Illustrative Hindu meals

Hinduism is a religion practiced by more than a billion people, mainly in the Indian subcontinent, in Bali, and by Hindu immigrants in different parts of the world.The diet followed by contemporary Hindus vary depending on their caste, the region they live in, and the sect they belong to.Hindu scriptures such as the Vedas, Upanishad, Bhagavad Gita, and Manusmriti are consulted as the guides for dietary rules.

Although meat consumption in India per capita is the lowest in the world, a majority of Indian Hindus are not averse to eating eggs, fish, poultry and red meat (mainly lamb, and goat) .[1] Wild boar was popular in the past amongst hunting classes such as the Rajputs and Marathas.[2]) .[3] Hindus typically refrain from eating Beef.

The main staples of Hindu diet include grains such as rice, wheat and millet, a multitude of legumes such as mung or chickpeas,dairy products obtained from cows and water buffalo, a variety of spices, and vegetables, many of them region specific.Hindus have "fasting days" when they refrain from most of the daily staples but can consume a number of root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, and dairy products.

Dietary rules in Hindu scriptures and texts

The Vedas

Vegetarianism in ancient India
All south from this is named the Middle Kingdom. ... Throughout the whole country the people do not kill any living creature, nor drink intoxicating liquor, nor eat onions or garlic. The only exception is that of the Chandalas. That is the name for those who are (held to be) wicked men, and live apart from others. ... In that country they do not keep pigs and fowls, and do not sell live cattle; in the markets there are no butchers’ shops and no dealers in intoxicating drink. In buying and selling commodities they use cowries. Only the Chandalas are fishermen and hunters, and sell flesh meat.

Faxian, Chinese pilgrim to India (4th/5th century CE), A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms (translated by James Legge)[4][5]

The Vedic texts have verses that scholars have interpreted to either mean support or opposition to meat-based food.[6] Marvin Harris mentioned, from ancient times, vegetarianism became a well-accepted mainstream Hindu tradition.[6][7] But according to Mrinal Pande, the Vedas mention around 250 animals, about 50 of which were regarded suitable for sacrifice and, by extension, for food. Gogataka (cattle), arabika (sheep), shookarika (swine), nagarika (deer), and shakuntika (fowl) were among the meats sold in the marketplace. The Rigveda describes horses, buffaloes, rams and goats as sacrificial animals. The 162nd hymn of the Rigveda describes the elaborate horse sacrifice performed by emperors. There were even special vendors dedicated to the sale of alligator and tortoise meat (giddabuddaka). It is stated that different Vedic gods have diverse tastes in animal meat. Thus, Agni prefers bulls and barren cows, Rudra prefers red cows, and Vishnu prefers white cows.[8]

No strict dietary laws have been mentioned in Vedas,but Hindu dietary laws were made,when the Dharma sutras were being written.[9] Beef was not forbidden in the Vedas,and the sacrificial animals which were often cows which were often eaten by the Brahmins.It was extremely difficult, in fact almost impossible, to have been a vegetarian in Vedic times anywhere in the world. Almost all the fruits and vegetables, so commonly available today, had not been domesticated to be fit for human consumption while cereals, the only vegetarian food that could be stored to eat at a later time, were very scarce till about 4,000 years ago when they first appeared with the Harappans and then slowly spread to other areas. The Harappans only had barley, millets and a little wheat. Rice only came to India from south East Asia very much later.[9] Tenth mandala of the Rigveda mentions cows being slaughtered in honour of Indra and other deities.It also mentions butcher houses that were erected to slaughter cows. Further Yajurveda mentions Ashvamedha or the horse sacrifice,[10] and even Purushamedha or the Human sacrifice(Yajurveda (VS 30–31)).The flesh of the sacrificial animals was partaken by the sacrificer. Eating of sacrificial human was later abandoned by the Brahmins, at the cost of logic inconsistency.[11] The custom of animal sacrifice still continued in the remote villages.[11]

