Many scriptures forbid the consumption of animal flesh. Some examples of such scriptures are given below:

We ought to destroy those who eat cooked as well as uncooked meat and eggs. (Atharva Veda 8.6.23)

Its definitely a great sin to kill innocents. Do not kill our cows, horses and the people. (Atharva Veda 10.1.29)

He who desires to augment his own flesh by eating the flesh of other creatures, lives in misery in whatever species he may take his [next] birth. (Mahabharata, Anu.115.47)

Those who are ignorant of real dharma and, though wicked and haughty, account themselves virtuous, kill animals without any feeling of remorse or fear of punishment. Further, in their next lives, such sinful persons will be eaten by the same creatures they have killed in this world. (Srimad Bhagavatam 11.5.14)

If there were nobody who ate flesh, then there would be nobody to slay living creatures. The man who slays living creatures kills them for the sake of the person who eats flesh. If flesh were not considered as food, there would then be no destruction of living creatures. It is for the sake of the eater that the destruction of living entities is carried on in the world. Since, O you of great splendor, the period of life is shortened by persons who kill living creatures or cause them to be killed, it is clear that the person who seeks his own good should give up meat altogether. Those dreadful persons who are engaged in the destruction of living beings never find protectors when they are in need. Such persons should always be molested and punished even as beast of prey. (Mahabharata, Anu.115.29-32)

That man who seeks to multiply his own flesh by (eating) the flesh of others has to live in this world in great anxiety, and after death has to take birth in indifferent races and families. High Rishis given to the observance of vows and self-control have said that abstention from meat is worthy of praise, productive of fame and Heaven, and a great satisfaction itself. This I heard formerly, O son of Kunti, from Markandeya when that Rishi discoursed on the sins of eating flesh. (Mahabharata, Anu.115.34-36)

Bhishma said: That man who wishes to increase his own flesh by the meat of another living creature is such that there is none meaner and more cruel than he. In this world there is nothing that is dearer to a creature than his life. Hence, one should show mercy to the lives of others as he does to his own life. Forsooth, O son, flesh has its origin in the vital seed. There is great sin attached to its eating, as, indeed, there is merit in abstaining from it. (Mahabharata, Anu.116.11-13)

There are many more verses than these present in the scriptures. I am not going to quote them since there are too many.

Now coming to my question, people in various parts of India see fish as Sattvic. For example, in my state (i.e. Bengal), many Brahmins say fish is Sattvic. Some even go to the extent of calling them "sea-vegetables". However, this does not only happen in Bengal. Many in Odisha, Bihar and the Goud Saraswat Brahmin community in Coastal South-Western Andhra Pradesh; see fish as Sattvik.

In addition to this regional/cultural issue, we have seen prominent individuals such as Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Lahiri Mahasay to be pescetarians when their disciples Swami Vivekananda and Yukteshwar Giri advocating vegetarian diet. (I discuss the vegetarianism issue of Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa in this question) So it can be said, Swami Vivekananda and Yukteshwar Giri took fish as vegetarian.

Are there any scriptural justification of their views? Do any scriptures call fishes as sea-vegetables and not as "meat"? Do any scriptures classify fishes as Sattvic for eating?

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    "Vegetable = a plant or part of a plant used as food, such as a cabbage, potato, turnip, or bean". Fish is not born of plants. It is not a vegetable or vegetarian. That is the literal definition of Vegetable. How can it be sea vegetable? Is fish born of aquatic plants? Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 6:12
  • @Sarvabhouma Idk. This is what they say...
    – user9969
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 6:14
  • 3
    @SuryaKantaBoseChowdhury Do you think anything which when cut out oozes blood is veg ?
    – Just_Do_It
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 15:06
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    This is only Bengali concept to say fish as vegetarian, nothing related to Hinduism. Please dont mind but do not ask such questions.
    – TheLittleNaruto
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 16:52
  • 1
    I'll tell you again this is not related to Hinduism.
    – TheLittleNaruto
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 17:53

2 Answers 2


On the contrary, eating fish is specially not recommended for the following reason:

Manu Smriti 5.15. He who eats the flesh of any (animal) is called the eater of the flesh of that (particular creature), he who eats fish is an eater of every (kind of) flesh; let him therefore avoid fish.

And, for that reason, birds, who survive by eating fishes, are also not recommended for human consumption.

Manu Smriti 5.13. Those which feed striking with their beaks, web-footed birds, the Koyashti, those which scratch with their toes, those which dive and live on fish, meat from a slaughter-house and dried meat,

Some particular kinds of fishes are, however, allowed to be consumed:

Manu Smriti 5.16. (But the fish called) Pathina and (that called) Rohita may be eaten, if used for offerings to the gods or to the manes; (one may eat) likewise Ragivas, Simhatundas, and Sasalkas on all (occasions).


The Manu Smriti has a chapter where several manifestations (both inanimate and animate) of the three Gunas (viz-Sattva, Rajas and Tamas) are mentioned. Each Guna is again sub-divided into 3 groups; like- Best Sattva, Good Sattva and Worst Sattva and similarly for the other 2.

Now, within this classification, fishes are said to be pervaded by the lowest state of Tamas (inertia or ignorance or whatever that is called). (I have added this part because in the original version of the question you were asking whether to consider fish as Sattvik or not)

Manu Smriti 2.42. Immovable (beings), insects, both small and great, fishes, snakes, and tortoises, cattle and wild animals, are the lowest conditions to which (the quality of) Darkness leads.

