In Vedas the word aghnya has been used time and again to refer to cows. Nirukta explains aghnya to mean “one that does not deserve to be killed.”
Apropos the current contrived controversy claiming that the Vedas permit beef-eating, and even call for slaughter of cows and bulls, two important points need to be borne in mind. Firstly, as the late Dr SB Varnekar, an eminent Sanskritist, once told this writer, a remarkable feature of the Sanskrit language is that its richness lies in one word having many meanings and one meaning may be denoted by many words, arid consequently the appropriate meaning of a particular word would depend on the context in which it is used. And secondly, the controversy whipped up regarding Vedic beef-eating has its origin in the murky politics of the British Raj.
Two Basic things never to be forgotten on this subject are: Firstly, that Vedas are supreme among all Hindu scriptures; and, secondly, in Vedas the word aghnya has been used time and again to refer to cows. Nirukta (VI. 43) explains aghnya to mean “one that does not deserve to be killed.” There are at least 16 Vedic richas in which aghnya has been used for cows. Some of the Rig Vedic richas in which the word aghnya meaning cows appear are (1.164.27), (1.164.40), (IV.1.6), (V.83.8), (VII.68.9) (VII.69.2) (IX.1.9), (IX.93.3) and (X.87.16). In Atharva Veda (AV) there are many richas containing the word aghnyai for cows, such as (III.30.1), (VII.3.15), (IX.4.2), (IX.4.4) (IX.4.17), (IX.5.19) and (XVIII.3.4), etc. 8 richas of RV (VI.28) are devoted to cows as devata (deity). 26 richas of Atharva Veda (IX.7) are devoted to worship of cows, and 24 to worship of bull (rishabh) as a deity. Rig Veda (RV) (VII.101.15) more specifically commands not to kill a cow. HH Wilson, Arya and Joshi thus translate RV (VII.101.15) “(She who is) the mother of the Rudras, the daughter of the Vasus, the sister of the Adityas, the home of ambrosia (amrita)—I have spoken to men of understanding—kill not her, the sinless inviolate cow.” Other 4 richas that command not to kill, not to harm cows are (VI.28.3,4,7) and (VII.101.16). AA MacDonell wrote in his A History of Sanskrit Literature that when in a Soma sacrifice the priests add milk to Soma the sound made by the Soma juice flowing into vats or bowls is often referred to in hyperbolic language. In such passages Soma is commonly compared with or called a bull, and the waters, with or without milk, are termed cows. Atharva Veda clarifies that in Vedic Samhitas names of material used in yajna are sometimes names of animals AV (XVIII.4.32-33-34). WD Whitney thus translates AV (XVIII.4.32): “The grains became a milch-cow; the sesame became her calf:” So, when grain and sesame are to be offered into fire, it does not mean push cows and calves into fire.
Allegations of fat of cows and pigs being used in cartridges sparked off the 1857 rebellion against the British government by Bharateeya soldiers in the British Army. So from 1857 onwards the British imperialist interests began to find ways to lower reverence that Hindus have for Veda and the cow. The British started renting European and Bharateeya “scholars” to invent evidence of beef-eating in Vedas. In his voluminous book Vachaspatyam, Pt Taranath, a Grammar professor of Calcutta Sanskrit College, has written Goghn ga hanta han : gohantari, which means ‘killer of a cow.’ Vachaspatyam is a huge Sanskrit-to-Sanskrit dictionary still being used HH Swami Prakashanand Saraswati in his book The True History and Religion of India (page-274) explains that goghn means the donee guest who receives a cow as gift. Panini formed a special sutra (3/4/73) Dashgoghn Sampradene for this purpose, which means that the words Dash and goghe represent the receiver of the charity. Thus Panini established the correct meaning of the Vedic word goghna by specially making a rule that the word ‘goghn’ shall only mean the receiver of a cow. But Pt. Taranath overruled the supreme authority of Panini!
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Why did Taranath do so? For monetary considerations! Swami Saraswati reveals that in 1866 Pt. Taranath was given an advance commitment in writing by the then British Government of Bengal (Letter No. 507 dt. 26th January 1866, Fort Wiliam) to purchase 200 copies of his books @ Rs. 50/- per copy aggregating Rs. 10,000/- after the Sanskrit Dictionary was complete. Pt. Taranath was thus assured Rs. 10,000/- from the British Government, which at present-day market-value will be more than Rs. 20 lakh. In 1847 the East India Company also agreed to pay £200 per annum to Max Muller for translation of Vedas etc @ £4 per sheet. In 1853 the annual salary of a male teacher in Britain was £90 and that of a lady teacher was only £60.
