Millions of Hindus across the world have begun celebrating the Dashain festival which symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Often called Durga Pooja, the 10-day long festival glorifies Dharma prevailing over Adharma (evil).
This festival celebrates the Goddess Durga’s victory over demon Mahisassura to protect the Dharma. In addition to this, Vijayadashami signifies Lord Rama’s victory over Ravana. The annual festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm and fervor. In Nepal’s southern plains, devotees sacrifice goats on the seventh (Saptami) and eighth day (Ashtami) of Dashain to please goddess Durga.
Dashain is, however, not about shedding blood to please god. It’s propitiating Goddess Durga to get her blessings for a healthy, prosperous and meaningful life. Janakpur’s Rajdevi temple is famous for the sacrifices of goats on the eighth day of Dashain. Locals believe the ritual of slaughtering goats here at the temple has been taking place since time immemorial.
Hindus in Nepal customarily offer goats for sacrifice to appease the almighty God and Goddess, especially power goddesses Durga and Brahma, the creator of this universe, for peace, property and prosperity.
In general, around 14 to 15 thousand goats are sacrificed on Asthami every year at Rajdevi temple. The slaughtering generally begins after 7:30 PM and concludes before sunrise (6 AM). People consider this act as a vow to the gods.
However, animal sacrifice receives condemnation and criticism every year. Animal rights activists argue that animal sacrifice is not an essential ritual in the worship of a deity. However, the devotees are not in favor of putting an end to this centuries-old ritual of sacrificing animals. They believe that the Hindu devotees bring animals to please their goddess Kali.
The animal sacrifice has been considered holy in the Hindu scriptures. It has been mentioned in 10th verse of the 12th chapter of the holy text Durga Saptashati. Apart from this, Devi Bhagabat and many other religious texts also advocate for animal sacrifices to please the almighty.
As a matter of fact, a large section of devotees in Janakpurdham who offer sacrifices to goddess Durga believe that the goddess Durga would bless them peace, prosperity and success if they sacrifice goats on the seventh or eighth day of Dashain. Some say there would be uproar, not only in Janakpurdham but also across the country if animal sacrifices would be completely stopped.
Along with that, some bad practices have started in the name of sacrifices. A section of youths considers sacrificing goats as a matter of fun. They offer goats to celebrate picnics or just for the sake of festivity, not with the true spirit of the festival.
Interestingly, priests who are involved in animal sacrifice are vegetarians but they support and encourage the devotees to offer goats, saying that such an act would appease goddess Durga and that she would fulfill their wishes. But, they never disseminate a message that Hinduism is a religion that supports peace. God cannot be satisfied by the blood of innocent animals.
It is to be noted here that Nepal is a member state of the World Organization on Animal Health. The member states are duty-bound to ensure five basic freedoms to animals: Freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition, freedom from fear and distress, freedom from physical and thermal discomfort, freedom from pain, injury and disease, and freedom to adopt normal behavior.
As such, the state could intervene to strike a balance between the law and religious practices. There could be a law demanding a procedure of killing of animals so as to cause the least pain. Sadly, the goats are killed by untrained persons causing much pain to them. The innocent animals, who have no voice and cannot fight back, are killed and other goats also see their fellow animals getting killed.
Animal sacrifice is not limited to one particular religion or community. There are many communities in the southern plains of Nepal which believe that animal sacrifice rituals bring them success and prosperity in business, studies, or prosperity. If they don’t do it, they believe, there will be no success. Thus, there may not be a complete ban but if it’s a person’s religious practice to sacrifice animals, then there should be criteria on how to kill animals (by inflicting the least pain possible).
Goats sacrificed at the Rajdevi temple are often imported from neighboring Indian markets. Thus Indian farmers benefit from sacrifice rituals in Nepal. Many purchase big, healthy and expensive goats to offer to goddess Durga. Then they preserve the meat for a few days and organize a feast.
The Hindu texts actually advocate sacrificing sins and wrongdoings to please god. Animal slaughtering can’t please the god. Religious freedom is safeguarded by our constitution. But, it cannot offer a blanket power to sacrifice animals. As every right comes with certain limitations, religious freedom to sacrifice animals could also have certain restrictions—the procedure of killing animals that could inflict lesser pain to animals.
Slaughtering in the name of ceremony or religion is evil. Like us, they too deserve rights and respect. Hinduism is the religion of peace. Over and above all this, paying tax to fund the death of innocent animals could not be considered a justified act.
Let’s think of adopting measures that cause the least pain to the animals. A complete ban may not be possible but let’s think of what is possible today.