The Myth of the Holy Cow by D.N.Jha published by Verso, London, 2002 is the most damaging book in its contents since the sole intention of the author has been to prove that all ancient Hindu scriptures particularly the Vedas and Shatpath Brahmana etc. uphold beef-eating and this has been the way of life of the Aryans who were our ancestors since the term Hindu came to be introduced much later. The author has cited references from the Vedas, Brahmanas, Upnishads etc. to prove his thesis which perhaps he chose to be the sole mission of his life even though he comes from a Brahamin family and he has dedicated his so called prestigious book to his kin in Rajrani (a symbol of motherhood). Aryans revered cow as a mother and it is really an irony that a son of Bharat has taken immense pains to prove something which is far from truth and also it injures the sentiments of millions of Hindus and in order to demolish his thesis an effort is being hereby made to trace each and every reference cited by him in the book and reveal the truth and nothing but the truth. To commence with, citations quoted from the Rgveda are being dealt with beginning from the very first Mandala of Rigveda.
It is beyond any doubt that the conclusions drawn by Mr. Jha are based on wrong interpretations and the misleading commentaries by the western scholars and also the works of Indian scholars who got patronage of the British rulers. Role of such scholars and their mission to erase our heritage was under a well planned scheme to mould the Indian mind into the western thought and culture and create conditions to cast off our past. Their mission was to spread Christianity and the major players were Macauley and Max Muller and their correspondence and writings* will substantiate this submission. Hereby it will also be revealed that these western scholars could not derive the right and intended spirit of our ancient Rishis and have erred immensely. In the realm of the Vedic interpretation, we owe debt to Swami Dayanand Saraswati(1825-1883), the founder of Aryasamaj who took us back to the Vedas. His commentaries were based on the Nighantu and Yaska’s Nirukta and he thought deep and delved deep to arrive at the rightful adhyatmik and yogic spirit of the mantras. The opinion of a great saint-philosopher Sri Aurobindo Ghosh will be the most pertinent to quote in this regard. “In the matter of Vedic interpretation I am convinced that whatever may be the final complete interpretation, Dayananda will be honoured as the first discoverer of the right clues. Amidst the chaos and obscurity of old ignorance and age long misunderstanding his was the eye of direct vision that pierced to the truth and fastened on that which was essential. He had found the keys of the doors that time had closed and rent asunder the seals of the imprisoned fountains”. AT THIS STAGE IT IS DESIRABLE THAT WE APPROACH THIS IMPORTANT ASPECT TO ENDORSE AND ACCEPT THE RIGHTFUL INTERPRETAIONS INSTEAD OF CLINGING TO DEFECTIVE LITERAL TRANSLATIONS OF THE VEDAS WHICH ARE REVELATIONS BY THE ALMIGHTY GOD WHO BLESSED US WITH THIS DIVINE KNOWLEDGE TO GUIDE OUR PATH SINCE THE VEDIC REVELATION WAS SYNCHRONOUS WITH MAN’S FIRST APPEARANCE ON EARTH. How can our creator prescribe offerings of his own creatures? After independence, this aspect should have received due attention but it is sad that this remained untapped and even the Sanskrit language came under cloud when a Rajya Sabha nominated Christian member Frank Anthony introduced a bill to drop this sacred language from the eighth schedule of languages enshrined in the Indian constitution in 1977. There is no doubt that some Western scholars did an appreciable job to introduce the Vedas to the outside world which inspired the scholars to learn Sanskrit to benefit from the treasure of wisdom of Vedic Rishis but unfortunately, it followed a wrong path without application of their inner mind or intellect as was done by the devoted disciple of Swami Virajanand who was actually blind of eyes but he imparted such vision and deep knowledge to Dayanand that he clung to the soul and spirit of the Vedas and it is our bounden duty to follow this path to understand the sacred words of God which can never be wrong and are ever infallible.
In the context of the commentary/translation of the Vedas by Max Muller, it will be relevant to point out the opinion of Mr. Boulanger, the editor of Russian edition of The Sacred Books of the East Series as follows:
“What struck me in Max Mullar’s translation was a lot of absurdities, obscene passages and a lot of what is not lucid”.
“As far as I can grab the teaching of the Vedas, it is so sublime that I would look upon it as a crime on my part, if the Russian public becomes acquainted with it through the medium of a confused and distorted translation, thus not deriving for its soul that benefit which this teaching should give to the people”.
In his book ‘Vedic Hymns’, Max Muller himself says “My translation of the Vedas is conjectural”.
HEREUNDER the glaring difference in substance and the spirit of the cited Suktas 162 and 163 of the first Mandala of Rigveda is illustrated to establish that misinterpretation is at the root of this problem. Each Sukta has its risi and devata; risi depicts ‘drashta’ whereas devata depicts the subject matter which facilitates the understanding of the mantras under respective Sukta.
