Gadhimai Festival(Animal Sacrifice) In Nepal

In an unparalleled religious madness, in Nepal, a Hindu festival calls for a mass animal sacrifice which is considered to be the world's goriest mass killing of animals.

A few hundred thousands buffaloes, pigs, goats,  pigeons, rabbits and chickens are killed as part of the blood-soaked festival held every five years (November 24, 25) to honor the Hindu goddess of power.

"Mass sacrifice of animals is barbaric"

Monday 23 November 2009 -  Pramada Shah, president of the Animal Welfare Network Nepal and wife of the king's nephew, explains what will happen during the Gadhimai Jatra festival on November 24-25, at which half a million animals and birds are expected to be sacrificed

Pramada Shah with the high priest of Gadhimai. Photograph: Lucia de Vries
Animal sacrifice is an everyday occurrence in Nepal. One could visit one of the countless temples and suddenly find oneself witnessing the beheading of a goat, a chicken, a duck, or even a young buffalo. The visitor might catch the last sounds of a dying animal or find oneself wading through a stream of blood.

The 'mother of all sacrifices' is at Gadhimai Jatra in Bara district in the south of Nepal. This festival is held once every five years. Last time 20,000 buffaloes were killed as well as an unknown number of other animals, including rats, snakes, pigeons, chicken, ducks, goats and sheep. The total number of animals killed in the span of just two days was estimated to be 200,000. This year the organisers aim to sacrifice no less than half a million animals. Local communities are being pressurised to increase the numbers; each village committee is supposed to pledge one thousand animals.

Some 70 per cent of devotees come from India, which is just across the border from Gadhimai. One reason for the event's huge popularity is its proximity to India, where some states have now banned sacrificial slaughter. In India today there is greater awareness about animal sacrifice and animal suffering so it is sad to see that Nepal caters to those devotees who will be able to conduct sacrifices that are illegal in their home states.

Sacrifice in itself is gruesome. Unsystematic mass sacrifice such as the one in Gadhimai is no less than barbaric. The worst killings are those of panchhbali – five offerings – in which the throats of five kinds of animals (buffaloes, goats, pigs, roosters and rats) are slit with a knife. It is not done quickly. The animals die a slow, extremely cruel, violent death while the priests sprinkle the blood across the idol and its surroundings.

Right after the panchhbali, it is the buffaloes' turn. Wielding swords, men enter a fenced yard where around 20,000 buffaloes are kept, and start hacking at the buffaloes' necks. As the killers cannot chop off the buffaloes' heads at once, they first cut the hind legs. After the animal falls on the ground the men hack until the buffalo's head is separated from the body. It takes up to twenty five attempts to kill a big buffalo. The suffering is unimaginable.

Campaigners have protested against the widespread public sacrifice in Nepal for the last two decade, but I am a late entrant to this movement. Despite the fact that I have been involved in the women's movement for long, I had to give it some thought before becoming equally vocal about another sensitive issue. But I have always been against sacrifice.

I remember creating a scene when I was about eight when I realised that a goat I used to play with was going to be killed. What upset me even more was that the fact that the goat would be beheaded in the name of God. In my Hindu upbringing I was taught that God was the Creator; even as a child I could not understand why God would want His creatures to be killed.

After seeing how upset I was my family stopped sacrificing animals. My relatives are animal lovers too so they might have been secretly relieved to be offering coconuts instead of animals. When I married a member of the royal family, my in-laws kindly agreed to abandon animal sacrifice and introduce the offerings of fruits and vegetables. They too are aware of the futility of animal sacrifice.

Since then I have talked to numerous people about this issue. I have come to realise that pledging animals to get one's wishes fulfilled is a deep-rooted tradition. Children grow up witnessing numerous public sacrifices; people are made to believe that killing animals in a temple is a short cut to becoming successful. Even well-educated Nepalese, social campaigners and development agencies continue the tradition.

When I ask educated people why they don't stop sacrifice, at least in their own family, they answer that bad luck could be the outcome and that a tragedy might occur. They feel it is better to continue the age old traditions and be safe. With such widespread deep-rooted superstition it is easy to imagine how hard it is for campaigners to address this issue. The superstitious nature of the Nepalese people stands in the way of abolishing archaic practices such as animal sacrifice as well as witchcraft, racial discrimination, women's suppression and others.

Nepal's leaders might be concerned about the image of the country when the world's largest sacrifice starts next week, but they will not want to interfere. They regard the issue as 'too sensitive' and claim they do not want to hurt the sentiments of religious groups.

