Diet in Sikhism

Diet in Sikhism

In Sikhism, only vegetarian food is served in the Gurdwara, but Sikhs are not bound to be meat-free. The general consensus is that Sikhs are free to choose whether to adopt a meat diet or not.[1] Orthodox Sikhs[2] believe that once Amrit is taken, Sikhs are only prohibited from eating Kutha or ritually-slaughtered[3] (Halal, Kosher)[4] meat. The Akal Takht represents the final authority on controversial issues concerning the Sikh Panth, and in this regard the issue of meat eating has been settled. The Hukamnama issued by Akal Takht Jathedar Sandhu Singh Bhaura dated February 15, 1980 that Amritdhari Sikhs can eat meat as long as it is Jhatka meat and that eating meat does not go against the code of conduct (Kurehit) of the Sikhs. Thus a Sikh cannot be excommunicated for eating meat.[1]

Some sects of Sikhs—Damdami Taksal, Akhand Kirtani Jatha, Namdharis, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha[5] and the 3HO[6]—believe that a Sikh should be meat-free.[5]


Sikh Diet and the Guru Granth Sahib

Sikh intellectuals[7] believe that the issue of meat and vegetarianism is addressed in one section only of the Guru Granth Sahib:

First Mehl:
The fools argue about flesh and meat, but they know nothing about meditation and spiritual wisdom.
What is called meat, and what is called green vegetables? What leads to sin?
It was the habit of the gods to kill the rhinoceros, and make a feast of the burnt offering.
Those who renounce meat, and hold their noses when sitting near it, devour men at night.
They practice hypocrisy, and make a show before other people, but they do not understand anything about meditation or spiritual wisdom.
O Nanak, what can be said to the blind people? They cannot answer, or even understand what is said.
They alone are blind, who act blindly. They have no eyes in their hearts.

They are produced from the blood of their mothers and fathers, but they do not eat fish or meat.


On the views that eating vegetation would be eating flesh, first Sikh Guru Nanak states:

AGGS, M 1, p 1290.[9]

First Mehl:
Punjabi: ਪਾਂਡੇ ਤੂ ਜਾਣੈ ਹੀ ਨਾਹੀ ਕਿਥਹੁ ਮਾਸੁ ਉਪੰਨਾ ॥ ਤੋਇਅਹੁ ਅੰਨੁ ਕਮਾਦੁ ਕਪਾਹਾਂ ਤੋਇਅਹੁ ਤ੍ਰਿਭਵਣੁ ਗੰਨਾ ॥

O Pandit, you do not know where did flesh originate! It is water where life originated and it is water that sustains all life. It is water that produces grains, sugarcane, cotton and all forms of life.

On vegetation, the Guru Granth Sahib described it as living and experiencing pain:

First Mehl:
Look, and see how the sugar-cane is cut down. After cutting away its branches, its feet are bound together into bundles,
and then, it is placed between the wooden rollers and crushed.
What punishment is inflicted upon it! Its juice is extracted and placed in the cauldron; as it is heated, it groans and cries out.
And then, the crushed cane is collected and burnt in the fire below.

Nanak: come, people, and see how the sweet sugar-cane is treated!
Page 143 Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji [10]

The first Sikh Guru—Nanak Dev—said it was a pointless argument to debate the merits of either not eating or eating meat in the context of religion, as maintaining a strict diet does not make one blessed or elevate one to a superior status, spiritually or otherwise, over another.[11] Being a member of a religion incorporates not merely one's dietary customs but the entire way in which they govern their lifestyle.[12] He advocated a lifestyle consisting of honest, hard work and humility, focus and remembrance of God and compassion for all of humanity and God's creation all around, with these three key principles taking far greater precedence over one's dietary habits.


Within the gurdwara, the Guru ka Langar (Guru's community kitchen) serves purely lacto-vegetarian food. The reason for serving vegetarian food is that the Langar is open to all. Since many faiths and persons have varying taboos on what to eat and how meat should be prepared, and since Sikhs accept these restrictions and accommodate people no matter their faith or culture, the safest option thought by the Sikh Gurus was to adopt vegetarian food for Langar. Meat was included in langar at the time of Guru Angad but then discontinued to accommodate Vashnavites.[13] The exception to vegetarian langar today is when Nihangs serve meat[14] on the occasion of Holla Mohalla, and call it MahaPrashad.


