turns on the local pescetarian, quote “pagan idolaters”.

Malekandathil:

At this a time when temples were destroyed, 100… almost 95, 98 percent of the people were converted to Christianity. It was a forceful conversion. And they were converted by at the end of the 16th Century. They transformed the eating traditions of Goa, humbling the people to resort to non-vegetarian food items. Like, eating of beef, and using of non-vegetarian dishes in their meals.

Ian [as narrator]:

And the forced conversions are coming from the proper Inquisition. Tests of faith, torture, burning people at the stake.

Malekandathil:

They were being forcibly converted to Christianity. Those who resisted, they fled away from Goa.

Ian [to Malekandathil]:

The Portuguese were taking exactly the same tack in India as they were taking in South America.

Malekandathil:

Exactly, exactly. And once they were converted to Christianity, there was a cultural shock. Meaning, they embraced new religion, and at the time of the embracing of new religion out of coercion and fear, they did not realise that they had to do away with the old cultural ties.

So they were maintaining old cultural practices. They were revering the old deities. They were maintaining the old food habits.

But the Portuguese at that point in time could not make out clearly whether this is pagan or non-pagan.

Ian [as narrator]:

The Portuguese inquisition doesn’t know what’s pagan and what’s just Indian, and is not taking chances.

Malekandathil:

Eating with hand was considered to be a non-Christian action. Eating with hand.

And using of vegetarian food was identified with Hindu culture.

So eventually, consumption of beef, mutton, chicken, they were projected as … a part of the Christian way of life. Which is a wrong perception.

And the Hindus particularly the [unclear, perhaps Gauddoses meaning converted Vaishya] and Brahmins of Goa, they resisted this move. They had to flee away from Goa. If they were to remain in Goa, they were to become Christian.

Ian [as narrator]:

And so on that front, even mere pescetarianism is retreating. We’ll get back to Goa later in the show.

By this time, a new Muslim dynasty, the Mughals, has come in from central Asia. It’s Mongol by ancestry, Persian by culture. And from 1556 to 1605, the emperor is Akbar, the Great, one of the major figures of Indian history.

He dominates the subcontinent, absorbing many separate kingdoms like the Gujarat Sultanate, creating the Mughal empire as a multicultural dominion. And despite his heavily meat-eating culture, he’s fascinated by vegetarianism.

Akbar [actor reading]:

Providence has prepared variety of food for man. But, through ignorance and gluttony, he destroys living creatures, and makes his body a tomb for beasts. If I were not a king, I would leave off eating flesh at once. And now it is my intention to quit it by degrees.

Ian:

In her home in Oxford England, I asked Professor Sanjukta Gupta about him.

Sanjukta Gupta:

His grandfather who was king Babur, was looking at [?] Ghazni all the time, the place he came from. He didn’t think… He didn’t like India, he didn’t think he was Indian. His father, Humayun lost that empire, but Akbar felt he is Indian. And he wanted to make an Indian empire.

Ian [to Gupta]:

Because Akbar was a very… was very purist about religions, and…

Gupta:

He was also very diplomatic. His religious curiosity was conducted with diplomacy.

[Sound of a horn and birds tweeting]

Sashil Jain:

This is the place we use (to) for the vegetarian jau [barley], wheat, bajra [pearl millet], for these birds.

Ian [to Sashil]:

The green birds, are they parakeets?

Sashil:

They are parrots. They are parrots and pigeons.

Ian:

Parrots and pigeons.

Sashil:

There are thousands of parrots and pigeons in [?] Sukamur. They used to have…

Ian [as narrator]:

This is Agra, Akbar’s main capital, in the middle of the north of the subcontinent.

I spent a day in Agra looking for contact between Akbar and traditional Indian vegetarianism. I went from the Archaeological survey of India, to a Jain bone surgeon, to the bedridden guru of a Bhakti order, and finally met Sashil and Ashoka Jain, who help maintain this temple with a monument to one of these conversations.

[to Sashil] So, we can hear a wedding band in the background behind us.

We’re just a hundred metres from bustling streets of a suburb of Agra. We’re in a field in front of a monument with an artificial moat, and something which looks a little bit from my Western eyes, like a bandstand. What am I looking at?

Sashil:

Yeah, we are standing near to the temple of Jain saint achar Hiravijaya Suriji. He came from Gujarat, he stayed at this village, gave a great speech on non-violence and vegetarians to Samrat Akbar.

Ian [as narrator]:

By the time Hiravijaya Suri, the head of a Jain monastic order, was summoned in the 1580s, Samrat – or Emperor – Akbar was already dissatisfied with the breadth of Islam alone.