In his article Paradox of the Indian Cow Prof AN Jha writes: “A guest, therefore, came to be described by Panini as a goghna (one for whom the cow is slain).” This meaning of goghna, as seen above, is not by Panini but by Pt Taranath hired by the British for Rs. 10,000 in 1866. Prof Jha writes: “The thick fat of the cow was used to cover the dead body [RV (X.14-18)] and a bull was burnt along with the corpse to enable the departed to ride with in the nether world. The funerary rights included feeding of the Brahmins after the prescribed period and quite often the flesh of cow or ox was offered to the dead (AV – X II.2.48).” But from RV (X.18) there are 72 richas in the HH Wilson book, and Prof. Jha has not specified which richa he has in mind in asserting that the dead body was covered by the thick fat of a cow. However, if he had RV (X.18.12) in mind, this richa in its Sanskrit text has the word ghrit which everybody knows is not “thick fat of the cow.” Butter (ghrit) and tallow (fat of cow) are two different things. Butter is obtained from milk of live cows but tallow is obtained after death/slaughter of cattle. Ghrit is obtained after heating butter. So what foreigners like Wilson and Dr Wendy call ghee/butter Prof Jha, being a Bharateeya, calls “thick fat of cow” (implying tallow to have been obtained after slaughtering of cows). Richa (X.16.7) not quoted by Dr Jha but quoted in (www.allaahuakbar.net) is recited at funeral pyre. Dr Wendy O’Flaherty in her The Rig Veda explains (page 51) that in this richa skin of a dead cow is mentioned to cover the corpse as armour/shield against fire, while the corpse would be anointed with fat and suet (ghrit). In richa (X.91.14) horses, bulls, cows, sheep are being gifted to the ordainer of the rites (the priest conducting yajna). Griffith translates (X.91.15): “Into thy mouth is poured the offerings, Agni, as Soma into cup, oil into ladle.” So actual offering to Agni are Soma and oil, not animals.
The Islamic website (www.allahuakbar.net) claims that Rig Veda Sukta (X.85) mentions that during marriage ceremony guests are fed with meat. It asserts: “In Magha days are oxen slain, in Arjuni they wed the bride”…. This site quotes a book The Vedic Age by
Dr VM Apte (page 387) saying that on the occasion of marriage guests were served with beef of the cow slaughtered for the purpose (RV : X.85.13). But Wilson translates RV (X.85.13) thus: “Surya's bridal procession which Savita dispatched has advanced; the oxen are whipped along in the Magha (constellations); she is borne (to her husband’s house) in the Arjuni (constellation).” There is no cow/ox slaughter in (X.85.13); only the oxen yoked in bullock-carts are being whipped. Allahuakbar.net says Atharva Veda (IX.4.37-38-39) says cow's meat is most tasty of all foods. But in WD Whitney's translation Atharva Veda (IX.4) has only 24 richas and Atharva Veda (IX 4) has 26 richas.
Some people say that in the therapeutic section of Charak Samhita the flesh of cow is prescribed as a medicine for various diseases, implying that cow slaughter and beef eating were sanctioned. The use of the flesh of a cow in Charak Samhita does not necessarily mean an open general license (OGL) for cow-slaughter, as flesh of a dead cow is always available for preparing medicine. There is no ban on collecting fat from dead cows.
Prof. Jha in his article cites many secondary sources like Taittiriya Brahmana, Shatapath Brahmana, Grihya Dharmasustra, Manusmriti, Yajnavlkyasutra to supersede the ban on cow slaughter (aghnya) imposed by Vedas, the primary source. Prof Romila Thapar (Hindustan Times, 9th December, 2001) also says that Shatapath Brahmana (184.108.40.206) and Vasistha Dharmasutra (4.8) and others mention honouring guests with serving beef. But AA MacDonnell in his book A history of Sanskrit Literature (page 91) has written that Shatapath Brahmana emphasises evil consequences of beef-eating. Such quotations by Jha and Thapar are self-defeating like attempts to supersede the Constitution of Bharat by commentaries on the Constitution, or attempts to override decisions of the Supreme Court of Bharat by opinions of private munsifs. These historians commit a blunder: firstly, placing Vedas, the primary source, on par with secondary sources (Brahmanas, Manusmriti, Grihya-sutras, etc) and, secondly, superseding the primary source by secondary sources. Secondary sources cannot supersede the primary source. It is the simple law of Jurisprudence.
Sudhakar Raje (The writer is a renowned columnist)