SWORD-WIELDING Hindu devotees in Nepal yesterday began slaughtering thousands of animals in a ritual sacrifice, ignoring calls by animal rights activists to halt the annual blood-letting.
More than 80 per cent of Nepal’s 27 million people are Hindus, but unlike most of their counterparts in neighbouring India, they frequently sacrifice animals to appease deities during festivals.
Hundreds of police were sent to the area near the Gadhimai temple in Bariyapur, Bara district, near the border with India, to make sure there were no clashes between activists and devotees.
Yogendra Dulal, a district assistant administrator, said: “It is a ritual connected with people’s faith. We can’t hurt their sentiments and ban the practice.”
Tens of thousands of people flocked to the ceremony, which is held every five years at the temple. Around a million worshippers are understood to be in the area for this year’s event.
About 500,000 animals are killed during the event, rights group Humane Society International estimates. A spokesman said: “Our team has met with temple officials and the Nepal government, including a rare audience with Nepalese president Ram Baran Yadav and prime minister Sushil Koirala, and members of parliament. We urged them to bring an end to the mass animal sacrifice at Gadhimai.
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“We also requested that language promoting animal welfare and compassion towards all living creatures be added to Nepal’s constitution, similar to language in India’s constitution, and that legislation be introduced to tackle animal cruelty in the Kingdom.”
Worshippers believe the sacrifice, meant to appease Gadhimai, the Hindu goddess of power, brings them luck and prosperity.
The ritual began at dawn with a ceremonial “pancha bali” or the sacrifice of five animals: a rat, a goat, a rooster, a pig and a pigeon. About 5,000 buffalo were held in an open-air pen prior to being beheaded by butchers using swords and kukri (large curved knives). Thousands of goats and chickens will also be sacrificed before the festival ends tomorrow, temple officials said.
The heads of the sacrificed animals will be buried in a huge pit while the animal hides and skin will be sold to traders who have contracted to buy them.
“It is not proper to kill animals in the name of religion,” Uttam Kafle, of rights group Animal Nepal, said: “We are trying to convince people they can worship at the shrine peacefully and without being cruel to animals.”
India’s supreme court recently asked the government to stop the illegal movement of animals into Nepal for the ceremony.
Protests against the tradition have been growing. French actress Brigitte Bardot is among celebrities who has lobbied the Nepalese prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, in a series of letters to stop the annual mass slaughter. But his government helps fund the event, to the tune about £40,000 a year.
Regardless, the event has an almost carnival atmosphere. Stalls offering snacks, tea and blaring loud music jostle with crowds queuing to get on ferris wheels or to be seen by fortune telling robots placed along the route. A key feature of the ceremony will see the chief priest cut himself in a symbolic offering of human blood.
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