Aitareya Brahmana of the Rigveda, mentions the rules for distribution of the different parts of the sacrificial animals among the priest.[12]

... two jawbones with the tongue are to be given to the Prastotar, the breast in the form of an eagle to the Udgatar,the throat with the palate to the Pratihartar...[12]

Further it again mentions that a Kshatriya sacrificer is not allowed to eat sacrificial food (sacrificed animals and other food items), but the Brahma priest eats his portion for him.[12]

The Rig Veda (10.87.16-19) speaks about the flesh of the cattle and the horses:[13] In therapeutic section of Charak Samhita (pages 86–87) the flesh of cow is prescribed as a medicine for various diseases. It is also prescribed for making soup. It is emphatically advised as a cure for irregular fever, consumption, and emaciation. The fat of the cow is recommended for debility and rheumatism. [14]

The fiend who smears himself with flesh of cattle, with flesh of horses and of human bodies,
Who steals the milch-cow's milk away, O Agni,—tear off the heads of such with fiery fury.

The cow gives milk each year, O Man-regarder let not the Yātudhāna ever taste it.
If one would glut him with the biesting, Agni, pierce with thy flame his vitals as he meets thee.

Let the fiends drink the poison of the cattle; may Aditi cast off the evildoers.
May the God Savitar give them up to ruin, and be their share of plants and herbs denied them.

Agni, from days of old thou slayest demons never shall Rākṣasas in fight o’ercome thee.
Burn up the foolish ones, the flesh-devourers let none of them escape thine heavenly arrow.

— Rig Veda (10.87.16-19)

Most consider this as a disapproval of the cow slaughter and meat eating in general.[15] Others put it in the context of demons and evil spirits (Yātudhāna) stealing the cattle and the milk. Though alternative translations by Swami Dayananda Saraswati reject such claims and give the 'correct' interpretations and translations in the light of the Brahmanas and Vedangas. According to Dayananda and Yaska, the author of Nirukta (Vedic Philology), Yātudhāna means Cattle -eaters (Yātu - Cattle / flesh of Cattle + Udhāna - eaters/ consumers).[16][17][18]

Bhaduri points that it was customary for cows to be offered to priests in the Vedic age and beef was a compulsory offering. He also pointed out that the Rigveda mentions that Indra asks to be served 15 to 20 cooked oxen. He pointed to the vedic text Shatapatha Brahmana, where Yajnavalkya, an ancient philosopher, said, that he'd eat it (beef) only if it is cooked till it is tender'.[19] D. N. Jha, in his book The Myth of the Holy Cow proved that cow formed part of the diet in ancient India. Quoting from the Vedas and the Upanishads, he proved that cattle were offered in sacrifice to various deities and that hardly any prayer was complete without animal sacrifice. He pointed out that during Ram's exile, Sita asked her husband for meat. And Ram obliged by getting her deer meat.[20] Maneka Gandhi points out that in context, and consistent with other Vedic verses and the Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary, the verses have been mistranslated.[21] Edwin Bryant points out that although multiple references to animal sacrifice and consumption of animal flesh is found in the Vedas, these acts were not fully accepted as there were signs of unease and tension owing to the 'gory brutality of sacrificial butchery' dating back to as early as the older Vedas.[22] The concept of ahimsa (non-injury to living beings) is first observed as an ethical concept in the Vedas that found expression as a central tenet in Hindu texts concerned with spiritual and philosophical topics.[23]

Upanishads, Samhitas and Sutras

A vegetarian plate is shown above.

