ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Humans and animals in the Mahābhārata (XIII.114-117): The Law of non-Violence (ahiṃsā)


Scarabel Anna - Heidelberg Universität - SAI, Cultural and Religious History of South Asia, Heidelberg, Germany


17 – More Than Human: Animal-Human Relations in Pre-Modern South Asia


 In this paper, I will outline the discourse on vegetarianism as it is presented in the adhyāyas 114-117 of the Anuśāsanaparvan, the 13th book of the Mahābhārata. This text overall frowns upon the eating of animal meat and glorifies non-violence (ahiṃsā) as the uppermost dharma. Still, this conception is widely analyzed in its practical, spiritual and ethical perspectives, but also variously conceived according to different types of audience. For instance, those walking on a spiritual path not only avoid meat because of ethical reasons, but also because relishing animal flesh would generate a constant craving in their minds, thus creating an obstacle for their coveted control over the senses. On the other hand, those who are rather engaged in an active life and have no propensity towards contemplative worlds, are still strongly advised to follow a vegetarian diet, as this will lead them to the enjoyment of every sort of rewards in this and the next lives. Alongside this, the text contemplates a few illustrious exceptions to the ban on meat eating: meat consecrated in the Vedic sacrifices and that which is provided by warrior hunters.

In sum, this paper will present the Mahābhārata’s perspective on vegetarianism as one of the most noble expressions of non-violence (ahiṃsā), and thus analyze the relation between humans and animal eating.