A reader wrote…
“Nilesh Ji, why have you been silent on the subject of if Shri Rama ate meat or not?”
(The reader went on to ask many other questions. I have removed them for brevity)
I have been silent on many interesting subjects pertaining to Rama or Ramayana because I busied myself with astronomy evidence in Ramayana.
Having said that, I do collect curious references (Rama’s meat eating, Kaikayi, Kausalya’s acts due to not having a kid-until Rama was born, Kumbhkarna and his unique sleep pattern and many more).
As a sidebar, problem of ‘Kumbhakarna sleep pattern’ took me to study the subject of ‘sleep’ as very few have (including so called medical sleep professionals) and while my work will never be officially acknowledged in medical journals (since I am not a medical professional), few sleep experts around the world have sent their compliments for my work on Kumbhakarna. The goal is to publish it sometime. I have still not decided the form (book, journal article, blog article, etc.) it will be published in.
I write this to encourage readers to select a problem of their own choice (from Ancient history) and pursue it. I can not promise of they solving it, but I can certainly promise great intellectual moments and by luck, many ‘ah ha’ moments!
Ancient Indian history research is exciting but it is not a spectator sport. There is so much to research that if one selects a singel problem, one can be busy solving/evolving answering to it for rest of his/her life.
Thus, I did collect many references which clearly point to Rama’s meat eating. Many other researchers have written about it. I ran into an aricle by one named Utkarshraj Atmaram. He has done an excellent summary on Rama and meat eating. The article comes to me, courtesy of Shri JohneeG. I am reproducing it.
Yes, Rama was non-vegetarian according to the Valmiki Ramayana.
Several verses of the Valmiki Ramayana mention that during his exile, Rama tended to avoid meat-eating. However, these verses actually imply that he was used to eating meat, and that vegetarianism was something associated with the ascetics. Several other verses clearly tell us that when he was hungry, he would eat meat even during his exile. The proponents of vegetarianism tell us that these are bad translations or misinterpretations, but the original Sanskrit verses and several independent translations are available for everyone to read – these verses can’t be more clear about Rama eating meat. If anything, it’s actually the translations by the proponents of vegetarianism, that are misleadingly contrived to show Rama as a vegetarian.
Another thing that is clear from multiple verses is that Rama’s apparent tendency to avoid meat during the exile didn’t result from his belief in non-violence against the animals — it’s just something that he considered as part of an ascetic lifestyle. There are verses where he sacrifices animals for ceremonies and wears clothes made out of animal skin.
Ramayana is not unique in this sense: many respected Hindu texts, including the Vedas, condone meat-eating and animal sacrifice. The vegetarianism in the modern Hindu society is a virtue borrowed from Buddhism and Jainism, and a relic of the times when these two sects had gained prominence.
Here are some of the verses from the Valmiki Ramayana. The translations are from Valmiki Ramayana of Desiraju Hanumanta Rao & K. M. K. Murthy. You can also check out alternative translation at Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha’s Valmiki Ramayan Translation project, which is based on six different commentaries.
Verses where Rama displays a tendency to avoid meat during his exile:
Ayodhya Kanda 2-20-29
चतुर्दश हि वर्षाणि वत्स्यामि विजने वने |
मधु मूल फलैः जीवन् हित्वा मुनिवद् आमिषम् || २-२०-२९
[Rama to Kausalya ] “I shall live in a solitary forest like a sage for fourteen years, leaving off meat and living with roots, fruits and honey”.
Ayodhya Kanda 2-50-44
कुश चीर अजिन धरम् फल मूल अशनम् च माम् |
विद्धि प्रणिहितम् धर्मे तापसम् वन गोचरम् || २-५०-४४
[Rama to Guha] “Know me as under a vow to be an ascetic, wearing the robes of bark and deerskin and by piety, I am determined to live in the forest by eating roots and fruits only.”
