In a victory for animal rights activists (not to mention the animals themselves), Nepalese temple authorities have announced they will end a centuries-old Hindu tradition of mass animal slaughter.
The Gadhimai Festival in Nepal, the world’s bloodiest animal-sacrifice event, attracts millions of worshippers every five years.
The event has been held for the past 265 years but, for the first time, organisers say they will stop killing the estimated 500,000 water buffalo, goats, pigs, chickens, pigeons and mice when the festival returns in 2019.
Speaking to AFP, Motilal Prasad, secretary of the Gadhimai Temple Trust, which organises the celebrations, said:
We have decided to completely stop the practice of animal sacrifice. I realised that animals are so much like us – they have the same organs as us, and feel the same pain we do. It won’t be easy to end a 400-year-old custom but we have four years to convince people that they don’t need to sacrifice animals to please the goddess.
In a statement, Ram Chandra Shah, chairman of the Gadhimai Temple Trust, added:
The time has come to transform an old tradition (and) replace killing and violence with peaceful worship and celebration.
During each festival, millions of devotees travel to the temple, and many bring an animal to sacrifice during a two-day bloodletting dedicated to Gadhimai, the Hindu goddess of power. The act is believed to bring prosperity and protection from evil.
The last festival was held in November 2014, where some 2.5 million worshippers sacrificed hundreds of thousands of animals.
Animal rights activists have applauded the decision which comes after years spent by groups including the Humane Society International/India and the Animal Welfare Network Nepal lobbying temple authorities and the Nepal government.
Nuggehalli Jayasimha, managing director of Humane Society International/India, said:
We are extremely happy with the decision, which we hadn’t expected. But a huge part of me is nervous. To actually think that just by this announcement, everything will end would be completely naive. This is a very important development but just the first of many things we must do to make Gadhimai bloodless.
Jayashima, like many others, is concerned that some pilgrims will still bring animals to the next festival to be sacrificed near the temple.
However, this move has to be considered a step in the right direction and the activists, government and organisers now have four years to work together to find ways to prevent any bloodshed at the famous event.