Vegetarianism In India: Statistics, History And Cultural Significance

With rich culinary traditions and religious practices promoting vegetarianism, India is often thought of as a largely vegetarian country. But what are the actual numbers? If you’re wondering how many Indians are vegetarian, the answer may surprise you.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll provide the latest statistics on vegetarianism in India and discuss the complex factors behind them. You’ll learn about the history of vegetarianism, how it differs by region, and the cultural and religious significance of meatless eating for India’s major faiths.

We’ll also look at the future of vegetarianism in the country as diets and lifestyles change.

Current Statistics on Vegetarianism in India

Vegetarianism has a long-standing history and cultural significance in India. It is estimated that around 30% to 40% of the Indian population follows a vegetarian diet. This makes India one of the largest vegetarian populations in the world.

The reasons behind this dietary choice are varied and deeply rooted in cultural, religious, and ethical beliefs.

National Average

The national average of vegetarianism in India is quite high compared to other countries. According to a survey conducted by the Registrar General of India in 2014, approximately 29% of Indians identify as vegetarians.

This number has seen a slight increase over the years, showcasing the enduring popularity of vegetarianism in the country.

Regional Differences

While vegetarianism is prevalent throughout India, there are regional variations in its practice. For instance, states like Gujarat and Rajasthan have a higher percentage of vegetarians compared to states like West Bengal or Kerala.

This can be attributed to cultural and historical factors that have shaped dietary preferences in different regions of India.


Vegetarianism in India is not limited to any specific age group or gender. It is practiced by people of all ages and backgrounds. However, there is a trend of younger generations embracing vegetarianism more actively.

This can be attributed to increased awareness about animal welfare, health benefits, and environmental sustainability.

Furthermore, the influence of vegetarianism extends beyond the Indian population. Many foreigners visiting India also choose to adopt a vegetarian diet during their stay, either out of respect for the local culture or due to personal health preferences.

For more detailed statistical information on vegetarianism in India, you can visit the official website of the Census of India. It provides comprehensive data on various aspects of Indian society, including dietary preferences.

A Brief History of Vegetarianism in India

Vegetarianism has a rich and extensive history in India, dating back thousands of years. The practice of abstaining from meat consumption has been deeply ingrained in Indian culture and has roots in both ancient religious beliefs and philosophical teachings.

Vedic Period

The origins of vegetarianism in India can be traced back to the Vedic period, which dates back to around 1500 BCE. During this time, the Vedas, the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism, were composed. The Vedas promoted non-violence and the principle of “ahimsa,” or non-harming, which laid the foundation for vegetarianism in Indian society.

The consumption of meat was discouraged, and the focus was on a plant-based diet.

Buddhism and Jainism

Vegetarianism gained further prominence in India during the rise of Buddhism and Jainism around the 6th century BCE. Both religions placed great emphasis on non-violence and compassion towards all living beings.

Gautama Buddha and Mahavira, the founders of Buddhism and Jainism, respectively, advocated for vegetarianism as a means to practice ahimsa and avoid causing harm to animals. Vegetarianism became an integral part of the religious and ethical teachings of these religions.

Medieval India

During the medieval period in India, vegetarianism continued to be practiced and promoted by various religious and spiritual leaders. The Bhakti movement, which emerged in the 15th century, emphasized the importance of devotion and love towards God.

Many Bhakti saints advocated for vegetarianism as a way to express love and compassion towards all of God’s creations.

Colonialism and Independence

The arrival of Europeans in India during the colonial period had a profound impact on the dietary habits of the Indian population. With the introduction of meat-based dishes by the British, there was a shift towards a more meat-centric diet among certain sections of society.

However, vegetarianism remained deeply rooted in Indian culture, and even during this time, a significant portion of the population continued to adhere to a vegetarian lifestyle.

After gaining independence in 1947, India has continued to embrace vegetarianism as a significant cultural and dietary practice. Today, India is considered one of the largest vegetarian-friendly countries in the world, with a substantial population following a vegetarian or vegan diet.

For more information on the history of vegetarianism in India, you can visit India Today.

Religious Influences on Vegetarianism


Hinduism has a profound influence on the practice of vegetarianism in India. The religion emphasizes the concept of ahimsa, or non-violence, which extends to all living beings. Many Hindus choose to follow a vegetarian diet as a way to practice ahimsa and show respect for all life forms.

The cow, in particular, is considered sacred in Hinduism, and its consumption is strictly prohibited for many Hindus.


Jainism, an ancient Indian religion, places great importance on non-violence and compassion towards all living beings. Jains follow a strict vegetarian diet, avoiding not only meat but also root vegetables, as uprooting them can harm organisms in the soil.

Some Jains even go to the extent of practicing fasting and extreme dietary restrictions as a means to purify their souls and avoid causing harm to any living being.


Buddhism, which originated in India but spread throughout Asia, promotes a vegetarian lifestyle based on the principle of kindness and compassion towards all creatures. While not all Buddhists are vegetarian, many adhere to a plant-based diet as a way to minimize harm and live in harmony with the environment.

The first precept of Buddhism is to abstain from killing, and this is often interpreted as abstaining from consuming meat.


