Animals in Hindu South Asia: From Cosmos to Slaughterhouse
“Animals in Hindu South Asia: From Cosmos to Slaughterhouse” takes a novel approach Hindu ethics, animal ethics, and the ethical principle of nonharming, ahiṃsā. While many sources on Jain, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions explore the topic of ahiṃsā in detail, exploring its origin, basis, meaning, and practice, comparatively few provide analyses of how it relates to both religious taxonomies and historical practices of animal domestication and consumption. This study examines Vedic and Hindu texts to identify enduring ideological patterns regarding domesticated animals and how these patterns facilitate the systemic exploitation of animals in human society. “Animals in Hindu South Asia” begins with Vedic literature of the first and second millennia BCE and proceeds into Dharma and Yoga literature of the first millennium CE. The first two chapters investigate ancient cosmologies, animal taxonomies, and sacrificial and dietary regulations, charting how taxonomical and prescriptive emphases shift over time. The third chapter focuses on Hindu ethics, particularly as espoused in the Mānava Dharmaśāstra and the Pātañjala Yogaśāstra, and provides analyses of karma, ahiṃsā, and the moral status of animals. The fourth chapter shifts to the modern and contemporary periods, beginning with a critical evaluation of Hindu-inspired cow protectionism and its neglect of bovines’ material well-being, or their biobovinity. This chapter also discusses the history of Subaltern Studies, the notion of subalternity, and ultimately argues for the inclusion of animals under the category “subaltern.” The final chapter interrogates the ethical implications of theories of “entanglement” and “relatedness” (theories largely inspired by the work of Donna Haraway), how these theories are almost exclusively applied to human-animal relations, and how the theories can be employed to justify exploitative human-animal relations. Overall, the study offers critical insights into South Asian religious studies, Critical Animal Studies, and the ethics of human-animal relations.