Diet in Sikhism

In Sikhism, only lacto-vegetarian food is served in the Gurdwara (Sikh temple) but Sikhs are not bound to be meat-free.[1][2] The general consensus is that Sikhs are free to choose whether to adopt a meat diet or not.[2][3] Sikhs, once they become Amritdhari (baptised) via the Amrit Sanskar (baptism ceremony), are forbidden from eating Kutha or ritually-slaughtered (Halal, Kosher)[2] meat[4] because it transgresses one of the four restrictions in the Sikh Code of Conduct.[5][6]

Akal Takht ruling

The Akal Takht (Central Body for Sikh Temporal Affairs) represents the final authority on controversial issues concerning the Sikh Panth (community or collective). The Hukamnama (edict or clarification), issued by Akal Takht Jathedar (head priest or head caretaker) Sadhu Singh Bhaura dated February 15, 1980, states that eating meat does not go against the code of conduct (Kurehit) of the Sikhs; Amritdhari Sikhs can eat meat as long as it is Jhatka meat.[7]

Disagreement with the ruling

Some religious sects of Sikhism—Damdami Taksal, Akhand Kirtani Jatha, Namdharis, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha[8] and the 3HO[9]—believe that the Sikh diet should be meat-free.[8] The reason for the disagreement with this ruling is that these sects had many Vaishnav converts to Sikhism who were staunchly vegetarian.[10]

The Akhand Kirtani Jatha dispute the meaning of the word "kutha", claiming it means all meat.[11] However, in mainstream Sikhism this word has been accepted to mean that which has been prepared according to Muslim rituals.[12]

Guru Granth Sahib

According to Surjit Singh Gandhi, the Guru Granth Sahib on page 472 and Guru Nanak in early 16th century said that "avoidance of flesh as food was impractical and impossible so long as they used water, since water was the source of all life and the first life principle".[13]


Within the gurdwara, the Guru ka Langar (Guru's community kitchen) serves purely lacto-vegetarian food because the Langar is open to all. Since people of many faiths with varying dietary taboos, and since Sikhs accept these restrictions and accommodate people regardless of their faith or culture, the Sikh Gurus adopt vegetarian food for Langar. Meat was included in langar at the time of Guru Angad, but was discontinued to accommodate Vashnavites.[14] The exception to vegetarian langar today is when Nihangs serve meat[15] on the occasion of Holla Mohalla, and call it Maha Prashad.


Sikhism argues that the soul can possibly undergo millions of transformations as various forms of life before ultimately becoming human. These life forms could be a rock, vegetation, or an animal. Sikhism does not see a difference between these types of existence,[16] however the human has a privileged position compared to other life forms.[17] In terms of the Sikh view of karma, human life is seen as being most precious, and animal, vegetable, and mineral all viewed as being equally below human life. Therefore Sikhs view eating an animal is the same as eating a plant or mineral.[18]

The Sikh code of conduct on the Sikh diet (Rehat Maryada)

According to the Sikh code of conduct or Rehat Maryada, Sikhs are free to choose whether or not to include meat in their diet.[19]

In the Rehat Maryada, Article XXIV - Ceremony of Baptism or Initiation (page 38),[20] it states:

The undermentioned four transgressions (tabooed practices) must be avoided:

  1. Dishonouring the hair
  2. Eating the meat of an animal slaughtered the Muslim way (Kutha)
  3. Cohabiting with a person other than one's spouse
  4. Using tobacco.
    Sikh Rehat Maryada

The Rehat Maryada states that Sikhs are bound to avoid meat that is killed in a ritualistic manner[12] such as Halal (Muslim) or Kosher (Jewish).[21][22]

Sikh intellectual views

I. J. Singh states that throughout Sikh history, there have been many subsects of Sikhism that have espoused vegetarianism. However, this was rejected by the Sikh Gurus.[23] Sikhs consider that vegetarianism and meat-eating are unimportant in the realm of Sikh spirituality. Surinder Singh Kohli links vegetarianism to Vashnavite behaviour.[24] Gopal Singh, commenting on meat being served in the langar during the time of Guru Angad[25] Gyani Sher Singh—who was the head priest at the Darbar Sahib—notes that ahimsa does not fit in with Sikh doctrine.[26] W. Owen Cole and Piara Singh Sambhi[27] comment that if the Sikh Gurus had made an issue on vegetarianism, it would have distracted from the main emphasis of Sikh spirituality. H. S. Singha and Satwant Kaur comment on how ritually-slaughtered meat is considered a sin for initiated Sikhs.[28] G. S. Sidhu also notes that ritually-slaughtered meat is taboo for a Sikh.[29] Gurbakhsh Singh comments on how non-Kutha meat is acceptable for the Sikhs.[30] Surinder Singh Kohli comments on the "fools wrangle over flesh"[31] quotation from the Guru Granth Sahib by noting how Guru Nanak mocked hypocritical vegetarian priests. Gobind Singh Mansukhani states how vegetarianism and meat-eating has been left to the individual Sikh.[32] Devinder Singh Chahal comments on the difficulties of distinguishing between plant and animal in Sikh philosophy.[33] H. S. Singha comments in his book how the Sikh Gurus ate meat.[34] Khushwant Singh also notes that most Sikhs are meat-eaters and decry vegetarians as daal khorey (lentil-eaters).[35]

