Why don’t Jains eat potatoes, onions, garlic and other root vegetables? Why don’t Jains eat after sunset? Why do they only drink filtered water?
These are just some of the questions that arise when talking about Jainism, and in this article we will try to shed light on the peculiarities of Jain life.
Jain vegetarianism is the most strict religiously motivated diet in the Indian subcontinent.
The Jains’ refusal to eat meat and fish is based on the principle of non-violence (ahinsa, literally “non-traumatic”). Any human action that directly or indirectly supports killing or harming is considered hinsa and leads to the formation of bad karma. The purpose of Ahima is to prevent damage to one’s karma.
The degree to which this intention is observed varies among Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. Among the Jains, the principle of non-violence is considered the most important universal religious duty for all – ahinsā paramo dharmaḥ – as inscribed on the Jani temples. This principle is a prerequisite for liberation from the cycle of rebirth, such is the ultimate goal of the Jain movement. Hindus and Buddhists have similar philosophies, but the Jain approach is especially strict and inclusive.
What distinguishes Jainism is the meticulous ways in which non-violence is applied in daily activities, and especially in nutrition. This strict form of vegetarianism has the side effect of asceticism, which the Jains are as obligatory on the laity as it is on the monks.
Vegetarianism for Jains is a sine qua non. Food that contains even small particles of the bodies of dead animals or eggs is absolutely unacceptable. Some Jain activists are leaning towards veganism, as dairy production also involves violence against cows.
Jains are careful not to harm even small insects, considering harm caused through negligence as reprehensible as well as intentional harm. They wear gauze bandages so as not to swallow midges, they make great efforts to ensure that no tiny animals are harmed in the process of eating and drinking.
Traditionally, Jains were not allowed to drink unfiltered water. In the past, when wells were the source of water, cloth was used for filtration, and microorganisms had to be returned back to the reservoir. Today this practice called “jivani” or “bilchhavani” is not used due to the advent of water supply systems.
Even today, some Jains continue to filter the water from purchased bottles of mineral water.
Jains try their best not to injure plants, and there are special guidelines for this. Root vegetables such as potatoes and onions should not be eaten because this damages the plant and because the root is regarded as a living being that can germinate. Only fruits that are seasonally plucked from the plant can be eaten.
It is forbidden to consume honey, as collecting it involves violence towards bees.
You can not eat food that has begun to deteriorate.
Traditionally, cooking at night is prohibited, as insects are attracted to fire and may die. That is why strict adherents of Jainism take a vow not to eat after sunset.
Jains do not eat food that was cooked yesterday, as microorganisms (bacteria, yeast) develop in it overnight. They can only eat freshly prepared food.
Jains do not eat fermented foods (beer, wine, and other spirits) to avoid killing the microorganisms involved in the fermentation process.
During the period of fasting in the religious calendar “Panchang” you can not eat green vegetables (containing chlorophyll), such as okra, leafy salads and others.
In many parts of India, vegetarianism has been heavily influenced by Jainism:
- Gujarati cuisine
- Marwari cuisine of Rajasthan
- Cuisine of Central India
- Agrawal Kitchen Delhi
In India, vegetarian cuisine is ubiquitous and vegetarian restaurants are very popular. For example, the legendary sweets Ghantewala in Delhi and Jamna Mithya in Sagar are run by the Jains. A number of Indian restaurants offer a special Jain version of the meal without carrots, potatoes, onions or garlic. Some airlines offer Jain vegetarian meals upon prior request. The term “satvika” often refers to Indian cuisine without onions and garlic, although the strict Jain diet excludes other root vegetables such as potatoes.
Some dishes, such as Rajasthani gatte ki sabzi, have been specially invented for festivals during which green vegetables must be avoided by orthodox Jains.