Should Hindus be vegetarian? When Tagore confronted the orthodoxy on ‘Hindu food’ - ALL Jobs News

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Sunday, 6 September 2020

Should Hindus be vegetarian? When Tagore confronted the orthodoxy on ‘Hindu food’

In 1888, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) composed a poem titled “Parityakta” (“The Abandoned”), expressing some anguish at the way hopes of a social and intellectual regeneration – once palpable in nineteenth century Bengal – were being blighted by blatantly reactionary moods. Even though this represented a reaction to certain colonialist excesses: racial slurs, bureaucratic repression, and the slighting of Hindu social life and culture, Tagore considered this to be an unfortunate backtracking among educated Hindus. Just as he opposed the institution of early marriages, Tagore did not also think that spiritual advancement necessarily followed from observing strict dietary rules.

At the time, the man who most emphatically made such claims was the gifted Bengali writer and critic, Chandranath Basu (1844-1910), a man who contributed towards a new albeit prejudiced reading of Hindu mythology and religion. Basu was perhaps the first to also popularise the term “Hindutva” by which, however, he meant “Hinduness” and not some culturally exclusionary, political ideology such as the Hindu Right was to subsequently invent and advocate.

Over the years, Basu progressively emerged as the most effective spokesperson of Hindu conservatism and this drew him into extended controversy with the more liberal Hindus who were dismayed at the way certain antiquated...

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