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India's Vegetarian Cuisine

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India has a culinary culture unique to it and it consists of the tradition of vegetarianism which was reinstated in India during the 5th century B.C. India may have been vegetarian during the Mohenjodaro and Harappa civilizations. We do not know for sure as its script has not been unlocked.

We do know that the Aryans who migrated to India, and took control of Northern India, were meat eating people. During the ancient Aryan Vedic period meat was consumed regularly after an animal sacrifice to the Gods.  This changed with the rise of Buddhisim and Jainism, the founders of which preached the principle of ahimsa or ''non-violence''. The Brahman priests, who conducted animal sacrifices as offerings to God, also began to appreciate this sentiment as it swept India. They began to embrace ahimsa by following a vegetarian diet and regarding it as superior to the Brahminical ideas of animal sacrifice.

Meat was consumed only after the animal was sacrificed to the gods. Among the animals that were sacrificed in Vedic times was the cow, which is considered taboo in the Hinduism of today.

 

THE SYMBOL OF MOTHER AND GOOD NATURE

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The cow is considered sacred due to the following reasons.
1.  The cow was regarded as one’s mother as it sacrificed the milk meant for its calf and provided milk for the people.  It is therefore a symbol of a 'mother' in India
2.  The cow was also kept at many Indian homes for its milk and the animal became a part of the family.

3.   At the beginning of the Epic period (c.l000- 800 BC), cow’s meat was said to be common food that added vigor not only to the body but also to the mind. A theory suggests that during the 5th century it was discovered that the cattle population was decreasing at an alarming rate. People began to realize that a live cow was a greater asset than its meat.
4.  Ghee (clarified butter), milk and yogurt were vital for temple rituals, this animal began to enjoy a greater value alive.
5.  In the Atharvaveda (vedic text) beef-eating was prohibited as it was likened to committing a sin against one's ancestors.
6.  Other factors that contributed to the rise of vegetarianism in India was that kings such as Ashoka (c. 322-183 13C) discouraged the killing of animals. The powerful and benevolent and popular Emperor Ashoka of that time popularized a vegetarian cuisine. Even today a majority of Indians are vegetarian.
7.  The two other individuals that helped make India vegetarian are Mahavir and Buddha who were India's greatest spiritual teachers. (Also the ancient, urban Dravidian civilization may have been vegetarian.)
This was the start of the taboo of eating beef in India.

Mindful Eating
A
tharva veda also classified foods into sattavic, rajasic and tamasic taking the philosophy of vegetarianism many steps further. In this system meats were classified as spent energy along with overeating and over-ripe food and these foods were discouraged as they did not contribute to the whole being which included mind, body and soul.

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This value of eating for mind, body and soul made its way beyond the Vindhya Mountains of Central India establishing itself more firmly in the south of India that the North of India. Here, it gained immense popularity even amongst the non-Brahmins who deemed it as leading a meritorious lifestyle. Thus vegetarianism became more linked with the cuisines of southern India. The south of India went on to develop a complex, rich and intricate vegetarian cuisine which is very unique and complex yet pure and simple.
However not all Brahmins (learned men) of India became vegetarian. A classic example would be the Kashmiri Brahmins who continue to pride themselves on their mutton and chicken dishes. There are also the Brahmins of Bengal who eat fish.


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