Sikhism argues that the soul can possibly undergo millions of transformations as various forms of life before ultimately becoming human. These life forms could be a rock, vegetation or an animal.Sikhism does not see a difference between mineral, vegetation and animal.[15] The only distinction made is that between these and a human.[16] In terms of the Sikh view of karma, human life is seen as being most precious, and animal, vegetable and mineral, all equally below human life. Therefore, in terms of the Sikh view, eating an animal is the same as eating a plant or mineral.[17]

Sikh intellectual views

I. J. Singh states that throughout Sikh history, there have been many subsects of Sikhism that have espoused vegetarianism however, this was rejected by the Sikh Gurus.[18] The Sikh thinking being that vegetarianism and meat-eating was unimportant in the realm of spirituality. Surinder Singh Kohli links vegetarianism to Vashnavite behaviour.[19] Gopal Singh commenting on meat being served in the langar during the time of Guru Angad[20] Gyani Sher Singh—who was the head priest at the Darbar Sahib—comments that ahimsa does not fit in with Sikh doctrine.[21] W. Owen Cole and Piara Singh Sambhi[22] comment that if the Sikh Guru's had made an issue on vegetarianism, it would have distracted from the main emphasis of Sikh spirituality. H. S. Singha and Satwant Kaur[23] comment on how ritually-slaughtered meat is considered a sin for initiated Sikhs. Surinder Singh Kohli comments on the "fools wrangle over flesh"[24] quotation from the Guru Granth Sahib by noting how Guru Nanak mocked hypocritical vegetarian priests. Gobind Singh Mansukhani states how vegetarianism and meat-eating has been left to the individual Sikh.[25] G. S. Sidhu comments again on how ritually-slaughtered meat is taboo for a Sikh.[26] Gurbakhsh Singh comments on how non-Kutha meat is acceptable for the Sikhs.[27] Devinder Singh Chahal comments on the difficulties of distinguishing between plant and animal in Sikh philosophy.[28] H. S. Singha comments in his book how the Sikh Gurus ate meat.[29]

The Sikh code of conduct on the Sikh Diet

Leading Sikh intellectuals ruled on this issue in the 1920s—as some Sikh sects attempted to get all Sikhs to be vegetarian—and came up with the following rule or code of conduct for baptised Sikhs with regards to meat and vegetarianism:

Sikh Rehat Maryada
— In the Rehat Maryada, section six [30] , it states:

The undermentioned four transgressions (tabooed practices) must be avoided:

  1. Dishonouring the hair
  2. Eating the meat of an animal slaughtered the Muslim way (Kutha)
  3. Cohabiting with a person other than one's spouse
  4. Using tobacco.

The Rehat Maryada states that Sikhs are bound to avoid meat that is killed in a ritualistic manner[31] e.g. Halal, Kosher, etc.[32][33]

There are groups such as the Akhand Kirtani Jatha that dispute the meaning of the word "kutha", claiming it means all meat,[34] however, in mainstream Sikhism this word has been accepted to mean, as that which is sacrificed.

Historical dietary behaviour of Sikhs

There are a number of eyewitness accounts from European travelers as to the eating habits of Sikhs.[35] Although there is no prohibition on Sikhs eating beef, it is clear that Sikhs as a mark of respect for their Hindu neighbours did not partake in eating beef.[36][37] To initiate Muslims into their mysteries, one traveler said the Sikhs would prepare a dish of hog's legs.[38]

According to Dabistan e Mazhib (a contemporary Persian chronology of the Sikh Gurus) Guru Nanak did not eat meat, and Guru Arjan thought that meat eating was not in accordance with Nanak's wishes. This differs from I. J. Singh's research that states that Guru Nanak ate meat on the way to Kurukshetra.[39] Guru Hargobind (the 6th Guru) according to Persian records, ate meat and hunted and his practice was adopted by most Sikhs.[40]

Bhai Gurdas—a contemporary of the sixth Sikh Guru—wrote vaars (poems or couplets) to describe the behaviour of Sikhs at that time. One of his vaars praises the merits of goat meat:[41]

