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Location: Home arrow Library of Articles arrow Features arrow Jhatka Meat Allowed? Where's the Evidence?

Jhatka Meat Allowed? Where's the Evidence?   E-mail 

For quite some time now, the Panth has been divided on the issue of meat. Many Sikhs are of the opinion that Kutha (halal meat) is forbidden for Sikhs but "Guru Sahib has allowed Jhatka meat. There are 3 major views:

  • only kutha (ie halal/kosher) meat is forbidden;
  • all meat is forbidden
  • only jhatka meat is allowed.

This article focuses on the practice of Jhatka. As you will see, there are many questions that need answers.


The Rehit Maryada of the
Shromani Gurdwara Parbandak Committee (SGPC):

The current Sikh Maryada forbids kutha / halal meat (ie meat of an animal slaughtered the Muslim way) and considers it a "bajjar kurehit", ie a cardinal sin that requires the retaking of baptisimal vows ("amrit"). It is silent on meat-eating in general and says nothing about "jhatka" - ie the practice of decapitating an animal with a single blow - which has been advocated by some as the right way for Sikhs to kill an animal for food. However in 1980, the following edict was issued:

"The Akal Takht (Central Body for Sikh Temporal Affairs) represents the final authority on controversial issues concerning the Sikh Panth (community or collective), and in this regard the issue of meat eating has been settled. The Hukamnama (edict or clarification) issued by Akal Takht Jathedar (head priest or head caretaker) Sadhu Singh Bhaura dated February 15, 1980, states that Amritdhari Sikhs can eat meat as long as it is Jhatka meat and that eating meat does not go against the code of conduct (Kurehit) of the Sikhs".
- Source: Wikipedia

This, obviously, was a controversial move. The point of contention is that while the Akal Takhat or Punj Pyare can issue various edicts to clarify or settle issues, do these bodies have absolute power to implement any and all changes without restraint? If they do, this opens up a Pandora's box. For instance (and I'm going to extremes here simply to highlight the ramifications), what would stop them from decreeing that "Sikhs need not maintain their hair / kakaars" or "Sikhs are hereby ordered to convert to abc religion"? Unlikely, I know. But this helps to highlight that there is a line that cannot be crossed on certain matters. Was a line crossed when the jethedar issued the edict? Some think it was as it may be in conflict with Gurbani since, they point out, there are strong indications within the pages of SGGS that meat-eating is not allowed. Sikhs consider Gurbani the Word of God. "As the Lord`s Word comes to me, 0 Lalo, so do I deliver it," (Guru Nanak, SGGS, 722). Obviously, it would be a contentious issue to supersede any part of Gurbani. The edict also mentions "Amritdhari Sikhs can eat meat as long as it is Jhatka meat". It should be noted that the jhatka tradition in Sikh Dharam as it relates to animals stands on shaky grounds due to the lack of credible evidence showing that it was allowed by the Gurus. Was the Akal Takht Jethedar's edict a product of religious education gained through an institution that was in line with the SGPC Rehit Maryada? Possibly.

The SGPC Rehit Maryada was formulated relatively recently (and based upon the work of Sikh scholars who went through various historical documents, such as earlier codes or rehatnamas). It was first drafted in 1936 during the British Raj and amendments approved in 1945, and a final version was released in 1950. When the Rehat Maryada was drafted, dissenting opinions were strong, and some issues that could not be resolved were deferred. It is my understanding also that Gurbachan Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale (from Damdami Taksal) and Bhai Sahib Bhai Randhir Singh Ji (from Akhand Kirtani Jetha - AKJ), walked out of the conference where the current SGPC maryada was to be implemented after realizing that meat was going to be made optional.

The SGPC is an organisation established in the 1920s during the British Raj and refers to itself as the 'Sikh Parliament'. Obviously, many within the community object to this since the SGPC is not a product, or have the mandate, of any of the Gurus, as well as for its alleged interference in the selection of the Panj Pyare and in their decision-making process. Its relatively recent history begs the question: Did our Gurus not put into place a structure to handle the affairs of Sikhs that an organisation like the SGPC needed to be established? Of course not! And, what was the Rehit Maryada in the preceding two centuries or so since the joti-jot (immersion in the Eternal Light) of the 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh ji, in 1708?

