By Shristi Kafle
KATHMANDU, Dec. 2 (Xinhua)-- Despite global protest against the mass slaughter of animals as part of the celebration of the Gadhimai Festival in Nepal, the Nepali people have continued to preserve their century-old Hindu tradition.
The festival, which calls for the mass killing of animals as offering to goddess Gadhima, kicked off on Friday in Bariyarpur of Bara District, a border town with India some 160 kilometers south of the capital. Hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees from Nepal and India participated in the ritual.
Devotees from Nepal and India flocked to the town starting at the wee hours of Friday, most of whom brought with them their prized livestock to be sacrificed for the month-long festival. The ritual started almost at midnight with people killing their buffaloes, goats, chickens, pigs, pigeons or even rats.
More than 100 locals have slaughtered their animals using their sharp khukuris in a dry field protected by high walls. Buffaloes were being corralled in holding pens as they are being readied to be slaughtered during the festival.
Motilal Kushwaha, the secretary of Gadhimai Festival organizing committee, said that they cannot speculate as to the exact number of animals or livestock to be sacrificed on Friday and Saturday, but it might be lesser than the past years due to protests.
But he said that some 7,000 buffaloes have already been registered for the mass slaughter as of Thursday evening. He could not give an estimate of other fowls or livestock that are going to be slaughtered.
The festival is held every five years where buffaloes, pigs, goats ,chickens, sheep, pigeons, among others, are sacrificed in order to please the goddess Gadhimai.
Organizers said that an estimated 300,000 animals were sacrificed during the Gadhimai Festival in 2009.
Tek Narayan Singh, a merchant in Indian border city of Raxaul who has been taking part in the festival for the past 25 years, told Xinhua that they arrived in the town Wednesday. "We are here to sacrifice a buffalo and two pigeons. May Gadhimai Mata bring happiness and prosperity to my family," he said.
During the past few months, animal rights activists, that include Hollywood celebrities, have tried to stop the mass slaughter of animals but failed to achieve their goal.
French celebrity Brigitte Bardot and British actress Joanna Lumley had written to the government of Nepal to stop the Hindu ritual, saying that the mass murder of animals is cruel and should be stopped.
Last month, Animal Welfare Nepal, a private organization protecting animal rights, had organized a rally in Kathmandu in order to put pressure on the Nepal government to compel the organizers to call off the ritual.
As part of their protest, different global animal rights organizations even shared gory pictures in social media depicting animals gasping for life as they are slaughtered and heads of fowls wallowing in blood scattered in the field along with devotees who are also covered with blood.
During the ritual, some animal rights campaigners were seen at the premises of a temple holding a silent protest through meditation. But hundreds of thousands of devotees ignored their protests and pushed through with their age-old ritual.
Hindu devotees believe that shedding the blood of live animals during the festival would bring them good luck and prosperity.
Sushant Chaudhary, a resident of Bara District who came to the slaughter field with his wife, said that no protest or campaign can stop them from doing the sacrifice. "It's a tradition and culture handed down from our forebears. We believe that the goddess Gadhimai needs blood, and we must give it to her," he said.
Most of the animals to be sacrificed came from neighboring India. The Indian Supreme Court issued an order in September to ban the movement of animals from the Indian borders to Nepal. But the order has been widely violated.
The Gadhimai development committee has deployed around 15,000 security personnel to keep peace in the slaughter area. The committee also set up five animal health checkpoints. After the animals are slaughtered, their carcasses are sold to companies in India.