The slaughter of more than 5,000 buffaloes at the Gadhimai Hindu festival in Nepal has drawn global condemnation from animal charities.
Many more buffaloes and farm animals including chickens, goats and pigs are due to be killed as part of what is 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.
Several charities had worked to stop the slaughter – the first of its kind since an estimated 200,000 animals and birds were sacrificed in 2009 – but only succeeded in pressuring the Indian Government into stopping animals being transported across the border.
Joanna Lumley is among the celebrities opposing the festival and led a protest in London last month with the charity Compassion in World Farming.
At a rally outside the Nepalese embassy, she said: “I love Nepal – both the land and its people. The Gadhimai animal sacrifice festival entails horrendous animal suffering and is a complete anomaly in this wonderful country.”
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 on Friday.
To end the first day of the event, thousands of buffaloes were decapitated by a group of specially chosen men using curved kukri knives.
“The sights and sounds are unimaginable,” wrote Jayasimha Nuggehalli director of the Indian branch of the Humane Society International. “Pools of blood, animals bellowing in pain and panic, wide-eyed children looking on, devotees covered in animal blood, and some people even drinking blood from the headless but still warm carcasses.”
Shristi Singh Shrestha, an animal rights activist with Animal Welfare Network Nepal, told the Guardian she felt “defeated” because the group was unable to stop the slaughter but the number of killed livestock was falling.
“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.
An Italian charity, Partito EcoAnimalista, called Gadhimai “unparalleled religious madness”, saying the buffaloes are not given food or water for several days before the slaughter to make them docile and weak.
Peta also launched a petition calling for the “horrifying display of violence” to be stopped.
Its letter read: “The frenzied slaughter of hundreds of thousands of goats, chickens, buffalo and other animals only tarnishes Nepal's international reputation. Numerous animals, already weakened by their long journeys, die from exhaustion, starvation or dehydration before the massacre begins.”
Several Hindu leaders have also argued that the ritual goes against core religious beliefs.
Surya Upadhya, chairman of the Nepalese Hindu Forum in the UK, said: “The Nepalese Hindu Forum in the UK completely opposes animal sacrifice as Hinduism does not sanction the killing of living beings.
“There should not be any place for this inhumane, barbaric sacrifice of innocent animals in the name of any religion”.
The interim law banning the transport of animals from India had led to almost 2,500 being confiscated and 114 arrests in Bihar, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Sashastra Seema Bal, said N.G. Jayasimha, the managing director of Humane Society International India.
Pictures of the slaughter showed carcasses of countless beheaded and mutilated animals surrounded by pools of blood as young boys watched the bloodshed.
The gruesome images provoked outrage on Twitter, with global calls for Gadhimai to be stopped before the next ritual is due in 2019, although some defended the tradition.
Additional reporting by agencies
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies