Gadhimai Mela and other Pagan News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 24, 2009 — 44 Comments

Top Story: Today is the beginning of the Gadhimai Mela in Nepal, a massive festival that occurs every five years in honor of the Hindu goddess of power, involving the mass-ritualized slaughter of over 250,000 animals.

“The world’s biggest animal sacrifice began in Nepal today with the killing of the first of more than 250,000 animals as part of a Hindu festival in the village of Bariyapur, near the border with India. The event, which happens every five years, began with the decapitation of thousands of buffalo, killed in honour of Gadhimai, a Hindu goddess of power … The dead beasts will be sold to companies who will profit from the sale of the meat, bones and hide. Organisers will funnel the proceeds into development of the area, including the temple upkeep … Chandan Dev Chaudhary, a Hindu priest, said he was pleased with the festival’s high turnout and insisted tradition had to be kept. “The goddess needs blood,” he said.”

The high-profile ritualized slaughter of so many animals has gained international attention from animal rights activists, including French actress Brigitte Bardot, who told the Nepalese Prime Minister that “hundreds of horrified tourists report their disgust at witnessing ritual sacrifices at various festivals in Nepal”. Also attempting to halt the animal sacrifices was Ram Bahadur Bomjon, the famous “Buddha Boy”, who met with organizers and plans to appeal directly to participants. Local opponents included the Anti-Sacrifice Alliance and the Animal Welfare Network Nepal. But the appeals have fallen on deaf ears and rural Nepalese along with throngs of Indian tourists have flocked to the gathering, animals in tow, to gain the blessing of the goddess, whom they believe will grant their wish within five years.

“Kushawa, who belongs to the opposition Maoist party that claims to be atheists, said almost 75 percent of the visitors at the fair – whose main attraction is the slaughter of tens of thousands of birds and animals – are from India. “While they are mostly from Bihar, there are others from Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and other Indian states neighbouring Nepal,” he said.”

This rite no doubt shocks the sensibilities of many Westerners, who see them as unnecessary and barbaric. Then again, the slaughtered animals are cooked, sold, and eaten, so the main differences seem to be the religious aspect, and the fact that the slaughter is open to the public. America, by contrast, doesn’t  (usually) allow people to attend or sanctify their slaughter-houses. To compare scale, perhaps a half-million animals will be ritually killed at the Gadhimai Mela, while Americans will eat 45 million turkeys for Thanksgiving alone, with 250 million grown in 2008. We also killed and consumed over 34 million cows. Is context king? If they were kept out of sight, not ritualized, would we not care? I don’t think Bardot or the “Buddha Boy” are planning a trip to America’s meat-packing plants any time soon. How much of this outrage stems from people not conforming to what we consider civilized?

In Other News: We start off “below the fold” with some good news for South Jersey Vodou priest Houngan Hector Salva. Salva was embroiled in controversy after the death of a transgendered woman at a three-day Vodou cleansing ritual this past Summer. Officials have ruled the death accidental, and not suspicious.

“Her death – which was never considered suspicious — was ruled accidental on Monday by the Camden County prosecutor’s office and the case was closed. Lucie, a male-to-female transgender, died from the combined effects of “physical exhaustion, ambient room temperature and an oxygen-depleted atmosphere,” according to The Daily News.”

While Salva has been cleared of any criminal negligence, Lucie’s mother calls him “young, stupid and negligent” and wants people to know that her daughter died under his care. Salva has already moved from his former home, after the flurry of sensationalist press made it nearly impossible for him to continue his religious practice there.

The FBI has released hate-crime statistics for 2008, and offenses against religions are up across the board. This includes 212 offenses against “other” religions in 2008, up from 140 in 2007. Making up 12.8 percent of total religious hate-crimes. Unfortunately we have no way of telling who the “others” are, but we do know it isn’t any of the Abrahamic faiths (each of whom have their own category), so it’s probably of mish-mash of Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, and all the other “Others” combined. As ominous as this rise is, what isn’t reported may be even scarier.

