The controversy in the Khalsa Panth over being a vegetarian or non-vegetarian
arose due to the difference in the interpretation of the word Kuthha - one of the four
primary taboos or Cardinal Sins for the Sikhs. Before going into the depth of what
"Kuthha' really means, it is imperative to consider the real importance of these taboos in
Sikhism. It is an undisputed fact that any Sikh who commits any one of these four taboos
becomes an apostate. That means he is no longer a Sikh, i.e., he is automatically de-linked
and ex-communicated from the Khalsa Brotherhood, even though he may be considered a
Sikh by society. As a natural corollary, he loses the Grace of the Satguru without which no
progress can be made in achieving the Bliss of Naam-Simran. The four great taboos
prescribed for the Sikhs are, thus, of fundamental importance.
Being of such fundamental importance, the four taboos cannot, obviously, be based upon any temporary contingency of the prevailing circumstances. They must have their own solid basis and foundation, and must be conducive to spiritual upliftment through Naam-Simran, which occupies the pivotal position in the whole edifice of Sikhism. Otherwise, they will lose their applicability in the changed circumstances, especially when their role in the spiritual progress is doubtful or even negative. It is explicit in Gurbani that the principles of Gurmat are unchangeable and of permanent standing:
"Gurmatat Mat Achal Hai Chalaey Na Sakey Koey" (pg. 548)
Obviously, therefore, these four basic taboos formulated by the Tenth Guru must have their own solid base which would stand the stress of all times.
The word Kuthha is generally (or erronously) taken to mean HaIaaI meat i.e. "Meat obtained by the Muslim method of slaying the animal, slowly severing the main blood artery of the throat of the animal, while reciting religious formulae, the main object of slaughtering in this manner being a sacrifice to God to expiate the sins of the slaughterer and its flesh as food being only a secondary object..." The Jhatka method has been described as killing the animal with one stroke of the weapon without exciting fear glands secreting poisons into its bloodstream and without causing harniftil psychic waves to emanate from the animal's mind."
The origin and basis of Halaal method of slaying animals by Muslims may have been sacrificial. However, by the time of the Sikh Gurus, it had just become a "Muslim method" without any consideration of its sacrificial origin. In fact, a separate class of professionals, called butchers, had emerged with the sole purpose of slaying the animals in this way. Thus, through the employment of butchers, the original idea of slaughtering the animal as a "sacrifice to God to expiate the sins of the slaughterer" had ceased to exist. The original practice had become professionalized and commercialized and remains so even now. So, according to the generally prevailing idea as advocated by many Sikh scholars, the main reason for imposing this taboo of not eating Halaal meat is not that it is sacrificial or even religious. Rather this taboo had been imposed primarily to liberate the Sikhs from mental slavery of the then rulers of the Muslim faith who had banned by law the slaying of animals by any method other than Halaal. If this interpretation is accepted, then the following points arise:
"Baba Hore Khanna Khushi Khuaar
Evidently the foregoing couplet is a mis-quotation in this context because herein Guru Sahib is comparing all material foods with the Divine Food (i.e. Naam-Simran) and is decrying the former. The word HORE is very crucial in this couplet.It does not mean ANY food but any OTHER food, i.e., any food other than NAAM. In the absence of the Divine Food (Naam), all material foods will sicken the body as well as the soul. The very idea of eating meat fills the mind with evil making it aggressive and a partner in taking the life of an innocent creature. For this very reason, almost all of the well-known spiritually enlightened Gursikhs of the past and present have been and are shunning meat and allied non-vegetarian foods. Such foods are not conducive to spiritual development and Naam.Simran and, therefore, the all-knowing Satguru could not approve them.
(vi) In two Hukam Naamaas of Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib there are clear cut instructions prohibiting the eating of meat, fish, etc. The actual words used are "Maas machhi de nerrey nahin jawnaa." when Guru Nanak in his sixth form prohibits Siks's from eating flesh in such a strong language, how can he, in his tenth form, issue instructions absolutely contrary to and in negation of his own earlier instructions?
(vii) Mohsin Fani (1615-70), the well known historian and a contemporary of Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib, writes in his work DABISTAN-E- MAZAHIB as follows:
"Having prohibited his disciples to drink wine and eat pork, he (Nanak) himself abstained from eating flesh and ordered not to hurt any living being. After him this precept was neglected by his followers; but Aijun Mal, one of the substitutes of his Faith, renewed the prohibition to eat flesh and said: This has not been approved by Nanak"
What clear cut evidence against eating flesh and drinking wine in Sikhism!
