The Myth of the Holy Cow

In This Review

The Myth of the Holy Cow

By D. N. Jha
Verso, 2002
183 pp. $22.00
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Jha, a distinguished historian at the University of Delhi, received death threats when he tried to publish this book in India. The first Indian publisher backed off after ominous warnings, and the somewhat braver second publisher had to give in when a group of Hindu fanatics declared the book "blasphemous" and succeeded in getting a court order to constrain its circulation. What Jha has done is to document in great detail the fact that in ancient times Hindus and Buddhists ate beef. Indeed, the oldest Indian texts -- the Vedas and their auxiliaries dating from 1500 BC to 600 BC -- establish that the eating of flesh, including beef, was common in India. Hindus have argued that it was only with the Muslim conquest that cows were first slaughtered in India, but in truth it was only in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that the cow became the sacred animal of Hinduism. Western scholars of ancient India have no trouble with Jha's thesis, which is backed by copious footnotes and a bibliography in several languages. However, such scholarship only makes the Hindu fanatics more passionate than ever, especially now that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has given a degree of legitimacy to the violent expression of Hindu nationalism.

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