Ayodhya Kanda 2-54-16
पित्रा नियुक्ता भगवन् प्रवेष्यामः तपो वनम् |
धर्मम् एव आचरिष्यामः तत्र मूल फल अशनाः || २-५४-१६
[Rama to Bhardwaja] “Oh, Venerable sage! Commanded by our father, we are entering a lonely forest to practise asceticism, living on roots and fruits.”
Sundara Kanda 5-36-41
[Hanuman to Sita] न मांसं राघवो भुङ्क्ते न चापि मधुसेवते |
वन्यं सुविहितं नित्यं भक्तमश्नाति पञ्चमम् || ५-३६-४१
“Rama is not eating meat, nor indulging even in spirituous liquor. Everyday, in the evening, he is eating the food existing in the forest, well arranged for him.”
Verses implying that Rama ate meat:
Ayodhya Kanda 2-52-102
तौ तत्र हत्वा चतुरः महा मृगान् |
वराहम् ऋश्यम् पृषतम् महा रुरुम् |
आदाय मेध्यम् त्वरितम् बुभुक्षितौ|
वासाय काले ययतुर् वनः पतिम् || २-५२-१०२
Having hunted there four deer, namely Varaaha, Rishya, Prisata; and Mahaaruru (the four principal species of deer) and taking quickly the portions that were pure, being hungry as they were, Rama and Lakshmana reached a tree to take rest in the evening.
Alternative translation: Being famished, Rama, Lakshmana hunted and killed a boar, a Rishya animal (a white footed male antelope), a spotted deer and a great deer with black stripes and quickly partaking the pure meat reached a tree by the evening to spend the night.
Ayodhya Kanda 2-55-32/33
क्रोशमात्रम् ततो गत्वा भ्रातरौ रामलक्ष्मनौ || २-५५-३३
बहून्मेध्यान् मृगान् हत्वा चेरतुर्यमुनावने |
Thereafter having travelled only a couple of miles the two brothers Rama and Lakshmana killed many consecrated deer and ate in the river-forest of Yamuna.
Alternative translation: After travelling a distance of two miles further in the forest on the bank of Yamuna, those two brothers slew deers worthy for sacrifice for food and ate them.
Ayodhya Kanda 2-96-1/2
तां तथा दर्शयित्वा तु मैथिलीं गिरिनिम्नगाम् |
निषसाद गिरिप्रस्थे सीतां मांसेन चन्दयन् || २-९६-१
इदं मेध्यमिदं स्वादु निष्टप्तमिदमग्निना |
एवमास्ते स धर्मात्मा सीतया सह राघवः || २-९६-२
Having shown Mandakini River in that manner to Seetha, the daughter of Mithila, Rama set on the hill-side in order to gratify her appetite with a piece of flesh. Rama, whose mind was devoted to righteousness stayed there with Seetha, saying; “This meat is fresh, this is savoury and roasted in the fire.”
Alternative translation: Having shown to Sita the mountain-river Mandakini and gratifying her with meat, Rama sat on the mountain slope. Righteous Rama was seated in Sita’s company and remarked saying “This meat is sacred. This is savoury roasted in fire”.
Aranya Kanda 3-44-27
निहत्य पृषतम् च अन्यम् मांसम् आदाय राघवः |
त्वरमाणो जनस्थानम् ससार अभिमुखः तदा || ३-४४-२७
Raghava then on killing another spotted deer and on taking its flesh, he hurried himself towards Janasthaana.
Alternative translation: Then Rama killed another deer, got the meat and quickly departed to Janasthana.
Aranya Kanda 3-47-23
समाश्वस मुहूर्तम् तु शक्यम् वस्तुम् इह त्वया || ३-४७-२२
आगमिष्यति मे भर्ता वन्यम् आदाय पुष्कलम् |
रुरून् गोधान् वराहान् च हत्वा आदाय अमिषान् बहु || ३-४७-२३
[Sita to Ravana] “Be comfortable for a moment, here it is possible for you to make a sojourn, and soon my husband will be coming on taking plentiful forest produce, and on killing stags, mongooses, wild boars he fetches meat, aplenty.