The proud elephant is inedible and none eats the mighty lion.
Goat is humble and hence it is respected everywhere.
On occasions of death, joy, marriage, yajna, etc only its meat is accepted.
Among the householders its meat is acknowledged as sacred and with its gut stringed instruments are made.
From its leather the shoes are made to be used by the saints merged in their meditation upon the Lord.
Drums are mounted by its skin and then in the holy congregation the delight-giving kirtan, eulogy of the Lord, is sung.
In fact, going to the holy congregation is the same as going to the shelter of the true Guru.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Only Meat Killed by Ritual Is Banned for a Sikh". Retrieved 2009-08-09. 
  2. ^ Sekhon, Devinder Singh; Singh; Devinder (2005-01-01). "10 Gurmat and Meat". Philosophy of Guru Granth Sahib. Anmol Publications PVT. LTD.. pp. 143 to 172. ISBN 9788126123575. Retrieved 26 November 2010. 
  3. ^ Punjabi-English Dictionary, Punjabi University, Dept. of Punjabi Lexicography, ISBN 8173800952; Hardcover; 2002-10-01
  4. ^ Mosher, Lucinda (1 June 2005). "4 Distance". Belonging (Faith in the Neighbourhood) [Paperback]. Church Publishing Inc. p. 108. ISBN 1596270101. Retrieved 24 November 2010. 
  5. ^ a b Takhar, Opinderjit Kaur (2005). "2 Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha". Sikh identity: an exploration of groups among Sikhs. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.. p. 51. ISBN 9780754652021. Retrieved 26 November 2010. 
  6. ^ Gabriel Cousens. Conscious Eating. Retrieved 2009-08-09. 
  7. ^ Surjit Singh Gandhi. History of Sikh Gurus Retold: 1469–1606 C.E. p. 95. Retrieved 2009-08-09. 
  8. ^ "Guru Granth Sahib". Sri Granth. p. 1289. Retrieved 2009-08-09. 
  9. ^ "Guru Granth Sahib". Sri Granth. Retrieved 2009-08-09. 
  10. ^ "Guru Granth Sahib". pp. 142–143. Retrieved 25 November 2009. 
  11. ^ S. R. Bakshi, Rashmi Pathak,, ed (2007). "12". Punjab Through the Ages. 4 (1st ed.). New Delhi: Sarup and Sons. pp. 241. ISBN 8176257389.,+Rashmi+Pathak,+Rashmi+Pathak+volume+4#v=onepage&q=Punjab%20Through%20the%20Ages%20By%20S.R.%20Bakshi%2C%20Rashmi%20Pathak%2C%20Rashmi%20Pathak%20volume%204&f=false. Retrieved 201-02-07. 
  12. ^ "Guru Granth Sahib". p. 1289. Retrieved 2009-08-09. 
  13. ^ Singh, Prithi Pal (2006). "3 Guru Amar Das". The History of Sikh Gurus. New Delhi: Lotus Press. pp. 38. ISBN 8183820751. Retrieved 201-02-07. 
  14. ^ "Holla Mohalla". Retrieved 2009-08-09. 
  15. ^ Myrvold, Kristina (15 October 2005). "8 Sikhism and Death". In Kathleen Garces-Foley. Death and Religion in a Changing World (Paperback). M.E. Sharpe. p. 187. ISBN 0765612224. Retrieved 24 November 2010. 
  16. ^ "Guru Granth Sahib". p. 176. Retrieved 2009-08-09. 
  17. ^ Morgan, Peggy; Clive Lawton. "6. Questions of Right and Wrong". Ethical issues in Six Religious Traditions (2nd ed.). 22 George Square, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. pp. 144. ISBN 9780748623297. Retrieved 201-02-07. 
  18. ^ I. J. Singh. Sikhs and Sikhism. Delhi: Manohar. ISBN 9788173040580. "Throughout Sikh history, there have been movements or subsects of Sikhism which have espoused vegetarianism. I think there is no basis for such dogma or practice in Sikhism. Certainly Sikhs do not think that a vegetarian's achievements in spirituality are easier or higher. It is surprising to see that vegetarianism is such an important facet of Hindu practice in light of the fact that animal sacrifice was a significant and much valued Hindu Vedic ritual for ages. Guru Nanak in his writings clearly rejected both sides of the arguments—on the virtues of vegetarianism or meat eating—as banal and so much nonsense, nor did he accept the idea that a cow was somehow more sacred than a horse or a chicken. He also refused to be drawn into a contention on the differences between flesh and greens, for instance. History tells us that to impart this message, Nanak cooked meat at an important Hindu festival in Kurukshetra. Having cooked it he certainly did not waste it, but probably served it to his followers and ate himself. History is quite clear that Guru Hargobind and Guru Gobind Singh were accomplished and avid hunters. The game was cooked and put to good use, to throw it away would have been an awful waste." 
  19. ^ Surindar Singh Kohli, Guru Granth Sahib, An Analytical Study, Amritsar: Singh Bros., ISBN 8172050607, "The ideas of devotion and service in Vaishnavism have been accepted by Adi Granth, but the insistence of Vaishnavas on vegetarian diet has been rejected." 