The Upanishads form the basis for Vedanta, which is considered the culmination of the Vedas and the philosophical paradigm of Hinduism,[24] and support the abstention from injuring living beings, proposing ahimsa as a necessity for salvation or enlightenment (Chandogya Upanishad 8.15).[25]

A hundred bulls were sacrificed by the sage Agastya, according to the Taittireeya Upanishad. the Grammarian Pāṇini devised a new term called goghna (cow slaying) to honour the guests. Much of the meat was grilled on spits or boiled in vats. Meat cooked with rice is mentioned in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita are reported to have eaten such rice with meat and vegetables during their stay in the Dandakaranya forest in the Ramayana.[8]

The Upanishads and Sutra texts of Hinduism discuss moderate diet and proper nutrition,[26] as well as Aharatattva (dietetics).[27] The Upanishads and Sutra texts invoke the concept of virtuous self-restraint in matters of food, while the Samhitas discuss what and when certain foods are suitable. A few Hindu texts such as Hathayoga Pradipika combine both.[28]

Moderation in diet is called Mitahara, and this is discussed in Shandilya Upanishad,[29] as well as by Svātmārāma as a virtue.[26][30][31] It is one of the yamas (virtuous self restraints) discussed in ancient Indian texts.[note 1]

Some of the earliest ideas behind Mitahara trace to ancient era Taittiriya Upanishad, which in various hymns discusses the importance of food to healthy living, to the cycle of life,[33] as well as to its role in one's body and its effect on Self (Atman, Spirit).[34] The Upanishad, states Stiles,[35] notes “from food life springs forth, by food it is sustained, and in food it merges when life departs”.

Many ancient and medieval Hindu texts debate the rationale for a voluntary stop to cow slaughter and the pursuit of vegetarianism as a part of a general abstention from violence against others and all killing of animals.[36][37] Some significant debates between pro-non-vegetarianism and pro-vegetarianism, with mention of cattle meat as food, is found in several books of the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, particularly its Book III, XII, XIII and XIV.[36] It is also found in the Ramayana.[37] These two epics are not only literary classics, but they have also been popular religious classics.[38] Mahabharata there is a mention of a king named Rantideva who achieved great fame by distributing foodgrains and beef to Brahmins. Taittiriya Brahman categorically tells us: `Verily the cow is food' (atho annam via gauh) and Yajnavalkya's insistence on eating the tender (amsala) flesh of the cow is well known. Even later Brahminical texts provide the evidence for eating beef. Even Manusmriti did not prohibit the consumption of beef.[14]

The Bhagavad Gita includes verses on diet and moderation in food in Chapter 6. It states in verse 6.16 that a Yogi must neither eat too much nor too little, neither sleep too much nor too little.[39] Understanding and regulating one's established habits about eating, sleeping and recreation is suggested as essential to the practice of yoga in verse 6.17.[39][40]

Another ancient Indian text, the Tirukkuṛaḷ, originally written in the South Indian language of Tamil, states moderate diet as a virtuous lifestyle and criticizes "non-vegetarianism" in its Pulaan Maruthal (abstinence from flesh or meat) chapter, through verses 251 through 260.[41] Verse 251, for instance, questions "how can one be possessed of kindness, who, to increase his own flesh, eats the flesh of other creatures." It also says that "the wise, who are devoid of mental delusions, do not eat the severed body of other creatures" (verse 258), suggesting that "flesh is nothing but the despicable wound of a mangled body" (verse 257). It continues to say that not eating meat is a practice more sacred than the most sacred religious practices ever known (verse 259) and that only those who refrain from killing and eating the kill are worthy of veneration (verse 260). This text, written before 400 CE, and sometimes called the Tamil Veda, discusses eating habits and its role in a healthy life (Mitahara), dedicating Chapter 95 of Book II to it.[42] The Tirukkuṛaḷ states in verses 943 through 945, "eat in moderation, when you feel hungry, foods that are agreeable to your body, refraining from foods that your body finds disagreeable". Tiruvalluvar also emphasizes overeating has ill effects on health, in verse 946, as “the pleasures of health abide in the man who eats moderately. The pains of disease dwell with him who eats excessively.”[42][43]

