The controversy in the Khalsa Panth over being a vegetarian or non-vegetarian has arisen due to the difference in the interpretation of the word “kuthha” one of the four primary ‘taboos’ or ‘cardinal sins’ (Kuratits) for the Sikhs. Before going into the depth of what “Kuthha” means, it is imperative to consider the importance of these ‘taboos’ in Sikhism. It is an undisputed fact that any Sikh who commits even one of these four taboos, becomes apostate. That means he is automatically excommunicated from the Khalsa fold, even though he may be considered a Sikh by the society. As a natural corollary, he loses the Grace of the Guru without which no progress can be made in respect of achieving the Bliss of Naam Sim irin the essential and ultimate aim of the Sikhs,

Being of such fundamental importance, the four taboos cannot obviously be based upon any temporary contingency of the then prevailing circumstances. These must have their own solid basis and foundation and also all of these must be conducive to the spiritual uplift through Naam Sim irin which occupies the pivotal position in the whole edifice of Sikhism.

The word ‘Kuthha’ is generally taken to mean Kosher or Halaal meat viz, “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 for mulae, the main object of slaughtering in this manner being a ‘sacrifice’ to God to expiate sins of the slaughter, and its flesh as food being only a secondary object …” (Parasharprasna by Kapur Singh p. 6970, footnote). The Jhatka method has been described as killing the animal with one stroke of the weapon while reciting Sat Sri Akal.

The origin and basis of Halaal method of slaying animals by Moslems may have been sacrificial. However, at the time of the Sikh Gurus, it had just become ‘Moslem’ method without any consideration of its sacrificial origin etc. In fact, a separate class of professionals, called “butchers” had emerged with the sole profession of slaying the animals in this way. Thus the original idea of slaughtering the animal as a “sacrifice to God to expiate the sins of the slaughter had obviously ceased to exist. And neither has it existed now anywhere as this practice has become professionalized and commercialized. So, according to the generally prevailing idea and as advocated by many Sikh scholars, the main reason for imposing this taboo of not eating Halaal meat is not its being sacrificial or even religious. It is contended that this taboo was imposed primarily to liberate the Sikhs from mental slavery of the then rulers of the Muslim faith who had banned by Jaw the slaying of animals by any method other than Halaal. If this interpretation is accepted then:

(1) With the changed times now when there is no longer such coercion from any quarter there would be no need for continuing this taboo.

(2) It also implies that the four taboos which have been declared by the Sat guru himself as basic and of fundamental importance may not necessarily be conductive to spiritual enhancement of the soul through NaamSimirin; their objective being merely to create a spirit of moral and, according to some, physical strength.

(3) If we accept this position of a taboo being imposed only to serve the conditions prevailing at a particular time, then we cannot decry the efforts of those of the so called “Modern” Sikhs who consider that keeping of Keshas is no longer necessary in the changed times. The spirit of Sikhism, according to them, lies only within and it has nothing to do with the outward appearance or “baana.” Their further contention is that the then prevailing circumstances made the necessity of keeping Sikhs unique and easily distinguishable. In the changed circumstances now, that necessity no longer exists.

(4) The only difference in the two methods of slaying the animal is. In one case Qalima (Muslim praise of God in Arabic) and in other case Sat Sri Akal (Sikh praise of God in Punjabi) is read at that time. The end product in both cases is absolutely the same, thus meat itself is not bad. What is actually bad, is Praise of God in Arabic for the Sikhs and praise of God in Punjabi for the Muslims. What a ludicrous situation!

(5) There is no difference either in taste or the nutritive content of meat obtained through “Jhatka’” or “Halaal” method. Meat remains meat, whatever may be the method of slaying the animal. It is a mockery of the august and everlasting holy fundamental importance to meat obtained from a particular method of slaying the animal, that” its eating by a Sikh makes him an absolute apostate, and that obtained from another method of slaying becomes fully acceptable.

These are only a few of the inconsistencies and contradictions in accepting the interpretation of “Kuthha” to mean Halaal type of meat. Now let us consider as to what I the true meaning of the word “Kuthha.” Etymologically, the word “Kuthha” has been derived from the root “Kohna” which means to slay or to kill. This word does not mean to slay slowly according to Moslem method. There are a number of similarly derived words e.g. “Ruthha”, “Muthha,” “Dhathha” etc. Thus the word “Kuthha” literally means meat obtained by killing animals with any sharp weapon irrespective of whether that weapon is struck with a ‘jhatka’ or slowly or __ whether any holy hymns are read at that time or not, In fact, reading: of any holy hymns on this most | heartless and cruel moment, is itself a highly sacrilegious act. In Gurbani the word “Kuthha” as well as “Kohna” have been used at a number of places in this sense.