  20. ^ Gopal Singh. A History of the Sikh People. Delhi: World Sikh University Press. ISBN 9788170231394. "However, it is strange that now-a-days in the Community-Kitchen attached to the Sikh temples, and called the Guru's Kitchen (or, Guru-ka-langar) meat-dishes are not served at all. May be, it is on account of its being, perhaps, expensive, or not easy to keep for long. Or, perhaps the Vaishnava tradition is too strong to be shaken off." 
  21. ^ Gyani Sher Singh, Philosophy of Sikhism, Amritsar: Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, "As a true Vaisnavite Kabir remained a strict vegetarian. Kabir far from defying Brahmanical tradition as to the eating of meat, would not permit so much, as the plucking of a flower (G.G.S. pg 479), whereas Nanak deemed all such scruples to be superstitions, Kabir held the doctrine of Ahinsa or the non-destruction of life, which extended even to that of flowers. The Sikh Gurus, on the contrary, allowed and even encouraged, the use of animal flesh as food. Nanak has exposed this Ahinsa superstition in Asa Ki War (G.G.S. pg 472) and Malar Ke War (G.G.S. pg. 1288)." 
  22. ^ W. Owen Cole and Piara Singh Sambhi, A Popular Dictionary of Sikhism, England, ISBN 978-0844204246, "The Gurus were loath to pronounce upon such matters as the eating of meat or ways of disposing of the dead because undue emphasis on them could detract from the main thrust of their message which had to do with spiritual liberation. However, Guru Nanak did reject by implication the practice of vegetarianism related to ideas of pollution when he said, 'All food is pure; for God has provided it for our sustenance' (AG 472). Many Sikhs are vegetarian and meat should never be served at langar. Those who do eat meat are unlikely to include beef in their diet, at least in India, because of their cultural proximity to Hindus." 
  23. ^ H. S. Singha and Satwant Kaur, Sikhism, A Complete Introduction, Delhi: Hemkunt Press, ISBN 81-7010-245-6, "In general Sikhism has adopted an ambivalent attitude towards meat eating as against vegetarianism. But if meat is to be taken at all, Guru Gobind Singh enjoined on the Khalsa Panth not to take kosher meat ie. Halal meat slaughtered and prepared for eating according to the Islamic practice. In fact it is one of the kurahits for every amritdhari Sikh. One who infringes it becomes patit (apostate)." 
  24. ^ Surinder Singh Kohli, Real Sikhism, New Delhi: Harman Publishing, ISBN 81-85151-64-4, "A close study of the above-mentioned hymns of Guru Nanak Dev clarifies the Sikh standpoint regarding meat-eating. The Guru has not fallen into the controversy of eating or not eating animal food. He has ridiculed the religious priests for raising their voice in favour of vegetarianism. He called them hypocrites and totally blind to the realities of life. They are unwise and thoughtless persons, who do not go into the root of the matter. According to him, the water is the source of all life whether vegetable or animal. Guru Nanak Dev said. 'None of the grain of corn is without life. In the first place, there is life in water, by which all are made green' (Var Asa M.1, p. 472). Thus there is life in vegetation and life in all types of creatures." 
  25. ^ Gobind Singh Mansukhani, Introduction to Sikhism, Delhi: Hemkunt Press, ISBN 81-7010-181-6, "The Gurus neither advocate meat nor banned its use. They left it to the choice of the individual. There are passages against meat, in the Adi Granth. Guru Gobind Singh however prohibited for the Khalsa the use of Halal or Kutha meat prepared in the Muslim ritualistic way." 
  26. ^ G. S. Sidhu, Introduction to Sikhism, Toronto: Shromini Sikh Sangat, ISBN 0900692073, "There are no restrictions for the Sikhs regarding food, except that the Sikhs are forbidden to eat meat prepared as a ritual slaughter. The Sikhs are asked to abstain from intoxicants." 
  27. ^ Gurbakhsh Singh, The Sikh Faith, Vancouver: Canadian Sikh Study and Teaching Society, ISBN 978-8172051884, "According to the Maryada booklet 'Kutha', the meat prepared by the Muslim ritual, is prohibited for a Sikh. Regarding eating other meat, it is silent. From the prohibition of the Kutha meat, it is rightly presumed that non-Kutha meat is not prohibited for the Sikhs. Beef is prohibited to the Hindus and pork to the Muslims. Jews and Christians have their own taboos. They do not eat certain kinds of meat on certain days. Sikhs have no such instructions. If one thinks he needs to eat meat, it does not matter which meat it is, beef, poultry, fish, etc., or which day it is. One should, however, be careful not to eat any meat harmful for his health. Gurbani's instructions on this topic are very clear. "Only fools argue whether to eat meat or not. Who can define what is meat and what is not meat? Who knows where the sin lies, being a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian?" (1289) The Brahmanical thought that a religious person should be a vegetarian is of recent origin. Earlier, Brahmans had been eating beef and horse meat. In conclusion, it is wrong to say that any person who eats meat (of course Kutha, because of the Muslim rituals is prohibited) loses his membership of the Khalsa and becomes an apostate." 