Animal sacrifice benefits the business community involved in fairs such as Gadhimai. This year the organising committee expects to raise about 2 million euros from selling animal hides and carcasses as well as payment for logistics and recreational facilities. In contrast, the poor do not do well out of it. Some will have to spend up to two months' salary to buy an animal to be sacrificed at the fair.

Another issue that is overlooked is that cruelty against animals harms society as a whole; it signals and normalises insensitivity in children who can become numb to the suffering of living beings. Now that the armed conflict has ended, Nepal needs peaceful practices that educate the next generation for a harmonious society.

The involvement of the international community is crucial to the campaign's success. The support of the world at large will act as a catalyst by creating an atmosphere of shame among those who continue to sacrifice innocent creatures and motivate lawmakers to introduce a legal and administrative framework.

The movement is already gaining momentum and will continue to grow after images from the killings fields of Gadhimai are broadcast across the nation and the world. Animals cannot speak for themselves. Until now it has been the priests and business community to speak for them: bring more, kill more animals. It is high time for every concerned citizen to speak out and stop inhumane killings in the name of religion.
The Gadhimai Massacre started with a dream according to this report (see below), written at the time of the last Festival in 2009. Bhagwan Chaudhary, imprisoned in Makwanpur fort prison about 260 years ago, dreamed that all his problems would be solved if he made a blood sacrifice to the goddess Gadhimai. 

The ritual slaughter of hundreds of thousands of animals runs counter to Hindu principles of reverence for life
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.

There have been protest against this mass animal slaughtering but despite all the protests, the festival and the slaughtering of animals went on in 2009 festival.Around 250.000 animals were slaughtered including the young ones of the animals. 
About 5 million people participate in the festival, the majority of whom are Indian people from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Attending the festival in Nepal circumvents the ban on animal sacrifice in their own states. Participants believe that animal sacrifices for the Hindu goddess Gadhimai will end evil and bring prosperity.

A month before the ritual in 2009, the Nepalese government realised there would be a "severe shortage" of goats for the ritual sacrifice, as well as for the consumption of goat meat during the festival. They began a radio campaign urging farmers to sell their animals.

The festival started in the first week of November 2009 and ends in the first week of December (up to makar sankranti), the fair has a custom of animal sacrifice that occurred on November 24 & 25 in the year 2009 , with the temple's head priest performing ritual sacrifice called Saptabali which includes the sacrifice of white mice, pigeons, roosters, ducks, swine and male water buffaloes. More than 20,000 buffaloes were sacrificed on the first day. It is estimated that 250,000 animals were killed during the Gadhimai festival of 2009.

The ritual killings were performed by more than 200 men in a concrete slaughterhouse near the temple. Three infant children of pilgrims who had come to observe Gadhimai festival had died due to the extreme cold. Six people died after drinking adulterated "hooch".

The festival has prompted numerous protests by animal rights activists. In 2009 activists made several attempts to stop the ritual, including Brigitte Bardot and Maneka Gandhi, who wrote to the Nepalese government asking them to stop the killings.
A government official commented that they will not "interfere in the centuries-old tradition of the people." Ram Bahadur Bomjon, claimed by some of his supporters to be the reincarnation of the Buddha, said that he will attempt to stop the sacrifice at the festival, preaching non-violence and offering a blessing at the place. His promise had prompted the government to send additional forces to prevent any incident.

After the festival, the meat, bones and hides of the sacrificed animals are sold to processing and tannery companies in India and Nepal.
To the disgrace of Nepal, the brutal killing of over 200,000 animals at the Gadhimai Festival in 2009 was sponsored by the country's Government.

Largely ignored by the rest of the world, the handling and slaughter of the animals contravened the most basic animal welfare standards. Anyone at the festival could kill animals in whatever way they wished and with any tool they chose. Many of the water buffaloes were brought over the border from India and, if they had not died during transit, they were put into an enclosure prior to the festival and not fed or watered for several days, making them weak and less resistant to their killers.
The goddess’ favour is believed to protect against accidental or violent death, and in the same spirit, some sacrifices are dedicated to individual vehicles or weapons.

But in recent years, the more than 1,000-year-old custom has offended the modern sensibilities of animal rights organisations, who have spoken out in public against the state-subsidised sacrifices.

Over a million animals were sacrificed last year in Nepal, according to Animal Welfare Network Nepal, which has launched the Stop Animal Sacrifice Campaign.