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Photos of Animal Sacrifices from Nepal's Gadhimai Festival

Thousands of animals were ritualistically killed outside the city of Birgunj in November.

by Sergey Stroitelev
20 March 2015, 4:00am

Warning: Some of the photos below depict animal sacrifice and may disturb some readers.

Unlike much of the rest of the world, many religious Nepalese still believe in the power of sacrifice. To appease the gods they kill a lot of bulls, goats, and pigs during the biggest festival in Nepal, Dashain, which lasts 15 days, takes place in temples all over the country, and is often attended by tourists. Less famous is the Gadhimai festival, which takes place every five years at the end of the year (the last one was held in late November 2014). The event is like nothing else in the world, and has become extremely controversial. In several days, up to 3 million people sacrifice hundreds of thousands of animals. It's estimated that 250,000 animals were sacrificed in 2009's ceremonies.

The festival takes place 25 kilometers from the city of Birgunj, within a three-kilometer radius of the temple of the goddess Gadhimai. The action begins before dawn, at around 3 AM. During the most recent festival, a long line of people stretched along the dusty road leading from Birgunj. If devotees cover their animal with a piece of red cotton, this means the creature will be sacrificed.

Their first stop is a small river a kilometer away from the temple. People bathe together with animals to ensure cleanliness before the rite. The sun slowly rises on the horizon and sacrifices begin on the banks of the river.

When participants throw up their gorkha knives up in the air, it means the time has come. Before the sacrifice, an animal is given some rice and incense sticks are waved about it, and then an executioner deftly cuts off its head. An hour after the rituals begin, the banks of the river are painted red. After the ceremony, each member of the family that brought the animal stands in a pool of hot blood, thereby obtaining the blessing of the goddess.

Celebrations take place until late evening, when the participants light fires to warm themselves. Many families eat at food tents constructed for the festival, hang around, and rest near the temple. Those who have come from far away organize a small camp where they sleep and cook the recently sacrificed animals.

See more work by Sergey Stroitelev on Flickr.