Manu Smriti 12.43. Elephants, horses, Sudras, and despicable barbarians, lions, tigers, and boars (are) the middling states, caused by (the quality of) Darkness.

However, it is more about the act, than the food here. Eating meat or fish can be considered as Tamsik because one can't really eat them unless they are killed. So, cruelty is involved and cruelty is associated with Tamas. If you see 2.42, then all immovable beings (i.e plants) are also considered Tamasik. And, the herbivorous animals, like horses etc, are also Tamasik (as per 12.43)

Also, as mentioned in this answer, certain foods are categorised as Amisha (which basically means non-vegetarian), for Hindu religious purposes. Among them obviously meat and fish are included. But certain vegetarian products (like garlic, onion etc) are also included.

Meat, fish, betel leaves, onion, garlic, red spinach, a kind of lemon and all smoked/burnt food items are considered Amisha for Hindu purpose.

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    Just to clarify (because the question seems to imply it), do the allowed fish come into the category of vegetarianism, or do they still come into the non-vegetarian category? It's not clear what 'allowed' means in this answer. Could you please clarify? Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 8:33
  • Since you're Bengali, can you tell me the Bengali names of the fishes mentioned in Manu-smriti 5.16?
    – user9969
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 12:57
  • I know only one name Rohita=Rui mach. :D @SuryaKantaBoseChowdhury
    – Rickross
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 14:31
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    @user1952500 See the update. However, i don't really know how to prove from scriptures that fish is non-vegetarian.
    – Rickross
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 14:49
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    @Rickross I guessed that lol
    – user9969
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 18:03

I believe the paradoxical acceptance of fish as permissible by certain Brahmins especially the Gaud Saraswat community is because of the reason that their originator was fed on them by none other than River Saraswati!

The Shalya Parva of Mahabharat mentions about the birth of Rishi Saraswat and the circumstances he encountered:

Vaishampayana continued, "In days of yore, O monarch, there was an intelligent sage of great ascetic merit. He was celebrated by the name of Dadhica. Possessing a complete control over his senses, he led the life of a brahmacari. In consequence of his excessive ascetic austerities Shakra was afflicted with a great fear. The sage could not be turned (away from his penance) by the offer of even diverse kinds of rewards.

Indra, as usual sent an Apsara to distract him:

At last the chastiser of Paka, for tempting the sage, despatched unto him the exceedingly beautiful and celestial apsara, by name Alambusa. Thither where on the banks of the Sarasvati the high-souled sage was engaged in the act of gratifying the gods, the celestial damsel named above, O monarch, made her appearance. Beholding that damsel of beautiful limbs, the vital seed of that ascetic of cleansed soul came out. It fell into the Sarasvati, and the latter held it with care. Indeed, O bull among men, the River, beholding that seed, held it in her womb. In time the seed developed into a foetus and the great river held it so that it might be inspired with life as a child. When the time came, the foremost of rivers brought forth that child and then went, O lord, taking it with her, to that rishi.

This child grew into Rishi Saraswat & was blessed by his father thus:

Having said so unto that great river, the sage, gratified and filled with joy, then praised her in these words. Listen to them duly, O king! 'Thou hast taken thy rise, O highly blessed one, from the lake of Brahman in days of old. All ascetics of rigid vows know thee, O foremost of rivers! Always of agreeable features, thou hast done me great good! This thy great child, O thou of the fairest complexion, will be known by the name of Sarasvata! During a drought extending for twelve years, this Sarasvata, O blessed one, will teach the Vedas unto many foremost of brahmanas! O blessed Sarasvati, through my grace, thou shalt, O beautiful one, always become the foremost of all sacred rivers!' Even thus was the great River praised by the sage after the latter had granted her boons. The River then, in great joy, went away, O bull of Bharata's race, taking with her that child.

Coming to the actual drought, this is what happened:

After a long and dreadful time had elapsed since then, a drought, O king, occurred that extended for twelve years. During that drought extending for twelve years, the great rishis, for the sake of sustenance, fled away, O monarch, on all sides.

Beholding them scattered in all directions, the sage Sarasvata also set his heart on flight. The river Sarasvati then said unto him, 'Thou needst not, O son, depart hence, for I will always supply thee with food even here by giving thee large fishes! Stay thou, therefore, even here!' Thus addressed (by the river), the sage continued to live there and offer oblations of food unto the rishis and the gods. He got also his daily food and thus continued to support both himself and the gods.

After that twelve year's drought had passed away, the great rishis solicited one another for lectures on the Vedas. While wandering with famished stomachs, the rishis had lost the knowledge of the Vedas. There was, indeed, not one amongst them that could understand the scriptures. It chanced that someone amongst them encountered Sarasvata, that foremost of rishis, while the latter was reading the Vedas with concentrated attention. Coming back to the conclave of rishis, he spoke to them of Sarasvata of unrivalled splendour and god-like mien engaged in reading the Vedas in a solitary forest.

Hearing these words of his, those munis duly became his disciples and obtaining from him their Vedas, once more began to praise their rites. 60,000 munis became disciples of the regenerate rishi Sarasvata for the sake of acquiring their Vedas from him.

No wonder then that Brahmins belonging to this specific community don't mind having fish. But as pointed out in the other answer, it definitely can not be considered equivalent to vegetarian food.

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    Wow finally I know why my Saraswat brahmin friends eat fish!
    – Viraj
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 10:17

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