Name of risi Name of devata
Deerghatama Mitradyo Lingokta (As per Sw.Dayanand)
Deerghatama Ashav-stuti (As per translation of HH Wilson)
Name of risi Name of devata
Deerghatama Ashvo-agnirdevta (As per Sw.Dayanand)
Deerghatama Ribhuganh (As per translation of HH Wilson)
The above implies that both the Suktas are in glorification of the horse but our Western enthusiasts and Mr.Jha along with his Indian ideals have even ignored the very basic lead and gone for crucification of the spirit of mantras which is left to your esteemed judgement.
Sukta 162 has 22 mantras while Sukta 163 has 13 mantras. Mr. Jha states that in the ashvamedha(horse sacrifice),the most important of the Vedic public sacrifices,first referred to in the Rigveda in the afore-stated Suktas (p.31 of his book).
Sukta 162 in fact deals with the science of applying horse power (automation) of the fire pervading in the form of energy.
No mantra supports sacrifice of horses. Of course the first mantra has been translated by Max Muller in a wrong manner as follows:
“May Mitra,Varuna,Aryaman,Ayush,Indra,the Lord of Ribhus and the Maruta not rebuke us because we shall proclaim at the sacrifice virtues of the swift horse sprung from the god”.(from History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature). Similarly H.H.Wilson in his translation based on the commentary of Sayanacarya states as follows:
“Let neither Mitra nor Varuna,Aryaman,Ayu,Indra,Ribhukshin,nor the Maruts,censure us;when was proclaim in the sacrifice the virtues of the swift horse sprung from the gods”.
Transliterated version of this mantra is given below:
Ma no mitro varuno arymayurindro ribhuksha marutah parikhyan Yadvajino devajatasya sapteh pravakshyamo vidathe veeryani
Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati in his Hindi commentary has rendered the translation as follows:
We the performers of yajna in all seasons (vidathe) in the battle field (yat) whose (vajinah) stormy (devajatasya) learned men and borne out of the divine virtues (sapte) of the horse (veeryani) unique performances (pravakshyamah) we shall describe (nah) the daring performances of our horses (mitrah) friend (varunah) sublime (aryama) the deliverer of justice (ayuh) the knower (indrah) the all-elivated or aishvaryavan (ribhuksha) intelligent and (marutah) priests (ma, pari,khyan) should never disregard these properties.
To easily grasp the spirit of mantra the following translation will be helpful.
We shall describe here the energy generating virtues of the powerful horses(planets),added with brilliant properties of the vigorous force of heat. The learned never dispute these properties.
There is vast difference in the above quoted translations.Obviously the wrong seeds were sown by Sayan and Mahidhar who were the ideals adopted by the western scholars, namely Max Muller, Griffith , Wilson etc. Sw.Dayanand Saraswati in his book “An Introduction to the Vedas” has adversely criticised on the commentaries of Sayan and Mahidhar in context of some of their interpretations of the Vedic hymns. They could be held responsile for the horrible and horried interpretations which suggest as if the Vedas were the texts to lay down the modes of sacrifices. Is it not a tragedy for the Dharamacharyas/Sanskrit scholars of this country that they also could not pursue the path shown by Dayanand and got bogged down only in the rituals of worship in the temples and no attention was paid to the sources of knowledge which were the guiding principles of Aryans, our worthy ancestors and sons of the mother India (Aryavrat) as the Vedas proclaimed man as ‘amritasya putras’ and we need to follow this path if we want to be proud of our heritage and hold our head high or otherwise we are going to be labelled with the legacy of butchers and animal killers who desired to please different gods by various sacrifices performed in the yajnas.
Eighth mantra of this Sukta is translated as follows:
The fleet of horses is controlled by holding of bridles and saddles placed thereon. To make them strong,the grass and cereals are fed to them. Likewise,the learned people control and regulate their power of senses and taking nourishing diet.
Wilson’s translation is as follows:
May the halter and the heel-ropes of the fleet courser, and the head-ropes, the girths, and any other (part of the harness); and the grass that has been put into his mouth; may all these be with you,(horse),amongst the gods. (THIS IS NOTHING BUT LITERAL AND MECHANICAL TRANSLATON BEREFT OF THE SUBSTANCE & SPIRIT OF THE MANTRA)
Ninth mantra again was again wrongly interpreted by Max Muller,Wilson and Griffith to translate the word ’kravishah’ as the flesh. It is an adjective of ‘ashvasya’ and derived from kramu-padavikshepe. Hence it means ‘ the pacing horse’ and not of the flesh. ‘shamituh’ has been translated by Prof. Max Muller and Wilson as of the immolator. Griffith has translated it as ‘of a slayer’. But etymologically ‘sam-alochne’ means ‘to look at’ (with love and peace) and should mean ‘ a person who looks at the living beings with love and peace and not slayer’.
