India and Vegetarianism

Vegetarianism in India has been a way of living for centuries. India seems to be the only country where one can find most of the vegetarians around the world. Inspite of fact that more than half of Indian population is non-vegetarian, India still remains the only country with most vegetarians around the world. Over 40% of the Indians (Over 400million) are vegetarians which alone outnumbers the total vegetarians in rest of the world.

The history of introduction of vegetarianism doesn’t really begin with the Aryans as one may perceive. Ironically, during the ancient Aryan culture it was only the meat eating which was in major practice. The findings and studies suggest that it was only after introduction of Buddhism and Jainism in India that vegetarianism started spreading its roots in the culture of India. Both the tenets of Hinduism teach about the ways of practicing ahimsa (non-violence) and embracing such practice strongly in the culture. As the awareness grew, people started adopting the then new idea of vegetarianism. Even the Saints like Kabir, Tulsidas, Mira bai, and Sant Tukaram encouraged and preached the vegan way of living.

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The practice of vegetarianism is not only restricted to the religious teachings of Buddhism, Jainism, or Sikhism, but also Hinduism teaches one to adopt way of non-violence which includes vegetarianism. Even the holy books such as Srimad Bhagavatam and Mahabharata teaches one to abstain from killing any living and eating the same.

Even the spiritual teachings of Emperor Ashoka encourage the practice of non-violence which led to Article 51A (g) of the Indian Constitution which states that every citizen is entitled to have the fundamental duty to show compassion towards all living creatures. And of the recent times, even Mahatma Gandhi encouraged vegetarianism and he turned into a vegetarian too as he perceived a close relation between non-violence and vegetarianism.

There are two major factors that are involved in continuation of this vegan practice in India. One being the religious and ethical beliefs of Indians which has vegetarianism strongly imbibed in them. Second being the financial constraints which make people go for vegetarian food which is quite economical. Though few of the states in India like Kerala and West Bengal are well known for their non-vegetarian food, many of the states like Gujarat and Rajasthan are known for their vegetarian food. The food which usually cooks in most of the rural places of India is vegetarian which comprises of very basic vegetarian foods like cereals, vegetables, grains and milk.

Interestingly even the well known restaurants like McDonalds have very limited non-vegetarian dishes comprising mostly of Chicken and fish dishes. No restaurant of McDonalds in India has beef or pork, owing to the fact that barely any of the Indians eats food cooked with those two items. And the foods served at holy places like Temples and Gurdwaras is always vegetarian. The langar at Gurudwara comprises of only vegetarian food.

One can see vegetarianism as a way of life, but to many it is also something more than it. Religiously it offers purification of mind and soul keeping the moral values high, and scientifically it is very much helpful in maintaining good health.

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