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The precise method of cow slaughter in the Indus Valley Civilisation

A few days ago I chanced upon HD Sankalia's comment (which I recall seeing earlier as well somewhere):

“After a survey of the evidence from various excavations since 1921, the doyen of Indian archaeologists, H.D. Sankalia, has opined that ‘ the attitude towards cow slaughter shows that until the beginning of the Christian era the cow/ ox were regularly slaughtered for food and for the sacrifice etc., in spite of the preaching of Ahimsa by Mahavira and the Buddha. Beef eating, however, did decrease owing to these preachings, but never died out completely’

I sporadically review evidence both in favour of and against beef eating in ancient India because this is a MAJOR political issue in India, and so the true facts about this question are important.

In this case, regardless of my deep respect for Sankalia, I'm not one to "believe" in Sankalia blindly. I needed first hand evidence regarding actual studies and actual artefacts.

I don't care for Vedic/scriptural translations to that extent since these are highly debatable and my problem is that I can't personally confirm which translator is right.

Archeological evidence is ALWAYS best in such cases. And I really appreciate this science. I spent nearly two years in 1980-82 visting Deccan College in Pune tens of times (where my cousin Arun Sabhlok was studying for a doctorate). I met all the faculty many times, attended lectures by world-reknowned archaeologists, and visited the museum and studied various artefacts.

While browsing google scholar today I chanced upon the first genuine proof I have about cow slaughter in ancient Indian history: Harappan settlement of Gola Dhoro: a reading from animal bones  (Brad Chase, Social change at the Harappan settlement of Gola Dhoro: a reading from animal bones,  ANTIQUITY 84 (2010): 528–543)

This is the MOST CONCLUSIVE proof one can possibly get that Indus Valley Civilisation was a  MAJOR beef consuming civilisation.

These are specific illustrations about how cows were slaughtered in ancient Panjab:

This is not based on debatable Vedic translations.

The following discussion is based on a study of over 20 000 bone fragments sampled from all spatial areas of the site during the first two occupational phases at Gola Dhoro (Chase 2007: 50-82). In conjunction with the archaeological context of deposits from which they derive, these observations suggest that the faunal assemblages under consideration are largely comprised of domestic food waste rather than the contents of more functionally specialised butchers’ dumps. Given the greater frequency of their remains in conjunction with the larger body size of cattle and buffalo, as compared to sheep and goats, it is clear that beef was by far the most common meat consumed during Phase I. This pattern of heavy reliance on the meat of large domesticates is characteristic of archaeological sites in the region (Thomas et al. 1997) as well as throughout the Indus civilisation more generally (Meadow 1989). Consumers obtained whole animals on-the-hoof and processed them near the location where their meat was consumed and the resulting bones discarded.

I will search some more, but one thing is now 100 per cent clear, that Ancient Panjabis were MAJOR beef eaters.


Now comes the twist.

Prof. NS Rajaram argues that Harappan civilisation is Vedic. He writes: "Harappan archaeology represents the material remains of the culture and civilization described in the Vedic literature." [Source]

Now there are two possibilities: He is right or he is wrong.

If he is right then there is now 100 per cent evidence that the Vedic period was a MAJOR beef eating period in India's history. But this contradicts those who use their own translation of the Vedas to argue that the Vedic period did not involve cow slaughter. So is Prof. NS Rajaram right?

If he is wrong, then the Vedic period started post-Indus civilisation, which contradicts those who believe that Vedas are older than 1900 BC (some Hindutva leaders have suggested that the Vedas are well over 5000 years old – and I must admit I started thinking in these lines myself, briefly!). I'm not passing any judgement on that since I've not had time to examine this properly.

But one thing is very clear. You can't place the Vedas before 1900 BC and YET claim that the cow was protected during the Vedic period. 

There is a line in the sand which says that at least till 1900 BC India was a MAJOR beef consumer.

What about Sankalia's view? I suspect he had evidence of this right up to 1 AD, but I don't. I need to wait till I find solid peer reviewed journal articles on that topic.

I'd appreciate if anyone can point me to peer reviewed journal articles re: archaeololgical evidence on cow slaughter (or the absence of it) in India betewen 1900 BC and 1 AD.

Sanjeev Sabhlok

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7 thoughts on “The precise method of cow slaughter in the Indus Valley Civilisation
  1. Abhishek Tiwari

    Hinduism is born in a country which is richly endowed with water, fertile land and a society which was essentially an agrarian guild and hence preference for vegetarianism was enforced over non vegetarianism. Bull was needed to cultivate the land. Cow dung was needed as fuel (in the absence of modern energy resources) and as manure. In those primitive societies cow, the mother of bull was essentially considered as an asset and consequently was accorded the status and dignity of a mother.

