Over two million people attended this year's Gadhimai festival in Nepal's Bara District. Held every five years at the Gadhimai temple of Bariyarpur, the festival is the world's largest slaughter of animals, during which between thousands of water buffaloes, pigs, goats, chickens, rats and pigeons are slaughtered in order to please Gadhimai, the Goddess of Power.
Five animals - a rat, a goat, a rooster, a pig, and a pigeon - are sacrificed at dawn during a Pancha Bali ceremony that marks the beginning of the Ghadimai rituals, as a priest cuts himself and mixes his blood with that of the five animals just sacrificed. Hundreds of thousands of devotees mass around the temple asking for blessings, after traveling for kilometers along a dusty road that links the cities along the border with India with the Ghadimai temple.
Devotees arrive at the temple carrying water buffalos, goats, pigeons, and other animals to be offered as sacrifices to the Gadhimai Goddess; some have come walking long distances from their hometowns, many barefoot. Inside the temple area, a whole economy has emerged; food sellers and fortune tellers abound, with a loudspeaker broadcasts the names of the huge number of children who have become separated from their families amongst the chaos created by the almost 2 million people who attended this year’s festival.
Despite a ban this year on animals being crossed over from India for the sacrifice and growing controversy in recent years over the festival, some 5,000 buffaloes are slaughtered by professional butchers who decapitate buffalo after buffalo using traditional kukri knives. After the sacrifices, the buffalo meat is sold to butchers in Kathmandu, who will resell the meat, while the skin will be turned into leather; the heads are buried in a hole dug in front of the temple.
In July 2015, authorities in Nepal approved the ban of animal sacrifices starting with the 2019 festival. After more than 300 years of tradition, Gadhimai will be celebrated bloodless for the first time.
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