Thousands of buffalo lie dead as the world’s biggest animal sacrifice begins: 200 sword-wielding butchers carry out slaughter in Nepal, despite outcry over festival bloodshed
- GRAPHIC CONTENT: Gadhimai Festival began in Nepal on Tuesday morning with some 3,500 buffalo killed
- Sacrificial ceremony, held every five years, kicked off with slaughter of a goat, rat, chicken, pig and pigeon
- Around 200,000 animals were sacrificed in 2014, a reduction from the 500,000 killed in the 2009 festival
- In 2015, it was reported that temple authorities had agreed to ‘cancel all future animal sacrifice’ at the event
- Gadhimai Temple’s then-chairman Ram Chandra Shah, however, claimed at the time this was not the case
Hindu worshippers wielding swords and knives slaughtered thousands of buffalo this morning as the world’s biggest animal sacrifice began in a remote area of Nepal.
Efforts from activists and officials were expected to cut the death toll from the 200,000 animals butchered at the last Gadhimai Festival in 2014, but thousands of creatures were still set to be killed over the two-day event.
The event, held in honour of the Hindu goddess Gadhimai, kicked off in Bariyarpur in the early hours with a ceremony known as the ‘pancha bali’: the sacrificial slaughter of a goat, rat, chicken, pig and a pigeon. A local shaman then offered blood from five points of his body.
Some 200 butchers with sharpened swords and knives then walked into a walled arena bigger than a football field that held several thousand buffalo as excited pilgrims climbed trees to catch a glimpse of the action.
‘The sacrifices have begun today… We had tried not to support it but people have faith in the tradition and have come here with their offerings,’ Birendra Prasad Yadav from the festival organising committee said.
A Hindu devotee slaughters a buffalo as an offering to a goddess as the Gadhimai Festival begins in a remote area of Nepal
A butcher swings his blade to kill a buffalo as the sacrificial ceremony begins during the Gadhimai Festival held at Bariyarpur in Nepal
The festival, which dates back 265 years, began in Bariyarpur south of Kathmandu this morning despite an outcry over the bloodshed
Dozens of slaughtered buffalo surround a worshipper, who prepares to make yet another offering to the goddess Gadhimai
Men drag a dead buffalo across an enclosure for animals awaiting sacrifice on Tuesday as the ceremonial slaughter began
A butcher swings his blade to sacrifice a buffalo inside an enclosed compound during the centuries-old ceremony, which is held once every five years
A worshipper holds a blade behind his back ahead of slaughtering a buffalo during the extremely controversial festival
A Hindu devotee slaughters a buffalo as dozens of dead animals lay on the ground around it in Bariyarpur, south Nepal
At its height in 2009, the two-day event – held in honour of the Hindu goddess of power – took the lives of around 500,000 buffaloes, goats, pigeons and other animals
Humane Society International India plead with Gadhimai Temple priest Mangal Chowdhury to stop the slaughter on Tuesday
At dawn, an estimated 3,500 buffaloes were gathered in the main Temple arena for a mass beheading as the first day of the world’s largest animal sacrifice event got underway
WHAT IS THE GADHIMAI FESTIVAL?
The Gadhimai Festival takes place every five years in Bariyarpur, Nepal.
The event, in which thousands of animals are slaughtered, honours the Hindu goddess of power, Gadhimai.
It is said to date back around 265 years, when Bhagwan Chowdhary, a feudal landlord and the founder of the Gadhimai Temple, was imprisoned in Makawanpur Jail, was told in a dream that all his problems would be resolved if he made a blood sacrifice to Gadhimai.
He had a dream that the goddess Gadhimai would free him from prison, protect him from evil and promise him prosperity and power in return for blood.
The goddess asked for a human sacrifice, but Chowdhary successfully offered the blood of an animal instead, and this practice has been repeated every five years since.
On Tuesday, photographs captured butchers as they used swords to slaughter buffalo which were marked with red paint, as dozens watched on and waved weapons in the air.
At dawn, an estimated 3,500 buffaloes were gathered in the main Temple arena for a mass beheading as the first day of the world’s largest animal sacrifice event got underway, the Humane Society International reported.
Those at the event described animals collapsing from exhaustion, sickness and stress throughout the festival.
Despite the gruesome scenes, the HSI said the number of animals slaughtered was many thousands fewer than in previous years.
Thousands of worshippers from Nepal and neighbouring India have spent days sleeping out in the open and offering prayers ahead of the event in Bariyarpur village, close to the Indian border.
‘I believe in the goddess. My mother had asked her for the good health of my son,’ Rajesh Kumar Das, 30, said, holding a goat in his hand.
At its height in 2009, the two-day event – held in honour of the Hindu goddess of power – took the lives of around 500,000 buffaloes, goats, pigeons and other animals. It was reported this reduced to around 200,000 in 2014.
It was reported in 2015 by the Humane Society International and the Animal Welfare Network Nepal that temple authorities had agreed to ‘cancel all future animal sacrifice’ and ‘[urge] devotees not to bring animals to the festival’.