    In fact Brahmans were major beef eaters. In one artical i have read that it was a customary practice to eat horse after aswmedha yagya by brahmins.But as the agriculture started growing they needed Bull and Cow. And thus against the brahminical tradition of animal sacrifice few Kshatriya had risen to oppose this, Buddha And Mahavira was among them.
    I don’t if this is true :)

  2. Harsh Vora

    Sanjeev, at the outset please note that the fact that some ancient Indians — Brahmins or otherwise — consumed beef DOES NOT automatically imply it is or was promoted by the Vedas. Neither is it a reason enough to legalise beef consumption TODAY.

    But again, I agree it is illogical to enforce ‘selective’ bans. Logic dictates that either all kinds of meat must be banned or none.

  3. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Harsh, given the HUGE controversies re: the proper translation of the Vedas, I’m completely ignoring that issue. As far as I’m concerned if people were eating beef, etc. regularly, they would leave remains outside their huts, and these remains should exist. The fact that tens of such examples exist from ALL over India across most time periods, is the ONLY proof we need to asset with confidence that Indians were – like ALL other communities in the world – meat and beef eaters.

    The ONLY community in the world that opposes meat on first principles is the Jain community. It is almost certain that Jains influenced Buddhists (who were not vegetarian initially) to ultimately influence north Indians to reduce meat eating and stop eating beef. Buddhists were strongly against Vedic animal sacrifice. Their influence was huge e.g. through Ashoka’s edict which forbade meat eating in India.


  4. chopra arora

    दोस्तों अब में अपने हिन्दू दोस्तों को एक चीज़ और बताती हु वैसे तो हम हैं ही हिंदुस्तानी गोपालक गोरक्षका तो हम केवल गौ के दूध का इस्तेमाल करते हैं जैसे कन्हैया ने दिखाया था गायत्री को गौ के रूप में वासुकि की बेहेन बताया गया हैं हम इन मुसलमानो के क़ुरबानी में भी विश्वास नहीं करते लेकिन ईद के दिन ये लोग ख़ुशी बनाते हे राम ही जाने किसी खुशी हा तो हमने कसाई जात सुनी हैं न हमारे पूर्वजो ने इन्हे इसिलए पूजा से भी अलग किया था क्योंकि ये अपवीतर माना जाता हैं नही अच्छा तो हैं लेकिन आजकल इस जात को कोई अस्तितत्व नहीं हमें बुचरखाने या कतलखाने को कोई जायज़ा नहीं रहा मुसलमानो के इन क़ुर्बानियों में तो ये इन्हको बुलाते होंगे लेकिन इनका कोई काम नही रहा बृहष्ट कतलखाने में अंग्रेजी मशीनो से कतल होने लग गए अंग्रेज़ो की यह मशीन केवल समय की बचत करती होंगी लेकिन जानवर की आवाज़ो से वह जगह धरती पे इंसानो की गैर मौजूदगी ही दिखातीं हैं ये विनाश की लीला में तो हम लोग ज़रा भी अक़ल नहीं रखते लेकिन पशुपतिनाथ ने हमेशा ऐसे तरीके बताये थे जिनसे जानवरो से इंसानो जैसे ही रिश्ता बनता हैं पत्थर के नांदी को पुझने की बझाये हमें इन्हका अपने संसार में विदा करने में तो कमसेकम अपने समय देना चाहिये हरप्पा में तो ऐसे ही सार्वजनिक स्थान होता था जहा हमारे द्वारा छोड़े हुए जानवर को उस राज्य के छोटी जाती यानि कसाई करते थे लेकिन अंग्रेजी बुचरखाना कतलखाने में न तो काबिल लोग हैं इनखा बाँझ पशुओं का कतल करने के लिए और हम आँख से अंधे हो जाते हे बेजुबानो के लिए क्योंकि हमारे धरम की विशेषता खत्म हो रही हैं हमारे वो तरीके भी लुप्त हो गए हे जिनमे पशुओं को तरकीब से काटा जाता था हुनर वाले कसाई से और विदेशी आगये हैं जो इन कतलखानों को बेतरतीब मनमानी से चलाते हैं केवल यह तमगा हासिल कारण एके लिए हलाल जो केवल एक अरब कसाई की विचारधारा हैं हिन्दू देश में जिसमे कसाई के हुनर बेहतर था कम दर्द के साथ

  5. Toms

    Please look into the Mittani kingdom of todays Syria and Turkey in Wikepedia.
    If you see the names of the kings, they are similar to the names in Ramayana and Mahabharata and the Aryan kings. Aryans should have migrated from these areas to Inida later!!!

  6. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    I’m aware of this and have discussed this separately. There are extensive books on this hotly debated subject.


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