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Sanskrit Mischief

July 15, 1998

I am not a Sanskrit scholar, but I do not suffer from deliberate or other distortions of that language, as Charles Perry did in his article on meat eating in India (Forklore, "Non-Veg India," July 8).

Many of things Perry mentioned are not new; unfortunately, much of it is broadcast to the world by Westernized, self-alienated Hindus themselves. So he is not alone to blame when he informs readers that Brahmin priests should be offered beef and that Sita [consort of the god Rama] cooked meat with rice.

[Some of the] same words in Sanskrit have different meanings. For instance, saindhava means horse as well as salt. If you are eating and ask for saindhava and someone brings a horse instead of salt, he will be considered a fool.

The word used in [the epic poem] "Ramayana" was mamsa, which also has more than one meaning. The roots of certain edible tubers are called mamsa. But its more commonly known meaning is meat. Therefore, it does not take much effort for a mischievous one or a foolish one to conclude that Rama and Sita ate meat.

But note the context. When Rama entered the forest to fulfill his father's vow, he was to be like a monk or sage in the forest. The sages of the forest forsook meat. So if the word mamsa is taken simply to mean meat, ignoring the other meaning, especially in this context, it does not reconcile.

Offering beef to Brahmin priests or [saying that there is a] requirement to eat meat at a shraddha or ceremony offering oblations to departed also suffers from the same misinterpretations of scriptural texts. The Brahmin who tells us to adore the cow never asks for it to be cut to pieces so he can eat its meat. Such hypocrisy may be befitting those who day in and day out speak of peace while slaughtering and enslaving people spread over continents but cannot be placed at the feet of the world's most benevolent and noble people, the Brahmins of India. Brahmins were often used as scapegoats by the colonialists who looted India.

The Sanskrit word for guest is athidi, which literally means one who comes in without a date. They are to be honored, all right, but not by killing a cow, which is to be worshiped instead.

There are many who interpret Vedic texts to suit their prejudices. The Christian missionaries who accompanied the colonialists from the West were in the forefront of this mischief. They succeeded better than Communists in brainwashing, so much so that there are many among Indians themselves who choose to distort their own culture and civilization, instead of living it and discovering the beauty themselves.

Myths like the Aryan invasion of India are fostered to justify colonialism and exploitation. While it is easy to make mistaken assertions, it takes more effort to rebut them. However, while lies have speed, truth has endurance. The false propaganda against the world's most ancient religion went on for centuries, and we are still seeing vestiges of it and some of them are reflected in The Times article.

As to the presence of meat eaters among Hindus, there is no dispute, nor is there to Perry's assertion that meat eating is considered inferior and not conducive to certain spiritual qualities.

G.V. CHELVAPILLA

West Covina

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