Millions of Hindus gathered in southern Nepal today, to take part in the Gadhimai festival – thought to be the world’s largest animal sacrifice ritual.
Devotees believe the event brings good luck, and will encourage Gadhimai, the Hindu goddess of power, to answer their wishes.
The ritual begins before dawn in the fields outside Gadhimai temple in Bariyarpur, where a priest trickles his own blood combined with that of a rat, chicken, pigeon, goat, and pig.
Thousands of vehicles packed with families carrying goats and birds intended for sacrifice travelled along the road leading to the temple today.
To end the first day of the event, thousands of buffaloes enclosed in a compound surrounded by a high wall, are decapitated by a group of specially chosen men using curved kukri knives.
On the first half of the two day event held in the jungles of Bara district, around 160 miles (100 miles) south of Katmandu, some 5,000 buffaloes were killed – and many are yet to be slaughtered.
During the 2009 festival, an estimated 200,000 animals and birds were sacrificed.
Most people who attend the festival are from neighbouring India, even though that country bans the export of animals for the festival. The measure, put into place after the 2009 festival, has halved the number of animals to be slaughtered this year.
While organisers and the authorities defend the festival held every five years as a generations-old tradition, animal rights activists decry it as barbaric.
One festival-goer, Rajesh Shah, told the Guardian that he promised Gadhimai he would sacrifice a goat in her honour if his business was successful, as he cooked the animal he had just killed. He added he kept his promise to Gadhimai despite hearing complaints about the event.
Shristi Singh Shrestha, an animal rights activist with Animal Welfare Network Nepal, told the newspaper she felt “sad” and “defeated” because the group was unable to stop the slaughter.
“However, the positive thing is that the number of animals killed has come down … We hope there will be no killing of any animal at the next festival,” she said.