The warrior, Goddess Durga, has arrived on earth to combat the evils and demonic forces that threaten peace, prosperity and dharma of the good. Hence, a festive mood is round the corner and excitement is gaining momentum. This year, a sense of spirituality seems thriving as the number of pandals and their diverse themes and budgets have multiplied. However, amidst all these preparations, what disturbs us is the fact that a good number of innocent animals will be sacrificed yet again in the name of killing the Mahishasura!
Significantly, there is a paradigm shift in preparing for this religious occasion. Popular audio-visual discourse on Durga Puja is shifting from the surroundings of religious institutions and its spiritual fervour to the highly illuminated temporary pandals. Most of the pandals are illuminated using technological marvels. However, even at the time of technological emergence, we have not forgotten to abolish the tradition of ‘sacrifice’ during puja for the sake of our happiness and well-being.
This year too, a good number of innocent animals, including buffalo, goat, duck, pigeon and catfish, will be sacrificed literally to kill the mythological demon, Mahishasura.
Notably, some of the prominent temples that offer sacrifices in Assam are Kamakhya Temple, Mahabhairav Temple, Devi Daul Temple, Keshaikhati Temple, Sri Sri Dirgheshwari Devaloi, Billeshwar Devaloy, Sri Sri Ugratara Dewalay, Dhaneshwar Temple, Chattrakar Devalaya, Chandi Mandir and Sri Bagala Devi Mandir.
On the contrary, the States of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Pondicherry, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu have already banned animal sacrifice. Throwing a light of hope, in Assam, Manasha Temple and Garal Temple have recently abolished the practice of ‘sacrifice’.
According to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, the Act prohibits the infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering on an animal and makes such unnecessary pain and suffering a penal offence. However, who will implement this? It must be mentioned here that big offerings are always made by the political elites, privileged individuals, bureaucrats as well as technocrats who are supposed to be the ones to enforce the law.
Talking to this writer, prominent animal welfare activist and chairperson of People for Animal, Assam Sangeeta Goswami said, “During Durga Puja, hundreds of buffaloes and other innocent animals are sacrificed in the name of killing Mahishasura. But if Mahishasura had been a tiger, would we have been able to sacrifice? Like humans, animals too have the same emotion and pain; they also have spinal code.”
Stating that normally people offer young buffaloes for sacrifices, Goswami questioned, “Instead of killing innocent domestic animals, why don’t priests bring the real Mahishasuras for sacrifice? Could humans bear the pain if they are also sacrificed like animals?”
Arguing that cattle and buffalo belong to the common Bovine subfamily, Goswami maintained that the Hindu priests should also dare to sacrifice cattle. “Sacrifice symbolizes how much we love to see and take pleasure in manifesting violence through sacrifice. It is completely driven by superstition. No religious script and literature suggest such cruel religious practice.” She added, “If we can abolish sati pratha, child marriage and human sacrifice, we should also put an end to the practice of animal sacrifice.”
On the other hand, expressing his deep faith on the legacy of centuries-old tradition of ‘sacrifice’, Sri Sri Ugratara Devalaya Doloi Parameswar Sarma said, “There was evidence of ‘sacrifice’ in great religious literature like Garuda Purana and Yogini Tantra. It has been carried forward over the centuries, for it has greatly helped the devotees in achieving their wishes.” Sarma further said, “Abolition of ‘sacrifice’ in certain peeths like the Kamakhya Temple, Ugratara Dewalay, Billeshwar Devaloy and Mahamaya Dham is not likely. However, other temples may review it. One cannot compare the peeths with rest of the temples.”
On the contrary, stating that despite price hike of various essential commodities, the number of pandals has been increasing every year. Sarma said, “This indicates the expansion of both spirituality as well as awareness on rituals. Puja pandals are also turning out to be an attraction of tourist enthusiasts across the globe. Accordingly, Hindu gods and goddesses are gradually becoming known to the people around the world. Temples and pandals are becoming a centre of attraction during these great festive seasons. Hence, there is no point of distorting the rituals of the peeths.”
So far, it has become quite clear that visibly there are two schools of thought on ‘sacrifice’ standing poles apart. One is obviously in support of the legacy, while the other is for quashing the practice. Who seems more rational then?
The priests and their loyal people stress that the animal welfare activists observe only the ‘sacrifice’ offered in the temples. “Why don’t they see the routine slaughtering of thousands of innocent animals in the market?” In response, the animal welfare activists argue, “If bloodshed and cruelty upon animals continue in the name of ‘sacrifice’, where is the difference between a temple and a professional slaughter house? Temple is a house of enlightenment while a slaughterhouse is obviously not. Can we consider the priests as slaughters?”
After considering all these arguments, what is precisely contradictory is the fact that despite the sacrifice of so many animals every year, the number of Mahishasuras is not decreasing in real life. Every year, there is a stiff rise of criminal offences across the country. Moreover, a question always remains: can bloodshed and religious sanctity, love and peace share the same space inside a temple?
I fear if we are not the Mahishasuras by ourselves!
Debananda S Medak
(The writer can be reached at email@example.com)