Monday, June 7, 2010

Jain Food Habits: Some Facts

Jain Food Habits: Some Facts

Recently I have added some vegetarian recipes to my blog Jain Food Recipes , which include use of root vegetables. Few people have questioned that how the recipes are tagged as Jain Food recipes as Jain do not use root vegetables. The readers of my article ‘What is Jain Food?’ also have asked the same type of question.

Here is the clarification.

It is misconception that all Jains have banned the use of root vegetables. Not eating root vegetables is a vow, and only those people do not eat them who have taken the vow. So there is no question of banning root vegetables by all Jains. Moreover, the number of Jains taking this vow is very low, even in the period of Rainy Season (Chaaturmaas), when some people avoid eating root vegetables. Generally, senior members of Jain community, mostly women, take the vow.

Furthermore, banning root vegetables is a popular thing in the state of Gujaraat, where not only orthodox Jains but also Hindu Vaishnavites ban the use of root vegetables in their food. As for many people ‘Gujaraati’ is an alternative word for Jain’, food habits of Gujaraatis are being considered as food habits of all Jains. But the fact is that there are millions of Jains outside the Gujaraati world and their food habits are different from that of Gujaraati Jains. So while thinking about Jain food, you should not ignore the recipes popular in the non Gujaraati Jain communities.

The funny thing about the non-eater of root vegetables is that they have cleverly excluded some root vegetables from their rule. They eat carrots, sweet potatoes, turmeric powder, ginger powder, groundnuts, radish etc. Their sole opposition is to onions, garlic and potatoes. They never speak about the sugar they are eating which is made from beetroots.

According to the rules of orthodox Jains, they are not permitted to eat after sunset.
But the very funny thing is that the so-called Jain food is vastly available in Indian vegetarian restaurants even after sunset, and at late night.

Further, the rules do not allow eating green vegetables, vegetable leaves and even pickles etc. But have you ever heard them discussing about it? If the Jain food recipes include these things, why recipes including onion, garlic and potato are targeted?

Historical facts and literary references
Aachaaraang Sutra is the oldest sacred text of Jains. It was written exclusively for the Jain ascetics (monks). The text gives detailed guidelines on the conduct of the monks, and what they should eat and should not eat. Nowhere in this book, the consumption of root vegetables is banned.

Now, as usual the Digambar Jains will say that Achaaraang Sutra is a Shwetambar text, and Digambars do not believe in it. Well, then Mulaachaar is the textbook exclusively for Digambar Jain monks. It is also one of the oldest Jain texts, and nowhere in this book the consumption of root vegetables is banned.

Remember that both the above-mentioned ancient books were written exclusively for Jain monks. If you read these books, you will find many hard to digest facts about allowed food habits for the Jain monks. The Jain monks are strict followers, while the Jain laymen have to follow at low scale. We should think over this.

It is clear that root vegetables were banned by some Jains in later period, and it was just an adoption of Vaishnavite practices. Notable thing is that Gujaraat is the stronghold of Vaishnvites and Gujarati Jains have adopted many of Vaishnavite traditions. For example, Gujarati Jains decorate idols of Teerthankars. Can any wise man dare to say that it is a Jain tradition?

In a sixteenth century Marathi book, there is a conversation between two Jain women who were climbing the hill of Girnaar. One of the women is a Gujaraati and another is a Maraathi. The Gujaraati woman taunts the Maraathi woman about her community’s tradition of eating the subzi of brinjal. In reply, the Maraathi woman says, “ Being religious doesn’t depend on what you eat, but what you do…and how come you paint your lips and even of the idol…’ etc.

Even in the famous Moksha Maarg Prakaashak, Pandit Todarmal have rebuked those Jains who give importance to less important things like eating habits.

Upaadhyaay Amarmuni, one of the greatest Jain monks of 20th century have clearly said that banning root vegetables in food is a fad of Jains from Gujaraat.

Even today monks of some Jain sects freely take root vegetables in their food. Some Jain monks avoid eating root vegetable in one region, but in another regions, they eat it.

Food Habits is not Religion
Unfortunately, many Jains are confused about food habits and religion. In fact, these two things are distinct. Being a vegetarian is a must thing for the followers of Jainism. But it doesn’t mean that one can become a true follower of Jainism by being a Vegetarian.

Understanding Jainism leads you to the vegetarian way of life, not vice versa. Being a vegetarian and taking various vows are just outer things. What is important, are you a Jain at your heart? If you do not eat root vegetables, but are self-centered, money oriented, selfish, egoistic, exploit people, have contempt for other people, if you do not live a simple life, then how can a sensible man can say that you are a Jain?

I have seen that many Jains who do not eat root vegetables, have a dislike about those who eat root vegetables. Such non-eaters like to insult the eaters. They have all the bad habits I have mentioned above. This very thing suggests that the non-eaters have failed to understand the true spirit of Jainism.

I conclude this article by giving a funny but true example.

One of my Brahmin friends invited me for a dinner at his house. On the next day, one of my neighbors, who is a Jain, asked me,

“ So what was the menu their?”

“It was a simple menu. Chapaatis, Potato subzi, Rice and Daal,” I replied.

“Potato subzi?” he seriously said, “You ate Potato subzi? I never eat potato subzi”

“Yes, I know! But you drink wine, and that too at night!” I said.

-Mahavir Sanglikar

This article is based on observations by the author, supported by following reference books:

1.Panna Samikkhiye Dhamma: Upadhyay Amarmuni
2.Aachaaraang Sutra
4.Gujari-Maraathi Geet
5.Moksha Maarg Prakaashak: Pandit Todarmal


  1. Hi Mahavir,
    I came to know about very strange fact about root vegetables. In earlier written I found you wrong. but you mentioned many holybook reference, force me to dig into this topic more. Its really interesting to know more about our practices.
    Thanks for putting light on such topic.

  2. Hi Mahavir,

    I read your post and I want to argue on that.

    My first point is-> (1) The root vegetables are considered as a BAHUGHAT (one of the type of non-eatable things) vegetables. The BAHUGHAT means many living beings are existing in a single body. So, if anybody eat a root vegetable, he is not killing many living beings.

    (2) This practice in not only for monk, but also grahastha (the people who lives in the home). Out of the eight moolgun (characters)of the grahastha, non-eating of root-vegetables is one moolgun of grahastha.

    (3) Further, there is same PAP (sin) in eating any root-vegetables, such as potato, garlic, carrot.

    (4) The moksha mark prakashak author gives critical views on thos people, who consider that being a non-eater of root vegetables or doing all general jain practices, he would become a true jain or would be free from sin. However, author wants to say that by practicing all such things, the grahastha should try to understand the own SOUL (ATMA).

    (5) The Jain practices are not for the sack of religion, it is for true Non-violence.
    The only purpose of the Jain religion is understanding the own SOUL (ATMA) and it should be free from sansar paribhraman.

    (6)Own soul will become The GOD, the only result of the jain sanskar and vitchar.

    (7) if anybody has question or doubt- contact me on