  28. ^ Devinder Singh Chahal, Scientific Interpretation of Gurbani,, "The above discussion leads us to the conclusion that the Sikh Gurus made people aware of the fact that it is very difficult to distinguish between a plant and an animal, therefore, it is difficult to distinguish between a vegetarian and a non-vegetarian diets and there is no sin of eating food originating from plants or animals." 
  29. ^ H. S. Singha, Mini Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, Delhi: Hemkunt Press, ISBN 8170102006, "The practice of the Gurus is uncertain. Guru Nanak seems to have eaten venison or goat, depending upon different janamsakhi versions of a meal which he cooked at Kurukshetra which evoked the criticism of Brahmins. Guru Amardas ate only rice and lentils but this abstention cannot be regarded as evidence of vegetarianism, only of simple living. Guru Gobind Singh also permitted the eating of meat but he prescribed that it should be Jhatka meat and not Halal meat that is jagged in the Muslim fashion." 
  30. ^
  31. ^ H. S. Singha & Satwant Kaur Hemkunt (1994) (Limited preview digitized online by Google books). Sikhism, A Complete Introduction. New Delhi: Hemkunt Press. ISBN 81-7010-245-6. Retrieved 2010-02-07. 
  32. ^ Sandeep Singh Brar. "Misconceptions About Eating Meat — Comments of Sikh Scholars". Retrieved 2009-08-09. 
  33. ^ "Faithandfood Fact Files — Sikhism". Retrieved 2009-08-09. 
  34. ^ [|McLeod, W. H.] (2003). "6 The Singh Sabha and the Years After". Sikhs of the Khalsa: a history of the Khalsa rahit (Hardcover ed.). Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. p. 185. ISBN 9780195659160. Retrieved 25 November 2010. 
  35. ^ Siques, Tigers or Thieves Parmjit Singh & Amandeep Singh Madra ISBN 1403962022
  36. ^ William Francklin in his writing about Mr George Thomas 1805: "The Seiks receive Proselytes of almost every Cast, a point in which they differ most materially from the Hindoos. To initiate Mohammedans into their mysteries, they prepare a Dish of Hogs legs, which the Converts are obliged to partake of, previous to admission... They are not prohibited the use of Animal food of any kind, excepting Beef, which they are rigidly scrupulous in abstaining from."
  37. ^ Extract from an officer in the Bengal Army and is taken from the Asiatic Annual Register 1809: "The seiks are remarkably fond of the flesh of the jungle hog, which they kill in chase: this food is allowable by their law. They likewise eat of mutton and fish; but these being unlawful the Brahmins will not partake, leaving those who chose to transgress their institutes to answer for themselves."
  38. ^ John Griffiths writes on 17 February 1794: Now become a Singh, he is a heterodox, and distinct from the Hindoos by whom he is considered an apostate. He is not restricted in his diet, but is allowed, by the tenets of his new religion, to devour whatever food his appetite may prompt, excepting beef."
  39. ^ I. J. Singh. Sikhs and Sikhism. Delhi: Manohar. ISBN 9788173040580. 
  40. ^ J.S. Grewal, Sikh History from Persian Sources: Translations of Major Texts, ISBN 978-8185229171, "Many person became his disciples. Nanak believed in the Oneness of God and in the way that it is asserted in Muhammadan theology. He also believed in transmigration of souls. Holding wine and pork to be unlawful, he had [himself] abandoned eating meat. He decreed avoidance of causing harm to animals. It was after his time that meat-eating spread amongst his followers. Arjan Mal, who was one of his lineal successors, found this to be evil. He prohibited people from eating meat, saying 'This is not in accordance with Nanak's wishes.' Later, Hargobind, son of Arjan Mal, ate meat and took to hunting. Most of their [the Gurus] followers adopted his practice." 
  41. ^ "Displaying Vaar 23 Pauri 13 of 21 of Vaaran Bhai Gurdas". SearchGurbani. 2007. Retrieved 201-02-07. 

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