Monday, March 8, 2010

Food Habits of Brahmins in India

Food Habits of Brahmins in India

In this article I talk about the food habits of Brahmins in India.

Traditionally most Brahmins in India are vegetarians, and this trend is particularly strong in the Pancha Dravida Brahmins (Iyengars, Iyers, Palakkad, Namboothiris, Telugu Brahmins, Gujarati Brahmins, Maharashtrian Brahmins) who are generally do not eat non-vegetarian food. If they do eat non-vegetarian food they will do so in private. Many of the more orthodox Brahmins will not allow anyone in their vicinity to eat non-vegetarian food.

Tamil Brahmins (particularly those residing in Tamil Nadu) along with Namboothiris are particularly orthodox and show little sympathy for non-vegetarian eaters in their vicinity. Some Iyengars (Vishnu-followers) also consider mushroom as non-vegetarian, some consider bread as non-vegetarian as it contains yeast and some consider soya-beans as non-vegetarian as it looks like meat. The Iyers (Shaivites) are marginally less intolerant. Tamil Brahmins residing in  Bangalore and Hyderabad are much more tolerant.

However I have seen a few Iyengars and Iyers eating eggs and a few also eating chicken, but they do not do so openly. Some Tamil Brahmins staying in US like Padma Lakshmi also eat meat like beef which is not approved as per Hinduism.

Some south Indian Brahmins also drink as well as sell alcohol a lot (as pure Brahmins they are not supposed to). Vijay Mallya, a Goud Saraswat Brahmin owns more than 60% of Indian alcohol market.

I have seen some Tamil and Gujarati Brahmins falling sick or fainting on smelling fish or meat. Telugu Brahmins, Kannada Brahmins and Maharashtrian Brahmins are mostly vegetarians, although I have seen many of them having eggs. In fact I have seen quite a few Koknast and Deshasth Brahmins having egg as well as meat.

Among the Pancha Gauda Brahmins or North Indian Brahmins, UP, Madhya Pradesh and Bihari Brahmins are mostly vegetarians - they are not as intolerant as the Pancha Dravida Brahmins. However, some Bihari and UP Brahmins are notorious for their intolerance towards non-vegetarian food and towards people who eat them. On the other hand I have seen many eastern Bihari Brahmins especially from cities eating meat and eggs.

Kashmiri Pandits, Nepali Brahmins, Oriya Brahmins and Assamese Brahmins are generally non-vegetarians. Bengali Brahmins in general are non-vegetarians (I will talk about Bengali Brahmins' food habit in a later post). However, for the meat-eaters, the choice is restricted to chicken, mutton and fish.

These in short are some my observations on the food habits of different Brahmin communities in India, whom I have observed closely in the past decade.

What our Shastras have to say
First I will start by giving a brief account of food habits of Brahmins as it ought to be and then I will touch upon the food habits of various Brahmin communities in India as I have read and observed over many years.

A Brahmin , by the very definition of the term, is supposed to be sattvic. He is one with high levels of Satwa Guna and simple food is expected to be a normal and natural outcome of his Satvic Nature. It is expected that a person of Brahmin nature (I use the word nature and not caste) would naturally eat only such food so as to cause least harm to other creatures and that rules out non-vegetarianism and a lot of vegetarian dishes. However such people are rare and in general Brahminism is associated with vegetarianism.

Manu, the great Hindu law-maker, the supposed doyen of the "so called" Aryans (or Manuwadis as UP and  Dravidian Dalits like to call non-Dalits), and the mythical enemy of the Dalits, clearly says that it mandatory for Brahmins to eat meat if it is offered as a sacrifice to a deity. In fact Brahmins are even supposed to kill animals for sacrifice.

"Beasts and birds recommended (for consumption) may be slain by Brahmanas for sacrifices, and in order to feed those whom they are bound to maintain; for Agastya did this of old. [v.5.22.] For in ancient (times) the sacrificial cakes were (made of the flesh) of eatable beasts and birds at the sacrifices offered by Brahmanas and Kshatriyas. [v.5.23.]"

Edit 1: 21-Sep-2012 with new notes and observations
Edit 2: 17-Sep-2015 with new notes and representative images
Brahmin Image: Image Source -

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Thanks for your time. Please feel free to leave your comments and do share this post with those who might find it useful.

Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay | Mkerj | Hoorayforlife | The Tiny Man | The Advaitist

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  1. Iyers are not shaivites

  2. I can't tolerate smell of meat and Egg.

  3. Thanks for spreading this awareness.