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In one of the lecture by Swami Vivekananda, he told:

The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda/Volume 3/Lectures from Colombo to Almora/Reply to the Address of Welcome at Madura

...There was a time in this very India when, without eating beef no Brahmin could remain a Brahmin...

So, Does it mean that Brahmins ate beef? or what message does Vivekananda try to convey?

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    yes. in vedic times. – Swami Vishwananda Jul 9 '17 at 4:54
  • But a video on YouTube by agniveer says there is no beef in vedas, is that correct – Preordainment Jul 9 '17 at 5:48
  • @Preordainment Swami Vivekananda meant beef, which is meat of cow sacrificed in Yajnas. In Vedic time, Yajnas were rampant. Cow as a whole is sacrificed in Yajna and it is allowed as per Vedas. But killing cow other than in Yajnas is grave sin. – The Destroyer Jul 9 '17 at 6:00
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    @the destroyer if some hindu in India wants to perform gaumedhayajna will he be allowed? – Preordainment Jul 9 '17 at 6:02
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    @Preordainment If cows or other animals are sacrificed in Yajnas as per rules laid in Vedas, none should oppose it. If they oppose proper Vedic rituals, it means they are opposing Vedas. Vedas are highest truths and a devout Hindu can't go against Vedas. – The Destroyer Jul 9 '17 at 6:04
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I believe Swamiji must have been referring to the few verses in Dharma Sutras that do mention consumption of bovine meat. The Apastambh Grihya Sutra mentions that cattle may be slaughtered when a guest arrives, or at the occasion of marriage or as an offering to the ancestors in the Shraadh ceremony.

9 These are the occasions for killing a cow: (the arrival of) a guest, (the Ashtaka sacrific eoffered to) the Fathers, and marriage.

However, the same Grihya Sutras ALSO give the option of letting the cow loose when a guest arrives so that the host does NOT have to sacrifice it to entertain the guest. At multiple places they suggest that cow's flesh should be substituted with that of a goat or a ram or even better, cooked grain or payasam (kheer in Hindi).

17 If the guest chooses to let (the cow) loose, he murmurs the next (formulas, II, 10, 8-11) in a low voice (and says) loudly, 'Om! Let it loose!' (II, 10, 12).

18 (In this case) he recites the next (formulas, M. II, 10, 13-17) in a low voice over the food which is announced to him (instead of the cow), (and says) loudly, 'Om! Make it ready!' (II, 10,18)

There are other verses too that mention the sacrifice of bovines but not really cows. For example Rig Veda verse 10.85 does mention ritual sacrifice of oxen but no cows. I could find only one verse where cow, that too a barren one is supposed to be offered to Agni along with Ram or Oxen Rig Veda verse 10.91.14. And again the verse talks about a sacrifice being offered to a god NOT for the consumption of humans.

14 He in whom horses, bulls, oxen, and barren cows, and rams, when duly set apart, are offered up,— To Agni, Soma-sprinkled, drinker of sweet juice, Disposer, with my heart I bring a fair hymn forth.

15 Into thy mouth is poured the offering, Agni, as Soma into cup, oil into ladle. Vouchsafe us wealth. strength-winning, blest with heroes, wealth lofty, praised by men, and full of splendour.

I have seen some other similar verses mentioned but none of them talk about consumption of this meat by humans solely for their sense gratification. In fact the Manu Smriti explicitly states:

  1. Dying, without the expectation of a reward, for the sake of Brahmanas and of cows, or in the defence of women and children, secures beatitude to those excluded (from the Aryan community.)

  2. He who unhesitatingly abandons life for the sake of Brahmanas or of cows, is freed from (the guilt of) the murder of a Brahmana, and (so is he) who saves (the life of) a cow, or of a Brahmana.

  3. But a student who on any occasion eats honey or meat, shall perform a Krikkhra (penance), and afterwards complete his vow (of studentship).

Presuming that these students were mostly Brahmins this becomes significant for this particular question. It also gives strength to the belief that even students of other Varnas were not allowed to have meat let alone Beef in Gurukuls run by Brahmins!

  1. Fasting during three (days and) nights shall be (the penance for stealing) grass, wood, trees, dry food, molasses, clothes, leather, and meat.

There are also multiple Vedic verses that mention the cow as Aghnya or One who can not be hurt. In Rig Veda verse 7.56.17 the supplicant equates the lives of men with those of cattle by praying to the Maruts to keep their storms away that kill them both. It is noteworthy that no other animal has been mentioned except cattle which shows how strong the bond between men and cows.

Again the Rig Veda verse 1.164.40 wishes cows good fortune to find great pastures in every season so that the men can also stay healthy and wealthy. Again the word used for cow here is Aghnya or inviolable.

Rig Veda verse 10.87.16 goes so far as to wish violent death for those who kill cattle, horses and humans showing once again that the lives of each were equally precious. I quote here the Griffith translation -

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 entire 28th sukta of Book 6 Rig Veda 6.28 in fact talks about how cows enjoyed freedom from persecution in the Vedic society -

These are ne’er lost, no robber ever injures them: no evil-minded foe attempts to harass them.... These Cows, the cattle of the pious worshipper, roam over widespread pasture where no danger is.. Never be thief or sinful man your matter, and may the dart of Rudra still avoid you!

Manu Smriti even mentions that errant cows were not to be punished!

  1. But Manu has declared that no fine shall be paid for (damage done by) a cow within ten days after her calving, by bulls and by cattle sacred to the gods, whether they are attended by a herdsman or not.

