Sunday, 29 November, 2020

Dashain Festival And Animal Sacrifice Tradition

Namrata Sharma


The celebration of Dasain in Nepal is synonymous with meeting family members and eating a lot of good food. The main item of food delicacies include a variety of non-vegetarian delicacies. During Dasain, the focus mainly is on goat meat with other varieties like buffalo, poultry and fish.
Growing up in Nepal, most children get accustomed to animal sacrifice mainly during the Dasain festival and other important occasions like after the birth of a son and the marriage of a son in certain families. During the 70s and 80s and before that most households had a system of sacrificing goats, chicken, ducks and buffaloes in their households depending on which caste the family belonged to. The Brahmins and Chetris sacrificed goats, whereas the Newars and Magars and people of other caste and ethnic communities sacrificed buffaloes, poultry, pigs and a variety of eggs.
Like most families in Kathmandu, I grew up in a joint family and my earliest memories of Dasain was getting new clothes and eating a variety of non-veg cuisines during the festival. The delicacies included bhuttan (fried intestine and stomach), fried lungs and liver, fried toungues, a special delicacy included ragati (fried blood), kabab, and of course jhol masu (mutton soup). This was in a Brahmin family. My Newar friends used to talk about a special item of lungs filled with stuffing.
The Dasain festival also brings forth memories of goats being bought by my grandparents. As children, we were attached somehow to the goats that were kept in our house for a few days. I remember the terror of the days during Dasain when the butcher used to be invited to slaughter these animals exactly at the auspicious time that my grandfather told them. It used to fill me with terror and I used to hide under the bed. But many children, especially the boys, used to watch the scene and also participate in the slaughter of animals. Although the delicacies were savored by most, I started detesting certain rituals of Dasain as it involved animal sacrifice and the never-ending work load for my mother as for other mothers who were busy preparing not only for the festivities but also the elaborate cooking. The best part I liked was visiting my family putting tika and getting dakshina (money gift) being a daughter.
Animal sacrifice is not unique to Hindu culture. There are several anthropological studies which show that several religions practise animal sacrifice in the pretext of pleasing the Gods and spirits. There are practices of human sacrifice described in religious scriptures of different religions. Human sacrifices were seen as the highest form of sacrifice to please the Gods and achieve happiness. However, as human beings started being seen as the most important living beings on earth, it started being replaced more and more by animal sacrifice.
Anthropological literature commonly treats sacrifice as a kind of exchange and an act of communication, mentions Webb Keane, an anthropologist. But to grasp the kind of killing that sacrifice involves, consider its place within the set of violent acts against animals that also includes the work of hunters and butchers.
Hindus see sacrifice as a sign of respect to Goddess Durga in her various forms such as Kali, Bhawani and Mai to confront and defeat the Mahisasur buffalo which is depicted in the holy scripts as a demon. His killing is represented by sacrificing multiple buffalos in front of Durga temples around Nepal during the Dasain festival.
The first scriptures of Hinduism known as Vedas, originated in the second millennium BCE, teaches ahimsa or nonviolence towards all living beings. In Hinduism actually killing of animals is regarded as a violence of ahimsa leading to bad karma. Thus many Hindus practice vegetarianism. However, very contradictory to this basic principles of Hinduism it also allows animal sacrifices during religious ceremonies.
Apart from Nepal, animal sacrifice is practiced in many Shakti temples in India in places such as Assam, Orissa, Tripura and West Bengal. One of the largest animal sacrifices in Nepal occurs over the three-day-long Gadhimai festival where every year it is speculated that more than 250,000 animals get killed. In the state of Orissa, every year, animals like goats and fowls are sacrificed before Kandhen Budhi, the reigning deity of Kantamal in Boudh district, on the occasion of her annual Yatra/Jatra (festival) held in the month of Aswina (September–October). The main attraction of Kandhen Budhi Yatra is Ghusuri Puja. Ghusuri means a child pig, which is sacrificed to the goddess every three years. During the bali jatra male goats are offered as a sacrifice to the goddess Samaleswari in her temple in Sambalpur.
The tradition of cutting animals in households during Dasain has decreased in Nepal and many have replaced the sacrifice of Coconut instead, although buying and eating meat especially those sacrificed in temples still continue.
As we are celebrating Dasain 2020, I have been thinking a lot about how nature and the Gods and spirits are now telling us to stop animal sacrifice. It is common in Nepal to witness blood smeared on the floors and walls of temples where animal sacrifice takes place during the Dasain festival and other occasions was mostly, if not totally, absent this year because of Covid-19 restrictions. The Taleju Bhagwati Temple in Kathmandu Durbar square, which only opens on the ninth day of Navaratri every year, was free of thousands of animal sacrifice this year.
The time has now come for people to stop sacrifice of animals in the name of pleasing the Gods and nature. People can eat what their eating habits are. Rules and regulations related to any religion, culture or tradition can be changed as time goes by. Taking cue of Dasain 2020, the animal sacrifice tradition in temples must be stopped in future too.

(Namrata Sharma is a senior journalist and women rights advocate and can be reached at Twitter handle: NamrataSharmaP)

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