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Meat and Drinks- Indian Food: A historical companion

Prevalence of meat-eating

In the vedas 250 animals have been referenced in which 50 were deemed fit for eating. There were Professional Hunters who lived near the jungle and captured animals through arrows, spears, poisonous darts etc. The market was divided into the kind of meat being sold: cattle, sheep, swine, deer, fowl, alligator, beef etc. There were no ducks or eggs.

In the Rigveda, horses, bulls, buffaloes and goats were used as sacrifices for food. The ritual of sacrificing a horse included roasting it whole, collecting the fat and carving the portions for specific caste:The right thigh went to the brahmin who was chanting the mantras,he two jawbones and tongue went to the prastota priest etc. A ceremony in which is a child is give his first food was rams meat for physical strength. Rhinocerous flesh and vessels  was for shraadh’s (death ceremonies) as well as hare, hog, goat, antelope, deer, sheep for both the priest and the performer. Cooked meat was sold in shops, and edible meats included lizards, monkeys, partridge.

In Sushratha Samhita, seven types of meat preps are described:

  1. Sour meat- using ghee, curd, rice gruel soured by fermentation, acidic fruits

  2. Dried meat: dried than roasted

  3. Minced meat

  4. Fresh meat called bharjita

  5. Meat that had been ground and shaped into patties or balls

  6. Roasting meat over charcoal fire while basting it with ghee

  7. Used for stuffing, boneless meat was first boiled, then ground fine and cooked with ingredients as ghee, molasses, black pepper and ginger.

In the 2nd century, meat cooked with rice was called pallao-mevach, the world palao occurs in early Tamil literature later. Meat was also roasted in spits, with sauces made of tamarind, pomegranate, mangoes, ghee, seasblt, radishes, pomegranates, lemon. Cooking of meat with sour fruits seems no longer present except for when using tamarind.

Emergence of Prohibitions and Spread of vegetarianism:

Aryans had been the first ones to question taking of life for food, especially in regards to the cow, that was destined for the gods and Brahmins (Atharvaveda). There was a demand to sacrifice a cow during funeral ceremonies (Asvalayana Grhyasutra) however the rigged has a whole hymn in which vegetables are mentioned as food and call cows as sinless, they’re called gau and the term aghanya (not to be eaten) is employed 16 times. In the Shatapatha Brahmana, eating the beef is declared a sin, however Upanishadic Sage Yaganalkya states that if it is tender flesh he will eat it.

In dharma literature, specifically in Dharma sutras prohibitions begin to appear, there is penances for killing milch cow and draught oxen. This was originally economical in origin but seems to have grown into a larger concern for taking of animal life. The Manu Smriti, has prohibited meats including birds (birds that strike with their beaks, scratch with their toes, web footed bird, those who eat fish etc.). However, beef is not expressly prohibited, in fact slaying bovines is a lesser sin than drink alcohol.

Buddha opposed ritual sacrifice but he also let followers each animals if they had been killed unintentionally. Furthermore, Jainism furthered this condemnation for taking life for food. From being one virtue of a priest, it has pushed the concept of ahimsa into a vegetarian diet. One of the three Vedic schools (Shankara, Madhava, Ramanuja), Madhava declared that animals made of flour should be used to sacrifice. Vegetables were found as subsitutes for rituals such as pumpkin and coconut smeared with vermilion to replace a bloody head.

Visitors to India, Al Biruni, in the middle of the 11th century records that the rule of prohibiting of killing of animals applies to Brahmins because they are the guardians of religion. Animals can be killed by strangulation but only certain animals, formatted animals include, horses, cows, parrots, eggs and wine. Sudras are allowed to drink wine but they are not allowed to sell. He says that cow eating had become forbidden because the Brahmins used to suffer from eat cow’s meat and their digestion was weak so they had to strengthen it by eating betel lives after dinner. He says there is also an economical reason, cows are a vehicle to man, works in ploughing, gives milk, and is used to fire by its dung, therefore forbidden.

Another reason for vegetarianism in India is because of the abundance of cereals, pulses, vegetables, fruits, spices etc. It was only perhaps in 1000 BC that it was possible to be a vegetarian in India and no other place in the world. In the south, after the coming of Aryans in 500 BC and than then the Jains and Buddhists that vegetarian ethos spread, although meat eating died hard among the Brahmins but later became a matter of prestige. Currently, around 25-30 percent of India is vegetarian.

Alcoholic Beverages:

Soma! This was not an alcohol but had an important place with the Aryans. It was brought from the mountains, washed, crushed, strained, drunk with milk/curd. It however became scarce with time. Indus Valley seemed to have liquor called Sura and is of pre-vedic origin. The rigveda urges to drink soma but not sura.

Liquor was very common, Buddhists monks used to drink when they were ill but Jains could not be in the same place where it was stored. Liquor was to be served to guests who enter a new house, to women coming back home from their husbands for the first time and to women dancing at weddings.

Kshatriyas and Vaishyas were permitted liquors made of honey, mahua flowers and jaggery but not spirits from demented flour. However it drinking among the the Kshatriyas was a norm. Sita promises Ganga a thousand jars of wine if she returned safe and after they do, Ram feed Ganga himself. The city outside was so happy then took part in drunken orgies. In Mahabharata, Krishna enjoys drinking and there are sculptures drinking in the the sanchi stupa and temples at Mathura. Every village had a tavern with alcohol, customers ate salt with their drinks to encourage their thirst. In literature, liquor is known to enhance the rosiness of the complexion of a drinking woman.

#FoodStudies #ktachaya #foodhistory #IndianFood #Indianhistory

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