Goddess Gadhimai is a local deity of Nepal. A temple dedicated to her is located close to the Indian border at Bariyarpur. Every five years, hundreds of buffaloes and other animals are slaughtered ostensibly to appease the Goddess Gadhimai at this temple. In Nepal folklore, the goddess Gadhimai is one of the forms of the Goddess Kali. The festival has been celebrated for hundreds of years and involves animals being enclosed in a compound and then beheaded. The festival was last celebrated in 2014 and had raised the hackles of animal rights activists.

The Guardian has reported that the festival has the dubious distinction of being "the world's bloodiest festival".

The festival

The festival traces its history to more than two centuries. It draws millions of Hindu devotees to the Gadhimai temple of Bariyarpur in early December. The devotees come with the belief that animal sacrifices to the Hindu goddess Gadhimai will end evil and bring prosperity. It is estimated that around a quarter of a million animals were slaughtered in 2009. The figure came down to 200,000 in 2014.

Slaughtering such a huge number made animal rights activists petition the Supreme Court. The court, after hearing the case, asked the government to persuade the devotees not to slaughter the animals.

Despite this ruling, the devotees have again gone ahead with the ritual and hundreds of buffaloes are caged in a compound. They are not fed, and their cries resound around the compound before butchers kill them with large knives.

The ceremony of 'Panch Bali'

The festival commenced with a ceremony called the "Panch Bali." This involves the sacrifice of five animals.

A rat, a goat, a rooster, a pig, and a pigeon are first lined up and sacrificed. It is followed by about 200 butchers wielding the traditional Nepalese sword, the Khukhri. An estimated 3,000 to 6,500 buffaloes had been beheaded by 9 AM.

The origin of the festival lies in a dream which a convict had. In the dream, the Goddess Kali appeared before him and asked him to build a temple to her memory.

Miraculously his fetters were broken, and the prisoner built the present temple.

Animal rights activists

Many right-thinking people abhor this festival. Animal rights activists have been asking for a total ban on this festival. The Indian government on the orders of the Supreme Court, which recently gave a judgment on the Ayodhya Temple case, has done its bit. The export of animals, including buffaloes, has been banned from the border states of Bihar and Utter Pradesh. BBC has reported that despite the ban by the Supreme Court, the festival has still gone ahead and hundreds of animals slaughtered.

Last word

The belief among Hindu believers is strong. It will take more than persuasion to stop this gory festival that does not show Hinduism in a favorable light. The 2019 celebration is done and over, and animal rights activists and the Nepal government must think about the next date of the festival, which is 2024.