“The FBI’s report reflects only the information gathered by participating law enforcement agencies. Experts warned that the numbers may reflect different standards for what constitutes a hate crime, as well as the inability of some law enforcement agencies to coordinate the report because of budget constraints. “The most frightening thing about these numbers is what goes unrecorded,” said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, the Hispanic civil rights advocacy group.”

One has to wonder how many hate-crimes get ignored by non-participating law enforcement agencies, and how many want to report these crimes but just don’t have the resources to do so. Addressing a problem often starts with having the data to support that there is, indeed, a problem. Let’s hope the FBI’s data improves, and that we someday learn who, exactly, the “others” are.

The press have reported on two Thanksgiving interfaith events that included Pagans and Wiccans, the first in Madison Wisconsin (sponsored by the Greater Madison Interreligious Association), where Selena Fox from Circle Sanctuary talked about Wiccan harvest festivals.

“Like many other religious groups, Wiccans have a tradition of giving thanks in connection with the harvest season, said the Rev. Selena Fox, of Circle Sanctuary, a Wiccan church near Barneveld. Some contemporary Wiccans celebrate the first harvest at the beginning of August, the abundant harvest in September, and the end of the harvest in late October, Fox told a group of about 100 people Sunday during the fourth annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration.”

Meanwhile, Modesto, California’s Inter-Faith Thanksgiving Celebration included Pagans for the first time. The Pagans performed a song-chant, and local Pagan Edye Cheeseman said that it felt “very inclusive, very nice.” Both events seem like a warm-up of sorts to the up-coming Parliament of the World’s Religions, the largest interfaith gathering in the world, where the expected Pagan presence is thought to be substantial. More on that soon.

In a final god-adapting-to-modern-times story, it seems that the city of Chennai in India has flocked to the worship of Iraniamman Amma, the “highway goddess” to avoid accidents and ensure a safe journey on the roads.

“Daily thousands of vehicles stop by and queue up at the Iraniamman temple to offer prayer on the highway including two wheelers, autos, cars, buses, lorry drivers, etc People from across the nation come here to worship the highway goddess in Chennai, which keep them away from the deadly accident on that accident-prone highway. “The reason for coming here to this goddess is that I need to go safe and come back safe too. That’s why I always come here, put the lime before the vehicle and do the puja, for a good, wonderful and safe journey. I am a catholic but I do believe in this because it is a highway Goddess,” said Jude, a traveller.”

Which leaves me with the question, which god or goddess in your pantheon handles highway safety? How about computer health? How have your gods adapted to modern times?

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Tea

    I like the comparison between the ritual sacrifice for Gadhimai Mela in Nepal and our ritual sacrifice for Thanksgiving here in the US. To condemn one while approving of the other is total hypocrisy. I think the animals slaughtered in public as part of a ceremony are being honored and respected more than those killed here in factory farms, behind closed doors.
    On a side note, who is Gadhimai? I was surprised that I didn't recognize this Hindu goddess, and the only info a google search turned up was about this stupid controversy. Does anyone know more about her?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Baruch Baruch

    "Which leaves me with the question, which god or goddess in your pantheon handles highway safety?"

    I simply thank The Road for bringing my loved ones alive and safe back to me in the past, and ask for it again. (I'm a bit of a primitive.)

    Baruch Dreamstalker

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/quantumelody quantumelody

      Huh. I'd probably pray to Hermes because he protects travelers.

  • Greywind

    Well I protest at cruelty to animals wherever and whenever – be it in the west or the east, be it 'religious' or industrial slaughter. The fact is that this is a barbaric practice. The animals do suffer and anyone who thinks this is 'kinder' than industrial slaughter really ought to go along and watch a bull whilst someone takes twenty or thirty hacks to sever its head whilst all around other animals go crazy with fear. And for what? To appease a god and bring good luck? Good luck for whom? Certainly not the animals that are tortured.

