Quarter million animals sacrificed at Hindu festival

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.

India’s Sticks and Dance Festival in Modern Times

In India, the concept of BYOB (bring-your-own-beer) is unheard of, but BYO Sticks is commonplace. I can’t believe I’ve called one of India’s most fun and celebrated festivals one of ‘Sticks and Dance,’ but truth be told, that’s exactly what it is.

During these nine-nights of Navratri (this year 12-20 October — depending in the moon), huge tents are set up throughout the country and people get together to dance ‘dandiya’ (dance with sticks). If you have watched any Bollywood films and wondered if we dance like that in India, the answer is yes — in weddings and in this festival.

As with most Hindu festivals, hundreds and thousands of people go to pray on the occasions; stampedes happen and people die, (in a country of over a billion, these things are unfortunately commonplace) but in general they are happy celebrations. People get together in traditional outfits or fused-modern ones, and as long as you have two foot-size wooden sticks and are willing to hit other peoples foot-size wooden sticks to the beat of drums, you are more than welcome.

This festival is probably India’s most joyous; attendance levels at work and educational institutions are low and political campaigns take a step back as they know people are too busy hitting each others sticks till the wee hours of the morning; except in Mumbai perhaps where open air fiesta has to shut at midnight. I laughed out loud when I read that in Mumbai, dancing is only permitted until midnight because of the noise levels, but dandiya venues managed to overcome that problem by offering guests headphones to wear while they dance!

Great time to visit India if you want enjoy rocking to Indian music and want to experience the cultural partying scene of the Indian youth.

Nepal Airlines Officials Sacrifice Goats to Appease Sky Gods

The driving forces behind Nepal’s national state-run airline have found a novel way to fix a technical problem with their airplanes — they’ve sacrificed goats to appeal to the Hindu ‘sky god’, Akash Bhairab. Sacrificing animals is an ancient tradition that seems to have resisted modern logic, at least in some part of Asia, and in this case, the practice was used to fix and electrical problem in a Boeing 757. And it might sound like a strange way to fix a mechanical issue, but here’s what’s even stranger: it worked.

Still, the whole idea of sacrificing goats to appease the sky gods doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in skeptics like myself. Luckily, I don’t think I’ll be taking Nepal Airlines anytime soon.

Holi, India’s Festival of Colors

Holi, also known as India’s Festival of Colors, begins on the Phalgun Purnima, or the night of the first full moon in late February or early March. For those of you who haven’t looked up at the night sky recently, that means it’s this weekend.

Believed to have originated as long ago as 300BC, the legend-soaked event celebrates the arrival of spring and the promise of fertile fields. It also scares away laziness and sickness in the lives of Hindus. As part of the celebrations, Hindus enjoy bonfires (to kill bacterias in the body), throw brightly-colored powders in the air (to invoke the richness and bounty of spring), and drink and eat bhang (um…just for fun). In other words, it’s sort of like Mardi Gras for Hindus. Except without all the ta-tas.

Don’t understand what’s so fun about throwing around colored powder? Check out this ecstatic, exuberant clip from Mangal Pandey: The Rising and marvel at all the kaleidoscopic color.

Can’t make it to India this weekend? Apparently, Queens hosts an Americanized version of the event this Saturday and Sunday. FYI, don’t eat too much hot buttered bhang and collapse on your mother’s clean sheets. This is certainly not the time.