(viii) Sahib Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji's "UPDESH" to Bhai Daya Singh Ji which is mentioned in "SUDHARAM MARAG GRANTh", and also found written in some old handwritten volumes of Sri Guru Granth Sahib: "One who does not: (a) Steal, (b) Commit adultery, (c) Slander anyone, (d) Gamble, (e) Eat meat or drink wine, will be liberated in this very life (i.e. Jeewan Mukt)"
(ix). It is also asserted that bravery is connected with eating animal flesh. The assertion is baseless. In fact, bravery is not connected with brute body force. Real bravery comes out of the spirit of sacrifice for the Truth and arises from the state of mind. The very prevalent words Charhdi Kala among the Sikhs refer to the Charhdi Kala of the spirit. The Sikh history is full of such instances where Sikhs who were hungry for days together defeated the tyrant Mughal forces whose meat eating habits were legendary.
(x) There is no difference in either taste or nutritive content of meat obtained through Jhatka or Halaal methods. Meat remains meat, whatever may be the method of slaying the animal. It is a mockery of the august and everlasting holy fundamental principles of Gurmat to attach such a fundamental importance to meat obtained from a particular method of slaying the animal, that its eating by a Sikh makes him an apostate, and that obtained from another method of slaying becomes fully acceptable. Either meat is allowed or is prohibited totally. There can be no mid-way. It is rather strange that many 'modern' and 'intellectual' Sikhs, who are often questioning the rationale of such edicts as keeping of Kirpan or Keshas and even the particular type of Kachhehra, generally do not question the rationale of Jhatka and Halaal distinction in respect of meat. Obviously, it is the generally preferred taste of the tongue that keeps them mum on this issue.
These are only a few of the inconsistencies and contradictions in accepting the interpretation of Kuthha to mean HalaaI type of meat.
Now let us consider as to what is the true meaning of the word Kuthha Etymologically, the word "Kuthha" (killed) is a past participle which has been derived from the root "Kohna" which means to slay or kill. This word does not mean to slay slowly or according to the Muslim method. In fact, to my knowledge, this word has never been used in the Muslim literature or in their general language to refer to "Halaal" meat. There are number of similarly derived words, e.g. "Muthha," "Dhatthha," etc. Thus, the word "Kuthha" literally means meat obtained by killing animals with any sharp weapon irrespective of whether any holy hymns are read at that time or not. In fact, reading of an holy hymns on this most cruel and heartless moment, is itself a highly sacrilegious act. For instance if one accepts a bribe or commits a theft while reciting holy hymns and these claims that because of his having read holy hymns during that act it no longer remains a crime, is only befooling himself.
Now consider this from another angle. For Halal meat, the animal is killed while reciting Qalima - the holy Mantra of the Muslims praising God in Arabic language. For obtaining Jhatka meat, they say Sat Sri Akal, which is also praise of God but in Punjabi language. Meat obtained while reciting praise of God in Arabic language is Haiaal (sacred) for a Muslim and is Haraam (unsacred) for a Sikh. Likewise meat obtained while reciting praise of God in Punjabi language is HaIaaI (sacred) for a Sikh and Haraam (unsacred) for a Muslim. By implication, meat being the common factor in both cases, Qalima is Haraam for a Sikh and Sat Sri Akal is Haraam for a Muslim. If both Qalima and Sat Sri Akal are praises of God in different languages, neither of them is Haraam. In fact, Haraam is the selfish trend of the mind of the meat eaters.
S. Kapur Singh rightly points out "Sikhism is not a religion of confusion and tomfoolery. The Sikh Way of Life is based upon the highest principle of Divinity -with the ultimate goal of merging one's soul (Atma) with the Ultimate Soul (Param-Atma) In Gurbani the word 'Kuthha" as well as 'Kohna' have been used at a number of places in this sense:
"Paap Karendar Sarpar Muthey.
"Bed Parhey Mukh Mitthee Baani
"Abhakhya Ka Kuthha Bakra Khanaa
The supporters of the word Kuthha to mean Halaal meat very often bank upon the above cited couplet to support their contention. They ascribe it to mean the meat obtained by slaying goats while uttering Qalima, which is the Muslim way of slaughtering animals. If the word Kuthha were to mean HaIaai meat, the use of the word abhakhya is superfluous. The sentence should have been simply Kuthha Khaanaa to mean the eating of the HaIaaI meat. The very fact that the word Kuthha has been qualified with the adjective abhakhya kaa means that Kuthha refers to simple meat of the killed animal, irrespective of the method of slaying the animal; and while qualifying meat to mean Haiaai, the words abhakhya kaa had to be particularly prefixed to convey that sense. Almost all the renowned commentators and translators of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, e.g., Bhai Sahib Vir Singh, Professor Sahib Singh, S. Manmohan Singh, etc., have interpreted this couplet in this way.
