Nepal Religious Festival Calls Off the Slaughter of Half a Million Animals

In a victory for animal rights, organizers of the Gadhimai event say they will stop killing hundreds of thousands of water buffalo, goats, pigs, and chickens.
(Photo: Omar Havana/Getty Images)
Aug 5, 2015· 2 MIN READ
David Kirby has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, Death at Seaworld, was published in 2012.

Some 500,000 animals in India and Nepal just had their death sentence commuted.

Leaders of the Gadhimai Temple in Nepal have announced they will not permit the slaughter of any animals at the Gadhimai festival, the world’s bloodiest animal-sacrifice event, which has been held every five years for the past 265 years.

“The time has come to transform an old tradition [and] replace killing and violence with peaceful worship and celebration,” Ram Chandra Shah, chairman of the Gadhimai Temple Trust, said in a statement.

A declaration signed by temple trustees stated, “Any devotee who brings an animal for sacrifice at Gadhimai temple…will be sent back and no bloodshed will be allowed.”

“We are extremely happy with the decision, which we hadn’t expected,” said Nuggehalli Jayasimha, managing director of Humane Society International/India, which, with Animal Welfare Network Nepal, held lengthy negotiations with temple trustees to end the killing.

“But a huge part of me is nervous,” Jayasimha added. “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.”

Jayasimha said some pilgrims would likely bring animals to the next festival, in 2019, to be sacrificed near the temple.

During each festival, hundreds of thousands 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.

The mass slaughter is grisly: Typically, more than 500,000 water buffalo, goats, pigs, chickens, pigeons, and mice are brutally killed.

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Just before last year’s event, the two animal rights groups petitioned India’s Supreme Court to take measures to stop the illegal transport of animals from India into Nepal for the festival. About 70 percent of the animals sacrificed come from India, and the rest are from Nepal.

The court ordered border security forces in the four Indian states along the unguarded frontier to block the transfer of animals into Nepal and to conduct public awareness campaigns against the practice.

Many people were subsequently turned away at the border and 100 were arrested, while 2,500 animals were rescued, according to Humane Society International. The number of animals brought to the temple plummeted by 70 percent compared with the previous festival in 2009.

In July, the court issued a second decree ordering every district in the border states to establish chapters of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and to conduct intensive anti-sacrifice campaigns in local schools and colleges over the next four years.

The temple’s decision to halt the slaughter was not just based on ethics—money played a big role, according to activists.

“Last year, with a 70 percent reduction in animals, it wasn’t economically viable for the temple to continue this type of ceremony,” Jayasimha said. The temple makes money by charging a fee for each animal killed and by selling their meat and leather, he said.

An end to animal sacrifice will also benefit Indians, Jayasimha added. Most of the pilgrims are poor, and they can now use those animals for agriculture and other purposes.

Despite the progress in India, much remains to be done across the border. HSI/India wants to help “rebrand” the Nepalese event by dismantling the sacrificial arena and building a shelter for any animals brought to the temple. Devotees should also be encouraged to sacrifice coconuts, limes, and other fruits according to Hindu tradition, Jayasimha said.

“The festival can continue,” he said. “But hopefully we can convert the slaughter arena into a monument of peace.”