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The death of an innocent in Kathmandu

June 20, 2014

A Hindu festival in Kathmandu - mycustardpie.comAfter a lunch of momos in central Kathmandu, we wandered through the throngs of protesters on motorbikes (another story), past painted holy men and women begging to be paid for taking their picture, to Durbar Square and into the Hanuman Dhoka. After meandering through corridors and rooms of the Tribhuvan museum of costumes and artefacts of former kings, we found a large open courtyard (Nasal Chowk) where something was definitely ‘going on’.  Soon we realised it was some sort of celebration with crowds of Nepalese families dressed in their most flamboyant robes, picnicking and lounging around a raised platform. Very old men wearing saucer-shaped hats, sand-coloured jackets and white swathes of cloth, reclined in plastic chairs, occasionally chatting on their mobile phones. In one corner of the square, the body of an animal lay discarded on the ground – this should have given us a clue.

We strolled around, taking pictures of the architecture and peeped into another small courtyard where a water buffalo was gently chewing away while more holy men gathered and chatted. Back out in the sunlit expanse, a band of musicians started to bang drums, strike cymbals and blow discordant horns. People crowded onto the dias and the buffalo, draped with garlands, was led out and disappeared into the throng. The crowd got more are more frenzied, the noise of the band more strident, reaching a final crescendo of shouting.

We realised, quite suddenly, that we had witnessed an animal sacrifice.

The crowd on the platform started to move. One by one, from young children to old men, they knelt quickly in front of a small sort of canopied altar to touch a holy man which also contained the animal’s head, thrusting their own heads near to the petal strewn beast before leaving to make way for the next worshipper.

It transpired that we’d stumbled upon a Hindu celebration that happens only once every 100 years. After much merriment and celebration, the crowd, led by very frail holy men who shuffled along blessing people in their wake, finally dispersed.

It’s easy to criticise rituals and customs which are different to our own. Undoubtedly the last few moments of the animal’s life was pretty bewildering and stressful. In ‘developed’ countries, we systematically keep animals for food in bewildering and stressful conditions as a matter of course. However, upon reading the guide book, I realised that this killing was modest in scale of some festivals in Nepal where thousands of animals (chickens, goats and buffalo) are ritually slaughtered and the streets run with blood.  We felt privileged to just happen upon this event, a fascinating insight into how religion influences daily life, but were glad we hadn’t unintentionally blundered into a different one.

My friends and I were whisked off from the frenetic square in horse-drawn carriages to the tranquil Garden of Dreams, almost surreal by contrast.

Our visit to Nepal was in May 2012, but I was reminded of this when an email from Compassion in World Farming altered me to the festival of ‘Gadhimai’ which takes place every five years in the Bara District of Nepal, south of Kathmandu. It’s set to happen again this November, and sees tens of thousands of buffalo corralled into a gigantic pen where 200 slaughtermen behead them, one by one, with swords (often taking several attempts to finish the job). As well as the appalling suffering to these animals and the waste of life, The Nepalese Government provides significant funding, which makes this festival possible on this scale. In 2009 the Government paid over £32,000 for animals to be sacrificed which is almost 50 times the minimum Nepalese annual wage.

You may have other views about this, but I’ve added my name to a petition to the Nepalese government and support with Surya Upadhya (Chairman) who has issued this statement, “The Nepalese Hindu Forum 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.”

A Hindu festival in Kathmandu -

A Hindu festival in Kathmandu -

A Hindu festival in Kathmandu -

A Hindu festival in Kathmandu -

A Hindu festival in Kathmandu -

Durbar square - Kathmandu - My Custard Pie-17

Durbar square - Kathmandu - My Custard Pie-11

Durbar square - Kathmandu - My Custard Pie-3

Durbar square in Kathmandu - mycustardpie.comI’d be very interested to hear your view on this.

