When Mahatma Gandhi mediated a debate over whether Vedic Hindus ate beef

Right from its ban in Maharashtra, Haryana to the Dadri lynching, Beef has become the hot topic in India. The beef over Beef has made Sahitya Akademi recipients return their prestigious awards, with everyone citing the rising intolerance in India under BJP government.

While news channels were actively fanning communal tensions by bringing in the religious angle to the Dadri incident, it also projected this lynching as ‘the first of its kind ever in India’. This ‘first of its kind’ projection stimulated me to do a search of similar events that could have happened before this. Initial search in Google news with custom date ranges did not bring many search results and the search could only take me as far as 2000. Also, I tried with only English keywords and not Hindi, so I could have missed out any such events in regional newspapers.

Then, I turned over to Google Books, to find out whether ‘murders related to cow slaughter’ had ever happened in India. Via that search, I got a chance to read some excerpts from a book called ‘Beast and Man of India’ written by a J.L.Kipling (father of Rudyard Kipling). A chapter was devoted to cow & bull and how it finds its high place in agrarian India. But, in the search results, something else caught my eye – a screenshot of page 331 (Volume 9) of an old magazine called ‘Young India’ edited by none other than the famous Gandhiji. Unable to browse through the excerpt there, as Google had not taken snippets of the book, I tried to find an alternate online source for reading Young India. Thankfully, some really good guys at Gandhi Heritage Portal had kept 14 volumes of Young India magazine in their website. After browsing through every edition of Volume 9, I zeroed in on that particular page, which was a part of Young India published on September 29, 1927.

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Nearly, 88 years before, Gandhiji had been a kind-of-mediator for a discussion over ‘whether the Vedic Hindus really ate beef or not’. Gandhiji starts the particular column titled ‘Cow sacrifice in Vedas’, by mentioning how C. V. Vaidya had earlier written in a previous edition of the same magazine(Volume 9, June 2 1927, Page 179), about the methods to protect cow. In that article, while Vaidya was listing the different steps needed for cow protection, it was mentioned that ‘cow was slaughtered during the Vedic period’. This had caught the attention of S.D.Satwalekar, who had written a rebuttal of Vadiya’s claims in a letter to Gandhiji.

1

Satwalekar in his letter, uses three verses from Charaka Samhita, to highlight how a Prishadra tried to slaughter cow and people who ate beef suffered from dysentery. He argues that it had happened, but it was not a ‘respectable’ practice.

2-3

Satwalekar then continues to mention about punishment in Vedas for cow slaughter and argues that how can such practise be prevalent when it was sure to be awarded with death. He then explains how Cow was an untouched animal in Vedic period, by explaining the etymology of its three Vedic names, ‘Adhanya’ (one which is not slaughtered), ‘Ahi’ (one which may not be killed) and ‘Aditi’ (one which may not be hacked to pieces).

4

Then, he mentions a single-line mantra and another four-line mantra to corroborate his claim that cows were not slaughtered in Vedic period. He concludes his reply by stating that ‘wise and thoughtful’ never killed cow and therefore, it cannot be regarded as an approved practice.

5

Satwalekar reply is followed by Vaidya’s reply, where he briefly states that cow slaughter would had been considered sinful, yet it was done for sacrificial purposes and Aryans in their hoary days had eaten beef, which Aryans of later periods had considered a heinous sin. After Vaidya’s reply, Satwalekar again comes back with six points to support his earlier claim. Below are those six points.

6-7

What do I incur from this exchange of letter? There is a possibility that people ate beef in Vedic age, as claimed by Vaidya. There is also a possibility that people neither touched beef not slaughtered cow, even for sacrifices. If someone who is an expert in Sanskrit and had read through all the Vedas, can bring some more verses that support or oppose the claims here, to the table, then it can enrich our debate with more facts and proofs. Until then, let me consider that I am just sharing it here, because I chanced upon this article in “Gandhiji’s magazine”and found it interesting that the same topic had been discussed nearly a century ago.


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