Sikhism, a religion that emerged in the Punjab region of India, does not impose any dietary restrictions on its followers. However, many Sikhs choose to follow a vegetarian or lacto-vegetarian diet due to the influence of Hindu and Jain traditions.

Sikhs believe in the equality of all living beings and emphasize the importance of compassion and service to others.


Islam, one of the major religions in India, does not require its followers to be vegetarian. However, Islamic dietary laws, known as halal, prescribe certain guidelines for the consumption of meat. Animals must be slaughtered in a specific manner, and certain types of meat, such as pork, are considered haram (forbidden).

While vegetarianism is not a central tenet of Islam, some Muslims choose to follow a vegetarian diet for personal or health reasons.

It is important to note that while religious influences play a significant role in vegetarianism in India, dietary choices ultimately vary among individuals based on personal beliefs, cultural practices, and regional influences.

Cultural and Linguistic Factors

Vegetarianism in India is deeply rooted in the country’s cultural and linguistic heritage. The diverse cuisines and languages across different regions of India have played a significant role in shaping the vegetarian lifestyle that is prevalent in the country today.


Indian cuisine is known for its rich variety of vegetarian dishes, which are a result of centuries-old culinary traditions. From North Indian delicacies like paneer tikka and chole bhature to South Indian favorites like dosa and idli, vegetarian options are abundant and celebrated.

The use of spices and herbs in Indian cuisine adds depth of flavor to vegetarian dishes, making them a delight for the taste buds.

Furthermore, the influence of religious practices, such as Hinduism and Jainism, has also contributed to the popularity of vegetarianism in India. Many Hindus and Jains follow a strict vegetarian diet as a way of practicing ahimsa, the principle of non-violence towards all living beings.

This has led to the development of innovative and delicious vegetarian recipes that cater to the dietary restrictions imposed by these religious beliefs.

The popularity of vegetarianism in India is not limited to home-cooked meals. The country is also home to a wide range of vegetarian restaurants and street food vendors, offering a plethora of options to satisfy the cravings of vegetarians and vegans.


The linguistic diversity in India has also played a role in promoting vegetarianism. Certain words and phrases in Indian languages are associated with vegetarianism, making it a topic of conversation and cultural significance.

For example, in Hindi, the word “shakahari” is commonly used to refer to a vegetarian person or meal. Similarly, in Tamil, the word “sathvic” is used to describe food that is pure, clean, and vegetarian.

Language also acts as a means of cultural transmission, with vegetarianism being passed down through generations. Families often use vegetarian recipes and cooking techniques that have been handed down for centuries, preserving the cultural significance of vegetarianism.

It is important to note that while vegetarianism is deeply ingrained in many Indian cultures, there are also regions and communities in India where non-vegetarian food is consumed. India’s cultural and linguistic diversity allows for a harmonious coexistence of various dietary preferences, making it a fascinating country for culinary exploration.

For more information on the cultural and linguistic factors contributing to vegetarianism in India, you can visit the following websites:

The Future of Vegetarianism in India

As India continues to evolve and modernize, the future of vegetarianism in the country is a topic of great interest. With a long-standing history of vegetarianism rooted in cultural and religious beliefs, it is intriguing to consider how these traditions will fare in the face of changing times.

Rising Affluence and Meat Consumption

One of the factors that may impact the future of vegetarianism in India is the rising affluence of its population. As people’s incomes increase, they often have more disposable income to spend on food choices. This has led to a noticeable increase in meat consumption across the country.

However, it is important to note that despite this rise, vegetarianism remains deeply ingrained in Indian society.

According to a report by the Indian government’s National Sample Survey Office, around 30% of Indians identified as vegetarians in 2019. This percentage has remained relatively stable over the years, indicating a steadfast commitment to vegetarianism.

Furthermore, the report also revealed that the majority of Indians who consume meat do so in moderation, with a preference for plant-based meals.

It’s worth mentioning that the rise in affluence has also led to an increase in awareness about the environmental impact of meat consumption. As more people become conscious of the need for sustainable food choices, plant-based diets are gaining popularity as a way to reduce carbon footprint and promote animal welfare.

Potential Growth of Plant-Based Diets

Another aspect that could shape the future of vegetarianism in India is the potential growth of plant-based diets. With advancements in food technology and innovation, there is an increasing variety of plant-based alternatives to meat products.

These alternatives not only mimic the taste and texture of meat but also offer nutritional benefits.

Furthermore, the younger generation in India is showing a heightened interest in vegetarianism and plant-based diets. They are more conscious of their health and the impact of their food choices on the environment.

This demographic shift, coupled with the availability of plant-based alternatives, could lead to a significant increase in the adoption of vegetarian and vegan lifestyles.

Several organizations and initiatives are actively promoting vegetarianism and plant-based diets in India. For example, the Good Food Institute India, an affiliate of the U.S.-based Good Food Institute, is working to accelerate the growth of the plant-based and cultivated meat sectors in the country.

Their efforts include fostering collaborations between scientists, entrepreneurs, and policymakers to create a sustainable and ethical food system.


While vegetarianism remains an important part of many Indians’ cultural and religious identity, the country is far from fully vegetarian. However, a significant minority of Indians adhere to meatless diets, influenced by a long and complex history intertwined with faith traditions.

As the country continues to modernize in the 21st century, it remains to be seen how these traditions persist or evolve.

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