Verses 1.57 through 1.63 of the Hathayoga Pradipika suggests that taste cravings should not drive one's eating habits, rather the best diet is one that is tasty, nutritious and likable as well as sufficient to meet the needs of one's body and for one's inner self.[44] It recommends that one must "eat only when one feels hungry" and "neither overeat nor eat to completely fill the capacity of one's stomach; rather leave a quarter portion empty and fill three quarters with quality food and fresh water".[44] Verses 1.59 to 1.61 of Hathayoga Pradipika suggest a mitahara regimen of a yogi avoids foods with excessive amounts of sour, salt, bitterness, oil, spice burn, unripe vegetables, fermented foods or alcohol. The practice of Mitahara, in Hathayoga Pradipika, includes avoiding stale, impure and tamasic foods, and consuming moderate amounts of fresh, vital and sattvic foods.[45]

Baudhayana says (Baudhayana Dharmasutra), carnivorous animals, tamed birds, pigs, and cocks should not be eaten. Five-toed animals, animals with cloven hoofs, birds that feed scratching with their feet, etc. may be eaten. Apastamba (Apastamba Dharmasutra) gives another list of animals not to be eaten. He also mentioned that during Shraddha, meat should be offered to the ancestors.[46]


According to Kane, one who is about to eat food should greet the food when it is served to him, should honour it, never speak ill, and never find fault in it.[47][48]

The Dharmasastra literature, states Patrick Olivelle, admonishes "people not to cook for themselves alone", offer it to the gods, to forefathers, to fellow human beings as hospitality and as alms to the monks and needy.[47] Olivelle claims all living beings are interdependent in matters of food and thus food must be respected, worshipped and taken with care.[47] Olivelle states that the Shastras recommend that when a person sees food, he should fold his hands, bow to it, and say a prayer of thanks.[47] This reverence for food reaches a state of extreme in the renouncer or monk traditions in Hinduism.[47] The Hindu tradition views procurement and preparation of food as necessarily a violent process, where other life forms and nature are disturbed, in part destroyed, changed and reformulated into something edible and palatable. The mendicants (sannyasin, ascetics) avoid being the initiator of this process, and therefore depend entirely on begging for food that is left over of householders.[47] In pursuit of their spiritual beliefs, states Olivelle, the "mendicants eat other people's left overs".[47] If they cannot find left overs, they seek fallen fruit or seeds left in field after harvest.[47]

The forest hermits of Hinduism, on the other hand, do not even beg for left overs.[47] Their food is wild and uncultivated. Their diet would consist mainly of fruits, roots, leaves, and anything that grows naturally in the forest.[47] They avoided stepping on plowed land, lest they hurt a seedling. They attempted to live a life that minimizes, preferably eliminates, the possibility of harm to any life form.[47]


The Manusmriti discusses diet in chapter 5, where like other Hindu texts, it includes verses that strongly discourage meat eating, as well as verses where meat eating is declared appropriate in times of adversity and various circumstances, recommending that the meat in such circumstances be produced with minimal harm and suffering to the animal.[49] The verses 5.48-5.52 of Manusmriti explain the reason for avoiding meat as follows (abridged),

One can never obtain meat without causing injury to living beings... he should, therefore, abstain from meat. Reflecting on how meat is obtained and on how embodied creatures are tied up and killed, he should quit eating any kind of meat... The man who authorizes, the man who butchers, the man who slaughters, the man who buys or sells, the man who cooks, the man who serves, and the man who eats – these are all killers. There is no greater sinner than a man who, outside of an offering to gods or ancestors, wants to make his own flesh thrive at the expense of someone else's.

— Manusmriti, 5.48-5.52, translated by Patrick Olivelle[49]

In contrast, verse 5.33 of Manusmriti states that a man may eat meat in a time of adversity, verse 5.27 recommends that eating meat is okay if not eating meat may place a person's health and life at risk, while various verses such as 5.31 and 5.39 recommend that the meat be produced as a sacrifice.[49] In verses 3.267 to 3.272, Manusmriti approves of fish and meats of deer, antelope, poultry, goat, sheep, rabbit and others as part of sacrificial food. However, Manusmriti is a law book not a spritiual book. So it permits to eat meat but it doesn't promote.[50] In an exegetical analysis of Manusmriti, Patrick Olivelle states that the document shows opposing views on eating meat was common among ancient Hindus, and that underlying emerging thought on appropriate diet was driven by ethic of non-injury and spiritual thoughts about all life forms, the trend being to reduce the consumption of meat and favour a non-injurious vegetarian lifestyle.[51]