The Damdami Taksal Rehit Maryada:

An earlier Rehit Maryada (though there are others) is the one by Damdami Taksal and it considers all meat-eating a "kurehit", ie a cardinal sin that requires the retaking of baptisimal vows. This, among others, constitutes a major difference between the two schools of thought (i.e SGPC and Taksal). According to Damdami Taksal, it has its roots when Guru Gobind Singh Ji instructed Baba Deep Singh to start an 'institution' for imparting knowledge of Gurmat onto Sikhs. Baba Deep Singh (1682-1757), a known vegetarian, is revered among Sikhs as one of the most hallowed martyrs in Sikhism and as a highly religious person. He is remembered for his sacrifice and devotion to the teachings of the Sikh Gurus. Though the name "Damdami Taksal" is fairly recent, the 'organisation' has had an unbroken lineage of Jathedars who have led the Taksal throughout Sikh history till this day. Some of its jethedars have also been the jethedars of Akal Takhat and have been part of the Panj Pyare at Sri Akal Takhat where people took Amrit and got initiated into the Khalsa Panth. The Taksal is well-known for its anti-meat stand.

The Jhatka Tradition:

Jhatka (or 'chatka') was a term used to describe the killing of an enemy quickly with a single blow (this tradition is apparently known as 'Chatka Gatka' or 'Sanatan Hindu Sikh Shastar Vidiya'). Its use by Sikhs / certain Nihang groups to also denote the killing of animals in a similar fashion appears in several 'historical' texts (see list further below). Jhatka has its roots in Hindu traditions - where the sacrificial animal was decapitated with one powerful stroke, otherwise it was not deemed acceptable to the 'diety', e.g. Kali or Durga. Shaivite Hindus carry out jhatka as part of religious dietary laws.

Supporters say jhatka is quick and painless as compared to the halal (kutha) / kosher method of killing animals, but obviously the gruesome act of killing, itself, raises ethical and moral questions and conflicts with the philosophy of 'compassion' which is mentioned and highly rated thoroughout Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji.

'Jhatka is a distinguishable tradition of certain Nihang groups (though not all practice this, case in point are the Nihang Tarna Dal and Budha Dal. Interestingly, Baba Deep Singh Ji was Jathedar of Tarna Dal before he became Jathedar of Damdami Taksal and both have a strong tradition of vegetarianism). They contend that the tradition of jhatka came from the 6th Guru, Guru Hargobind ji, and spread under him. Ironically, a handwritten Hukum Nama is in existence in which the same Guru instructs Sikhs, "Do not go near meat or fish". The following are some interesting quotes by Nihang leaders who practice jhatka:

‘Don’t shame us by wondering in shops, restaurants, market places etc eating meat, refrain from doing this! Perform Jhatka with your own hands and go hunting for prey. Only then are we permitted to eat meat’ (Nihang Jathedar Baba Santa Singh, Pracchin Panth Parkash Steek. Please refer to this text in the list further below). “Those who wish to eat meat should eat Jhatka which gears individuals towards warfare. Those Sikhs who just wish to perform selfless service and meditate should avoid meat and maintain a very simple diet. There is no obligation on anyone to eat meat, one should never eat khulla maas.” (Nihang Jathedar Baba Joginder Singh, Oral Interview July 2006)

So jhatka (and meat-eating), in their opinion, is fine for active warriors but not for all other Sikhs (though I was unable to find any historical support for this viewpoint). Today, Many Sikhs in favour of meat-eating are not warriors and do not "perform jhatka with their own hands" and they readily eat meat served at various eateries, including Muslim halal shops, without fretting about the origin or method of preparation of the meat. Those who are particular and seek out jhatka shops abdicate the responsibility of providing meat to others (ie to the restaurant operators or suppliers, jhatka meat stall vendors) as they do not "go hunting for prey" or "perform jhatka with their own hands", and have no idea how the animal is actually killed.

Pro-meat Nihangs maintain that the Jhatka practice helps to hone their martial skills and gears them toward warfare. However, history is full of examples of soldiers honing their skills by practicing against each other in mock controlled battles (notable examples are Roman and Byzantine armies) - something that is still being done by modern militaries as it is an effective method of preparing a soldier for warfare (as opposed to killing helpless animals). The nature of warfare has changed tremendously with the advent of modern weapons and this has resulted in changes in military strategies. Does the tradition of jhatka really have relevance to warfare (today or in the past)?