  1. June 20, 2014 4:05 pm

    Having lived in Mauritius for 3 years, we witnessed first hand how harmonious a people can be where on one island there are many different religions each with their own set of beliefs and rituals. We may not have agreed with them all but we did respect them all. It saddens me that the world can’t be more accepting.
    Not really related to your post but I don’t watch the news any more as it is only full of hate and war which angers and deeply saddens my soul.
    I wish the world would take more head of what Mother Teresa said – “Don’t be anti-war, be pro-peace.”
    Wishing you a wonderful weekend Sally.
    🙂 Mandy xo

    • June 20, 2014 4:09 pm

      Actually Kathmandu is a shining example of religions co-existing in many ways. Hindus and Buddhists share the same temples in several places. Thanks for sharing that quote of Mother Teresa – it’s more poignant than ever. Thanks for commenting and enjoy your weekend too Mandy.

    • Dima Sharif permalink
      June 21, 2014 1:47 pm

      Absolutely love your comment Mandy, and could not agree more about not watching the news lately and about the amount of hate that is rising all over the world. Now more than ever, we need understanding and love which are the definition of peace. Interesting post Sally, thanks for sharing.

  2. June 20, 2014 4:18 pm

    Beautifully written and poignant. Yet it is not confined to this culture – lambs are slaughtered for cultural/celebratory reasons in Islamic states too, and there is the Faro islanders slaughtering of dolphins and whales in an ‘age old custom’ and (now banned in UK but controversially) – fox hunting with dogs. It becomes hard to know how to approach these differing cultural sensitivities…
    Regardless, Kathmandu looks a stunning place and one I have on my bucket list to visit!

    • June 20, 2014 8:05 pm

      It IS a stunning place and I feel a bit bad that after 2 years of not writing about it because I had SO many amazing pictures and it was SUCH an incredible trip that I’ve started with a slightly negative slant. The day (actually part of the day) I describe was incredible. We felt incredibly lucky to have happened upon such an occasion.

  3. June 20, 2014 5:17 pm

    Very interesting. I have never heard of this festival before.

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful pictures with us! I’d love to visit Nepal…



    • June 20, 2014 8:09 pm

      It’s definitely a worthwhile place to visit Rosa. A extraordinary place to take a camera.

  4. June 20, 2014 6:12 pm

    Signed the petition. Inhumane animal slaughter is barbaric and heartbreaking. Whether done in the meat industry to satisfy the mass consumption demand for meat, or for animal sacrifice. It is not my place to criticize rituals in other religions and cultures, but when it involves blatant cruelty, I believe it becomes an issue that overrides all cultural and religious sensitivities. Like the ritual killing of dolphins in the Danish Faroe Islands. On a different note, Nepal is a beautiful country to visit, and Kathmandu a very interesting place. I love the photography, and I think you captured the essence in an unobtrusive style. And I agree with you: in a land where poverty rules, money indeed should be spend on improving lives, not wasting animal life.

    • June 20, 2014 8:07 pm

      I think you’ve just written the next slogan for this campaign with your last sentence. Nepal is a fabulous place – thanks for your nice comments about the pics – it’s spurred me on to write more about the rest of our experience.

  5. June 20, 2014 8:03 pm

    This is a really interesting post. It highlights the difficulty many people feel when experiencing aspects of other cultures which clash with our core values. I have experienced this many times & usually felt conflicted, sometimes speaking out & sometimes not.

    I guess we all have to deal with each one as best we can but I do not feel that a blanket disapproval of criticisms is a good thing for anyone. Nothing changes if nobody objects & asserts a different view or possibility. I have signed the petition and am grateful to you for bringing it to the attention of your readers.

    • June 20, 2014 8:21 pm

      Some petitions (especially with Compassion in World Farming) I don’t hesitate and sign right away. No brainer. This one took some thought. We hate anyone commenting or interfering in our accepted way of life. However, if the Nepalese want to sign a huge petition and lobby our government about factory farming I would be more than happy. Read the last sentence of Francine’s comment – she puts it so well. Thanks for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment.

      • June 22, 2014 3:59 pm

        Totally agree with Francine. That was the same reason I signed the petition, the thought of all those lives going to waste outraged me. It was not hard for me to sign it as I think respect for all life is essential.

