Friday, February 18, 2011

Vegetarian and Animal Religious Observances

The sanctity of some places is being maintained with zero negativity as no animals are killed or carcases consumed because religion plays an important role in promoting vegetarianism as has been proved by laws, rules and orders which forbid the consumption of non-vegetarian foods (and alcohol) in and around many prominent Hindu shrines and other places like Jain temples and tirthas in different parts of India. No one objects, but in fact respect and happily implement each and every such ban. 

The most famous Sri Venkateswara Temple at Tirupati (Chittoor district, Andhra Pradesh) promotes vegetarianism by requesting people visiting Tirumala to give due respect by not eating non-vegetarian food, consuming alcohol, wearing flowers, spitting, littering, creating any kind of nuisance and not carrying mobile phones or cameras inside the temple.

Also, in Andhra Pradesh, the Devipuram Tantra ashram (not far from Vizagapatnam) is the only Tantra ashram which is vegetarian.

For the past few years a select group of tantriks have been gathering at the Kamakhya Temple on Nilachal Hill, Guwahati in Assam, on Durga Ashtami and sacrificing instead of humans and animals, effigies made of flour, however, no outsider is allowed to witness the sacrifice.

A campaign launched in 2006 to turn Bodh Gaya (110 kms from Patna, Bihar) into a vegetarian zone is gradually gaining support. It is the place where Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment and preached non-violence towards all living beings.

At Pawapuri in Nalanda District of Bihar, where Lord Mahavir attained salvation, everyone abstains from non-vegetarian food and alcohol. Fishing is prohibited around the Jal Mandir.

Dongargarh (120 kms from Raipur) is a pilgrimage centre where meat and liquor has been banned by the Chhatisgarh state government. Two other temple towns of the state, Rajim and Shivrinarayan, are eagerly awaiting a similar ban.

It was reported in 2010 that the state government had banned animal sacrifice at the Chandrahasini Devi temple in Janjgir-Champa district of Chhatisgarh, but its implementation was difficult.

In 1983 the Municipal Corporation of Delhi imposed a ban on all restaurants serving non-vegetarian food within a hundred metres of a temple and although it was challenged, in 2003 the Delhi High Court upheld the ban, and it is being enforced.

The Jain Bird Hospital opposite the Red Fort of Delhi is owned and run free of charge by the adjoiningDigambar Jain Lal Mandir.

Also at Delhi, no food is allowed to be taken into the Akshardham or Swaminarayan Templecomplex. Pure vegetarian food is available inside.

The Kaal Bhairava temples in places like New Delhi and Varanasi feature statues of dogs. A temple at Channapatna’s Ramanagar District in Karnataka also honours dogs. At the main temple in Khanpur, Patiala, the first bhogs or offerings, have been given to dogs for over 300 years.

Teenage boys no longer bite a piglet to death at Terekol in Goa in celebration of St John’s Baptism. The barbaric custom was permanently stopped in 1989 in response to an appeal made by Beauty Without Cruelty to the Catholic Church.

At Palitana, the sacred city for the Jains, no non-vegetarian food is served or sold as the Gujarat state government has banned it. Also, fishing is banned within 5 kms of holy pilgrimage place of Aryavansh – Shaturanje river of Palitana.

In another move of respect for the Jain religion, in March 2008, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation’s decision to close slaughter houses across the state for nine continuous days during Paryushan was upheld by the Supreme Court. The city has a strong tradition of being shudhdh shakahari – so much so, the world’s first all-vegetarian Pizza Hut opened here.

To commemorate the 2,600th birth anniversary of Lord Mahavir in 2001, Gujarat prohibited cooking, bringing into its buildings and serving non-vegetarian food (including eggs) in all its state guest houses at its Mount Abu, Rajasthan circuit house and the Gujarat Bhavan, New Delhi.

Gujarati vegetarian cuisine is served at local restaurants around the holy places of Girnar, Taranga Hills, Somnath and in Veraval; and only vegetarian Kathiawad food is available at Dwarka in Saurashtra.

All restaurants at Katra, a town in Jammu & Kashmir State that serves as the base camp for the yatra to the holy shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Deviji, provide pure vegetarian food, minus onion and garlic too. Over and above which pilgrims are requested to preserve and uphold the sanctity of the holy place and desist from demanding non-vegetarian meals or alcohol from any outlet.

Jains believe that the tigers living in the Parasnath Temple’s dense cliff forest and shrines near Dhanbad in Jharkhand are vegetarian.

