BARIYARPUR (Nepal) • Hindu worshippers began killing thousands of buffaloes yesterday in reputedly the world's biggest animal sacrifice, held every five years in a remote corner of Nepal, despite efforts to end the bloodshed.
The Gadhimai Festival kicked off in the early hours amid tight security, with the ceremonial slaughter of a goat, rat, chicken, pig and 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 buffaloes as excited pilgrims watched.
"The sacrifices have begun... We had tried not to support it but people have faith in the tradition and have come here with their offerings," said Mr Birendra Prasad Yadav, one of the organisers.
Thousands of worshippers from Nepal and neighbouring India have spent days 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," said Mr Rajesh Kumar Das, 30.
An estimated 200,000 animals were butchered during the last two-day Gadhimai Festival in 2014, held in honour of the Hindu goddess of power.
Many were hopeful that the centuries-old tradition would end after the temple authorities announced a ban in 2015 and the Supreme Court of Nepal directed the government to discourage the bloodshed a year later.
But animal rights activists said both government agencies as well as temple committees have failed to implement these rulings.
The 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.
According to legend, the first sacrifices in Bariyarpur were conducted when the goddess Gadhimai appeared to a prisoner in a dream and asked him to establish a temple for her.