Will Nepal's Gadhimai Temple End Its Centuries-Old Animal Sacrifice Rituals?

The main priest of Gadhimai temple Mangal Chaudhary. Photo by Diwakar Bhandari. Used with permission

The main priest of Gadhimai temple Mangal Chaudhary. Photo by Diwakar Bhandari. Used with permission

Everyone in Nepal was surprised when they saw headlines that the Gadhimai temple, which hosts one of the world’s biggest massacre of animals every five years, will ban their centuries-old ritual of animal sacrifice. And rightly so — because the news turned out to be wrong.

On July 28, journalists received a press release from a press conference organized by the Animal Welfare Network Nepal (AWNN) and Humane Society International/India (HSI India) in New Delhi, with the subject, “Victory! Animal Sacrifice Banned in Nepal's Gadhmai Festival, Half a Million Animals Saved.”

The press release from New Delhi included a statement from the Temple Trust Chairman, Shri Ram Chandra Shah allegedley saying: “The Gadhimai Temple Trust hereby declares our formal decision to end animal sacrifice. With your help,we can ensure Gadhimai 2019 is free from bloodshed.”

Some news reports also quoted the temple's main priest Mangal Chaudhary saying at the press conference: “We have decided not to hold any sacrifices inside the temple. We will urge people to not bring animals along but ask them to perform a slaughter-free puja [worship].”

However, shortly after the news of the animal slaughter ban at Gadhimai started making rounds in national and international press, the Trust Chairman Shah denied making any statement regarding a slaughter ban at the temple.

Shah wasn't even present at the press conference. He did send a letter to the rights organizations arranging the press conference in New Delhi with a statement, apologizing for being unable to attend, explaining that the Temple would work with the activists as they plan to organise public awareness campaigns against mass slaughter.

News site ekantipur.com's reporter Chahana Sigdel tweeted out Shah's original letter to AWNN and HSI India:

In her reporting Sigdel explains that Shah said the Temple would have to consider how their devotees would feel about the ban. She includes Shah's quote: “It is very important to acknowledge people’s sentiments and make sure that they understand. We might ban it but what can we do when people bring animals?”

Meanwhile, the press release by animal rights activists was used by newspapers and news sites to create provocative headlines and by animal rights activists to create internet memes.

The news covered the front pages of Nepal’s dailies and made headline news in international media.

Animal rights groups in India and Nepal have been focusing their advocacy on the Gadhimai festival for a while. In 2009, an estimated 500,000 buffaloes, goats, chickens and other animals were sacrificed at Gadhimai. During the last festival in 2014, animal sacrifice was reduced by 70 percent, largely due to the global campaign against animal sacrifice and the Indian Supreme Court's intervention to prohibit the movement of animals from India to Nepal.

Gadhimai's main priest “pressurized” into announcing the ban?

While Shah was not present at the press conference in New Delhi, some Gadhimai Temple Management Committee members and the main priest Chaudhary did attend on an invitation from  HSI and supported by AWNN. After his team’s return to Bariyarpur in Bara district of Nepal, the main priest Mangal Chaudhary further clarified the Trust’s stance while talking to the Annapurna Post’s Diwakar Bhandari.

Chaudhary said he and the committee members had been informed that social activist Swami Agnivesh and famed yoga guru Ramdev would be participating in the programme. Swami Agnivesh has been at the forefront of urging Indian devotees to boycott the mass slaughter. However, when both of them failed to turn up and the press conference commenced, his team was pressurised by the rights groups to announce the slaughter ban at the press conference. The priest claimed that he and the committee members had never talked about banning the animal sacrifice.

Social activist Swami Agnivesh at the Gadhimai temple. Photo by Diwakar Bhandari. Used with permission

Social activist Swami Agnivesh at the Gadhimai temple. Photo by Diwakar Bhandari. Used with permission

Answering queries at the press conference, the main priest said that they would not stop any organisation from spreading awareness to ban the animal sacrifice and won’t oppose if the slaughter stops due to the awareness.

It is unclear what affect these contradicting statements from the Temple administration will have on advocacy efforts to end animal sacrifice at Gadhimai, but Temple officials maintain they will continue to work with AWNN and HSI – India to raise awareness about the ills of animal sacrifice.

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