The 15-day event is the most important religious celebration in Nepal. Animal rights activists have gone to Hindu temples to raise awareness among believers. The stench of rotting dead animals fills the areas near the places of worship. Police have been deployed to prevent confrontation.
Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – The Hindu festival of Dashain began in Nepal yesterday along with protests by Buddhists and animal rights activists who oppose the event’s traditional mass slaughter of animals.
According to some estimates, a million goats, sheep, buffalo and birds will be killed during the 15-day celebration. Their fresh blood will be offered to the gods and poured onto temple steps. But for Buddhists, who are usually opposed to all forms of violence, the killing of so many animals is sacrilege.
"We respect the culture of others, but the slaughter of thousands of innocent animals and birds is not a good practice,” monk Tsering Dorje of Kathmandu told AsiaNews. “We oppose such killing and ask Hindus to respect nonviolence."
Dashain is the most important and longest festival in Nepal. For this occasion, Nepalis around the world try to travel home to be with family.
The celebration marks the victory of good over evil and the birth of the goddess Durga, created to defeat the Mahishasura demon and stop his reign of terror in the divine and human world.
The first nine days of Dashain symbolise the battle between the two. This is why on the eighth and ninth day fresh animal blood is sacrificed, a gift to the goddess engaged in the final stages of the confrontation.
The monk said that hundreds of animal- and peace-loving Buddhists are flocking to various Hindu temples to convince Hindus not to slaughter animals. "We are carrying out a nationwide awareness campaign," he added.
"It's not just about killing animals,” said Sunita Bhandari, of Maitidevi Temple in the capital. “Young people are being taught to become violent. Hindu temples are also overcrowded, so those who live nearby have to deal with the dead animals."
Children are afraid to come to places of worship and the nauseating odour of rotting meat causes considerable discomfort.
"We do not ask the faithful to kill the animals, but to offer coconuts,” said Guru Guvaju Ratindra, priest at the Bhadrakali Temple. “They come with animals and sacrifice them in honour of the gods, in accordance with Hindu tradition. We cannot stop it because Dashain is the time to make the gods happy."
Fearing possible clashes between the Hindus and animal rights activists, the government has stepped up security around temples.
"We follow the government's directives and we will enforce law and order,” said Police Officer Hemanta Rawal. “We want Hindus, Buddhists and other believers to respect one another."
Dashain is "part of our culture and it will take some time before people give up this practice,” said government spokeswoman Mohan Bahadur Basnet. “The government must listen to everyone's opinion." Meanwhile, security forces remain on guard.