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?

Jason Pitzl-Waters