Hinduism is considered the world's oldest living religion and is today the third largest religion of the world. For religiously observant Hindus, diet has long been inextricably entwined with religious practices and beliefs in not only what they eat, but how they eat. A common Hindu saying is, "food is God," and Hindus take the old adage, "you are what you eat," very literally.
The Hindu religion emerged primarily from India, long called Hindustan. India is located in southeast Asia, bordered by Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan and Afghanistan, and most of India is settled between the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. While the largest concentration of Hindus can be found in this region, people following the Hindu religion can be found all over the world.
While Hinduism is generally linked to vegetarianism, most Hindus will eat meat in moderation. Northern cuisine is influenced by central Asia, and rice is a staple with lamb in cream sauce. A lack of fresh vegetables on the Western coast led to widespread use of pickled food and preserves with sea food. In the south, sweet and sour dishes with coconut, nuts, rice or wheat are popular. In eastern India, rice dishes mixed with bamboo chutes, heavy yoghurt or cream sauces can be found. Throughout India, foods are heavily spiced with seeds and spices that have health or medicinal benefits.
According to Hindu scriptures, Hindus are to follow the yama (good principles). The yama say Hindus are to respect all life, because all life is sacred. They are to live nonviolent lives, which they extend to not harming animals for food as much as possible. Hindu law states that eating animal flesh is not a sin, but abstaining from it "bears greater fruits." Yama also advises a moderate appetite. Foods taken in should not be excessive or fancy, and they should be vitalising to the body.
Hindu teachings suggest that Sudha Ahara (purity in diet) is necessary for the purposes of purifying the mind and soul. By adhering to at least a mostly vegetarian, or strict vegetarian, diet, Hindus are living principles of nonviolence and protection of life and the Earth. They believe that observing these principles with their food choices will contribute to longevity, happiness, strength and health. Foods are always offered to the Gods first, so that they are blessed when consumed.
Hindus are instructed by the Bhagavad Gita, their holy scriptures, to eat only wholesome, clean foods that are fresh and simply prepared, and to eat them in moderate portions. Beef and pork will not be found in Hindu fare. The consumption of beef and pork is strictly forbidden because cows are considered sacred and pigs unclean. Overly stimulating foods, such as alcohol, garlic and onions, are also restricted, if not avoided altogether. Dairy products, however, are a food of life and are generously used because they are believed to enhance spiritual purity.