He’s built his imperial fort at the site of his favourite sufi, half a day’s walk west of the city, and had since 1578 thrown his hall of worship, with its Thursday evening theological discussions, open to all faiths, even the new Portuguese Catholics. His vizier recorded:

Abu Fazl Allami [from Ain Akbari – actor reading]:

Sufi, philosopher, orator, Sharia jurist, Sunni, Shia, Brahman, ascetic Yati, ordained Jain monk, materialist Charavaka, Jesuit, Jew, Sabi, Zoroastrian and others enjoyed exquisite pleasure by beholding the calmness of the assembly.

Ian:

The Jain account of their meeting has been passed on in hagiographies and inscriptions, including this one, on a hill in Gujarat famous for its hundreds of Jain temples.

[bell rings]

Inscription from Palitana Temple [actress reading]:

The mighty teachers were honourably summoned by the fortunate Shah Akbar from Gujarat.

Sashil:

Achar Hiravijaya Suriji, at that time was staying at Gujarat Ahmedabad.

Ian [as narrator]:

Achar means spiritual leader. Sashil described how Hiravijaya’s reputation for holiness was said to have reached Akbar.

Sashil:

He listened about his greatness. He listened about his wisdom. He listened about his miracles. And invited him to Agra. He came on by goat.

Ian [as narrator]:

840 kilometres, over 500 miles.

[crosstalk]

Sashil:

And a number of times, Akbar came to him, listened to him.

Ian [to Sashil]:

He was a saint, so he came by foot to avoid accidentally hurting anything on the way.

Sashil:

In Jainism, saints never use any vehicle. They go by path, due to avoid the violence of [hesitates, is prompted for the right word] to animals.

Ian:

How did he react to this sermon on vegetarianism?

Sashil:

When Akbar listened for 75 minutes, from the great mouth of Achar Hiravijaya Suriji about Jainism and vegetarianism, he made some laws to prevent the non-vegetarian product, in his rule for 15 month.

Ian:

That’s a substantial claim. To get some context for it, I talked to Dr Peter Flugel, our regular expert in Jainism, at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. Hiravijaya Suri, he explained, was one of a series of Jain acharyas at Akbar’s court.

Peter Flugel:

After one achar after a few years went back to Gujarat, another one had to come.

Ian [as narrator]:

He suggests a political aspect to the summons.

Flugel:

Clearly, yes, he had sympathies.

He was interested in all religions.

But he also required these achariyas to be at court in order, I would suggest, to control them. And these were of course hugely influential personalities. And their supporters very wealthy and important for the maintenance of the state financially.

And some of them were even accompanying his armies, giving advice on astrology et cetera et cetera.

Sashil:

He tried to spread Jainism and encouraged the vegetarian atmosphere, vegetarian lifestyle, in his rule.

Ian:

In 2008 the Indian Supreme Court cited Akbar. A Jain-dominated municipality wanted to ban slaughterhouses from opening during their main festival. And the court said it was legal, citing this six month ban, mentioned both in the temple inscription, and in an imperial decree, or farman.

[bell rings]

Akbar [from Farman – actress reading]:

Proclaimed by beat of the great drum a truce of six months in all lands.

Akbar [from Farman – actor reading, crosstalk with Ian]:

 … former farman prohibiting the slaughter of animals during these six months in the year …

Ian:

I’m kind of impressed that Akbar went for a big anti-slaughter headline, but the details seem to limit it to particular areas and species. And there’s some evidence it wasn’t fully enforced.

Flugel:

I don’t think the influence, in terms of vegetarianism, were that grand. As a ruler, personally he may have been very impressed.

Ian [as narrator]:

There are other reasons to think he was. One of those Portuguese Jesuits, Father Pinheiro, after failing to convert Akbar to Christianity, wrote…

Father Pinheiro [letter – actor reading]:

This King has destroyed the false sect of Muhammed, and wholly discredited it.

The King has made a sect of his own, and makes himself out to be a prophet. He adores God, and the Sun, and is a Hindu: he follows the sect of the Jains.

Ian:

Akbar did his set up his own sect that combined religious traditions. It had just a handful of followers at court, but it scandalised the Islamic establishment.

From what we know of it, it wasn’t Jain at all. But he did tell his few followers to adopt an increasing number of vegetarian days.

Flugel:

I mean, Akbar obviously made some concessions to the Jains. I think the usual concession the Jains exert from rulers is that one day or another, particularly Paryushana…

Ian [as narrator]:

Their holy week.

Flugel:

…all slaughterhouses should be closed. I mean, this is sort of the standard concession.

