Hindu worshippers with swords and knives began slaughtering thousands of buffalo in the world’s biggest animal sacrifice in Nepal on Tuesday, despite efforts to end the bloodshed.
The Gadhimai Festival, which is held every five years, kicked off in Bariyarpur in the early hours amid tight security, with the ceremonial 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 butcher swings his blade to kill a buffalo as the sacrificial ceremony begins during the Gadhimai Festival held at Bariyarpur in Nepal
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 Hindu devotee slaughters a buffalo as dozens of dead animals lay on the ground around it in Bariyarpur, south Nepal
Humane Society International India plead with Gadhimai Temple priest Mangal Chowdhury to stop the slaughter on Tuesday
Hindu devotees ride in the back of a vehicle as they travel with a goat to the festival in Baryarpur, south of Kathmandu
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 as devotees tried to drag them to their death.
But despite the unsettling 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.
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
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
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. Following protests, this was reduced to 30,000 in 2014.
Many were hopeful the centuries-old tradition would end after the temple authorities announced a ban in 2015 and Nepal’s supreme court directed the government to discourage the bloodshed a year later.
But animal rights activists say both government agencies as well as temple committees have failed to implement these rulings. 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.
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, and this has proved successful for many.
Hindu devotee slaughters a buffalo as a offering during the Gadhimai Festival in Bariyarpur on Tuesday morning
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)
Dozens of onlookers watch on as the Gadhimai Festival begins in Bariyarpur, Nepal the early hours of Tuesday morning
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.’
According to legend, the first sacrifices in Bariyarpur were conducted several centuries ago when goddess Gadhimai appeared to a prisoner in a dream and asked him to establish a temple to her.
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