Most often, supporters of animal jhaka tend to quote one or more of the texts listed in the reference list below - but the word is conspicuously missing, as far as I can tell, from any credible Sikh writings from the time of all ten Gurus - which makes one wonder. For one, jhatka did exist among the Hindus but only the Brahmins / Pandits were allowed to perform it - not the common man. For the Gurus and his Sikhs to carry out jhatka would therefore have been outside of the norm and would have attracted attention. It is reasonable to assume that this would have prompted someone to make a record of it during that time and, as is often the case, a Gurdwara would have been erected at the location - but is there a "Gurdwara Jhatka Sahin"? No. As of now, there are no records from the time of the Gurus that jhatka was ever performed. Secondly, it has been suggested that Guru Gobind Singh mandated jhatka in defiance of the Moghul royal decree that only halal meat will be allowed in India. For the same reason, the Guru issued the prohibition of kutha/halal meat. This again would have been outside the norm and we see no records mentioning these actions.


Reference List of Sources (jhatka):

The following is a list of sources referenced by the pro-meat Nihangs and others in support of the jhatka tradition. It is a noteworthy observation that all of these originated after the joti-jot of the 10th Guru in 1708 (facts can inevitably get distorted with the sheer passage of time). It also appears that the authors relied on the works of other authors from the 18th century onward. The question that comes to mind is: Why isn't there a record of jhatka from a contemporary of the Gurus?

SAU SAKHI (lit. a book of one hundred anecdotes) is a work esoteric and prophetic in nature. Also problematic as regards the authenticity of its text. Written in 1724 or 1734 (the two dates found in the text), it underwent changes and interpolations.

PRACCHIN PANTH PARKASH (also known as Sri Gur Panth Prakash) - written by historian and nobleman Rattan Singh Bhangu (his exact birth date unknown: 17xx; but died 1846).

GURBILAS PATSHAHI DASMI - written by Kavi Sukha Singh in 1797.

REHATNAME - a compilation of various rehatname by Piara Singh Padam. He was born in 1921 and was a scholar of Punjabi language, literature and Sikh history. This same writer says in another book that Guru Gobind Singh ji had sexcapades!

SIRI GUR PARTAP SURAJ GRANTH (popularly known as ‘Suraj Parkash’) - written by Kavi Bhai Santokh Singh (1787 - 1853) in 1843.

REHATNAMA BHAI DESA SINGH - Desa Singh lived in the late 18th century and is not a contemporary of Guru Gobind Singh (as some historians earlier thought).

JHATKA PARKASH - a text written by Bhai Narinjan Singh Saral of the SGPC. The SGPC was established in the 1920s.

MAHAN KOSH - a Gurbani disctionary written by Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha in 1926 and published in 1927.

The 'PUNJABI DICTIONARY' - by Bhai Maya Singh; first printed in 1895.

'SIKHS AS LIBERATORS' by Principal Teja Singh (1894 - 1958)

'THE SIKH RELIGION' by Max Arthur Macauliffe (1841 - 1913)

REHATNAMAE: It seems that various Rehit Namae were written in the 18th century by Sikh writers, who assigned them to close associates of Guru Gobind Singh, such as Bhai Nand Lal, Bhai Dya Singh, Bhai Chaupa Singh* and others, to enhance their value and acceptance by the Sikhs. It is possible that Bhai Nand Lal and others might have written some parts of these compositions. However, a closer look at the contents, details and style of the language reveals that probably they were written after 1720. They also distort Sikh philosophy and some lines are unflattering to the Khalsa.

*The Bhai Chaupa Singh Rehatnama was completed in 1700. Bhai Chaupa Singh was a contemporary of Guru Gobind Singh and is said to have embarked on the task on the request of the Guru. The original version is currently missing and the copies that do exist are suspected to have been interpolated by others over time. In its existing form, there is no mention of meat (e.g. halal prohibition, jhatka, etc).