The Karnataka state government has imposed a ban on consumption and sale of non-vegetarian food and liquor around 200 metres radius of the Dattapeetha cave temple in Chikkamagaloor district and boards put up warn the public that if not abided by, a fine of Rs 500 will be imposed. Some other pilgrimage sites in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi have also banned non-vegetarian food and liquor. Since 2004 consumption of non-vegetarian items has been prohibited at the Baba Budangiri shrine. TheVirupaksha temple priests have demanded that the Karanataka Government ban the sale and consumption of non-vegetarian food, alcohol and narcotics within a radius of 3 kms. AtShravanabelagola, one of the most important Jain centres in the world, there is no slaughter house and only vegetarian food is available.

The Lord Ananthapadmanabha (Lord Vishnu) Temple near Mangalore (Karnataka) is reportedly guarded by a vegetarian crocodile which lives in the temple lake. Priests offer it prasadam/naivedyam every morning.

No animals are sacrificed at the Udbur village temple in Mysore district of Karnataka. Beauty Without Cruelty activists convinced the villagers to give up the practice during Sankranti 1998 and since then, they have never sacrificed any animals.

As the town of Guruvayoor, near Thrissur in Kerala revolves around the Sri Krishna Temple, all its restaurants offer only vegetarian food. However, the cruelty of keeping temple elephants can not be excused here, as elsewhere.

In Kerala, about 5,000 Sarpa Kavus, or shrines dedicated to the serpent god, have snakes, lizards and frogs living in the thick foliage of groves adjoining temples owned mainly by Nair and Brahmin families.

Non-vegetarian food is not allowed in the Mata Amitanandamayi Math at Amritapuri, Kollam in Kerala, and Amma advocates vegetarianism. The trust runs vegetarian soup kitchens in the US.

Many of the 600 or so donkeys, made to trek up and down 4 kms carrying mainly jaggery, rice and foodstuffs to the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, used to get exhausted and were left to fend for themselves. However, in November 2010 just before the season began, the Travancore Devaswom Board which is in charge of the temple’s administraton pledged to the Kerala High Court that it would ensure that the donkeys were properly inspected and only if found fit would be allowed to go up, numbered, given medical treatment, and not abandoned by contractors and owners.

In the holy cities of Ujjain (Avantika) and twin towns of Maheshwar and Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh, since 2004 the sale of meat, fish, eggs and liquor is forbidden, except in certain parts of the cities. For some years non-vegetarian food and alcohol has been banned at all declared Hindu religious places in MP. In fact, Madhya Pradesh cuisine is mainly vegetarian.

Non-vegetarian food isn’t allowed in the area of Bawangaja, a Jain pilgrimage centre of MP.

Staple vegetarian food is found in the vicinity of the Sai Baba Sansthan complex at Shirdi, Maharashtra. In fact, the 5-star hotel Sun-’n-Sand and Domino’s Pizza at Shirdi both maintain the sanctity of their location by offering strict vegetarian fare. Pune is the headquarters of the Sadhu Vaswani Mission and they have successfully demanded that slaughter houses be closed on Sadhu Vaswani’s birthday celebrated by the mission as Meatless Day on 25th November. Similarly, Jain religious heads and organisations have successfully demanded that slaughter houses be kept closed onMahaveer Jayanti.

Vegetarian meals are cooked by the disciples at Pune’s Osho Commune, in keeping with Bhagwan Rajneesh’s philosophy.

Around the Jagannath temple at Puri in Odisha, the municipal corporation in 1994 passed legislation to stop the sale and preparation of meat, fish, poultry, eggs, in all restaurants and shops within specific areas around the temple and on certain roads; also playing of non-religious music in public was restricted. Legend has it that the cooking of vegetarian food in the temple kitchen is supervised by the Goddess Lakshmi. In fact, in order to restore the purity of the city, the importance of maintaining vegetarianism is being created on an on-going basis through small public meetings, the response for which has been encouraging.

At the Konark Temple (65 km from Bhubhaneshwar) typical Oriya food which is basically vegetarian (with rice and vegetables being the chief items) is available.

The Sri Aurobindo Ashram at Auroville, Puducherry, serves vegetarian dishes, most of which are made from vegetables grown on its farm.

Some minority sects of Sikhs like the Namdharis are strict vegetarians. The Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, forbids the consumption of non-vegetarian food or any intoxicant (opium, liquor or tobacco) within its periphery. The Sikhs are famous for their langars or free community vegetarian-only meals dished out from all Gurudwaras and at gatherings on their festivals. Similarly, the Radha Soami Satsang Beas, headquartered at Dera Baba Jaimal Singh near the river Beas is a philosophical organisation based on teachings of all religions which promotes a lacto-vegetarian diet, abstinence from intoxicants, a moral way of life and the practice of daily meditation and Surat Shabd yoga. The Dera (Beas ashram) also maintains a langar which operates round the clock and is capable of feeding upto 300,000 visitors three simple and nourishing vegetarian meals a day. In fact, vegetables and fruits are organically grown on more than 1,000 acres by the 6,000 Dera residents who are all vegetarian.

