The Marxists and members of Left intelligentsia have been trying to create a narrative that people of Kerala, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, have been beef eaters since time immemorial. Sometime ago, Vinod Dua, consulting editor at The Wire Hindi, the Left propaganda website, in a programme, read out a letter written by a Malayali, saying that all Keralites eat beef and no Hindu in Kerala considers cow as mother.
Of late, beef has become a commonplace dish in Kerala. There is no dispute on that. Historically speaking, this became common after the Portuguese invasion. There was a ban on cow slaughter in the erstwhile Travancore and Kochi states. There were Travancore kings who used to wake up in the morning seeing the cow, as it was considered to be a good omen. The Travancore state opted for the Dutch against the Portuguese because the latter looted temples and promoted cow-slaughter. One of the key points of the Treaty of Mavelikkara of 1753 signed between the Dutch and Travancore king Marthanda Varma was that the former wouldn’t interfere in the religious and internal affairs of the southern princely state. Political constraints forced the Kochi kings to take a lenient view of cow-slaughter only in the Fort Kochi area, where a large number of Portuguese nationals used to put up; elsewhere in the princely state ban on cow-slaughter was strictly enforced. However, members of certain lower caste communities were allowed to consume the meat of dead cows. It is also a fact that they faced social ostracization on this account.
There is an interesting story about Kerala’s most prominent social reformer and spiritual leader Sri Narayana Guru, whom Marxist leader EMS Nambudiripad had described as a “petty bourgeoisie”. Once a disciple raised a doubt: “Swami, we drink cow’s milk, then what is wrong with eating its flesh? After listening to him, the Guru enquired: “Is your mother alive or dead?” The man said she was no more. The Guru again asked: “So what did you do with the body? Buried or ate it?”
Not only did Hindus but the members of the indigenous Syrian Christian community also abstained from beef consumption in the past. So when the Portuguese launched an aggressive drive to Latinize native Syrian Christians, the first thing they did was to cut off their Hindu character and practices, writes Dr CI Issac in his book Evolution of Christian Church in India. One of the declarations at the Synod of Diamper (Udayamperoor) in June 1559, watershed in the history of Christianity in India, chaired by Archbishop of Goa Alexis De Menezes was “abstinence from beef was un-Christian”. A section of Syrian Christians opposed this condition, as they feared beef consumption would bring them down in the caste hierarchy (Syrian Christians had assimilated so well that they were considered to be a Hindu jati.)
Even today when many traditions and practices are becoming obsolete and redundant, several Hindu families in Kerala religiously observe the practice of feeding Onasadya (Onam feast) to cattle before even offering it to the God. Also, the defining feature of Parabrahma temple at Ochira in Kollam is the bull.
Aithihyamala, a 19th century work on legends of Kerala, records an incident in which the famous 18th century Raja of Cochin, Rama Varma Shaktan Thampuran executed a Muslim who had killed a cow. The Raja also refused to observe Shivaratri vrata since the Muslim had killed the cow on that day.
Before getting inducted into the army, a Nair warrior had to take a solemn oath in front of the king to protect Brahmins and cows. This is recorded by Duarte Barbosa, a 16th century Portuguese writer:
“The King then asks him if he will maintain the customs and rules of the other Nayres (Nairs), and he and his kinsmen respond ‘ Yes.’ Then the King commands him to gird on his right side a sword with a red sheath, and when it is girt on he causes him to approach near to himself and la, his right hand on his head, saying therewith certain words which none may hear, seemingly a prayer, and then embraces him saying ‘ Paje Gubrantarca, that is to say ‘ Protect cows and Bramenes (Brahmins)” Source: https://books.google.co.in/books?id=cAgkDwAAQBAJ&pg=PT40
Similar oaths were administered in Kozhikode too, where Samuthiris were at the helm of affairs.
However, Communists have managed to build a narrative that it’s cool to consume beef, as the Vedic rishis used to relish it. In an interview to the Frontline, DN Jha, the Marxist historian who authored The Myth of Holy Cow, makes a startling claim: “In Kerala, everybody eats beef, except Namboothiris. Some 72 per cent of the communities (in the country) eat beef.” But the question that begs an answer is — if such an overwhelming number of people in the country eat beef is it politically a wise decision for the Hindutva forces to take it up as their core issue. Also, how come then 29 Indian states, including the most populous ones, have put restrictions or ban on cow slaughter? Anyway, those who have read Arun Shourie’s The Eminent Historians: Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud — in which he has shown how Jha had “concocted evidence and distorted sources” — would definitely take the Marxist historian’s statements and claims with a handful of salt.
The Mughals realised that if they had to rule India, they could not support cow slaughter. Even during Aurangazeb’s regime, there were strict restrictions on cow slaughter. But the British failed to realise this. Mahatma Gandhi believed that cow protection could turn out to be a rallying point for the people in their fight for freedom. He says: “Hindus will be judged not by their tilaks, not by the correct chanting of mantras, not by their pilgrimages, not by their most punctilious observance of caste rules but by their ability to protect the cow. Whilst professing the religion of cow-protection, we have enslaved the cow and her progeny, and have become slaves ourselves.”
Gandhiji launched the Khilafat movement hoping that he could persuade Muslims to give up cow slaughter. He says: “I yield to none in my regard for the cow. I have made the Khilafat cause my own, because I see that through its preservation full protection can be secured for the cow. I do not ask my Mussalman friends to save the cow in consideration of my service. My prayer ascends daily to God Almighty, that my service of a cause I hold to be just may appear so pleasing to Him, that He may change the hearts of the Mussalmans, and fill them with pity for their Hindu neighbours and make them save the animal that latter hold dear as life itself.”
But Gandhiji’s prayers couldn’t bring about change in the hearts of fanatic Mappilas who slaughtered cows and fed them to Hindus who were forcibly converted to Islam during the Malabar rebellion of 1921.