Akbar [from Farmans – actors reading]:

Ordering prohibition of animal slaughter for initially seven days from…

During these twelve days called Putchoossur, no animal should be slaughtered.

Flugel:

Also certain sacred sites are going to be protected, or even handed over to the Jains by law.

Akbar:

See that Vijayasena Suri and other Jains be respected and their old temples and religious places be allowed to be repaired and rebuilt.

[sound of birds]

Ian [to Sashil]:

And so, a part of what we can see, maybe the ground on which we are standing, is Akbar’s gift.

Sashil:

Yeah, it was.

A small portion, huh? It was, previously there were some Jain people who owned this land, and after that some part was added by Akbar Badshah.

This temple was under the guidance of Achar Rajai Suriji Mahārāja.

Ian [as narrator]:

In the detail of one of his imperial decrees, Akbar interjects his private opinions.

Akbar:

The real point is this: you should not harm any animal, nor make his stomach the grave of animals.

Ian:

Yes, we’ve met rulers who were probably fully vegetarian in China and Rome as well as India. But I find Akbar profoundly interesting as a Muslim by birth who allows himself to be influenced towards vegetarianism by the other religious traditions of India.

His son Jahangir continues these close relationships with Jains until around 1610, when he has a personal falling out with a Jain monk.

By which time, back in Goa, the Portuguese have decided to welcome back the Brahmins for some very prosaic reasons. Pius Malekandathil.

Malekandathil:

By end of the 16th Century, by beginning of the 17th Century, many of the Brahmins came back.

Ian [to Malekandathil]:

As bankers, and as…

Malekandathil:

Financiers, as tax collectors / rentiers, they were there. In Goa, in Cochin and elsewhere, they control the enclave, where they settled down, the Europeans settled down.

And by 17th Century, the Portuguese could not interfere in the food traditions of the natives in the way they used to do in the 16th Century, for they became the money people, the financiers, the bankers.

I think the Jesuits who came first, Saint Francis Xavier, and the other Portuguese missionaries, they were converting people and making them culturally Portuguese.

Ian:

By the turn of the 17th Century, some of the Catholic Jesuit missionaries are trying a different approach. They called it “accomodatio”, accommodation. Sometimes it means going vegetarian, and sometimes absolutely the opposite.

Father Amiladas follows in their footsteps with books expressing Christian theology in Asian terms. I met him at the Jesuit Loyola College in the University of Madras, where he runs a cross-faith institution.

Amiladas:

The place is called the Institute of Dialogue, Cultures, and Religions.

Ian [as narrator]:

I walked there past not just students and playing fields, but the white plaster of French colonial architecture – facades of arches and arcades on the main building and a Western European style church.

Amiladas

So it was Roberto de Nobili who came much later.

Ian [as narrator]:

Landing in Goa in 1605.

Amiladas:

And so he wanted to reach out to the real higher Hindu people, led by the Brahmins as he thought, which was true. And he thought that these Brahmins identified missionaries as foreigners, as Portuguese, even called them “Firangis”. And who were…

Ian [to Amiladas]:

Which is the Hindu word for “foreigner”.

Amiladas:

Who were meat eaters, who were becoming like Europeans and so on. Therefore they didn’t have any great respect for these missionaries.

Therefore he opted to become, to present himself as a Sannyasi. A Sannyasi is someone who has renounced the world. And he as a Jesuit, he also has renounced the world.

He thought that that was the status in the Indian tradition that correspond to the religious life in the Christian tradition.

Ian:

He really saw the connection between being a Christian monk and being a mendicant in Hinduism or Buddhism.

Amiladas:

Yeah. I think the more basic affirmation is that, you can become a Christian and continue to be an Indian.

Ian [as narrator]:

So if you met Father Roberto de Nobili preaching in South India, he’d have looked just like a pale-skinned holy man – white cloak and staff and shaven head and vegetarian food.

Amiladas:

But remaining Indian meant that you belonged to the caste system. And the caste observances and so on.

So therefore he was defending that symbols and gestures like being a vegetarian or having the tuft-tuft hair, or a tilak on your forehead et cetera et cetera, these are not Hindu customs, or not Hindu habits.

These are, let’s say, indications of a social status.

And therefore they were allowed to use them. Because they did not lose their status by becoming Christian.

Ian [as narrator]:

In episode six, we looked into how Brahmanic vegetarianism developed largely as a question of ritual purity, as a kind of caste-system bragging right.

Those Bhaktis we mentioned earlier are scathing about that.

But De Nobili argues to the Vatican that it’s just a social thing, without any deeper religious meaning, an argument he eventually, posthumously, wins.