Historical dietary behaviour of Sikhs

There are a number of eyewitness accounts from European travelers as to the eating habits of Sikhs.[36] According to William Francklin in his writing about Mr George Thomas 1805: "They are not prohibited the use of Animal food of any kind, excepting Beef, which they are rigidly scrupulous in abstaining from."[37]

According to Dabistan e Mazhib (a contemporary Persian chronology of the Sikh Gurus), Guru Nanak did not eat meat, and Guru Arjan thought that meat eating was not in accordance with Nanak's wishes. This differs from I. J. Singh's research that states that Guru Nanak ate meat on the way to Kurukshetra.[38] According to Persian records, Guru Hargobind (the 6th Guru) ate meat and hunted, and his practice was adopted by most Sikhs.[39]

Sarbloh Bibek

Many Sikhs keep Sarbloh Bibek. Sarbloh means all-iron and Bibek meaning conscious principles. Sikhs who follow this practice eat from iron bowls and iron plates only. According to Sarbloh Bibek, food must be cooked in iron cauldrons or other iron utensils while reciting Gurbani or Simran (meditating).[40] Sikhs traditionally use sand to clean the iron utensils, but today Sikhs speed up the process using a mixture of dishwashing soap, sand, water, and a steel wool soap pad.

Another key aspect to maintaining Sarbloh Bibek is that Sikhs must only eat food prepared by other Amritdhari (baptized) Sikhs. Amritdhari Sikhs are also not to eat Jootha food (previously eaten food) from non-Amritdharis.[41]

Sarbloh was used by Guru Gobind Singh to prepare Amrit during the Khalsa initiation ceremony in 1699.[42] The Khanda (a double edged knife or sword) was also made of Sarbloh. To this day Amrit Sanchar ceremonies are conducted using a bata (bowl) and Khanda (sword) made of sarbloh.[43]

