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In Sikhi, There Is No Demarcation Between A Meat-Eater And A Vegetarian





Since 2014, meat has once again become the predominant flavour of Indian politics.

But conflicts over foods are as old as our civilisation. Almost every faith pursues some dietary restrictions.

So does the Sikh faith, but with a twist: halal and kosher are definitely forbidden for its followers. They are forbidden mainly because of rituals and beliefs associated with them.

The Gurus - from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh - rejected expiatory animal sacrifices. Slaughtering an animal with a prayer makes no flesh sacrosanct or atones wrongdoing, commanded Guru Gobind Singh. Also, foods can't be imposed, he declared in the face of a fierce Mughal rule.

But is non-halal, non-kosher meat also banned in the Sikh faith? Sadly, the community appears to be divided as much as others over meat-eating, if not more. Those presiding over Amrit Sanchaar, or the formal initiation, give out varying prescriptions.

Some say "no", some say "yes". Some say meat-eating is allowed so long as it is not halal or kosher; some call it a taboo, no matter how the animal is slaughtered.

Research reveals Guru Granth Sahib is replete with astonishing metaphors and imagery around foods - meat, vegetables, fruits, sweets, salts and so forth. In what was a pre-science, a pre-microbiology age, Guru Nanak dismissed notions of so-called untouchability over kitchens.

He admonished prejudices stemming from food choices.

"jae kar sootak maneeai sabh tai sootak hoi / gohae attay lakaree andar keera hoi," he wrote, which when translated means: If you are looking at "impurity", it's everywhere; even cow-dung (used by Hindus as a purifier) and wood are riddled with worms.

"jaytey daane ann ke jia baajh na koi / pahila paani jeeo hai jitt hareya sabh koi" - no foodgrain is without life. Life exists in water, which greens the surroundings, Guru Sahib noted.

On numerous occasions, he made a startling demarcation between foods for the human body on the one hand and food for thought on the other.

Guru Nanak gave a stroke of commonality to all forms of physical diets, so long as they aren't ritualistic.

In the period and the region he lived and travelled, meat, jaggery, dried-fruits, flour and ghee were rated as nutritious foods.

Mansions, silky upholstery and cavalries were the hallmarks of aristocracy.

When he alluded to foods and clothing in his characteristic writing, Guru Nanak didn't differentiate between vegetarianism and meat-eating, silks or rags as appropriate or inappropriate for human consumption.

Rather, he accentuated probity.

kya khadhey kya paidhaey hoi / jaa mann naahin sacha soi.
kya mewa kya gheo gur meetha / kya maida kya maas / kya kapparr, kya sej sukhaali, keejay bhog bilaas.

kya laskar kya neb khawaasi awey mahli vaas / Nanak sachey naam vin sabhey tol vinaas.

Here, he speaks about the futility of top foods of the time - vegetarian and meats alike - and of opulent royal lifestyles if not backed by rectitude.

Classical singing is a key component of Sikh religious tradition. Most of the collective writings of the Gurus and other thinkers, as compiled in Guru Granth Sahib, are written to be sung to classical raags. I wonder, if meat was banned in the faith - as some protagonists of vegetarianism claim - so should have been the pakhawaj, the tabla, the nagaaras (large drums) and various stringed musical instruments. After all, they are all made from animal products, primarily leather.

But they aren't classified as profanities. Instead, these instruments are played to the accompaniment of sacred hymns from the sanctum of Darbar Sahib (The Golden Temple) to every other gurdwara across the world.

From whatever I have understood, meat-eaters are as good as veggies. But both can be as bad as each other if they accord "spirituality" to foods of their choice.

For now, I’m okay with non-sacrificial meat till my doctor advises otherwise.

[Courtesy: The Daily O. Edited for]
July 17, 2017

Conversation about this article

1: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), July 17, 2017, 1:40 PM.

I think if eating meat was banned in Sikhi, the Gurus would have simply stated so. Guru Gobind Singh ji issued 52 hukamnamas, he didn't find meat eating to be a relevant enough issue to address. Meat is only addressed in regards to not eating halal. I personally feel that vegetarianism has been a staple of "holy" life on the subcontinent for millenniums. It may be something that people assume is necessary for those who take an oath to God, but not something which is actually prescribed by the religion. Also, it may be a hangover from Banda Singh Bahadar's purported attempt to impose vegetarianism onto Sikhs. But that is a controversial issue for a different article.

2: R Singh (Surrey, British Columbia, Canada), July 17, 2017, 4:49 PM.

"Only fools argue over meat. What is meat, what is saag ...?" - Guru Nanak. Sikh Rehat Maryada allows consumption of meat.

3: Sunny Garcha (London, England), August 16, 2017, 12:17 PM.

Agree with the previous 2 comments but if it is permitted then the question becomes, why do we not serve it within a gurdwara?

4: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), August 17, 2017, 3:35 PM.

Our Gurus wanted people from every segment of society to be able to host or participate in langar as equals. There was to be no demarcation between the rich and the poor, for example. Hence, to ensure that the same menu was affordable by all, a basic, simple, vegetarian (only because it is cheaper than meat, and therefore affordable by the less privileged) fare was recommended. The ostentatious dishes served in some gurdwaras today, even to mark special occasions, goes against the spirit of the Sikh langar.

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