251 – Being Vegetarian

National Integration Through Thirukkural And Sanskrit


All life on the planet is coming from earth and can be categorized based on their food habits as

  • Herbivores which  feeds on plants. Ex: Elephant, Rhino, Hippopotamus, Bison, Horse, Deer, Sheep, Goats, Cows, Giraffes etc.,
  • Carnivores which feeds on other animals. Ex: Cats, Tigers, Lions, Cheetah, Fox, Crocodiles, Eagles, Wolves etc.,
  • Omnivores which is able to consume both plants (like a herbivore) and meat (like a carnivore). Human beings are a classic case of omnivores.

vegetarian is someone who doesn’t eat animal products for moral, religious, or health reasons.  One can be a vegetarian by habit or by conviction.

Health perspective : Human digestive system does not completely reject non-vegetarian food. But medical research has proved that vegetarian food integrates well with human system then non-vegetarian food.

Religious perspective: All religions in the world preach compassion. But they vary in their commitment to expressing this virtue through non-violence and vegetarianism. Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism explicitly prescribe a vegetarian lifestyle as it is believed that non-vegetarian food manifests animal nature in human beings. Other religions do not explicitly prescribe or prohibit non-vegetarian food and scriptural references to them are ambiguous.

Moral perspective:  The choice of food habits are left to the individuals. Abstinence from animal food is borne out of respect and sympathy for fellow living creatures. Morality demands refraining from killing and subduing one’s own subservience to the senses.

Some of the popular  personalities who have taken up vegetarianism based on one of the above three  perspectives include Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Annie Besant, Bernard Shaw, Leo Tolstoy,  APJ Abdul Kalam, Mathematician Ramanujam and  George Bernard Shaw.

India has around 36 crore vegetarians which is around 29% of the population. The main reason for such a high number is because vegetarianism is rooted in religion and culture.

World over, campaigns are conducted on a sustained basis to educate people on vegetarianism. A huge impact of such campaigns could be seen in China, where, people decided to stop eating meat after seeing public-interest advertisements advocating the protection of wildlife. It is mostly the younger generation which is turning vegetarian due to the effect of these campaigns. Similarly, propagation of Buddha’s teachings in avoiding non-vegetarian food, has resulted in,   elders turning vegetarians.  It is believed more than 50 million Chinese have turned vegetarians in the last 10 years.  China is becoming  one of the fastest emerging countries with a vegan population. Currently, an estimated 4% – 5% of Chinese are vegetarian.

There is a famous Sanskrit saying that, food has absolutely no relationship to strength.

सर्पा: पिबन्ति पवनं न च दुर्बलास्ते  शुष्कैस्तृणैर्वनगजा बलिनो भवंति ।
कन्दै: फ़लैर्मुनिवरा: क्षपयन्ति कालां संतोष एव पुरुषस्य परं निधानम् ॥

ஸர்பா: பிப³ந்தி பவனம் ந ச து³ர்ப³லாஸ்தே
ஸு²ஷ்கைஸ் த்ருணைர் வனக³ஜா ப³லினோ ப⁴வந்தி
கந்தை³​: ப²லைர்முனிவரா​: க்ஷபயந்தி காலாம்
ஸந்தோஷ ஏவ புருஷஸ்ய பரம் நிதா⁴னம்

Snakes which inhale air are not weak. Elephant which eat dry grass are very strong. Ascetics who live on roots and fruits have lived long. It is only the inner satisfaction which is the supreme reason for health (and not food).

Thiruvalluvar in his couplet 251 under Chapter ‘Abjuring Meat’ questions how a person can cultivate the character of graceful compensation, when, in order to fatten one’s own flesh, they consume the flesh of other living beings.

தன்ஊன் பெருக்கற்குத் தான்பிறிது ஊன்உண்பான்
எங்ஙனம் ஆளும் அருள்

Than-oon Perukkar-kuth Thaan-piridhu Oon-unbaan
Yeng-ganam Aalum Arul

பரிமேலழகர் உரை:

தன் ஊன் பெருக்கற்குத் தான் பிறிது ஊன் உண்பான் – தன் உடம்பை வீக்குதற் பொருட்டுத் தான் பிறிதோர் உயிரின் உடம்பைத் தின்பவன், எங்ஙனம் ஆளும் அருள் – எவ்வகையான் நடத்தும் அருளினை? (பயன் இலாத ஊன் பெருக்கலைப் பயன் எனக்கருதி இக்கொடுமை செய்வானே அறிவிலாத கொடியோன் என்றவாறு ஆயிற்று. ‘எங்ஙனம் ஆளும் அருள்’ என்பது, ஆளான் என்பது பயப்ப நின்ற இகழ்ச்சிக் குறிப்பு.).

Sanskrit Translation by Shri S.N. Srirama Desikan

போஷணார்த₂ம் ஸ்வ தே₃ஹஸ்ய க்ருத்வா ய: ப்ராணி ஹிம்ஸனம் |
தன்மாம்ஸ ப₄க்ஷணபர: ஸ த₃யாவான் கத₂ம் ப₄வேத் ||