Amiladas:

The Church did finally defend what De Nobili did.

Ian [to Amiladas]:

But there were other missionaries who carried on in that “accomodatio” tradition.

Amiladas:

Sure, sure. It continues today if you go to any village in Tamil Nadu, you won’t be able to make out who is a Christian, who is a Hindu.

Ian [as narrator]:

Elsewhere in Asia, the Jesuits hope to displace Buddhism, and there vegetarianism is an article of the rival faith.

In Ming dynasty China, at the turn of the 17th Century, the Italian Matteo Ricci discovers he can present Christianity as a form of Confucianism. He dresses as a Confucian scholar. He calls his book: “The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven”.

He spends quite a bit of it pouring scorn on Buddhist vegetarianism, bringing up questions that are tediously familiar to any vegetarian today.

Matteo Ricci [actor reading]:

Grass and trees also possess a vegetative soul and belong to the category of living things. But each day you prepare vegetables for your meals and cut firewood for burning you are harming their lives.

Ian:

And Father Ricci questions the hypocrisy of having individual days not eating meat.

Ricci:

It is like a person who kills people daily and devours their flesh, but who then, wishing to join the camp of the compassionate, says: “I shall refrain from killing and eating people on the first and fifteenth of the month.”

Can this be called “refraining from taking life”?

Ian:

I know some animal advocates who’d say the same thing about meat-free Mondays.

The original Jesuit missionary, Francis Xavier, moved onto Japan after Goa.

Christianity gains footholds amongst local nobles. Over the centuries, as Christianity encroaches, the medieval Japanese taboo on eating domestic animals slowly unravels.

But there’s a more persistent vegetarian movement forming in north east India.

[street noise and voices fade in]

After an interview at the School of Oriental and African Studies, I came across some bhakti Vishnu devotees distributing vegan curry. So I naturally got one.

Female devotee 1:

Help yourself.

Male devotee 1:

Yes, nice rice.

Female devotee 1:

Hare Krishna.

Male devotee 1:

And these vegetables.

Female devotee 1:

Hare Krishna. How are you? Welcome to lunch.

[street noise and voices fade and continue in background]

Ian:

They’re part of a movement called Bengal Vaishnavism, whose guru lived in the early 16th Century, and in which the vegetarianism of Vishnu worshippers is particularly strong. For them, it’s not Krishna who is an incarnation of Vishnu. It’s the other way around.

Ter Kadamba Das:

My name is Ter Kadamba Das. I’m a monk.

Ian [to Ter Kadamba Das]:

So who’s Krishna?

Ter Kadamba Das:

Krishna is a… well, Krishna is god. His favourite form, his real form, you could say, where he is mostly himself, is a blue cowherd boy who plays a flute, and plays with his friends, and just has a good time.

Ian [as narrator]:

This tradition of distributing food is shared between Sufis, Sikhs, and bhaktis like these.

Female devotee 2:

All the food that we cook, we offer it to Krishna first. So then it become sanctified food. And so in a way it becomes blessed. So then it becomes “prasad”. So it becomes the Lord’s food.

Ian [as narrator]:

If you remember the ancients, the idea of offering food to the gods and taking the remains for yourself was originally a justification for animal sacrifice. And now it’s also used to promote vegetarianism.

This particular group call themselves the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Sanjukta Gupta.

Gupta:

Krishna Consciousness comes from the name of the leader who introduced this sect.

His name was Sri Krishna Chaitanya.

Chaitanya means consciousness. So whose consciousness was completely taken by Krishna. That was his name.

Ian [as narrator]:

Chaitanya was born as a Bengal Brahmin, and seemed destined for a life as a scholar.

But at 22, in Gaya, on pilgrimage in the ancient Magadha heartland where our story began, he had an epiphany and became an all-singing all-dancing Bhakti devotee. And guru. And, to his followers, even more than that.

Ter Kadamba das:

So Chaitanya Mahāprabhu is an incarnation of Krishna who comes to us and gives us this very very simple process of chanting “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare…” [fades]

[Hare Krishna chanting with bells and tambourines begins and continues in background]

Ian [as narrator]:

And now, bhakti devotional chanting is heard around the world. Including central London.

Male devotee 2:

This is a chance to let our sound vibration is coming from the spiritual sky. It touches your soul. You feel ecstatic in your heart. And you want to chant more and more.

Ian [to devotee]:

It’s like, how do you feel? How do you feel chanting “Hare Krishna”?

Male devotee 3:

We feel connected with this life, with universe, and we feel happiness in that way.