Twelfth mantra emphasizes on the qualities of the warrior and its translation is as follows:
They who crave for the meat of a horse and declare the horse fit to be killed should be exterminated. Those who keep the fast horse well trained and disciplined deserve to be praised by us for the strength of their character and perseverance. (IT CLEARLY DEMOLISHES THE THESIS OF JHA AND PROVES THAT HE HAS MERELY QUOTED CITATIONS AND HARDLY CARED TO LOOK AT THE ACTUAL TEXT BUT INSPIRED BY THE FOLLOWING TRANSLATION OF WILSON):
“Let their exertions be for our good who watch the cooking of the horse; who say, it is fragrant; therefore give us some: who solicit the flesh of the horse as alms”. (WHAT AN IMMENSE DAMAGE TO THE SPIRIT OF THE MANTRA).
Mantras 13 to 19 deal with the theme of horse or automation power while 20 to 22 are devoted to the benefits of Yoga exercises and an ideal life.
This Sukta deals with various attributes of learned person, agni, science & technology. There are references to the horse to illustrate its unique qualities of its immense energy likened to agni (fire), intelligence, bravery and inbuilt attributes which are at par with those of the men of wisdom. Perusal of some mantras will bring home this point.
First mantra includes or rather ends with ‘arvan’ and this word denotes as per Yv 29.12 vigyanvan athva ashvaiv veguvan vidvan=O learned person active like the horse.
Second mantra includes the term ‘surat ashvam’ which means the fast moving agni i.e the fire which enables a speedy locomotion.
Third mantra includes the term ‘adityah arvan’ and here it means the sun which is all pervading. ‘arvan’means sarvatrapraptah=pervading all. This term was wrongly translated by Prof. Wilson , Griffith and others, while both admit in the notes that Yama means Agni, Aditya-Sun and Trita-Vayu. How can horse be identified with Agni (fire) sun and the air etc.none has cared to justify. To take ‘arva’ for agni, there is the clear authority of the Taittiriya Brahmana.(I.36,4).
Fourth mantra includes the word ‘arvan’ where it is used to mean the learned and wise people.
Eighth mantra includes the word ‘arvan’ through which the mighty and active person has been likened to the horse who bears such characteristics.
Ninth mantra includes the word ‘arvantam’ which means vegavantam agnim ashvam=the rapid horse in the form of Agni (fire, electricity etc.)
Tenth mantra includes the word ‘ashva’ where it means the bright swift horses in the form of fire, air, water etc.
Eleventh mantra includes the word ‘arvan’ and the following translation of this mantra will endorse our stand that the unique qualities of the horse are emphasized in Sukta-163:
“O brave person! You are active like a horse, your body is like a swift vehicle, your mind is like the wind in motion. Your sublime actions are initiated from the proper use of fire and electricity. These are spread in all directions like the hoary creatures in the forests”. One can see that this mantra is in praise of highly skilled technicians.
Wilson’s translation reads as follows:
“Your body, horse, is made for motion , your mind is rapid (in intention ) as the wind: the hairs (of your mane) are tossed in manifold directions; and spread beautiful in the forests”.(ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF MECHANICAL TRANSLATION)
Twelfth mantra includes the term ’vajyarva’ which means agni swift(vegavan) like a horse and here in this mantra use of agni is highlighted.
Thirteenth and the last mantra of this Sukta contains the word ‘arvan’ where it means agnyadashvan= horses in the form of fire, electricity etc.
ASVAMEDHA has been translated as horse sacrifice as referred above by Jha and the conclusions drawn accordingly and this has been the root cause of varied wrong interpretations and in order to illustrate its scope and meaning the following is stated:
At the sight of words ‘asvamedha,gomedha,purushmedha,ajmedha’ there ia general tendency to interpret it to denote as hinsa/sacrifice/killing. ‘medha’ word’s verb or dhatu is ‘medhri’. ‘medhrisangame hinsayam cha’ i.e. to enhance pure intellect , to inculcate love and integration among the people and also hinsa i.e killing (this dhatu conveys these three meanings).But it does not always mean killing or sacrifice and in Sanskrit no literal translation will do where a particular word carries varied meanings and it has to be applied judiciously and thoughtfully keeping in view the context of the text. The words ‘purushmedha’ and ‘nriyajna’ are synonyms. In manusmriti the word ‘nriyajna’ has been defined as’nriyajnoatithipoojanam’ (manusmriti -3.70) it means the pooja or honour of the guests. If we take the meaning of the root ‘medhri’ as sangamanarth it will come to be interpreted as to organize the people for virtuous deeds or to enhance the love and equanimity among them i.e. it would be ‘nriyajna’or ‘purushmedh’. It may be pertinent to mention here that ‘nrimedha’ is a rishi of some vedic hymns of Samveda. It can never mean the one who kills or sacrifices the human beings. Consequently, the terms followed by medha always do not signify killing/sacrifice and therefore the interpretations made by the Western scholars are utterly wrong and unacceptable.