        I would love it if the Nepalese started a petition against factory farming as it is a terrible practice. Abuses of the land, animals & humans seem to take place in all societies so I think it is healthy to draw a line. I think there is a difference between criticising a religious practice for theological/personal opinions or for reasons of cruelty/abuse. I think this example crosses that line.

        I try not to get annoyed if people comment on my culture. It is easy to have a defensive reaction but we do heinous things just make more money to elevate our level of luxury a bit higher – its not even just about surviving.

  6. June 20, 2014 11:16 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. It is definitely food for thought. Government-backed mass ritualistic slaughter seems so unbelievable. Yet at the same time so akin to our food industry.

    • June 22, 2014 7:45 am

      Agreed Kate – I’m not a vegetarian but as it becomes more and more difficult to source meat and dairy where the animals have led a decent life this looks like the only option.

  7. June 21, 2014 10:12 am

    Without going into any debate, what is the difference between animal slaughtering in the name of religion or for consumption. For me, it’s a NO to both. I have signed the petition. I have visited Pashupatinath Temple – it’s full of contradiction just like any other Hindu religious places. Although I am a born Hindu, I am not ritualistic, so I have been encouraged by my parents (and I do try to educate my children too) to follow different beliefs from different religion. I try not to be judgmental with others’ religious beliefs or the various religious traditions across different cultures… but this is one thing I strongly protest and I want to thank you for taking the step to come out with such a brave article. I also wish that some one would throw light on these women too… abandoned and waiting in the Mahasthan Ghar, waiting for their last day. When humans are treated with such disdain, what is animal slaughter? And to think that I had one of the best spiritual experiences in Nepal – flying over the Mt Everest at the golden hours or meeting the Tharu tribes in Chitwan, where the innocent village children gave me so much solace.

    • June 22, 2014 7:43 am

      Nepal is full of contradictions. It’s beautiful…. and rubbish-strewn for instance. If humans were slaughtered in such a way it would make international headlines and outrage. The way we treat other living beings defines us I believe.

  8. June 21, 2014 1:47 pm

    I’m all for freedom of choice but I’m totally against cruelty. Animal sacrifice is a tradition thousands of years old but the killing should be humane if necessary.

    • June 22, 2014 7:41 am

      I agree Tandy – it’s the extent of the animal suffering which is abhorrent to me.

  9. June 21, 2014 2:24 pm

    This was a great read, as it wasn’t something that I had heard of before. Beautiful photos too.

  10. June 21, 2014 5:34 pm

    Very interesting and thought provoking post Sally, thanks for sharing your experience with us all. Off to sign the petition.

    • June 22, 2014 7:39 am

      Thanks Debbie – like many things, it’s not cut and dried, but I personally feel this amount of suffering inflicted on animals is wrong.

  11. June 22, 2014 3:03 am

    I have learned something through your post, I did not know that this happened in Nepal. It seems contradictory to Hindu religion and culture that animal slaughtering should happen, after all the cow is sacred and majority Hindus are vegetarian. To be honest, I am far from ritualistic but definitely vegetarian so whether slaughtering happens in the name of religion or consumption, I feel sad about it either way. Incidentally (and I am sorry if i missed it in your post) what actually happens to the animals after being slaughtered.

    • June 22, 2014 7:38 am

      Why cows are sacred but the (very cow-looking) buffalo has always confused me. I wondered about what they do with the slaughtered animals too. I’ll try and find out
      Thanks for such a thoughtful comment.

  12. June 22, 2014 9:31 am

    A thought provoking write up. Thank you for sharing your experience and views Sally.

    • June 22, 2014 9:41 am

      Thanks Nielouphar – it’s easy to be complacent but I believe we have to raise difficult issues.

  13. June 22, 2014 5:01 pm

    Agreed, Sally—whether it be bullfighting in Spain, whale or dolphin slaughter in Japan, factory farming in the U.S. and Europe, etc., etc. And glad you shared your wonderful photos. What a fascinating place Nepal must be.

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