Every five years, Bariyapur, a town in southern Nepal, becomes the focal point of a mélange of faith, reverence, and controversy. At its heart, the festival celebrating the goddess Gadhimai culminates in the sacrifice of over 250,000 creatures.
Devotees from both India and Nepal converge on Bariyapur, paying homage to the deity Gadhimai
While for many, this stands as a deep-rooted tradition of gratitude and prayer, for others, it prompts reflection on customs deeply entrenched in the culture.
Worshippers sacrifice animals to show appreciation to the goddess for past blessings and to seek future prosperity. Chandan Dev Chaudhury, the temple’s priest, asserts, “The deity requires blood.” He believes that offering an animal at the temple can resolve a devotee’s tribulations.
Devotion and Tradition
The Time-Honored Pilgrimage to the Gadhimai Festival
Devotees, including those from neighboring India, are drawn to the festival. Suresh Patak, a 60-year-old visitor from the Indian state of Bihar, journeyed with his family and a goat to offer as a sacrifice. He voices his devotion to the goddess Gadhimai and underscores the significance of these ancestral beliefs.
Organizers anticipate over half a million attendees. Many, like Suresh, bring animals for sacrifice. Behind brick walls, thousands of buffalo await. Although they are the largest animals offered, goats, chickens, pigeons, and rats are also sacrificed.
Between Tradition and Controversy
The Ongoing Debate Surrounding the Gadhimai Festival
Bikesh Adhikari, a police inspector, oversees the buffalo’s security. He details how they start by offering five buffaloes at the temple, then proceed with the rest in the enclosure.
250 local men have been authorized to carry out animal sacrifices using the traditional khukuri blades. Observers paying 20 Nepalese rupees (US$ 0.26) are allowed to watch the sacrifices. However, the scale of the slaughter has elicited concern among some Nepalese residents.
Outside the temple, a small yet vocal group of protesters performed a symbolic sacrifice by breaking coconuts. Their aim? To persuade the organizers to rethink the festival’s essence.
Protesters argue that the festival is inhumane and that Hindu gods can be honored with fruit and flower offerings. Leading the protest, Pramada Shah conveyed her message.
She doesn’t aim to cancel the festival but suggests celebrating in a less violent manner, akin to their symbolic demonstration. Nonetheless, the age-old tradition of animal sacrifice seems poised to endure.
The Gadhimai Festival
An Inextricable Blend of Religion, Economy, and Tradition
Beyond its religious significance, the Gadhimai festival carries notable economic implications. Meat and other by-products of the sacrificed animals find their way to food businesses in both Nepal and India.
During the event, hotel and restaurant owners see a noticeable uptick in revenue. Despite animal rights activists’ aspirations to end this ritual, the festival appears deeply anchored in tradition with no signs of fading.
This article has been re-edited from its original source on BBC Mundo