Thousands of Hindus head to southern Nepal for festival honouring goddess of power
Thousands of Hindus have gathered in southern Nepal before a festival believed to be the world’s largest ritual animal slaughter, despite court orders and calls by animal activists to end the event.
The sacrifices, set to begin on Tuesday, take place every five years in the village of Bariyarpur close to the Indian border, in honour of the Hindu goddess of power.
Buffaloes were corralled into holding pens as worshippers slept and cooked along the road to the temple.
Among them was Sabu Sahani, 25, who travelled with his family for a day from India’s Bihar with a goat offering.
“I am happy to be here. The goddess listened to me. We did not have children, but my wife has now given birth to a daughter,” Sahani said.
Unlicensed traders and pilgrims who cross the border between India and Nepal are responsible for supplying most of the animals, with scores seized at crossings by Indian security officials and volunteers.
Many were hopeful the centuries-old tradition would end after the temple authorities announced a ban in 2015 and Nepal’s supreme court directed the government to discourage the bloodshed a year later.
But animal rights activists say that both government agencies and temple committees have failed to implement these rulings. “The officials have let their personal beliefs rule over the court orders. They did not do enough to discourage the slaughters,” animal rights activist Manoj Gautam said.
Local priest Mangal Chaudhary, the 10th generation of his family to serve at the temple, did not comment on whether the temple supported this year’s mass sacrifice but said that the numbers in attendance were increasing. “We will follow our traditions and perform the rituals in the temple. But what the devotees do outside is their own wish,” he said.
According to legend, the first sacrifices in Bariyarpur were conducted several centuries ago when the Hindu goddess Gadhimai appeared to a prisoner in a dream and asked him to establish a temple to her. When he awoke, his shackles had fallen open and he was able to leave the prison and build the temple, where he sacrificed animals in gratitude.