Food represents the culture of a people. The items of food they eat, their ways and means of food preparation and the importance of food in the main events of the private and public life have evolved over centuries. Food and the manner of sharing it with others are the hallmark of an ancient civilization.
The Kural says ‘share and eat‘ in 227, 322, and 1107 couplets.
With the above averments as guidelines an analysis of the Kural brings forth some stunning revelations of the glorious past. The first profession of man is ploughing and food production. The Kural pays high regard to this detail in Chapter 104. Placing rainfall in Chapter 2 next to Praise of God Chapter 1 is not an accident. Seasonal rain is the basis of food production. It shows that in the time of the making of the Kural rain water was the main source of cultivation. The epic Silapadikaram of the second century AD intones that rain is the be all and end all of our earthly existence.
The Kural forbids the eating of meat in a fortnight manner.
“For the physical sustenance of your body, if you eat the body of another being, how can you lead a meritorious life?” asks Kural 251.
Kill not for food neither shall you eat the meat of an animal killed by others reiterates Kural 260. Others have killed for another to eat is no excuse.
The ancient Tamils were meat eaters is a historical fact. They rared animals for food and ate the flesh with relish.
What is today known as ‘Briyani‘ is a Tamil invention. Sangam literature calls it ‘nina-choru‘, that is flesh and rice. The Pandiya and Chola kings made it in a large scale for feeding their soldiers. The Arabs who came to Tamilakham for trade took this form of food preparation to their home country and made it their own. At a later date the Tamil man’s food has come back home with a new name, Biryani. Research scholars have proven the facts of this proposition in an unshakable manner.
The Jain tradition of austerity in food was also prevalent in Tamil Nadu during the time when The Jain religion was popular. There are 24 Great Liberatiors (Tirthankaras) in Jainism. Adinath was the first and the last Mahavir who lived 2600 years ago. It is claimed that Srikandar, the Supreme God of the Saivites and Virushapa Thevar, that ancient preceptor of the Jains are both one and the same. It shows the closeness of the two religions. Jains and Saivites have marriage alliances at all times.
Unlike the Buddha Mahavir reformed an existing religion, he did not create a new religion. The dateline of Mahavir 599 BC to 527 BC. Deepavali festival coincides with the day of his death. A few centuries after his death Jainism became complex and lost its ancient glory.
Followers of Eastern religions – Hindus, Saivites, Jains, Buddhists generally support vegetarianism for reasons of improving physical health, cleaner environment, better world economy and more importantly conscience. Many deeply religious souls in the West eat meat because it is sanctioned in the Bible.
Good Jains are an exceptional example of non-violence and vegetarianism. It is a deeply ascetic religion whose shadow has fallen on Hinduism, Saivaism and Buddhism and is reflected in the Kural. The Jains follow a strict dietary code regulating the types of plants they eat. They do not eat vegetables that grow below the ground like onions, garlic and tubers. They believe that the lives of humans, animals, insects and plants are sacred. They avoid giving pain to them.
Some Jain scholars claim that Thiruvalluvar is the famous Jain Acharya Kundakunda. It is not correct as the Acharya wrote only in Prakrit and was a naked ascetic who could not have written couplets in praise of Love and Lust in the Tamil language.