And those who ask me for “Why Fishes are not offered to Devas in Rg veda?”

Rupa Bhaty
5 min readMay 13, 2022

Pleistocene times —Middle and Upper Paleolithic Rg-Vedic Times

Well, nobody asked me the above question and to ask such questions one needs to be attentive on what an individual is reading and what is he noting through his studies. I invariably ask myself questions on why and how on each of my studies and then try to fetch answers for them. There are many answers to types of ābhāva (absence of evidence) in any text you read, but they all need scrutiny.

By now, you should be familiar with the concept of Rg-Vedic civilization, which is fundamentally a river-based civilization. Thus, in the Rg-Veda, you won’t find any place names. However, neither the river civilization ate fish as their primary source of nutrition nor the devas/deities were fed with fish as their primary source of oblation. This is a frequently asked question that what could have been the food staple of Rg-Vedic times.

Compare the food staple in Rg-Veda

Grains in Ṛg-Veda Saṃhitā

Rg-Veda has reference to rice as dhana (4.24.7), dhanaa (1.16.2), and dhanya (5.53.13), Rg-Veda (1.16.2) uses the word taṇḍula etc. Suśruta, a sage of the ancient era and whose work is described later, recognizes only rice as dhanya (this is also supported by Monier Williams, 1872). (Read here for more understanding through the lens of Sayana).

Imagery 1

The ritual offerings of flesh contemplate that the gods will eat it, and again the Brahmins ate the offerings. In Rv. viii. 43, 11, Agni is described as a “eater of ox and cow.” The context could simply be astronomical, implying that the vernal equinoctial point in regression. It does, however, convey a glimpse of Māṃsa’s ritualistic sacrifices to Agni. Many researcher defends that these Māṃsa rituals are just pulp of fruits. Indeed Māṃsa is a pulp too. But the pictoral presentation in Rg-Veda suggest that Māṃsa’s ritualistic sacrifices to Agni is related to animal sacrifices. To defend this injunction there is a maxim, “vaidiki hiṃsā na hiṃsā”.

Māṃsaudana denotes in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa ; Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad; Śāṅkhāyana Āraṇyaka, xii. 8 a dish consisting of ‘meat cooked with rice.’

The slaughter of a hundred bulls (ukṣan) was credited to one sacrificer, Agastya (Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa, ii. 7, 11, 1; Pañcaviṃśa Brāhmaṇa, xxi. 14, 5.) Agastya is also associated with killing of all the beasts (mṛga) on this earth sitting at one place (this itself is an undecoded myth).

Imagery 2

Yet we don’t find the “Fishes” in “the food staple” or “offerings to the deities”. Why? Valid question! Lets understand the habitation areas of Rg-Vedic People. All by the side of rivers and yet no use of fishes. I doubted that Anna word is used for any type of staple but yet there is conspicous absence of fishes. As King Brihadratha’s timing became a benchmark I went deeper into these times to find the answer. I tried to understand why “Fishes” are absent in “the food staple”, though Rg vedic times were full of rivers and lakes.. For that matter I looked into the kind of fishes in colder areas. I found very few to name them.

Mahseer, snow trout, and Indian hill trout are three important and common fish species found in India’s highland rivers today. Before the LGM, the late pleistocene had already densified the snow atop the Himalayan mountain range between 35,000 and 40,000 BCE. Since then, the Himalayan-fed waters have been bitterly cold, and they sounded similar to those of Dal Lake, which is home to snow trout (almost extinct due to polluted waters). In the Montaneous upper portions, where Rg-Vedic compiler’s culture lived, there are fewer chances of abundant fresh water fish.

The plains, too, experienced harsh climate after 40,000 B.P., and Thar — Maru was prevalent throughout Rajasthan’s Saraswati region. Prior to 40,000 years ago, the environment was savannah-like and still habitable. Thar dominates with intermediate wet spells, savanna and arid environments dating back from 200,000 years. We don’t locate any lithic assemblages in Thar after 40,000 years ago, even by the sides of Saraswati paleochannels, until 7000 BP. The Saraswat Brahman remember not having anna (possibly referring to Rice, Cows, and Horses) and having to relocate, but they survived on fishes before that. This shows that Indians didn’t eat fishes for a very long time and used it as a last resort of survival.

During the year 7000 BP, the Rajasthani Saraswat rehabilitated Marwar at the advent of the wet phase. (Where did these people, such as Saraswats, Rajasthanis, Brahmans, Rajputs, Punjabis, and Haryana Jats, live during 40,000 and 7000 BP?). Saraswats’ ethnographic recollection of shifting time zones is similar to Balochis’ (Brahui-speaking people) ethnographic memory of arriving 500–700 years ago but most likely lived there for thousands of years. The lower plains had fish species similar to those present now, albeit in less numbers due to Thar’s environment, compared to the Helmand river system. The Helmand River system, unlike the eastern, western, and lower Himalayan Rivers, did not suffer (due to high glaciation from 40,000 yr BP to LGM times).

However, there was a period when the people shifted to the east at the Ganges and to the west at Helmand (i.e., Western Saraswati; am I offering answers to where the Jats went and where they sought refuge?) Don’t get the illusion that the Avestani memory Harouiiti — Helmand was the “central” Rg-Vedic Saraswati, which was the earth’s navel. Earlier the researchers have already messed up with this information.

c. 1890 Jaipur.

Fish (matsya-avatāra) is more akin to be remebered from the flooding times either in the past or posterior to LGM times. We already noted via study of names Shutudri and Shatadru how the Naiwals, i.e., new channels emerged and overpopulated the Shutudri tributaries of which some fed the River Saraswati again till 13,000 BCE and metamorphosed into Shatadru ( river of hundred channels) known to Ramayana.

And the final notings — The word Dhīvan appears in Atharva veda, close to fishermen’ (dhīvara), but neither fishing nor about its equipments are mentioned in Rg-Veda Saṃhitā. This apparently suggest the upper valley inhabitations, other thing it suggest the eating habit. One such example of earliest dwelling with a square hearth for fire was from Upper-paleolithic site Riwat site 55 on Suṣoma river from 45,000 Years before present, where fishing related tools and microtools were not found. Other than that mesolithic type micro tools are absent in all the maṇḍalas of Rg-Veda.

The concept of naming water creatures started in the Brāhmaṇas etc. śiśumārī, i.e., female porpoise, appears in Pañcaviṃśa Brāhmaṇā. śiśumāra, the Gangeic Porpoise or alligator is known to Shukla Yajurvedi Vājasaneyi Madhyādina Saṃhitā.


Thus, we can see that all these past imageries points us to Upper Pleistocene & Paleolithic times which Rg-Vedic people were experiencing and indeed they were neither eating fish nor offering it to Gods. It appears that meat was abundant compared to fishes.

Don’t ask me about Matsya, a king’s name in Rg-Veda. Just as Vyāghrapāda doesn’t confirm the tigers in Rg-Veda likewise Matsya doesn’t corroborate Fish eating king. :)

I will discuss Matsya later.



Rupa Bhaty

Architect and Adjunct Assistant Professor at School of Indic studies, Institute of Advanced Sciences, MA, USA