Breaking from a tradition of centuries, the trust of the Gadhimai temple in Nepal, notorious for the wanton sacrifice of thousands of animals on the premises every five years, has announced an end to all future killings. Pujaris at the temple will now “sacrifice” coconuts, pumpkins and sundry other offerings instead.
Gadhimai is a sacrificial ceremony held every five years at the temple in Bariyarpur, some distance from Kathmandu. A large number of Indians, especially from Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, travel to Nepal for the festival during which buffaloes, goats, pigs, rats and chicken are sacrificed to please the presiding deity of the temple, Kali, a practice that is said to date back 250 years. The last Gadhimai festival happened in November 2014, and an estimated 35,000 animals were sacrificed.
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In a statement released Tuesday, Ramchandra Shah, chairman of the Gadhimai Temple Trust, said: “The Gadhimai Temple Trust hereby declares our formal decision to end animal sacrifice… We can ensure Gadhimai 2019 is free from bloodshed. Moreover we can ensure Gadhimai 2019 is a momentous celebration of life.”
Mangal Chaudhry Tharu, the temple’s chief pujari whose family has held the post for 11 generations and who has travelled to India to spread the word about the decision, said the bloody sacrifice every five years had disturbed them too but people’s faith always got the better of every other consideration. “We have been wanting to stop this practice too because it is very gory. But people have their own beliefs, they think Kali will feel happy by bloodshed, she will bless them with children. I am just a pujari, I would only pray for good sense among people. Now that it has happened we will sacrifice vegetables but no longer animals,” he said.
Animal rights activists who have campaigned for years to stop the vicious practice rejoiced at the initial victory in having won the temple trust over. They emphasised, however,the need to undertake development work in the area around the temple and also to spread the word among Indian devotees to ensure that the practice does not make a comeback on some pretext or the other ahead of the next festival in 2019.
“We commend the temple committee but acknowledge that a huge task lies ahead of us in educating the public so that they are fully aware. We will now spend the next three-and-a-half years till the next Gadhimai educating devotees in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal on the temple trusts’ decision not to sacrifice animals,” said Gauri Maulekhi, consultant with animal rights organisation Humane Society Internationale who had petitioned the Supreme Court of India to stop illegal animal trafficking ahead of last year’s festival.