Ian [as narrator]:

Bengal is in Northeast India, on the opposite side of the subcontinent to Kashmir, Punjab, and Gujarat. But by the 16th Century, the rulers had been Muslim for two or three hundred years, and that slowly changes things.

[Hare Krishna chanting fades, and continues under voices]

Gupta:

There have been courts, religious courts. And they were also very… well, partial to Muslims of course.

Ian:

It’s not just that, in the long run, some people are going to convert from the worship of Vishnu stroke Krishna to the worship of Allah. It’s that the worship of Krishna becomes a bit more like the worship of Allah.

Gupta:

The traditionalism, the purity et cetera, were waning. So that’s one of the reasons why in Chaitanya, this movement didn’t want to have caste system or caste values.

Ian [to Gupta]:

Because…

Gupta:

Reaction to Islam…

Ian:

Islam has no caste barriers.

[as narrator]

Krishna has gone from being a mythic hero of the Mahābhārata, to the divine philosopher of the Gita, to being an incarnation of Vishnu, to being THE incarnation of Vishnu, and the supreme being, who incarnates in history to start a religion. It’s not that far from the European idea of what a religion is.

Gupta:

They have tend to categorise absolutely and make a sort of system out of the sect. Because Chaitanya was a very much passionate person. And he, his teachings were from example, how he led his life. But there were people who followed that.

Ian [to Gupta]:

How did this movement take vegetarianism with it?

Gupta:

Ahimsa. And purity. Purity was not very consciously done. Their main motto was to be kind to living beings. Jiva Daya.

Ian [as narrator]:

And if you’re initiated into a religion rather than born into a caste, then you need to know what it’s all about.

Gupta:

And that’s why, even when the low castes were accepted in, they had to learn their theology, at least basic theology.

Ian [to Gupta]:

Did that have the effect of spreading vegetarianism, because…

Gupta:

To the, towards the lower caste, who were not always necessarily vegetarian.

Ian [as narrator]:

Some Bengal Vaishnas move to the mythical sites of Krishna’s life, between Delhi and Agra in central north India.

Gupta:

And it grew very much in the 16th and 17th Centuries.

Ian [as narrator]:

It becomes one of the main forms of Vishnu worship in north India. And in the 1960s, a Gaudiya Vaishnava guru goes to America and founds an evangelical internationalist society. But that’s another story.

[Hare Krishna chanting fades back in and finishes with a whoop and banging on drum]

Ian:

This conversation will continue, and as French or British arrive we’ll discover how they affect Indian vegetarianism and what some of them take back to Europe.

But by the 17th Century, the recurring travellers’ tales of Indian compassion for animals have become part of the European Renaissance, alongside the works of ancient Greece and Rome being rediscovered and translated.

The English philosopher Francis Bacon writing in 1605 about an animal-friendly proverb from the old testament of the Bible, pulls the strands together.

Francis Bacon [actor reading]:

Why, we see that there were under the old covenant many precepts that were not just ceremonial – that instituted from mercy. Such as that of not eating flesh with the blood thereof and the like.

Even, in the sects of the Essenes and the Pythagoreans, they altogether abstained from eating flesh. Which to this day is observed – through an inviolate superstition – by many of the eastern people under the Moghul.

Ian:

And it’s that renaissance, in a Europe newly reminded of more compassionate ways of living, that we turn to next episode.

[Theme starts – music with sound of gongs]

Ian:

With music by Robb Masters, and from Vintage Sense, and Casa Asia; and the voices of Jeremy Hancock, Selva Rasalingham, and Sandeep Garcha.

This episode was sponsored by kickstarter backer, Jaysee Costa, to whom I’m very grateful. Follow on facebook and twitter dot com slash veganoption. And discover more at the vegan option dot org.

If you like this series – and I’m guessing you do if you’ve listened this far – please help get the word out. I always say this, but review on iTunes or your podcast provider would be fantastic. Please share on Twitter and Facebook, embed the soundcloud player on your blog, and let people know if you think they’ll like it. This is taking months of unpaid work, so please do spread the word.

And that you very much for listening.

[Enthusiastic Hare Krishna chanting with tambourines and drums]

Ian [to Hare Krishnas]:

How do you all feel now?

Various Hare Krishna devotees:

Ecstatic.

Always good.

Nice. Very nice.

Free from illusion, and suffering.

[Laughter]

END OF EPISODE 8.

This transcript was posted March 31 2018, but dated so that it appears after the show itself in listings. The featured image is text from the Bhanuchandra Gani Charit, a biography of Hiravijaya Suri written by one of his disciples. (The letters are Devangāri rather the Gujarātī.) Many thanks to Amy Carpenter.

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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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