Every five years, Hindus travel for miles to participate in Nepal's mass sacrifice of tens of thousands of buffaloes, goats, roosters and pigeons. Animal rights activists, including French actress Brigitte Bardot, have attempted to put an end to the tradition. But as one of our Observers there points out, the five-yearly mass slaughter is no worse than the daily dealings of a modern abattoir.
Held on November 24 -25, this year's festival in southern Nepal attracted up to a million Hindus, many from neighbouring India where the practice is banned. Priests say that over 150,000 animals were offered to the goddess of power, Gadhimai. It is thought to be the world's biggest animal sacrifice.
At a gathering at my house in Kathmandu where, incidentally, we were sat around eating buffalomomo [meat dumplings], I said: ‘I wonder what psychological trauma the people around Gadhimai feel through all the pain of the sacrificed animals!' My logic, that somehow the violence inflicted on the animals must reflect on the humans, was smartly counteracted by a friend of mine who said: ‘But think about their beliefs. They believe that the sacrifice brings them good luck; they may experience the event in a very different way from what you imagine'.
For the urban elite in Kathmandu, who get their meat from butcher shops where the slaughtering part is safely hidden out of sight, the mass slaughter was cause for outcry. And so too for the people in Europe and the US. But as my friend explained to me, the deep and profound workings of human belief may make these sacrifices less of a terrible animal massacre spree and more of a profound moment of connection with the universe for the participants of this festival.
Of course, culture doesn't excuse everything. But for those of us jaded by the stories of the US and Europe's hidden slaughterhouses, where animals are shot with electric stun guns and killed in much larger numbers everyday, the Gadhimai sacrifice shouldn't cause any concern. How many Gadhimai-like sacrifices happen every single day in cattle farms across the meat-eating world? Nepal, incidentally, has a poor population for whom meat remains a luxury - for many of those doing the sacrificing, this may be the only meat they eat during the entire year. So there is just a tiny bit of hypocrisy associated with those who protest this event - if only because the global footprint of meat consumption is so much more gigantic in the western world.
Gadhimai brings to light what happens every single day in cattle farms across the planet. People sacrifice huge numbers of animals everyday, especially for those populations where meat is eaten more than twice a day. The only difference in this is that we see the crudeness with which animals are killed in this event. I, an aspiring vegetarian, almost support sacrifices for this reason - because it provides a mirror for the world to see exactly what goes onto their plates when they eat some dumplings."