What is the cultural hearth of Hinduism

Food Regulations in Hinduism

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Ganesha is the Hindu god of practical wisdom, the remover of obstacles. Taken at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter.

Hinduism is considered to be the oldest practiced religion. Its traditions have evolved over millennia and have been influenced by many other religions and cultures. Most Hindus believe in a supreme deity whose characteristics and appearance are represented by different gods. For Hindus there is a cycle between birth, death and rebirth and there are many rituals that shape everyday life. The choice of dishes plays a major role.

Most of the Hindus live in India and Nepal. In Germany, the statistics for 2010 show around 110,000 people of this faith. The word Hindu comes from the Sanskrit word "sindhu" which generally means river. Both Persians and Greeks used "sindhu" to refer to those people who lived on the Indus River. In Persian, the word was changed to "Hindu" and was given a religious context, as this is how all non-Muslim Indians were named. It was not until the 19th century that the British colonial rulers brought the word Hinduism into connection with religion.

The origins of Hinduism

In contrast to other religions, there is neither a founder of a religion nor a founding event. The origin is the Vedic culture of an Indo-European ethnic group, the Aryans, who settled in northwest India. In the Vedic culture the four Vedas are central, which were passed on in oral tradition over many millennia from the teacher (guru) to the students. Translated into German, the Sanskrit word Veda means "knowledge" or "sacred knowledge". According to Indian tradition, it is impossible to study the Vedas fully, since they are considered inexhaustible and eternal.

The emergence of the four main castes

In the oldest Veda, the Rig-Veda or Ṛgveda, it is described how four castes emerged from a primordial being (Puruṣa): the face became the priests (Brahmins), the arms became the warriors (Kṣatriyas), and the thighs the Peasants (Vaiśyas) and from the feet the workers (Śūdras). The Sanskrit word Varṇavyavastha means "color system" and describes the order of society in castes. It is believed that initially the caste system was a way for the immigrant, fair-skinned Indo-Aryans to set themselves apart from the locals. The sets have since been officially abolished by the Indian state (further information on the caste system).

Food orders

"...All that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me. "(Bhagavad-gita 9.27)

(...Everything you do, everything you eat, everything you donate, everything you do without, should be offered to me.)

Today it is considered certain that the Aryans in the Vedic culture enjoyed beef as much as other meat. Binding dietary regulations have not been handed down from that time. With the emergence of Buddhism and Jainism, new religious ideas developed. The founders Siddhartha (Buddhism) and Mahavira (Jainism) both came from the warrior caste. In these religions the principle of not hurting (ahimsa) has a great meaning and is also related to animals. This gave rise to the demand for a vegetarian diet, which was then adopted for Hinduism. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported in 2003 that 42% of Indians live as lacto vegetarians. The remaining 58% are less strict or no vegetarians at all. In a survey from 2014, 28.4% of men and 29.3% of women generally said they were vegetarian. The proportion of vegetarians varies greatly between states. While 73.2% of men and 76.6% of women in Rajasthan are vegetarian, in Telangana it is only 1.2% of men and 1.4% of women [1].
Hinduism also ascribes a soul to animals and consequently commands respectful treatment of all living beings. But the cow is the most sacred animal deity; in it all gods are united. To this day it is unthinkable for almost all Hindus to eat beef and in India, with the exception of two states, killing a cow is forbidden.

Guna (Sanskrit = property, quality)

According to the Indian Samkhya philosophy, there is primordial matter (Prakriti). It is made up of three different gunas - tamas, rajas and sattva. The dishes are assigned to the three Gunas, whereby those that are tamas should be avoided:

Sattva "Balance and harmony": This includes low-spice foods and, for example, dairy products, most fresh fruit and vegetables, rice, almonds, lentils (black and brown) and walnuts. They bring about goodness and purity.
Rajas "Bringing Passion": These are sour, bitter, dry, salty and very spicy foods. Raja's foods should only be consumed in small amounts. These include eggplant, avocado, chilli, peanuts, vinegar, red lentils and → salt. → Eggs, garlic and onions are also often assigned to tamas.
Tamas "Bringing darkness": This is old leftover food as well as spoiled, heavily processed or overripe food. These include alcoholic beverages, fish, meat, fried dishes, poultry, mushrooms, sweeteners and food from the → microwave. They make people dull and sluggish.


Prasada means "mercy". This is attributed to foods offered to deities in the temple. For believers, the offering is a good, religious act that serves the spiritual purification of body, mind and soul. Brahmins are usually engaged in the preparation of food in the temples. If one accepts a Prasada prepared with devotion, it increases the spirituality of the believer. Because it is a widespread belief that the cook's consciousness spills over into the food and influences the spirit of the believer.

Cooking for Hindus

Vegetarian meals without eggs should be accepted by most Hindus. Almost all fresh fruits and vegetables can be used in the preparation. Dairy products, ghee (clarified butter) and legumes are also in the "green area". Rice, naan or chapati (also called roti) are suitable as a side dish. This flatbread is made from whole wheat flour (type 550) and water. In a conversation it can be clarified in advance to what extent eggs, fish, meat, garlic, onions or mushrooms will be tolerated.

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[1] Sreeraj TK (2016): This Survey Found Out How Many Indians Are Non-Vegetarians And Which State Is The Least Vegetarian. Accessed on June 28, 2017
The Times of India (2016): At 99%, Telangana has maximum non-vegetarians in the country. Accessed on June 28, 2017
Hale Pule, LLC (2018): Eating for balance: Sattvic foods. Accessed June 27, 2019
The Living Center (2019): Peace through a Sattvic Diet. Accessed June 27, 2019
CureJoy Inc. (2017): Ayurveda On Rajasic and Tamasic Foods: Onion and Garlic. Accessed June 27, 2019
Wikipedia entry: Guna, last accessed on 3.2. 2013, 2:42 pm.
Wikipedia entry: Chapati, accessed on June 27, 2019 at 5:01 p.m.
Vegetarian Association Germany: Veganism and Vegetarianism in the World Religions.
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The Heart of Hinduism: Food and Prasada
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Faithandfood Fact Files - Hinduism
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Johanna Buß: Hinduism for Dummies, 2009

Detailed references

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