Thousands of worshippers from Nepal and neighbouring India have spent days sleeping out in the open and offering prayers ahead of the event in Bariyarpur village, close to the Indian border
Those at the event described animals collapsing from exhaustion, sickness and stress throughout the festival
A butcher holds his blade behind his head as he prepares to sacrifice an animal during the festival this morning
A buffalo lies dead inside an enclosure for animals awaiting slaughter on Tuesday. An estimated 200,000 animals ranging from goats to rats were butchered during the last two-day Gadhimai Festival
At dawn on Tuesday, an estimated 3,500 buffaloes were gathered in the main Temple arena for a mass beheading as the final day of the world’s largest animal sacrifice event got underway
On Tuesday, an excavator was seen pushing dead buffalo inside a hole before burying them after the ceremonial slaughter
A devotee wrapped in a blanket sits near his temporary shelter as he waits for the Gadhimai Festival to begin on Tuesday
Hindu devotees in brightly-coloured clothing help each other cross a murky river near the site of the controversial festival
Hindu devotees ride in the back of a vehicle as they travel with a goat to the festival in Baryarpur, south of Kathmandu
Men lead buffalo wearing bright orange capes inside an enclosure early on Tuesday morning as the festival got underway
Hundreds of worshippers hold swords and knives wrapped in colourful cloth into the air as the two-day ceremony began
People watch Hindu devotee slaughter animals as an offering during the Gadhimai Festival in Bariyarpur on Tuesday morning
A devotee holds a pig as the two-day event, which is held in honour of the Hindu goddess of power, began this morning
The temple’s then-chairman Ram Chandra Shah, however, told the BBC that this was not the case. He said: ‘Devout Hindus could be requested not to offer animal sacrifice to the goddess, but they could not be forced not to do so – nor [could] the tradition be banned or stopped completely’.
Over the past year, animal welfare groups such as the HSI, Federation of Animal Welfare Nepal and People for Animals have launched a series of public awareness campaigns to urge devotees not to bring animals for slaughter.
Indian border authorities and volunteers have in recent days seized scores of animals being brought across the frontier by unlicensed traders and pilgrims, but this has failed to stop the flow.
Tanuja Basnet, director of Humane Society International/Nepal, said: ‘Such scenes of animal suffering are a stain on Nepal’s international reputation. There is no justification for this mass killing, and it is truly heart breaking to witness, especially knowing that the Temple could and should have kept its promise to help these animals.
‘It has been left to animal groups like HSI, FAWN, PFA and others to intervene over the past year and urge people not to bring animals for sacrifice. If we had not acted, the lives of many thousands more animals would have been wasted. But it is now time for the Nepal government to step up and introduce a ban in law on animal sacrifice so that this is the last time we witness such horrors at Gadhimai.’
Hindu devotee slaughters a buffalo as a offering during the Gadhimai Festival in Bariyarpur on Tuesday morning
A Hindu devotee slaughters a buffalo as an offering to Hindu goddess Gadhimai during the Gadhimai Festival in Bariyarpur
A group of men drag a dead animal through an enclosure of buffalo as another volunteer pushes it from behind on Tuesday
Another animal is led towards the Gadhimai Festival by two men ahead of the ceremony taking place on Tuesday morning
Hindu devotees raise their sacrificial blades to the sky as the ceremony of the controversial festival begins on Tuesday
A blacksmith displays a collection of sacrificial blades for sale near the buffalo enclosure on the eve of the Gadhimai Festival
The event kicked off in Bariyarpur in the early hours today amid tight security, with the ceremonial slaughter of a goat (right), rat, chicken, pig and a pigeon (left)
According to legend, the first sacrifices in Bariyarpur were conducted around 265 years ago.
Hindu mythology says a feudal landlord was sleeping in prison when he envisioned he would be freed from all his worldly suffering after making a blood sacrifice to Gadhimai, the goddess of power.
The goddess asked for a human sacrifice, but Bhagwan Chowdhary successfully offered her the blood of an animal instead – and the practice has been continued every five years since.
It grew over two centuries and in 2009, more than five million people attended the two-day ‘festival’ at the Gadhimai Temple in southern Nepal. Around 80 per cent of those were thought to have travelled from India just to see the killings.
Thousands sit on the walls of the Gadhimai temple as the buffalo, goats, chickens and other animals are shepherded in and decapitated by 200 men armed with long, razor-sharp blades.
Dozens of onlookers watch on as the Gadhimai Festival begins in Bariyarpur, Nepal the early hours of Tuesday morning
Humane Society International at the India-Nepal border assist the law enforcement with inspecting vehicles and seizing animals illegally transported across the border for sacrifice at Gadhimai Festival
Pictured: A Human Society International worker assists police as they check vehicles for animals illegally transported across the border with India
Two men on a motorcycle carry a goat between them as they attempt to cross the border between India and Nepal
A volunteer for the Humane Society International/India carried a goat found in the back of a vehicle ahead of the festival