Activists decry animal slaughter at Nepal temple

The cover of Nepali Times Issue 478 (27 Nov-3 Dec 2009)

Mahagadimai Municipality of Bara district is preparing for an influx of millions of visitors next month for the practice of mass animal sacrifice that has tarnished Nepal’s image as a peaceful and compassionate nation.

The little town of Bariyapur has gained international notoriety for the Gadimai Mela, where pilgrims from India and Nepal who have had their wishes fulfilled congregate every five years to offer mass animal sacrifice in gratitude. But the blood-letting has also sparked outrage and activists worked to get Nepal’s Supreme Court to rule against the wanton killings in 2016. 

"There are so many animals, and many are not even beheaded cleanly because the knives are blunted by the mass slaughter. Sometimes they have to hack the animal many times, and the animals take hours to die,” says media personality Saroj Nyaupane, who co-filed the writ petition at the Supreme Court with advocate Arjun Kumar Aryal.

Nyaupane adds: “The animals are not even being killed for food. Nepalis take great pride in the Buddha being born in Nepal but such cruelty is against Buddhist principles.”

Despite the court ruling, the government has not banned the practice. Bara's Chief District Officer Phanindra Mani Pokhrel told Nepali Times his administration is trying its best to discourage the sacrifices.

Read also: The World's Largest Animal Slaughter Festival Has Begun in Nepal


"We have held discussions, and spread the message discouraging animal sacrifice through local radio and newspapers. But we cannot suddenly stop it right now. Activists also need to work on it constantly rather than just before the festival," Pokhrel said.

Mahagadimai Municipality is preparing in earnest for the festival scheduled to begin 3 December. Mayor Shyam Yadav says tents are being erected and toilet facilities built for the huge influx of devotees and their animals. In 2014, there were an estimated 6 million visitors, and roughly 250,000 water buffalos and goats killed.  This time, fewer animals are expected to be killed because of court decisions in India and Nepal and growing public awareness.

Activists have raised issues of not just animal cruelty, but also the lack of visitor accommodation, environmental impact, hygiene, pollution and the health and condition of the animals. This year, the government and the Gadimai Operation and Development Committee have promised to take care of these issues.


In earlier years, the Chamar community used to consume the dead buffaloes, but younger members of the community are boycotting the meat this year. Says Dalit activist Manoj Ram: "It's not just about the meat, but also self respect. Society looks at us with distaste because we eat leftover sacrificed buffalos. We want to stop that.”

Legend has it that the Gadimai Mela started about 200 years ago when a man sacrificed five drops of his own blood to the goddess for a fulfilled wish. Over the years people substituted defenceless animals for human blood.

The temple committee has refused to budge on the practice despite the outrage in Nepal and globally. "We do not sacrifice animals-- people come from far away bringing their animals. If they are not able to fulfil their vow, their faith is broken, and we cannot have that,” says Ram Chandra Sah of the temple committee.

The temple's chief priest Mangal Chaudhary adds that it is not necessary to sacrifice animals. "YOu can just as well sacrifice a coconut, or offer flowers and swets to the goddess," he says in an interview with Bloodless Gadhimai campagin.

While activists say the festival has brought shame on Nepal, the temple is proud that it has put Gadimai on the world map. Devotees see criticism of the festival as an attack on Hinduism, and accuse western activists of double standards for not being outraged when millions of turkeys are killed at Thanksgiving. Frensh actress Brigitte Bardot and British actress Joanna Lumley have spoken out against it, earning the festival further notice and international criticism.

Read also: Death and the goddess: The world's biggest ritual slaughter

Yet, the strongest voices against the bloodletting are from Hindus, themselves who say the festival is not an ancient tradition and not deeply rooted in religion. Animal rights activist Pramada Shah says the sacrifices go against religious teachings.

She says: "They are done in the name of religion. But Hinduism does not teach people to torture animals. It is religious malpractice, like sati and untouchability, and we need to reform it. The Supreme Court decision is not enough. We need stronger laws, and an effective awareness campaign among communities who practise it."