In Shatpath Brahmana (13.1.6) it is stated “Rashtram va asvamedhah” i.e. Asvamedha means to manage or run the affairs of the rashtra (country) in a befitting manner.
In the Shantiparva of Mahabharata (3.336) there is mention of asvamedha of the king Vasu in which numerous rishis and learned men participated.In this context it is clearly mentioned “n tatra pashughato-abhoot” i.e. there was no killing of any animal. Further in this Parva at 3.327, the following is stated in context with ‘ajamedh’:
Ajairyajneshu yashtavyamiti vai vaidiki shruti Ajasanjnani beejani chhaganno hantumarhatha Naishah dharmah satam devah yatra vadhyeta vai pashuh
It means that whenever it is stated to use aja for performance of yajna, it means the seeds called ‘aja’ have to be used. Here it does not mean a goat. It is not proper to kill goats and it does not behove the virtuous people to indulge in killing of the animals.
Sw.Dayanand Saraswati in his book “An introduction to the Vedas” at p.448-449 states that God is Jamadagni i.e. Ashvamedha. An empire is like a horse and the subjects like other inferior animals. As other animals,the strength, so the subjects are weaker than the state assembly. The glory and splendour of an empire consists in wealth,gold etc. and in administration of justice”.(Shatpath Brahmana: XIII.2.2.14-17) It is further stated that God’s name is Ashva also,because , He pervades the whole universe (Ashva comes from the root ‘Ash’ which means to pervade).
The above derivations call for our cautious approach and take upon ourselves the task of removing the mist caused by misinterpretations to see the truth which can be one and only one and feel proud of our heritage.
(The author expresses his gratitude to Shri Bharat Bhushan Vidyalankar for his guidance,encouragement and valuable suggestions in compilation of the write-up)
Dayanand Saraswati. An introduction to the Vedas ; translated from the original Sanskrit by Ghasi Ram. 3rd edn. Delhi,Sarvadeshik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha,1998.
Bharat Bhushan Vidyalankar. Vedon ke sambandh men bharant dharnayen -mss. Delhi,2002. 11pp.
Rgveda Samhita with English translation by Swami Satya Prakash Sarasvati and Satyakam Vidyalankar. Delhi,Veda Pratishthana,1977.
The Rigveda with Maharishi Dayanda Saraswati’s Commentary. Translated into English by Acharya Dharam Dev Vidya Martanda. Delhi,Sarvadeshik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha,1974.
Rgveda: Hindi Bhashya -pratham mandal by Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati. Delhi,Sarvdeshik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha,1972.
Rgveda Samhita:Sanskrit text,English translation and notes according to translation of H.H.Wilson and Bhasya of Sayanacarya edited and revised with exhaustive introduction and notes by Ravi Prakash Arya and K.L.Joshi. Delhi,Parimal Publications,1997. 4 vols.
Vidyanand Saraswati. Aaryon ka aadi desh aur unki sabhyata. Delhi,Arya Prakashan,2002
ANNEXURE: The synopsis on the jacket of the book entitled ‘The myth of the holy cow’ by D.N.Jha reads as follows: “The growth of religious fundamentalism in India is symbolized by the existence of a BJP government committed to the Hindutva. There is growing pressure to declare the cow a sacred, national animal and to ban its slaughter. The Myth of the Holy Cow is an illuminating response to this crazed confessionalism. It challenges obscurantist views on the sanctity of the cow in Hindu tradition and Culture. Dwijendra Narayan Jha, a leading Indian historian, argues that beef eating played an important part in the cuisine of ancient India, long before the birth of Islam. It was very much a feature of the approved Brahamanical and Buddhist diet. The evidence he produces from a variety of religious and secular texts is compelling. His opponents, including the current government of India and the fundamentalist groups backing it, have demanded that the book should be ritually burned in public. It has already been banned by the Hyderabad Civil Court and the author’s life has been threatened”.
[This article has also been published in the journal namely, “Vedic Science” in the issue dated July-Sept.Vol.4,No.3(20002) and is also placed on the website www.love4cow.com]