    • William

      You want to provide a source for your picture of animal sacrifice? Otherwise it's just someone with an agenda sharing their imagination with us. I actually HAVE seen animal sacrifice. I've seen one animal slaughtered right next to another and neither animal thrashed, called out, or acted the least bit afraid. Also, there are FAR more cruel ways that animals die in nature, or do you think that being asphyxiated for an hour and a half by a leopard is kinder? I never see you on the Serengeti protesting that. I just find it weird that animal rights people seem to think that only humans are capable of being cruel, but nature doesn't give a flying crap about trying to be nice about death and animals in the wild typically die far more cruel deaths than any religiously sacrificed animal. Life and death are not the pretty, touchy-feely things that whiney, sheltered Westerners like to imagine it is. Death is never dignified. It ALWAYS sucks, whether it's caused by people or by nature.

      Let me ask you, where do you buy your vegetables? Because you realize that the factory farming of vegetables is just as bad for the environment and that tons of animals get caught up in combines and slowly ground to death so that you can buy cheap broccoli, right? NO human being can escape having an impact on their environment, so people really need to drop the self-righteous crap already.

      • http://twitter.com/thelettuceman @thelettuceman

        QFT. I'm sick and tired of these animal rights activists protesting the usage and slaughter of animals for any reason and yet take part in the wholesale rape and destruction of plant-based systems. Unless these people don't think that the conscious act of spraying pesticides and fungicides and the act of over-fertilization to ensure high-profit crop yields is detrimental to the planet, to ourselves, and most especially to the spirit of the plants that are being freakishly grown.

        These people really need to open their eyes and stop acting like petulant children.

        • lonespark

          Good point.

      • http://Fire-Lyte.blogspot.com Fire Lyte

        I agree. While i don't participate in animal sacrifice, this planet is overly populated as it is. If the sacrifice is done in a respectable manner, with honor to the animal being sacrificed, then more power to you. Now, again, I would probably not accept an invitation to be present, but that's simply due to my weak stomach for such things… :-)

        Another question, though, does Greywind protest people being kept on life support? What about being given chemo treatments to keep them alive that cause great sickness and pain? What about people being put through surgery after surgery? Keeping people alive who are paralyzed from the neck down and develop bedsores from being unable to move? Does he protest these cruelties? Or, should we only worry about Bessie the sweet, innocent moo cow?

    • http://thesatyrsthicket.blogspot.com Son_of_Pan

      I'll stick to eating meat, thanks, even if that means I have to hunt and skin it myself.

  • Nick Ritter

    Jason, I very much appreciate your sympathetic coverage of animal sacrifice. It means a lot to those of us whose religions include sacrifice as an important practice, and who have, at times, been accused of "animal cruelty" for our practices. Thank you.

  • Yewtree

    I posted a comment earlier but it seems to have got eaten. Luckily I turned it into a blogpost: http://stroppyrabbit.blogspot.com/2009/11/gadhima

    I also wrote one about the whole Houngan Hector thing:
    http://stroppyrabbit.blogspot.com/2009/11/acciden

  • http://executivepagan.wordpress.com Erik

    I generally pray to Hermes for safe travel, and also as my professional patron (in I.T.).

  • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com Ian Phanes

    I call on Hermes-Mercurius for travel safety. Granted, he was my "training-wheels deity", so I've got a long-standing relationship with him to call upon.

    As for computers, the core membership of alt.magick in about 1993 agreed that Legba was the patron of the internet. Anyone who was involved with alt.magick will be aware that getting the core membership to agree to *anything* [other than we didn't suffer fools gladly] was nothing short of a miracle. Thus the agreement must have been a miracle by Legba, thereby proving that he deserves to be patron of the internet. (I keep a small shrine to him in a wooden box behind my monitor at work. When we are having serious technical difficulties, I've been known to ask some of my co-workers to offer him three pennies.)

  • Crystal

    We have a sustenance disconnect in this country. We seem to not be able to connect the dots from the farm animals to the slab of meat on our plates. I've tried to post a comment three times now. If three comments in a row show up from me that are redundant, my apologies.

