Hinduism is generally thought of as a vegetarian religion, one that respects animals because in the cycle of death and rebirth, we’ve all been animals at one point or another. But Hinduism is an ancient and complex faith with almost a billion adherents, and there’s such a diversity that virtually no common thread can be found in all methods of Hindu worship.
Nothing proves that more true than Gadhimai Mela, a fair that takes places once every five years in southern Nepal to honor the goddess Gadhimai. Tens of thousands of pilgrims from Nepal and India have gathered to offer animal sacrifices to the goddess in return for blessings. One man who prayed for a son at the last festival had his wish granted, and this year reportedly sacrificed 105 buffaloes.
Animal rights campaigners protesting the festival have had no success. The Indian pilgrims came all the way to Nepal because animal sacrifice is illegal in India, and they’re not going to be stopped. The BBC estimates that a quarter of a million animals, from pigeons to lambs to buffaloes, will be sacrificed. Local tanners and butchers are doing a brisk trade, as are the illicit stills set up to entertain the pilgrims. Six people have already died from drinking illegal home brew.
This isn’t the only animal sacrifice in Hinduism. It’s been popular in various times and places in the Hindu world and there are numerous references to it in holy texts, including a horse sacrifice in the famous epic the Ramayana, shown here.