See also


  1. "Only Meat Killed by Ritual (Kutha) Is Banned for a Sikh". Sgpc. Retrieved 2009-08-09.
  2. 1 2 3 Mosher, Lucinda (1 June 2005). "4 Distance". Belonging (Faith in the Neighbourhood). Church Publishing Inc. p. 108. ISBN 1-59627-010-1. Retrieved 24 November 2010.
  3. "Eating the meat of an animal slaughtered the Muslim way (Kutha)". Sgpc. Retrieved 2009-08-09.
  4. Sekhon, Devinder Singh; Singh; Devinder (2005-01-01). "10 Gurmat and Meat". Philosophy of Guru Granth Sahib. Anmol Publications PVT. LTD. pp. 143 to 172. ISBN 978-81-261-2357-5. Retrieved 26 November 2010.
  5. Punjabi-English Dictionary, Punjabi University, Dept. of Punjabi Lexicography, ISBN 81-7380-095-2; Hardcover; 2002-10-01
  6. Kaur, Upinder Jit (1990). Sikh Religion And Economic Development. National Book Organisation. p. 212. ISBN 9788185135489.
  7. Singh, Dharam (2001). Perspectives on Sikhism: Papers Presented at the International Seminar on Sikhism: a Religion for the Third Millennium Held at Punjabi University, Patiala on 27-29 March 2000. Publication Bureau, Punjabi Universit. p. 89. ISBN 9788173807367.
  8. 1 2 Takhar, Opinderjit Kaur (2005). "2 Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha". Sikh identity: an exploration of groups among Sikhs. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-7546-5202-1. Retrieved 26 November 2010.
  9. Gabriel Cousens. Conscious Eating. Retrieved 2009-08-09.
  10. Singh Dhillon, Dalbir (1988). Sikhism, Origin and Development. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers & Distributors. p. 247. ISBN 9788171561520.
  11. McLeod, W. H. (2003). "6 The Singh Sabha and the Years After". Sikhs of the Khalsa: a history of the Khalsa rahit (Hardcover ed.). Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. p. 185. ISBN 978-0-19-565916-0. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  12. 1 2 H. S. Singha & Satwant Kaur Hemkunt (1994). "Sikhism, A Complete Introduction" (Limited preview digitized online by Google books). New Delhi: Hemkunt Press. ISBN 81-7010-245-6. Retrieved 2010-02-07.
  13. Surjit Singh Gandhi. History of Sikh Gurus Retold: 1469–1606 C.E. p. 95. Retrieved 2009-08-09.
  14. Singh, Prithi Pal (2006). "3 Guru Amar Das". The History of Sikh Gurus. New Delhi: Lotus Press. p. 38. ISBN 81-8382-075-1. Retrieved 201-02-07. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  15. "Holla Mohalla". Retrieved 2009-08-09.
  16. Myrvold, Kristina (15 October 2005). "8 Sikhism and Death". In Kathleen Garces-Foley. Death and Religion in a Changing World (Paperback). M.E. Sharpe. p. 187. ISBN 0-7656-1222-4. Retrieved 24 November 2010.
  17. Jhutti-Johal, Jagbir (6 Feb 2011). Sikhism Today (Religion Today). English: Continuum. p. 17. ISBN 1847062725.
  18. Morgan, Peggy; Clive Lawton. "6. Questions of Right and Wrong". Ethical issues in Six Religious Traditions (2nd ed.). 22 George Square, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 144. ISBN 978-0-7486-2329-7. Retrieved 2014-02-07.
  19. "Only Meat Killed by Ritual Is Banned for a Sikh".
  20. Sikh Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee (ed.). "Sikh Rehat Maryada in English, Section Six, Chapter XIII, Article XXIV-(p)". p. 38. Retrieved 2018-06-26.
  21. Sandeep Singh Brar. "Misconceptions About Eating Meat — Comments of Sikh Scholars". Retrieved 2009-08-09.
  22. Dr Indarjit Singh, OBE. "Faithandfood Fact Files — Sikhism". Retrieved 2009-08-09.
  23. I. J. Singh. Sikhs and Sikhism. Delhi: Manohar. ISBN 978-81-7304-058-0.
  24. Surindar Singh Kohli, Guru Granth Sahib, An Analytical Study, Amritsar: Singh Bros., ISBN 81-7205-060-7
  25. Gopal Singh. A History of the Sikh People. Delhi: World Sikh University Press. ISBN 978-81-7023-139-4.
  26. Gyani Sher Singh, Philosophy of Sikhism, Amritsar: Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee
  27. W. Owen Cole and Piara Singh Sambhi, A Popular Dictionary of Sikhism, England, ISBN 978-0-8442-0424-6
  28. H. S. Singha and Satwant Kaur, Sikhism, A Complete Introduction, Delhi: Hemkunt Press, ISBN 81-7010-245-6
  29. G. S. Sidhu, Introduction to Sikhism, Toronto: Shromini Sikh Sangat, ISBN 0-900692-07-3
  30. Gurbakhsh Singh, The Sikh Faith, Vancouver: Canadian Sikh Study and Teaching Society, ISBN 978-81-7205-188-4
  31. Surinder Singh Kohli, Real Sikhism, New Delhi: Harman Publishing, ISBN 81-85151-64-4
  32. Gobind Singh Mansukhani, Introduction to Sikhism, Delhi: Hemkunt Press, ISBN 81-7010-181-6
  33. Devinder Singh Chahal, Scientific Interpretation of Gurbani
  34. H. S. Singha, Mini Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, Delhi: Hemkunt Press, ISBN 81-7010-200-6
  35. Khushwant Singh (2009-11-07). "An Ancient Brotherhood". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-11-10.
  36. Siques, Tigers or Thieves Parmjit Singh & Amandeep Singh Madra ISBN 1-4039-6202-2
  37. John Griffiths writes on 17 February 1794: Now become a Singh, he is a heterodox, and distinct from the Hindoos by whom he is considered an apostate. He is not restricted in his diet, but is allowed, by the tenets of his new religion, to devour whatever food his appetite may prompt, excepting beef."
  38. I. J. Singh. Sikhs and Sikhism. Delhi: Manohar. ISBN 978-81-7304-058-0.
  39. J.S. Grewal, Sikh History from Persian Sources: Translations of Major Texts, ISBN 978-81-85229-17-1
  40. The Sikh Review. 53 (7-12; 619-624): 135. 2005. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  41. Jacobsen, Knut (2011). Sikhs in Europe: Migration, Identities and Representations. Ashgate Publishing. p. 262. ISBN 9781409424345.
  42. Gupta, Shiv (1999). Creation of the Khalsa: Fulfilment of Guru Nanak's Mission : Khalsa Tercentenary Commemorative Volume. Punjabi University. Publication Bureau. p. 95. ISBN 9788173805738.
  43. Trilochan, Singh (2001). The Turban and the Sword of the Sikhs: Essence of Sikhism : History and Exposition of Sikh Baptism, Sikh Symbols, and Moral Code of the Sikhs, Rehitnāmās. B. Chattar Singh Jiwan Singh. p. 124. ISBN 9788176014915.
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