If the Brahmins writing these scriptures themselves say that the cow is inviolable, how can we conclude that the same Brahmins ate their meat? Perhaps the cow and horse sacrifices were special events that took place once in a blue moon but I strongly oppose the idea that these sacred animals were killed routinely for food! If you wish to read a more holistic article on this issue you can also check this article - The Beef Eaters of India

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Apart from above answers, which analyze from vedic and historic (of vedic times) point of view; I will add also another point of view, which analyzes the correctness of recorded statement of Vivekananda itself:

1) "beef" does not mean flesh of cow only. beef means the flesh of a cow, bull, or ox, used as food. see https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/beef

2) "bullock" means a male domestic bovine animal that has been castrated and is raised for beef. see https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/bullock

now read the full sentence of Vivekananda at https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Complete_Works_of_Swami_Vivekananda/Volume_3/Lectures_from_Colombo_to_Almora/Reply_to_the_Address_of_Welcome_at_Madura is given below:

"There was a time in this very India when, without eating beef, no Brahmin could remain a Brahmin; you read in the Vedas how, when a Sannyasin, a king, or a great man came into a house, the best bullock was killed; how in time it was found that as we were an agricultural race, killing the best bulls meant annihilation of the race"

Hence, it is clear that he is using the terms "bulls,bullock killing" , so he is using the term beef here for meat of bull and oxen. He has nowhere used any word about killing of cow, and everywhere mentioned about killing of bull and oxen.


and then in the next line it is mentioned that Vivekananda said "Therefore the practice was stopped, and a voice was raised against the killing of cows".

This is a mis-recording(misinterpretation or mistranslation) , when he was earlier explicitly saying that "bulls were being killed", also "bullock" explictly means "male animal .." ;THEN how suddenly he can be saying that "voice has to be raised against killing of cows". If bulls and bullocks are being explicitly killed , then suddenly how voice (if any) has to be raised against killing of cow.

Hence, due to this inherent inconsistency, this para is weak in shabda pramana(as doubts in accurate recording of his speech) and we will conclude that the understanding of the person recording the reply of Swami Vivekananda at Madurai public speech, has put interpolations of his own while recording the speech.

  • He also gave references from Mahabharata and ramayana to justify his eating habits in his literary works what about that? – Anubhav Jha Feb 27 '18 at 8:04
  • Regarding his mahabharat and ramayana etc passages, As much i have read he has talked frequently about meat eating, and in some rare cases he has talked about beef eating in the sense of "bull beef eating". BUT he has never explicitly ever told as "cow beef eating". Can you mention his exact reference, where he mentioned about cow beef eating in his any work on mahabharat and ramayana? – zaxebo1 Feb 27 '18 at 8:18
  • Well not cow beef eating but deer meat eating and wine, to justify his own habits. Cow is holy in both ramayana and Mahabharata, Lord rama got cows as a dowry from sitas father, Lord Krishna loved cows was a gopala and condemned animal sacrifices in geeta. – Anubhav Jha Feb 27 '18 at 8:20
  • I am dismissing only "cow beef eating" part as weak shabd pramana , because the "cow killing" statement occurs only once in Vivekananda's entire big corpus of text and that too in a self-inconsistent/self-negating paragraph , which is a recording of his public speech. BUT I am already accepting shabd pramana validity of recording of his frequent and explicit statements on "meat eating" and "bull beef eating" , as they are consistent statements in themselves. – zaxebo1 Feb 27 '18 at 8:26
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This is what he said-

There was a time in this very India when, without eating beef, no Brahmin could remain a Brahmin; you read in the Vedas how, when a Sannyasin, a king, or a great man came into a house, the best bullock was killed; how in time it was found that as we were an agricultural race, killing the best bulls meant annihilation of the race.

This is surely from apasthamba sutras, but he has forgotten give the context of the verse and the next verse.

Well vivekananda also gave many references from ramayana and Mahabharata for his meat eating habits, even though both ramyana and Mahabharata talk about ascetics living in vegeterian diet, hell Mahabharata even mentions vegeterian diet for house holders.

Vivekananda compared food habits of Lord rama and Krishna to his food habits even though scriptures being clear that one should not compare himself to Lord, and follow instructions only, he was a borderline atheist, he called krishna/rama "their gods", as in other hindus

he didn't consider them Lord himself this is as hilarious as vivekananda saying that he'll keep thousands of wives because Krishna did so, hilarious false equivalence.

He took 2 references from the iitihasas even though their being thousands of references of vegeterian diet and Lord Krishna saying vegeterian diet as supreme in geeta, he was one of those people who didn't give much heed to geetas instructions, took whatever he wanted.

His works are filled with such hypocritic examples.

Anyway vegetarianism has always been part of Hinduism, ascetics and brahmavadi brahmins have always been vegeterian, amagandha sutta of buddhists talks about vegeterian Brahmin and a kassapa Buddha, the latter telling the former how meat eating is not bad (vegetarianism was not a product of buddhism),

For a matter of fact Buddhism became popular because of its lineient rules on eating habits, while Hinduism says that eating meat out of rituals is a heinous sin which restricted meat eating, Buddhism was much lenient, even the monks could eat meat from butchers shop, butchers shop was literally banned in ancient India under hinduism as meat could only be taken in yajnas,(that too in handful small quantities) while Buddhism first gave butchers shop rights in india,

Buddha was only against elaborate rituals not meat in anyway. Buddhism attracted people because it gave much more freedom to people. It's a false beleif that vegetarianism came from Buddhism.

It's sad to see that vivekananda was not able to come out of sense gratification of meat, this is why meat is banned for Brahmavadins and sanyasins because it causes attachment, sanyasins should be away from sense gratification sadly he compared himself to kings and gods, maybe he should've drank poison like Lord shiva and came out of that perfectly hmm.

Only karma kanda brahmins ate beef but that too only as yajna Prasad (only handful of that) most of the carcass was offered to agni and other devas.

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