Did Lord Ram eat Meat?
By Swami Abayananda Tirtha
Dr Zakir naik and his colleagues at the IRF believe so. Dr. Shuaib Sayyed, Research Manager, Islam and Comparative Religion, (IRF) says, “It is mentioned in Ayodhya Khandam chapter 20, 26 and 94 that when Rama was sent for Banavas he told his mother that he would have to sacrifice his tasty meat dishes. If Rama had to sacrifice his tasty meat dishes, it means that Rama had meat. If Rama can have meat, why can’t the Hindus have meat? … Sita asked Rama to kill the buck (deer)…What will Sita do with a dead pet? The only logical answer is that she wanted to have the meat of the buck. If Rama and Sita can have meat then why can’t the other Hindus have meat?” Let us examine if these allegations have any truth.
Valmiki Ramayana, the original narration of Ramayana, has a total of 537 chapters, and over 24,000 verses, arranged into six kandas, or books. There are only two references to meat, and over a hundred references to vegetarian diet. The Ayodhya Kanda has 119 chapters. Chapter 20 describes Mother Kaushalya’s grievous lamentation on hearing from her son Rama, that He has been banished to the forest. Rama tells her in verse 29, “I shall live in a solitary forest like a sage for fourteen years, avoiding meat and living with roots, fruits and honey”. Can we validly infer from this that Lord Rama ate meat while in Ayodhya, and now He promises to avoid it in the forest? The exact words used are ‘hitva aamishham’. ‘aamisham’ refers to meat and ‘hitva’ refers to ‘disregarding’ or ‘with the exception of’ (Monnier Williams dictionary). Traditionally, in Vedic culture, when a son leaves home to go to distant lands, he reassures his parents, that he would abide by strict moral codes and never deviate from the religious principles. Say a student promises his parents when going to stay in the hostel, “I won’t drink alcohol while in the hostel.” Does this mean that he is drinking it while at home? Obviously not. Similarly it’s in this mood that Lord Rama assures His mother that he wouldn’t stoop low. In Chapter 26 Lord Rama tells Mother Sita of His decision to go to forest and instructs her to stay at Ayodhya. There is no reference to any eating- meat or otherwise-in any verse of this chapter. Moreover in almost all the verses of chapter 94, (which also Dr. Sayyed quotes), Lord Rama glorifies the various fruits, trees, and flowers at the forest of Chitrakuta, with absolutely no reference to any meat- eating whatsoever.
Did Mother Sita ask Lord Rama to kill the deer? In the third book, Aranya kanda(forest trek),chapter 43, Mother Sita spots the golden deer and asks Lord Rama to fetch it. She asks, “Oh, nobleman’s son, that delightful deer is stealing my heart, oh, dextrous one, bring it round, it will be our plaything.” [3-43-10]. In the next eight verses she rejoices at the prospect of taking the deer back to Ayodhya where the animal will delight all the palace residents. She clarifies that if the deer is to be killed at all (Laksman had earlier warned it to be a demon), then they could use the deerskin as a seat. (3-43-19, 20). The forest dwelling sages used kusa grass and deer skin as seats during the earlier ages when flora and fauna was in abundance. Here again there is not even a hint that Lord Rama or Sita wanted to eat the flesh of the golden deer. In the 36th chapter of sundara kanda (Book of Beauty), Hanuman assures Mother Sita that Lord Rama would cross over the ocean and defeat Ravana. He reveals that although Lord Rama is in great sorrow of separation from Mother Sita, he hasn’t fallen down to intoxicants or meat eating. (verse 41)
‘Mamsa’ has another meaning; the flesh of a fruit. In the South Indian temple town of Srirangam, when priests offer mango to Lord Ranganath, they chant the prayer, “iti aamra mamsa khanda samarpayami” (“I offer mango ‘mamsa’ -mango flesh- for the Lord to eat). Thus even if there are occasional references to ‘mamsa’, we should know it refers to a mango.