Pushkar (14 kms from Ajmer, Rajasthan) has an unwritten, but well observed rule, of no non-vegetarian food or liquor consumption. (Given the fact that Pushkar draws the most tourists from aboard, it proves that foreigners do not expect or demand to eat meat in India.) It is sad that the leather for the saddles and footwear as well as bone jewellery sold here is of camel origin.

The Rankapur Jain temple in Rajasthan features a carving made out of a single marble rock, depicting 108 snakes’ heads.

The Karni Mata temple at Deshnok village, near Bikaner, Rajasthan, houses thousands of rats. They have been considered sacred for generations.

Shaakambhari Temples are so called because the goddess provides vegetarian food for her devotees. These temples are mainly found in Rajasthan, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.

The Seventh Day Adventists advocate vegetarianism on health grounds – not only flesh but alcohol, tobacco and drugs are also forbidden by their numerous Church run hospitals, educational institutions, etc. across India. Their Southern Asia Division is 40 km from Bengaluru, at Hosur in Tamil Nadu.

Non-vegetarian food is not allowed at the Theosophical Society’s international headquarters at Adyar, Chennai. Mylapore has several old temples, and non-vegetarian food is unavailable in the Brahmin-dominated Mada Veethi area.

Most of the eateries in the temple town of Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu offer typical South Indian vegetarian food. (Ironically, fish and prawns are found in abundance and even exported from Rameshwaram.)

In Uttar Pradesh, the law does not permit a liquor shop to exist within 50 metres of a religious place of worship or educational institution, nor can meat be sold around any shrines. Ayodhya, the birth place of Lord Rama has mainly vegetarian restaurants.

Not far from Mathura in UP and resembling the Taj Mahal, the Jaigurudeo Temple (Naam Yog Sadhna Mandir) prohibits non-vegetarians’ donations.

The food served around the Mahaparinirvana Buddhist temple at Kushinagar in UP has to be pure vegetarian. Vrindavan has a number of restrictions imposed: no non-vegetarian food, smoking, drinking, and no one can enter the temples wearing shoes or having on them any leather objects. The ashrams serve Satvik food. No animal can be slaughtered in Sarnath as the city has no abattoir. On religious grounds, in 1994, the historical pilgrim centre Hastinapur (Hastin = elephant + pura = city) in Meerut district was declared a vegetarian zone.

No one in Rishikesh, Haridwar (Mayapuri) and Muni Ki Reti of Uttarakhand state can consume non-vegetarian items. In 2004 the Supreme Court upheld a notification issued by the Rishikesh Municipal Board banning the sale of eggs on the grounds that the Board had only added eggs to the list of already banned non-vegetarian food articles like meat and fish which no one had till then challenged. The court held the view that it was desirable that the inhabitants and pilgrims observe vegetarianism and went on to say that “it is a matter of common knowledge that members of several communities in India are strictly vegetarian and shun meat, fish and eggs. In the three towns people mostly assemble for spiritual attainment and religious practices. Maintenance of clean and congenial atmosphere in all the religious places is in common interest. Peculiar culture of the three towns justifies complete restriction on trade and dealing in non-vegetarian items including eggs within the municipal limits.” Moreover, on the yatra route to these places, no shops are allowed to sell non-vegetarian items or liquor.

All hotels, guest houses, restaurants and eateries located at the holy places of Badrinath, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Gangotri close to the Indo-Tibetan boarder in the state of Uttaranchal, serve pure vegetarian food and consumption of non-vegetarian and alcohol is strictly prohibited.

Unlike other Kali temples, animals are not sacrificed at the Dakshineshwar Temple, near Kolkata. Symbolic bali, the ritual sacrifice of white pumpkins, sugarcane and bananas is gradually becoming more frequent, replacing animal sacrifices. Sandhi Puja for the Goddess Durga on Maha Ashtami and during Navami Puja at the Ramakrishna Math and Mission at Belur has always been conducted without animal sacrifice.

The Islamic Jahar Peer (Gogaji), and Hindu serpent deities like Manasa and Jory, are worshipped to prevent or cure snake-bites. Aranyani is the goddess of forests and wildlife. Hanuman is the monkey-god. The mouse is worshipped as Lord Ganesha’s vehicle, and Lord Ganesha himself is depicted as an elephant. The cow is sacred to Lord Krishna’s devotees.

Lastly, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON), Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living and other spiritual institutions’ gurus like Dada J P Vaswani of the Sadhu Vaswani Mission, Sri Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi, and Morari Bapu famous for his Ram Kathas have always extolled the benefits of a vegetarian diet among their devotees. Vegetarianism is also preached by Baba Ramdev who also recommends it for those who practice yoga – in fact, it is mandatory for the practice of hata yoga. 


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