Hinduism grew up in a land where food was in plentiful supply of meat and vegetables. Originally, the Hindus were omnivores, like most others of their time. If we read the histories and legends of the ancients, we find that hunting was a popular sport and meat was occasionally offered in the sacrificial rites aswell.
In about 500
BC, Buddhists and Jains preached non-violence and vegetarianism with a new zeal.
To distinguish themselves from Hindus, they opposed the Vedas and the
sacrificial rites that it endorsed. They reasoned that a sacrifice in
which animals are slaughtered cannot possibly bring peace spiritual or otherwise.
One of the
main things that has helped Hinduism survive the passage of time, is its ability to learn
from others and integrate the best practices from those it comes in to contact.
From Jainism and Buddhism, Hindus learned the positive aspects of
vegetarianism. India, being a land where agriculture was easy, the idea
of living on a vegetarian diet became popular. Gradually, in Vedic
rituals, animal sacrifice was replaced by purely vegetarian alternatives.
Due to its vastly varied climate, India grows a huge variety of foods. These were used to create a huge number of vegetarian dishes, so varied and wonderful as never to be boring. As India is the home of some of the best spices, these foods were wonderfully flavoured. Over time we have found alternatives to a meat diet and all the various proteins and vitamins needed in a balanced diet are present in our foods.
However, not all Hindus are vegetarian.
Those who live in costal areas or in the vast river deltas of the Ganges and Brhamaputra eat fish as it is still their staple diet.
Those from warrior / rajput caste eat meat as a matter of course.
People from lower castes have very few religious injunctions on them and eat meat when they can.
Those Hindus who moved to Africa, Trinidad, Fiji, Europe, USA etc often had restricted access to vegitarian food in the early years. Once the pioneet generation began eating meat, some of them found it hard to revert to vegetarian diet even when it was possible in later year.
A little known fact is, chilly, synonymous with Indian foods, was only introduced to India after its discovery in the Americas by the Portuguese. Previously, black pepper was used to make food hot. Portuguese introduced many new foods from the New World to India, including the humble potato and chillies of various variety. Indian food has never been the same since !
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