Alternative translation: “Take rest for a while staying here. It is hoped that my husband will come and be getting from the forest plenty of meat of many kinds on killing deer, alligators and hogs.”
Aranya Kanda 3-73-13/17
न उद्विजन्ते नरान् दृष्ट्वा वधस्य अकोविदाः शुभाः || ३-७३-१३
घृत पिण्ड उपमान् स्थूलान् तान् द्विजान् भक्षयिष्यथः |
रोहितान् वक्र तुण्डान् च नल मीनान् च राघव || ३-७३-१४
पंपायाम् इषुभिः मत्स्यान् तत्र राम वरान् हतान् |
निस्त्वक्पक्षानयसतप्तानकृशान्नैककण्टकान् – यद्वा –
निः त्वक् पक्षान् अयस तप्तान् अकृशान् न अनेक कण्टकान् || ३-७३-१५
तव भक्त्या समायुक्तो लक्ष्मणः संप्रदास्यति |
भृशम् तान् खादतो मत्स्यान् पंपायाः पुष्प संचये || ३-७३-१६
पद्म गन्धि शिवम् वारि सुख शीतम् अनामयम् |
उद्धृत्य स तदा अक्लिष्टम् रूप्य स्फटिक सन्निभम् || ३-७३-१७
अथ पुष्कर पर्णेन लक्ष्मणः पाययिष्यति |
[Kabandha to Rama] “Thereabout birds will be unflustered on seeing humans, because they are artless to avoid hunting, because none kills them, and you may savour them because those birds will be best and burley, similar to ghee-gobs. “Oh, Rama in that Pampa Lake there are best fishes, red-carps, and blunt-snouted small porpoises, and a sort of sprats, which are neither scraggy, nor with many fish-bones. Lakshmana will reverentially offer them to you on skewering them with arrow, and on broiling them on iron rod of arrow after descaling and de-finning them. While you eat those fishes to satiety, Lakshmana will offer you the water of Pampa Lake, which will be in the bunches of flowers of that lake, and which will be lotus-scented, pellucid, comfortably cool, shiny like silver and crystal, uncontaminated and that way pristine, by lifting it up that water with lotus leaf, making that leaf a stoup-like basin… [3-73-16b, 17, 18a]
Alternative translation: “Not knowing what it is to be killed on those auspicious birds will not be scared of human beings. You both can kill those birds and eat those fat birds that are comparable to balls of butter-fat. Rama! There in the Pampa Lakshmana, by charging an arrow at the best of fish with a single bone, prawns and big fish crooked bodied fish, removing their skin and wings, piercing through skewers made of iron, cook and offer them with devotion. While you are delightedly eating fish Lakshmana can fetch you water in a lotus leaf from the Pampa tank. The waters of Pampa has a scent of lotuses being full of lotus, It is enjoyable, cool, healthy and crystal clearlike silver.”
Verses that show Rama killed animals for ceremonies
Ayodhya Kanda 2-56-21/28 [Purifactory ceremony]
ताम् निष्ठताम् बद्धकटाम् दृष्ट्वा रमः सुदर्शनाम् |
शुश्रूषमाणम् एक अग्रम् इदम् वचनम् अब्रवीत् || २-५६-२१
ऐणेयम् मांसम् आहृत्य शालाम् यक्ष्यामहे वयम् |
कर्त्व्यम् वास्तुशमनम् सौमित्रे चिरजीवभिः || २-५६-२२
मृगम् हत्वाऽऽनय क्षिप्रम् लक्ष्मणेह शुभेक्षण
कर्तव्यः शास्त्रदृष्टो हि विधिर्दर्ममनुस्मर || २-५६-२३
भ्रातुर्वचन माज्ञाय लक्ष्मणः परवीरहा |
चकार स यथोक्तम् च तम् रामः पुनरब्रवीत् || २-५६-२४
इणेयम् श्रपयस्वैतच्च्चालाम् यक्ष्यमहे वयम् |
त्वरसौम्य मुहूर्तोऽयम् ध्रुवश्च दिवसोऽप्ययम् || २-५६-२५
स लक्ष्मणः कृष्ण मृगम् हत्वा मेध्यम् पतापवान् |
अथ चिक्षेप सौमित्रिः समिद्धे जात वेदसि || २-५६-२६
तम् तु पक्वम् समाज्ञाय निष्टप्तम् चिन्न शोणितम् |
लक्ष्मणः पुरुष व्याघ्रम् अथ राघवम् अब्रवीत् || २-५६-२७
अयम् कृष्णः समाप्त अन्गः शृतः कृष्ण मृगो यथा |
देवता देव सम्काश यजस्व कुशलो हि असि || २-५६-२८
