Buddhists and animal rights activists against animal slaughter for Durga
by Christopher Sharma
Dashain, Nepal's longest and most important Hindu festival, begins. It marks the birth of the goddess Durga and her victory over an evil demon. To help the deity, tens of thousands of animals are slaughtered to provide fresh sacrificial blood. However, as important as it is, "we can begin to rethink this tradition," a Hindu leader says.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - The celebration of the great Hindu festival of Dashain is becoming controversial in Nepal as Buddhist leaders and environmentalists urge the majority to stop slaughtering animals for ritualistic blood sacrifices "that no longer make sense". Whilst most Hindus defend the traditions, some agree that change might come but it will be "gradual".

Dashain is Nepal's longest and most important festival. Even Nepalis leaving abroad try to get home to join their family for the 15-days celebration. Government offices, many businesses, schools and universities are closed for this period.

The festival celebrates the victory of good over evil and the birth of the goddess Durga, created to fight the demon Mahishasura and stop his reign of terror in the world of god and man.

The first nine days of Dashain symbolise the struggle between the two. According to tradition, on the eighth and ninth day the fresh blood of animals is sacrificed, a gift to appease the goddess engaged in the final stages of her battle.

However, animal rights activists this is an inhumane practice. "Killing an animal to eat its flesh is something understandable, even if we are against it. However, such a waste is beyond the pale."

Although there are no official statistics on the number of animals killed during the festival, several industry experts say that hundreds of thousands of buffaloes, goats, pigeons and ducks are slaughtered each year.

"We have been struggling for some time against the death of the animals," said Ananda, a monk who heads a local Buddhist community. "We can say with satisfaction that thanks to our awareness campaign, the number of animal sacrifices has dropped."

"We have no problem with the festival itself," he explained, "but we would like to see alternatives such as floral or fruit offerings." What is more, "Such killings influence young children".

"No religion demands violence," said Govinda Tondon, a Hindu expert and leader. "Peace and mercy have to be at the heart of the faith." However, "In Hinduism, some very old traditional practices rest on the belief that the goddess Durga needs a supply of fresh blood. Certainly, we can begin to rethink this tradition, but it will take time, and will mostly be a gradual change."