Discovering that mathematical musical vegetarian cult
The project has been busy since my return - even though it hasn't involved as many train journeys! I've logged most of the interviews from India tried to find answers to some of the questions raised by my interviews. Most importantly, why exactly did the worshippers of Vishnu and the Brahmin caste of India (mostly) adopt vegetarianism? When was the first mention of a Jain Panjrapole (animal sanctuary)? It's tempting to disappear into the rabbit hole of more and more research.
To take one example: should the first episode start with the clear advocates of ahimsa in iron age Bihar? Or should I start earlier, with the first traces of moral qualms about killing animals, in the Vedic sacrificial handbooks that try to argue that killing a sacrificial animal doesn't really hurt them at all? Reading about in "The History of Vegetarianism and Cow-veneration in India" that I was able to buy thanks to you, I was struck by the similarities between our ancient forebears assurances that their food animals were okay (because they had assented by shivering when sprinkled with holy water; or they were going to be reincarnated as something better), and the reassurances offered to today's meat-eaters by burger bars and welfare standards.
The desire (of some people at least) to think you're doing the right thing makes these folk from millennia ago feel like people we know. I'm looking forward to bringing to life moments in Buddhist and Hindu scripture which portray this battle of ideas: the Jains challenging Buddha over eating meat (in Buddhist scripture); and the epic poem Mahabharatra's interludes for arguments about animal ethics. It's as if Game of Thrones caught its breath with in-character disputation with Peta.
To keep myself out of that research rabbit hole, and to get a better sense of the story, I put my topics into a timeline today. (It's not quite ready for proper sharing, which is why you can only see a work in progress on the screen.) It shows me that I need to work more on the middle ages. That's an era when vegetarianism met opposition - from Christian crusades, Islamic conquest, and carnal tantrism. But I'm sure there's more to say about vegetarianism's spread East with than the vegetarian emperor Wu of Liang.
This weekend, I'm heading to Bristol for VegFestUK, as I do every year. Say hello if you're coming too! This year, I'm getting there a day early and spending a day with the academics in nearby Exeter. It's something of a centre for vegetarian history, and I'll be gathering the expert interviews that will tell the story of vegetarianism in the Greek and Roman world. I couldn't do this without you - so thank you for your support!