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The Vegan Option

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Ian McDonald brings you "Stories, science, and analysis from vegan perspectives."

VegHist Ep 8: Contacts. Indian Sufism, Bhakti, Akbar, Portuguese Christianity, and Gaudiya Vaishnavism; with Sanjukta Gupta; in Agra, Delhi, and London
5 Oct 2016 at 5:49pm

When conquerors who profess Islam or Christianity rule over Indian vegetarians, the conversations about food ethics go both ways.

Episode 8: Contacts

Ian discovers the ecstatic dancing and singing shared by Sufis and Hindus – including westerners singing Hare Krishna in London’s main shopping street.  In Delhi, he finds out about the inquisition that started with European antisemitism and ended with Indians being forced to eat beef.

And in the royal city of Agra, he visits a shrine built to commemorate a conversation about religion and vegetarianism between a Jain saint and the Mughal emperor Akbar. He uncovers the fascinating story of this heretic emperor who advocated vegetarianism.

At the halfway point of this 15-part history of vegetarianism, the traditions of East and West come together. From hereon, it’s all one story.

Play or download (52MB MP3 37min) (via iTunes)

Contributors: Pius Malekandathil (Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi) Sushil Jain and Ashoka Jain, Agra Sanjukta Gupta (University of Oxford) Dr Peter Flügel, SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London) ISKON (“Hare Krishnas”): Devotees of Radha Krishna Temple, Soho, London Prasad distributed by Food For All Ter Kadamba das ( Readings Andrea Corsali, Letter to Giuliano de Medici 1515 Emperor Jahangir, Memoirs (Translated by Alexander Rogers, 1914) Kabir, in the Guru Granth, translation assisted by Manvir Singh. Abu Fazl Allami’s Akbarnama, on the sayings of Akbar (see translation by Gladwin 1800) and on the Hall of Worship (from Rezavi and Blochman) Palatina Inscription Akbar’s Farmans (from Malcom’s Memoir of Central India 1832, Jhaveri, and the Bhanuchandra Gani courtesy of the Digital Library of India) Letter of Father Pinheiro, from Vincent Smith’s “Akbar the Great Mogul” 1917 Matteo Ricci, from “The Truth Meaning of the Lordof Heaven”. Francis Bacon, “The Partitions of Science”, discussing Proverbs Ch XII v10 (“A right-minded person cares for his beast”).

The Italian and Portuguese sources used the word “gentoo” (related to “gentile”, but from the perspective of Christians). Here I variously translated it as “Hindu” or “Infidel”, but I’m wishing I’d translated it as “pagan”.

Special Bonus for Australian Listeners

Andrea Corsali’s letter is famous for more than casually implying that Leonardo da Vinci was vegetarian. He was the first person to draw the constellation of the Southern Cross, which is part of the Australian flag. There is a copy of the letter (ironically on animal skin) in the State Library of New South Wales.

Untranslated Vegetarian History

I tried to find readings from some of the Sufis mentioned early in the show. But their words do not seem to be published in the vernacular, let alone in translation.

So again, I’ll leave these footnotes here in the hope that scholarly specialists will one day come across them!

Hamid ud-Din Nagori’s commitment to animals is mentioned on p221 of Sururu’s Sudur, which is in the Habibganj collection at Aligarh University.

Nuru’d-Din’s admission that he considered meat-eating cruelty despite it being allowed under Shari’a is in the Asraru’l-Abrar (“The Secrets of the Pious”) by Dawud Mishkati (ff. 236a-b), published 1654. I haven’t been able to find it anywhere.

Kabir, Sikhs, and Vegetarianism

There’s a well-worn debate about vegetarianism amongst Sikhs, including a seventeenth century account that the early Gurus (in the early sixteenth century) were vegetarian. There are arguments over whether particular verses condemn meat-eating, or just the ritual killings of Muslims and Hindus.

Some of the strongest lines against eating animals seem to come from the poet Kabir. (He may have inspired the first Sikh guru, and the Sikh scriptures include his poetry.)

But even Kabir’s rhetoric is open to interpretation; much of it seems directed at particular kinds of slaughter. It seems reasonable to assume he was vegetarian, but it’s not absolutely explicit (either in the poetry, or in my script). For example, there is one line of the Bījak quoted in Religious Vegetarianism from Hesiod to the Dalai Llama that seems to advocate vegetarianism, but I had no reasons to choose their translation of “You should not eat fishes or flesh over what grows in the fields” over the very different “You eat animals and fish as if they grew in the fields“. I’m grateful to Brianne Donaldson and Susan Brill for that discussion.

The original Hindi text is online, should anyone wish to discuss the translation in the comments.

The non-vegetarian interpretation of the Kabir lines in the show would be to claim that throat-cutting was about Islamic ritual slaughter, rather than killing in general. But Kabir obviously isn’t suggesting a different way of killing; he’s suggesting kichri.

(“Kichri” is the name of the dish of rice and beans. Its seasoning of salt was described as “amrit”,

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