Dietary recommendations in Ayurveda

Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita – two major ancient Hindu texts on health-related subjects, include many chapters on the role of diet and personal needs of an individual. In Chapter 10 of Sushruta Samhita, for example, the diet and nutrition for pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children are described.[52] It recommends milk, butter, fluid foods, fruits, vegetables and fibrous diets for expecting mothers along with soups made from jangala (wild) meat.[53] For those recovering from injuries, growing children, those who do high levels of physical exercise, and expecting mothers, Sutrasthanam's Chapter 20 and other texts recommend carefully prepared meat. Sushruta Samhita also recommends a rotation and balance in foods consumed, in moderation.[52] For this purposes, it classifies foods by various characteristics, such as taste. In Chapter 42 of Sutrasthanam, for example, it lists six tastes – madhura (sweet), amla (acidic), lavana (salty), katuka (pungent), tikta (bitter) and kashaya (astringent). It then lists various sources of foods that deliver these tastes and recommends that all six tastes (flavors) be consumed in moderation and routinely, as a habit for good health.[54]

Vegetarian diet

See also: History of Brahmin diet

A lacto-vegetarian thali from Western Indian state of Maharashtra
This is a typical vegetarian food pyramid; however, some Hindus consider eggs to be derived from the animal life cycle, and therefore are non-vegetarian.[55]
Sabudana khichadi. A snack made from tapioca pearls, popular on Hindu fasting days
Hindu fasting day lunch menu

Hinduism does not require a vegetarian diet,[56] but many Hindus avoid eating meat because it minimizes hurting other life forms.[57] As of 2021, 44% of Hindus living in India report adhering to some type of vegetarian diet.[58] Vegetarianism is considered satvic, that is purifying the body and mind lifestyle in some Hindu texts.[59][60]

Lacto-vegetarian and Vegetarianism are one of the four tenets of ISKCON.[61] The agenda of faith-based organizations and Hindutva groups is imposing vegetarianism on their followers.[62]

Indians who follow a Vegetarian diet in India on the basis of their religious faith based believes, consider meat and eggs as polluted. They neither eat at places with different dietary practices nor share their meal with them. Religious groups Brahmins, Lingayats, and Jains are Lactovegetarian groups and claim that consuming eggs hurts their sentiments.[62]

Some sects of Hindus prefer a vegetarian or lacto-vegetarian lifestyle, and methods of food production that are in harmony with nature, compassionate, and respectful of other life forms as well as nature.[63]

Lacto-vegetarianism is favored by some Hindus, which includes milk-based foods and all other non-animal derived foods, but it excludes meat and eggs.[64] There are three main reasons for this: the principle of nonviolence (ahimsa) applied to animals,[65] the intention to offer only vegetarian food to their preferred deity and then to receive it back as prasad, and the conviction that non-vegetarian food is detrimental for the mind and for spiritual development.[59][66] Many Hindus point to scriptural bases, such as the Mahabharata's maxim that "Nonviolence is the highest duty and the highest teaching",[67] as advocating a vegetarian diet. In contrast with the western world, many Hindu’s in India do not consider ovo-lacto-vegetarian diets to be a “pure vegetarian” diet because they do not consider eggs to be truly vegetarian. For this reason, many Hindu vegetarians use the neologism “eggetarian” to identify otherwise vegetarian diets that incorporate eggs.[68][69]

A typical modern urban Hindu lacto-vegetarian meal is based on a combination of grains such as rice and wheat, legumes, green vegetables, and dairy products.[70] Depending on the geographical region the staples may include millet based flatbreads. Fat derived from slaughtered animals is avoided.[71]