It is thus clear that the word Kuthha means simply meat of the killed animal and does not go into the detail of how the animal is killed. Like so many other adulterations committed by the anti-Sikhs in Gurmat Rahit Maryada, this interpretation of the word Kuthha to mean HaiaaI meat has also been initiated and popularized by those very anti- Sikhs, in their efforts to destroy the roots of the new faith in order to decrease its efficacy and create doubts and dissensions in the Panth. Our brothers have unconsciously fallen in their trap.
The only hymn in the whole of Sri Guru Granth Sahib that is specifically cited (by meat-eaters) in support of eating meat is the hymn of Sahib Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji in the Var of Raag Malhar on pages 1289-90 beginning with the couplet:
"Maas Maas Kar Moorakh Jhaghrrey.
Only the fool quarrels over the question of eating or not eating of the meat. He does not have the True Wisdom. Without True Wisdom or Meditation, he harps on which is flesh and which is not flesh and which food is sinful and which is not. A deeper study of the whole hymn brings out:
One very well known Sikh writer, in his book on Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji's life, while claiming that the above hymn supports meat eating, recommends that those Sikhs who seek spiritual bliss through Naam Simran should shun it! Well, devoid of Naam Simran Sikhism is reduced to naught.
At this point it would be worth mentioning two well known anecdotes from the life of Sahib Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji in this respect:
"Lahore shahar zahar kahar sawa pahar" (pg. 1412)
"In human body when I was nearing death, I smelt the flavor of meat being cooked in the neighboring house and felt an ardent desire for it. I died in the same state of mind. That is why I was given the body of a wolf so that I could fulfill my last desire in human life."
Gurbani also says:
"Jit Laago Man Baasna, Ant Saaee Pragtaani" (pg. 267)
This brings out clearly the thinking of Sahib Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji in this respect.
Sri Guru Granth Sahib prohibits eating of animal flesh in clearcut and unambiguous language in a number of places:
"Jee Badhoh So Dharam Kar Thaapoh,Adharam Kaho Kat Bhai.
"Bed Kateb Kaho Mat Jhoothhay, Jhoothhaa Jo Na Bichaarey.
Jo Sabh Meh Ek Khudai Kahat Ho,To Kio Murghi Maarey" (pg. 1350)
"Rojaa Dharey, Manaavey Mlah, Svaadat Jee Sanghaarey.
"Kabir Jee Jo Maareh Jor Kar,Kaahtey Heh Ju Halaal.
"Kabir Bhaang, Mach liii Surapaan Jo Jo Praanee Khahey.
"Kabir Khoob Khaana Khichri, Ja Meh Amrit Lon
It is thus clear from the foregoing that the word Kuthha used in the Sikh Code of Conduct does not refer to Halaal or sacrificial meat at all, but refers to meat and allied products as a whole. It means simply to slay or cut the animal -whatever may be the method used for the purpose. The use of the word in the same sense at a number of places in Gurbani brings out this point beyond any shadow of a doubt. Accordingly, eating flesh in general (and not only Halaal) is totally prohibited for the Sikhs and is one of the four Cardinal Sins enunciated in the Sikh Code of Conduct. It is a great travesty of the factual position to assert that, tIn the Sikh Doctrine, therefore, there is no religious injunction for or against meat eating; it is a matter of individual choice and discretion, a most sensible principle.
All the Rahits (Do's) and Kurahits (Don'ts or taboos) are of fundamental importance in Sikhism. These are a pre-condition for one's being accepted for baptism or taking of Amrit which means nothing but Naam:
"Amrit Naam Parmesar Tera Jo Simray So Jeevey" (pg. 616)
Amrit Har Har Naam Hay Meri Jindareeay
This very fact shows that all these commandments have definite spiritual import and thus are of intrinsic value. None of these, therefore, can be left to an individual's discretion.
Besides propagating this misinterpretation of the word Kathha and encouraging the Sikhs in general to eat meat, the same people have gone to the extent of giving the very respectable name of Mahaan Prasad to this absolutely proscribed and profane food. This has been done to mislead the general unsuspecting, simple and innocent Sikh masses in a very subtle way. It is a pity that many of us have fallen prey to this mischievous game, and have even started propagating this misinterpretation.
In the old Sikh literature, the word Mahaan Prasad has been used to denote the most sacred and sanctified food which is now commonly known as Karrah Prasad. Bhai Sahib Bhai Gurdas Ji has used this terminology a number of times in his works, and all the commentators of his works, including those of Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (S.G.P.C.), have accepted this interpretation. Karrah Prasad has a very sacred and distinct place in Sikh tradition and practice, and has, therefore, been very aptly and correctly referred to as Mahaan Prasad.