The sinners will certainly be ruined or destroyed.

The angel of death will seize and kill them.

(Here the word ‘Kuthhey’ means simply killing and not the killing by (Halal),

He (Pandit) recites the Vedas very sweetly, but he does not hesitate to kill life.

They eat the meat obtained by uttering unspeakable word (referring to Qalima of the Muslims which the Hindus considered as unspeakable.) And they allowed none to enter their kitchen square.

According to some, the word ‘Kuthha in the above couplet refers to meat obtained by slaying goats while uttering Qalima: the Muslim way of slaughtering animals. If the “Kuthha” were to mean Halaal meat, the use of the word abhakhya is superfluous. The sentence should have been simply Kuthha Khaanaa to mean the eating of Halaal meat. The very fact that the word “Kuthha” has been qualified with the adjective “abhakhya kaa” means that “Kuthha” refers to meat irrespective of the method of slaying the animal and while qualifying meat to mean Halaal the word “abhakya” had to be particularly prefixed to convey that sense.

It is thus, clear that the word Kuthha” means simply meat without going into the detail of how the animal is killed. Like so many other commingling’s done by the anti-Sikhs in Gurmat Rabit Maryada, this interpretation of the word “Kuthha” to mean Halaal ‘meat was initiated and popularised by those very anti Sikh classes in their effort to destroy the roots of this new faith in order to decrease its efficacy and create doubts and dissensions’ in the Panth. Our brothers have, perhaps unconsciously, fallen in their trap.

In fact Guru Granth Sahib prohibits eating of animal flesh in clear cut and unambiguous language at a number of places.

You kill life and call it religion; then what indeed is irreligion? Even then you consider yourself as a sage of sages; Then whom to call a butcher?”

“Whosoever eats flesh, fish, etc., and takes wine and hemp all his religious acts will bear no fruit at all”

The only hymn in Sri Guru Granth Sahib that is cited in support of meat eating, is the hymn of Guru Nanak in the Var of Raag Malhar on pages 128-990 cont. the couplet :( Only fools quarrel over the question of eating of the meat. He does not have the True Wisdom. Without, true wisdom or Meditation, hears on which is flesh and which not and which food is sinful and which is not sinful guru Nanak is addressing a Vaihnav Pandit who believes that he can achieve his spiritual goal only avoiding meat as food and not trying to have the true wisdom through meditation, nor anyone can get rid of the flesh (i.e. attainment of salvation) by their own utile efforts without the Grace of the True Guru.

It is also asserted that meat is essential for a martial race like the Sikhs. The fact is that true martial spirit and bravery is not so much connected with brute body force. Real bravery comes out of spirit of sacrifice for the Truth and this arises from the state of one’s mind. Sikh history is full of such incidents where Sikhs who were hungry for days together defeated the tyrant Mughal forces whose meat eating habits were legendary.

In two Hukum Naamaas of Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib and one of the Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib, the clear cut instructions exist prohibiting the taking of meat, fish, etc. The actual words used are “Maas machhi de nerrey nahin jawnaa.”

Mohsin Fani (1615-70) the well-known historian of the past and a contemporary of Guru Hargobind Sahib, writes in his work Dabistane Mazahib as under “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 Arjun Mal, one of the substitutes of his faith, renewed the prohibition to eat flesh and said: “This has not been approved by Nanak.”

(Reproduced from page 79Evolution of the Khalsa Vol I by Indu Bushan Banerjee.)

What clear cut evidence against eating of flesh and taking of wine in Sikhism!

It is thus clear from the for Going that the word “Kuthha’” used in the Sikh Code of Conduct does not at all refer to Halaal or sacrificial meat, but to meat and allied products as a whole. The use of the word in the same sense a number of places in Gurbani brings out this point beyond any shadow of doubt. Accordingly, eating flesh in general and not Halaal type only, is totally prohibited for the Sikhs and is one of the four cardinal sins enunciated in the Sikh Code of Conduct.

We have published the above article in deference to author’s right to a rejoinder to Dr. Sukhbir Singh’s article on the subject.

The controversy was, however, put to rest in a clarification issued on February 15, 1980 by the then Akal Takht Chief, Jathedar Sadhu Singh Bhaura. He categorically stated that Jhatka meat was not prohibited to Sikhs, A copy of his letter is available in our office. — Editor.

Article extracted from this publication >> September 23, 1988