A number of Hindus, particularly those following the Vaishnav tradition, refrain from eating onions and garlic during Chaturmas period (roughly July - November of Gregorian calendar).[72] In Maharashtra, a number of Hindu families also do not eat any egg plant (Brinjal / Aubergine) preparations during this period.[73]

The followers of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Hare Krishna) abstain from meat, fish, and fowl. The related Pushtimargi sect followers also avoid certain vegetables such as onion, mushrooms and garlic, out of the belief that these are tamas (harmful).[71][74] Swaminarayan movement members staunchly adhere to a diet that is devoid of meat, eggs, and seafood.[75]

Diet on fasting days

Hindu people fast on days such as Ekadashi, in honour of Lord Vishnu or his Avatars, Chaturthi in honour of Ganesh, Mondays in honour of Shiva, or Saturdays in honour of Maruti or Saturn.[76] Only certain kinds of foods are allowed to be eaten during the fasting period. These include milk and other dairy products such as dahi, fruit and starchy Western food items such as sago,[77] potatoes,[78] purple-red sweet potatoes, amaranth seeds,[79] nuts and shama millet.[80] Popular fasting dishes include Farari chevdo, Sabudana Khichadi or peanut soup.[81]

Non-vegetarian diet

Further information: Animal sacrifice in Hinduism, Cattle in religion and mythology § Hinduism, and Cattle slaughter in India § Hinduism

Machher Jhol is a spicy fish stew, notably in Bengali and Odia cuisines in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent.
Butter chicken, one of many meat preparations found in the Indian subcontinent. Chicken is one of the primary source of meat consumption among Indians.

A majority of Indian Hindus are not averse to eating eggs, fish, chicken and meat from goats.[1]However, for economic reasons, these people can only afford to have lacto-vegetarian meals on most days.[82][83] According to an estimate on diaspora Hindus, only about 10% of Hindus in Suriname are vegetarians and less than five percent of Hindus in Guyana are vegetarians.[84] Poultry, fish and other seafood, goat, and sheep are the popular sources of meat for Hindus.[85] In Eastern and coastal south-western regions of India, fish and seafood is the staple of most of the local communities. A small minority of Nepalese Hindu sects sacrificed water buffalo at the Gadhimai festival, but consider cows different from buffalo or other red meat sources. However, the sacrifice of buffalo was banned by the Gadhimai Temple Trust in 2015.[86][87]

The Cham Hindus of Vietnam also do not eat beef.[88][89]

Some Hindus abstain from eating meat during days of fasting like Dussera, Janmastami, Diwali, etc.[58]

See also


  1. ^ The other nine yamas are Ahinsā (अहिंसा): Nonviolence, Satya (सत्य): truthfulness, Asteya (अस्तेय): not stealing, Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): celibacy and not cheating on one’s spouse, Kṣhamā (क्षमा): forgiveness,[32] Dhṛti (धृति): fortitude, Dayā (दया): compassion,[32] Ārjava (आर्जव): sincerity, non-hypocrisy, and Śauca (शौच): purity, cleanliness.


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  2. ^ Colleen Taylor Sen (2004). Food Culture in India. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-313-32487-1.
  3. ^ Neville Gregory and Temple Grandin (2007), Animal Welfare and Meat Production, CABI, ISBN 978-1845932152, pages 206-208
  4. ^ Faxian (1886). "On To Mathura Or Muttra. Condition And Customs Of Central India; Of The Monks, Viharas, And Monasteries.". A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms. Translated by Legge, James.
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  6. ^ a b Marvin Harris (1990), India's sacred cow, Anthropology: contemporary perspectives, 6th edition, Editors: Phillip Whitten & David Hunter, Scott Foresman, ISBN 0-673-52074-9, pages 201-204
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  8. ^ a b "From Ramayana to the scriptures, it's clear India has a long history of eating meat".
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    Quote - अथ यम-नियमाः
    अहिंसा सत्यमस्तेयं बरह्यछर्यम कश्हमा धृतिः
    दयार्जवं मिताहारः शौछम छैव यमा दश
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