  • http://llyrdancingonwaves.wordpress.com munin_and_hugin

    As far as personal Gods/Goddesses of the road, mine would be Asphalta, Lady of modern paved roads. I praise her quite a bit, since I live in Southern California and drivers here are crazy.

    On the animal sacrifice, I personally have no problem with it at all. It may come as a surprise to some people that a vegetarian can hold that perspective, but I do. It's usually done more humanely than modern slaughterhouses handle the deed. There is reverence in the act when done in religious contexts, and that changes how most people carry out sacrifice. You don't want to send pain to your deities, only the offering and your prayers. It also goes to feed people who need the food far more than we generally wasteful Westerners do. Sacrificing an animal for religious purposes is far more honorable to me than throw away attitude that accompanies the modern slaughterhouse.

  • http://www.walkofthefallen.com Labrys

    Hekate and Hermes for me. And gee, griping about the sacrifice of animals when a lot more lose their lives after a brutal feed-lot life in America reeks of stupid hypocrisy.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/TeNosce TeNosce

    My principle Goddess is Diana, and she demands blood.

    I'm a very hands-on person, and I cannot think of one project in my life of substance that doesn't have MY blood on it. Literally.

    It's kind of a family joke now, but if I cut/gouge/smash or hurt my finger to the point of bleeding, the project will go well.

    It hasn't failed me since. :)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Nope Snoozepossum

    It's also worth noting that of the animals that go for sacrifice, the hides, bone, and other parts will be used. Here in the states, utilization of the whole animal is rare, even in small game processing operations. At the place I get my deer bone from, I'm about the only person who does anything with the hides and other leftovers. They do at least bury it in their fallow fields, so it doesn't get thrown in the landfill. Given a choice, I'd rather have none of me go to waste.

    I give Ganesha, Brigid, or Lugh goodies for computer, craft, & tech problems, depending on what seems to be workable, and how bad it is.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Nope Snoozepossum

    LOL – Squat rocks!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/chuck_cosimano chuck_cosimano

    We have the Road Fairy who protects us on the highway and on occasion will cause a massive wreck to keep the road fuzz occupied and out of our way, for which we always thank him.

  • http://thesatyrsthicket.blogspot.com Son_of_Pan

    I don't really understand why people are so shocked by the sacrafice. Millions of animals are killed for food here in the US, is it really that bad if it's also done in other countries? I'll freely admit I like to eat meat. If it's done in ritual, more power to them!

  • Bat

    Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth and Lady of Largest Heart for safe travel, and Squat, Great Goddess of Parking Spaces, for journey's end!

  • http://rootandrock.blogspot.com Lady Scylla

    Hecate Triformis for roadways, Mercurirus-Tachyon for Caffeine :P, and as alt.magick proved… Legba for our interweb.

    Though, I know a couple of chaotes who created deities based on the monsterous creations of H.P. Lovecraft to cover all modern convenience "Which is but a shadow of the technology that the Old Ones held before our coming". Heh.

  • http://quainthomesteader.wordpress.com/ Dove

    I truly wish every Pagan (well everyone really) would read Omnivore's Dilemma, or watch Food, Inc. to really get informed about what's terribly wrong with American Industrial Food system. It's appalling the conditions our livestock lives in, all for the sake of cheap food. Organic, better than Organic, local and home grown food should be the Pagan "Kosher". It doesn't take much to care for a small flock of hens for eggs, I've been doing it for over a year now. I'm all for more Animal Welfare, (which is not the same as Animal Rights.)
    Liz

  • Dver

    If hundreds of tourists are horrified by this cultural phenomenon, which does not unduly torture animals nor waste them, then perhaps those people are not really the types who should be visiting foreign countries. Because in foreign countries, people do things differently than you do, that's part of the appeal and interest in travel. You have to be able to set aside your own cultural prejudices and try to view things on their terms. In any case, it would be one thing if all the objectors were vegetarians (though even then, I don't see why they should protest this any more than any other act of meat-eating), but I'm betting they're not. I'd rather eat an animal that was ritually slaughtered with proper gravitas and understanding of the process than one from a factory farm here in the U.S.