Seeing that hut, which was firmly built and thatched as well as beautiful to look at, Rama spoke the following words to Lakshmana who listened to his command and who was closely attentive to him: “Oh, Lakshmana! Bring the meat of an antelope. We shall perform a purifactory ceremony while entering the house. Which is to be done by those who wish to live long. Oh, large-eyed Lakshmana! Killing the antelope quickly, bring it here. The prescribed rite according to scriptural point of view indeed is to be performed. Keep in mind the sacred obligation.” Lakshmana the slayer of enemies, understanding his brother’s words, acted as instructed. Rama spoke again to Lakshmana as follows: “Oh, gentle brother! Boil this antelope’s meat. We shall worship the leaf-hut. This day and this instant also are of a distinctive character. Be quick.” Then, Lakshmana the strong man and son of Sumitra, killing a holy back antelope, tossed it in an ignited fire. Feeling certain that it is cooked and heated thoroughly with no blood remaining, Lakshmana spoke to Rama the lion among man as follows: “This black antelope, with its complete limbs, has been cooked completely by me. Oh, Rama resembling God! Worship the concerned deity, as you are skilled in that act.”
Alternative translation: Having seen that firmly built good looking, spacious leaf hut with mats tied round the walls. Rama said to Lakshmana who was awaiting further command with attention. O Lakshmana! Those who intend to live for long, should pacify the deity residing over here. Therefore, we shall bring the flesh of black antelope and offer sacrifice at the leaf hut. O Lakshmana!, slay an antelope and bring it here quckly. The rites as prescribed by the scriptures will have to be carried out. You know and recollect that tradition also. Lakshmana who is slayer of enemy heores having understood his brother’s words carried out accordingly. Again Rama said to him. O gentle Lakshmana!, dress this meat. We will offer sacrifice to the presiding deity of this hut. This moment indicates stability. Hasten up. Then, Lakshmana, the valorous son of Sumitra, having killed a black antelope pure enough for a sacrifice, cast it in a well-kindled fire. Having observed that it is well-boiled, drained off the blood and cooked well, thus said Lakshmana to Rama, the best of men. This black antelope with all the limbs is completely and well-cooked. As such O! devine sir, you may offer sacrifice to Vastu devata. You are proficient in doing such acts.
Aranya Kanda 3-68-32/33 [Jatayu’s funderal]
रामो अथ सह सौमित्रिः वनम् यात्वा स वीर्यवान् |
स्थूलान् हत्वा महा रोहीन् अनु तस्तार तम् द्विजम् || ३-६८-३२
रोहि मांसानि च उद्धृत्य पेशी कृत्वा महायशाः |
शकुनाय ददौ रामो रम्ये हरित शाद्वले || ३-६८-३३
Then that resolute Rama on going into forest along with Soumitri hunted a robust-bodied, big Rohi animal, or, Kesari animal, and then he spread sacred grass on ground to place that offering to the deceased soul of that bird. On drawing up the flesh of that Rohi animal and lumping it to gobbets, that highly observant Rama placed those gobbets on pleasant greenish pasturelands as obsequial offerings in respect of that bird Jataayu.
Alternative translation: Then that mighty Rama accompanied by Sowmithri went to the forest and killed a huge deer, brought it and spread it as an offering to the dead Jatayu. Famed Rama brought flesh of deer tearing the skin, made it into balls and laid on lovely grass as an offering to the bird.