Every five years, millions of Hindus from Nepal and India converge on a temple in southern Nepal to pay tribute to Gadhimai, the Hindu goddess of power.
The two-day festival includes a mass animal slaughter, with hundreds of thousands of buffalo, sheep, goats, chickens and other animals being sacrificed as offerings to Gadhimai. Many Hindus believe that these offerings will bring them prosperity and happiness.
But all that is about to change. On Tuesday, officials from the Gadhimai Temple announced that they would be ending the centuries-old practice of ritual slaughter.
“We have decided to completely stop the practice of animal sacrifice,”
Motilal Prasad, secretary of the Gadhimai Temple Trust, told the AFP.
The decision was influenced in part by the massive global backlash that accompanied last year’s festival. This backlash also prompted the Indian Supreme Court to pass a law preventing people from shipping or shepherding animals across the border into Nepal for ritual sacrifice.
“I realized that animals are so much like us – they have the same organs as us … and feel the same pain we do,” Prasad said following the announcement of the ban. He added,
“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.”
The practice of ritual sacrifice at the Gadhimai Temple is rooted in the story of the temple’s founder, Bhagwan Chowdhary.
According to Hindu legend, the goddess Gadhimai appeared to Chowdhary in a dream while he was in prison, promising him freedom and prosperity in exchange for a blood sacrifice.
When Chowdhary awoke, his shackles had been miraculously removed. He left the prison, built a temple in Gadhimai’s honor and made an animal sacrifice to her to show his gratitude.