For three days, no animal has been sacrificed at Mata Tripurasundari Temple in Tripura’s Udaipur — a first in 518 years.
The practice has been stopped since October 5, courtesy an order of the Tripura High Court. While the development has been welcomed by many, the priests, temple executives and some devotees say they would have liked the tradition to continue.
On September 27 this year, a division bench of the High Court of Tripura passed a judgememt on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), banning animal sacrifice in the state’s temples with immediate effect. The PIL was filed in 2018 by Subhash Bhattacharjee, a retired judge of a local court.
The High Court bench, comprising Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Arindam Lodh, deliberated whether the State offering animals for sacrifice in temples could be called a secular activity, if prohibiting it would infringe upon fundamental right as envisaged under Article 25 (1) of the Constitution, and passed a judgement prohibiting citizens and the State from offering animal sacrifices.
However, the practice continued for eight days after the High Court verdict, till Gomati District Magistrate TK Debnath issued an order on October 5, mandating its ‘strict implementation’.
It’s not clear why the order was issued eight days after the HC judgement. DM Debnath was on leave for those eight days. While he could not be reached for comment, Addl DM PL Chakma, who was in charge, refused to speak on the issue.
As per provisions of the state government, one goat was sacrificed every day under patronage of the district administration at Mata Tripurasundari temple and “a substantial number of animals” were sacrificed as “bali” (offering to the Goddess) on special occasions like Diwali.
The court order has affected not just Tripurasundari temple in Gomati district, but also other major temples like Chaturdas Devata Bari Temple and Durgabari temple in West Tripura.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, Subrata Baidya from Kalacherra village of South Tripura district, who came to offer prayers at the Tripurasundari temple, said the High Court order was justified since it upholds the essence of humanity.
“I used to watch bali (animal sacrifice) when I came to this temple earlier. That was a cruel and gruesome practice. I believe the High Court has upheld the essence of humanity and true religiosity in its order,” Baidya, an entrepreneur, said.
Ranjit Sen, a 56-year-old trader from Shantirbazaar village of South Tripura, also came to visit the temple on Monday. He said the court order was a relief since it prohibited cruelty towards animals in the name of religion. At the same time, Sen said, the order was hurting religious beliefs.
“I saw many devotees coming with animals to sacrifice before the goddess and returning home without fulfilling their desire. I think the order is hurting the religious beliefs of some people. At this end, I am perplexed,” Sen said.
Swapan Basu, BJP district vice president from South Tripura, was clear about his stand on animal sacrifice. “It was a cruel tradition. I am happy it has been stopped,” he said.
Asked about apprehensions of hurting religious beliefs, Basu said, “Animal sacrifice was never a part of the Indian cultural milieu. It started in the medieval ages. It should be stopped and the High Court has done the right thing.”
However, not everyone shared the same view.
Prasenjit Das, Abhijit Das and Prasenjit Paul, all of them masons from Teliamura in Khowai, said they feel the High Court order has hurt religious sentiments of common people.
“Bali (animal sacrifice) has been held at Tripurasundari temple for several hundred years. It was started by the kings of Tripura. This is a religious tradition and should have continued. We feel the order should be reconsidered,” they said.
Chandan Chakraborty, the head priest of Tripurasundari Temple, told indianexpress.com that the local administration banned animal sacrifice from October 5. He couldn’t explain why the ban order came eight days after the High Court verdict.
Chakraborty said the ban was adversely affecting prayers at the temple. “Bali is part of the puja we do here at Tripurasundari Temple. Without it, our prayers aren’t beimg consummated,” he said.
Chakraborty said the practice of animal sacrifice should be resumed, even if it is a “symbolic sacrifice” of a single goat every day, instead of hundreds of animals.
About Tripurasundari Temple
Tripurasundari Temple at Udaipur in Tripura is one of the 51 Hindu Shaktipeethas of India. It is considered one of the holiest Hindu shrines of the country and attracts over 2 lakh devotees and saints every year on Deepavali.
The temple is located at Southern Udaipur, the erstwhile capital of the princely state of Tripura, and 55 km away from Agartala, the current capital city.
It was built on the top of a hillock resembling the back of a turtle. According to Tripura Rajmala, the royal chronicle of Tripura’s Manikya kings, Maharaja Dhanya Manikya Bahadur constructed the temple in 1501 after getting a ‘swapnadesh’, or divine order, from the Supreme Mother or ‘Aadishakti’ in his dream.
As legend holds it, the king was ordered to bring the idol of Goddess Tripurasundari from Chittagong, which was then within the territories of the larger State of Tipperah.
The idol was accordingly brought and consecrated in the temple. Later, as legend holds it, the king ordered the excavation of a pond right near the temple. A second deity was found during this excavation, which came to be known as ‘Chhoti Ma’.
The king commissioned two priests from Kannauj, in present-day Uttar Pradesh, for ‘puja’ and other religious rituals at the temple. Today, 518 years on, descendants of these two priest families still perform the office. Head Priest Chandan Chakraborty is descended from them.
Shortly after assuming office on March 9 last year, Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb formed a trust for the Mata Tripurasundari Temple, which would oversee all activities in it and would be headed by the CM himself. The objective was to develop the temple on the lines of Vaishnodevi Temple and attract tourists.
An exercise to evaluate all jewels and valuables in possession of the temple was undertaken in July, and it was found to hold 12.95 kg gold, 65.176 kg silver, a pearl necklace weighing 29 gm, and 1 US dollar as assets.