māṃsa मांस

Definition: ‘Flesh.’ The eating of flesh appears as something quite regular in the Vedic texts, which show no trace of the doctrine of Ahimsā, or abstaining from injury to animals. For example, the ritual offerings of flesh contemplate that the gods will eat it, and again the Brahmins ate the offerings.1 Again, the slaying of a ‘ great ox ’ (mahoksa) or a ‘ great goat ’ (mahāja) for a guest was regularly prescribed; and the name Atithigva probably means ‘slaying cows for guests.’The great sage Yājñavalkya was wont to eat the meat of milch cows and bullocks (dhenv-anaduha) if only it was amsala (‘ firm ’ or ‘ tender ’).The slaughter of a hundred bulls (uksan) was credited to one sacrificer, Agastya. The marriage ceremony was accompanied by the slaying of oxen, clearly for food. That there was any general objection to the eating of flesh is most improbable. Sometimes it is forbidden, as when a man is performing a vow, or its use is disapproved, as in a passage of the Atharvaveda, where meat is classed with Surā, or intoxicating liquor, as a bad thing. Again, in the Rigveda® the slaying of the cows is said to take place in the Aghās, a deliberate variation for Maghās; but this may be the outcome merely of a natural association of death with gloom, even when cows alone are the victims in question. The Brāhmaṇas also contain the doctrine of the eater in this world being eaten in the next, but this is not to be regarded as a moral or religious disapproval of eating flesh, though it no doubt contains the germ of such a view, which is also in harmony with the persuasion of the unity of existence, which becomes marked in the Brāhmaṇas. But Ahimsā as a developed and articulate doctrine would seem to have arisen from the acceptance of the doctrine of transmigration, which in its fundamentals is later than the Brāhmaṇa period. On the other hand, it is to be noted that the cow was on the road to acquire special sanctity in the Rigveda, as is shown by the name aghnyā, ‘not to be slain,’ applied to it in several passages. But this fact cannot be regarded as showing that meat eating generally was condemned. Apart from mythical considerations, such as the identification of the cow with earth or Aditi (which are, of course, much more than an effort of priestly ingenuity), the value of the cow for other purposes than eating was so great as to account adequately for its sanctity, the beginnings of which can in fact be traced back to Indo-Iranian times. Moreover, the ritual of the cremation of the dead required the slaughter of a cow as an essential part, the flesh being used to envelope the dead body. The usual food of the Vedic Indian, as far as flesh was concerned, can be gathered from the list of sacrificial victims: what man ate he presented to the gods—that is, the sheep, the goat, and the ox. The horse sacrifice was an infrequent exception: it is probably not to be regarded as a trace of the use of horseflesh as food, though the possibility of such being the case cannot be overlooked in view of the widespread use of horseflesh as food in different countries and times. It is, however, more likely that the aim of this sacrifice was to impart magic strength, the speed and vigour of the horse, to the god and his worshippers, as Oldenberg argues.


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