Reference List of Sources (verses against meat-eating):

The following are some of the verses that indicate an inclination of Gurbani against meat:

"Jee Badhoh So Dharam Kar Thaapoh, Adharam Kaho Kat Bhai.
Anpas Ko Munwar Kar Thaapoh, Kaa Ko Kaho Kasaaee. (SGGS 1103)
You kill animals and call it religion (Rahit); then what indeed is irreligion (Kurahit)?
Even then you consider yourself as a sage of sages; then whom to do you call a butcher?

"Bed Kateb Kaho Mat Jhoothhay, Jhoothhaa Jo Na Bichaarey.
Jo Sabh Meh Ek Khudai Kahat Ho,To Kio Murghi Maarey" (SGGS 1350)
Do not call various religious texts false. False is one who gives no thought to their contents.
If you consider God is in all, then why do you slaughter the chicken (i.e. life?)

"Rojaa Dharey, Manaavey Mlah, Svaadat Jee Sanghaarey.
Aapaa Deldi Avar Nahin Dekhey,Kaahey Kow Jhakh Maarey" (SGGS 1375)
You keep fasts (i.e. religious acts) to appease God. At the same time you slay life for your relish.
This utter selfishness is nothing but empty or nonsensical talk.

"Kabir Jee Jo Maareh Jor Kar,Kaahtey Heh Ju Halaal.
Daftar Daee Jab Kaadh Hai, Hoegaa Kaun Havaal" (SGGS 1375)
Whosoever slays life by force and call it sanctified; What will be his fate when he will be called to account for it in His Court?

"Kabir Bhaang, Machli, Surapaan Jo Jo Praanee Khahey.
Tirath, Barat, Nem Kiaye Te Sabhay Rasaatal Jahey" (SGGS 1376)
Whosoever eats flesh, fish, etc. and takes wine and hemp, all his religious acts will go to waste.

"Kabir Khoob Khaana Khichri, Ja Meh Amrit Lon
Heraa Rotee Kaarney Galaa Kataavey Kon" (SGGS 1374)
Blessed is the simple food of rice mixed with salt; Who would risk his throat to be cut hereafter, for the meat one eats here?


Conclusion:

This is what we know at the moment:

  • Sri Guru Granth Sahib contains no mention of jhatka.
  • The Vaars of Bhai Gurdas ji also do not contain any mention of it.
  • No handwritten Hukum Nama exists where our Gurus mentioned or permitted jhatka or meat of any kind.
  • A handwritten Hukum Nama (two apparently; though I have seen only one) does exist (by the 6th Guru) where he forbade meat and fish.
  • Traditional Nihang groups such as the Tarna Dal and Budha Dal are vegetarian
  • The Dasam Granth apparently mentions jhatka but not in relation to animals.
  • Despite the apparent lack of historical evidence in support of jhatka, the Akal Takhat jethedar issued an edict to permit the practice in 1980 (though the Nihangs contend it is not for non-warriors, who should remain meat-free) .

What we do have is a group (a small subsection of Nihangs) that practices it and say the tradition existed from the time of the Gurus (but are unable to provide any credible evidence of it. In fact, it is in conflict with the 6th Guru's Hukum Nama).

It should be noted that at various times the Gurus' army included Sikhs, Hindus, Shia Muslims, Sufis and Pathans, etc. It is therefore not a stretch to think that as a result of this mix, various customs existed and may have been tolerated (though not necessarily agreed with). Personally, it is difficult for me to believe that our Gurus would have permitted bhang (cannabis) or meat for the Khalsa.

The only sources we can reasonably rely on are the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) and various credible texts from the time of the Gurus (e.g. Vaars of Bhai Gurdas Ji - which the 5th Guru said were "Key to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib"; handwritten Hukum Namas by Gurus, etc). Other texts, such as rehat namas or books by scholars are suspect since they contain inaccuracies or were penned long after the joti-jot of Guru Gobind Singh ji. Of the credible sources, we can see several references against the eating of meat and none in support of jhatka.


Note:

If any inaccuracies exist in this article, know that they are unintentional. Should anyone come across or is in possesion of any credible document/source that sheds more light on the topic, please do share with me and the wider community. I will update this article accordingly.

By Gurdip Singh
Created: May 2013.
Updated: Feb 2014
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