Goat to the slaughter: In anticipation of ritual sacrifice
Photo via Andrea Bonanomi
Walking through the crowds, past crippled beggars, amidst the heady smell of incense, those who have come to participate in the puja find themselves caught up in a throng of people waiting to get to the sacrificial temple. Once there, to the tune of exultant music played by other onlookers, they witness the slaughter. Water is splashed on the animal offering, the executioner’s arm is raised and then the blade is swiftly brought down with a sickening thud, severing the creature’s head.
Human guillotine: Decapitation of goat, Shree Janapriya public school, Nepal
Even the meat-eaters among us might wince at the spectacle, upset at the perceived suffering of the animal or turning squeamish at the sight of all that blood. However, many would argue that a journey through the beautiful mountainous country of Nepal is not complete without taking in the culture of its indigenous people. Such experiences could well involve the ritual sacrifice of goats, buffalo, chickens and sheep – farm animals beheaded as part of the annual festival of Dashain.
Off with its head: Buffalo being beheaded during Dashain
For the people of Nepal, Dashain is the highlight of the year. This auspicious festival is celebrated by Nepalese citizens of every caste and creed in the month of Kartik (late September and early October). On the eighth day of the fifteen-day festival, known as Maha Asthami, goats and other animals are sacrificed to appease the Hindu goddess Durga. The sacrifices are carried out in almost every home during the day and continue through the night in the country’s temples and ancient palaces.
Brutal butchery? Goat being slaughtered
Photo via Andrea Bonanomi
The sacrificed animals are then butchered over concreted slabs, ready to be eaten in great feasts held in the homes of ordinary people. With hundreds of goats slain in the temples of the divine mother goddess alone, it may come as little surprise that this year demand outstripped supply. While the exact reasons are unclear, there was a shortage of goats to offer as sacrifice in the capital Kathmandu, with authorities in Nepal ordering officials to find more for ritual slaughter.
Head rolling: Decapitated young buffalo before falling
Photo via Traveler’s Digest
Across the globe, animals are killed for food. In most modern societies, slaying animals for consumption is an industrialised process carried out in abattoirs, behind closed doors and out of sight. This may help to explain why to many such a public ritual slaughter of animals as takes place in Nepal could be seen as cruel, unnecessary and taboo. Taboo, maybe, but many of the methods used to slaughter animals in Western societies might be perceived as equally if not more inhumane.
What to a lot of folks may appear a bizarre and bloody ritual, symptomatic of the world’s callousness, to others is far from shocking. The atmosphere at these sacrificial pujas in Nepal is reverent, celebratory; it is a festival after all, where people have come to worship. Lest we pass judgment too quickly, it behooves us well to remember that killing methods widespread in the West such as electrical stunning, although less gory, are probably more painful for the animals. A final thought: what is it vegetarians say? If you can’t kill it, don’t eat it.