Nepal: setting out to challenge the world's largest animal sacrifice
Half a million animals are beheaded in a mass slaughter to please goddess Gadhimai in Nepal every five years – this bloody ritual must be stopped
Tuesday 25 November 2014 12.38 GMT
Every five years, in a tiny region of Nepal, as many as half a million animals are beheaded in an extraordinary mass sacrifice.
As director of the Indian branch of Humane Society International, I have spent many years campaigning to end this slaughter, and I’m about to witness it in Nepal myself. The footage I have viewed over the years has haunted me. I have seen terrified animals corralled into the festival site. One by one they have their roped heads yanked down, their kicking hind legs restrained, and then their heads sliced off with a machete. Others are so exhausted from travelling hundreds of miles to the festival without food or water, that they simply languish even as all around them buffaloes and goats are being decapitated. I have even seen calves trying to nuzzle comfort from the severed heads of their mothers lying on the ground.
The people carrying out this brutal sacrifice are farmers and factory workers, all hoping that this bloodshed will bring them prosperity from the Hindu goddess Gadhimai. The sights and sounds are unimaginable. Pools of blood, animals bellowing in pain and panic, wide-eyed children looking on, devotees covered in animal blood, and some people even drinking blood from the headless but still warm carcasses.
In the years since we have been campaigning to stop this and similar animal sacrifices, we have received colossal support from people globally, but most crucially from people in India, from which most of the sacrificial animals are imported illegally to Nepal. Swami Agnivesh, president of the World Council of Arya Samaj, has urged Hindu devotees to stop the sacrifice. At a press conference in Patna he said: “India was a pioneer in introducing the principle of ahimsa [non violence] to the entire world. Rituals like Gadhimai where scores of animals are mercilessly sacrificed only corrode our values of compassion.”
The supreme court of India has also backed our campaign, issuing an order directing the government of India to stop animals being illegally transported across the border for the sacrifice at Gadhimai. The court asked animal protection groups and others to devise an action plan to ensure the court order is implemented.
The festival itself is already underway, with the sacrifices due to take place on the 28 and 29 November. There has been much activity on the Indian borders: so far there have been 114 arrests, and police have confiscated nearly 2,500 animals. Thanks to these collective efforts, the number of animals in Gadhimai is far down from previous years.
I will be there with a small team from HSI/India, People for Animals India and Animal Welfare Network Nepal, to patrol the border as well as the festival itself, and to ensure that as many illegally smuggled animals as possible are seized and spared the sacrifice. It is a life-saving mission I know I must make, but I go back to Gadhimai full of dread and fear. I know it is going to be hard, but someone needs to help these animals. Compassion for animals is written in India’s constitution, so we owe them our best efforts.
Jayasimha Nuggehalli is director of the India branch of Humane Society International.
The Gadhimai sacrifice is grotesque
The ritual slaughter of hundreds of thousands of animals runs counter to Hindu principles of reverence for life
theguardian.com, Wednesday 25 November 2009 12.00 GMT
Yesterday, Mangal Chaudhary and Dukha Kachadiya, descendants of a feudal landlord and a village healer adept in the Hindu occult, who in the 18th century started a mass animal sacrifice to the goddess Gadhimai, presided over a ceremony to begin this year's festival by beheading 10,000 buffalo. Their deaths are being followed by the slaughter of a further quarter of a million animals and birds today. It is all happening in Bariyarpur, a village in the south of Nepal, bordering the state of Bihar in India. The region is well known as the homeland of the Bhojpuri people, a close-knit ethnic community devoted to the worship of Gadhimai.
The history of this bloodthirsty event began when Bhagwan Chaudhary, the feudal landlord, a imprisoned in Makwanpur fort prison about 260 years ago. He dreamed that all his problems would be solved if he made a blood sacrifice to Gadhimai. Immediately upon his release from prison he took counsel from the local village healer whose descendant, Dukha Kachadiya, started the ritual yesterday with drops of his own blood from five parts of his body. Apparently then a light "appeared" in an earthenware jar, and the gory sacrifice began.
To me it all seems utterly abhorrent. Yet the Nepalese government made a ridiculous decision to give 4.5 million rupees to the organisers to build an abattoir so as to avoid pollution and disease but undoubtedly also to hold on to Bhojpuri votes. The whole incident has quite rightly sparked an international outcry from animal welfare campaigners, Indian politicians like Menaka Gandhi and religious icons like the "Buddha Boy" Ram Bahadur Bomjan, among others.
Personally, I see this practice as one utterly opposed to the non-violent principles of my Hindu religion. Five to six thousand years ago our Vedic seers recognised that we can only survive by taking life from a lower level of consciousness to ours as is the case with plants and animals, but never did they condone senseless and purposeless killing. In Hinduism all life is sacred and the whole idea of animal sacrifice in those ancient days was based on the principle that we must pray to God before killing an animal for food – by reciting Vedic mantras to God – and simply put that we think twice before taking a life for our own consumption.
Many Hindus may not like it, because we like to think we are tolerant, but I see several superstitious practices in what otherwise is a wise and profound religion, and issues such as this which should be robustly challenged are instead allowed to pass.