  • Yewtree

    The animal welfare campaigners are campaigning on many issues (including factory farming), not just the mass sacrifice: http://www.hsus.org/hsi/action_center/current_cam
    http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/

    According to the Humane Society, the animals are not killed humanely – hence the reason for the protest:
    Quote: "Cruelly, the animals are chased and hacked to death with knives in a competition to kill as many as possible within two days."

    http://action.humanesociety.org/site/MessageViewe

    Here's an account by a Nepalese eye-witness of the event:
    http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?actio
    (takes a while to load, but should be read)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Erynn Erynn

    I am a total Squat devotee.

  • Daecon

    There's Squat, the goddess of parking.

    http://templeofsquat.blogspot.com/

  • Nick Ritter

    Oddly enough, I have had the same experience. In my various projects I have found that everything I make that has religious significance ends up with some of my blood on it.

  • http://stroppyrabbit.blogspot.com Yewtree

    True, but the difference between 250,000 animals and one or two drops of blood is quite considerable.

  • Nick Ritter

    Hmm. So more blood might be better….

  • lonespark

    That second link is helpful, although picture evidence would be, too.

    In that article the author is campaigning against "animal sacrifice" even though it seems the real problem is animal cruelty. Is this the only type of animal sacrifice practiced in Nepal?

  • lonespark

    D'oh!
    I missed the pictures that accompany the Guardian article.

    All the protestors seem to be saying, stop the sacrifice instead of practice it more humanely, or it is being reported that way. So there doesn't seem to be much chance of a compromise.

  • http://twitter.com/thelettuceman @thelettuceman

    So how do you suggest that I take care of a small flock of hens/ducks/what have you, when my town zoning board mandates any type of farm animal to be reared on two acres of land per animal, and I have less than a third? Or the fact that my income budget sits just above the poverty line, and all the produce and goods sold at the local farm stands are greatly overinflated and are well outside of my price range for weekly consumption?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/TeNosce TeNosce

    I'll get right on it!

    I'm hoping for a table saw for Yule. :)

  • Sarenth

    …..With the previous track record you've had, I'd wonder about getting one of those. Might have to sacrifice a finger to get the addition to an altar done… ^_^

  • Soumya Ranjan

    South Asian feminist thinker and writer Sarojini Sahoo proves T is alien from LGB.
    Sarojini Sahoo tells that gender is a social creation, not a natural function of sex. Sex is related to our biological sexual make up and uses certain biological markers whereas gender is a common social expectation which puts borderlines for each sex.LGB are related to SEXUAL ORIENTATION and T is related to GENDER IDENTITY.
    Is transition required any way for the people who feel their soul remain in the wrong body?
    A very interesting discourse in this rarely discussed gender topic.
    You can access this from her blog SENSE & SENSUALITY at http://sarojinisahoo.blogspot.com/

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Baruch Baruch

    This may be valid, but some discrimination against BGLs (GLs in particular) is based on departure from gender norms. This is a loophole through which BGLs can lose jobs, be refused service, etc, even under anti-discrimination law that superficially protects them. Extended protection for T persons is necessary to afford complete protection for BGLs, and thus they are bound together.

    Baruch Dreamstalker

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  • Roxan

    I agree completely wtih Greywind. This is barbaric either way. If people are so hyped up about sacrifice, go sacrifce yourselves.

  • Roxan

    And if anything is killed, I'm not dumb enough to think that something is being killed for some imaginary figment of someone's sick imagination and I'm certainly not going to rejoice over it or feel "satisfied" that I killed some poor terrified animal.

  • Jake

    Stop pretending to be a pagan.

  • Nick Ritter

    Hear, hear.

  • http://www.vitabits.fr/huiles-de-poisson huiles de poisson

    I am totally against this menace of "sacrifice". Never can a God demand life of some poor terrified animal.