A festival in Nepal celebrating the world's largest animal sacrifice was canceled on Tuesday in a landmark victory for activists.
The Gadhimai Temple Trust said the event in Bara district, which claims the lives of hundreds of thousands of buffalo, goats, and birds and attracts hundreds of thousands of worshippers, has now been cancelled "indefinitely."
In a statement, Gadhimai Temple Trust Chairman, Mr Ram Chandra Shah, said: "The time has come to transform an old tradition. The time has come to replace killing and violence with peaceful worship and celebration."
"With your help, we can ensure Gadhimai 2019 is free from bloodshed. Moreover, we can ensure Gadhimai 2019 is a momentous celebration of life," he added.
"It has been a long effort… we took a firm stand and it has finally worked," said AWNN President Manoj Gautam.
"We realize that people have been victimized by superstition so building mass awareness is critical, but I am very hopeful that we will see a bloodless festival in 2019," Gautam told AFP.
The origins of Gadhimai date back around 265 years ago, when the founder of the Gadhimai Temple, Bhagwan Chowdhary, had a dream that the goddess Gadhimai wanted blood in return for freeing him from prison, protecting him from evil and promising prosperity and power.
In the dream the goddess is said to have asked for a human sacrifice, but Chowdhary appeased her with an animal instead, and so thousands of animals have been slaughtered every five years since.
It was estimated that the festival in 2009 saw the massacre of 500,000 water buffalo, goats, chickens, and other animals, who had their heads severed as part of the ritual.
But with an intervention by the Supreme Court of India, coupled with a growing awareness of the event through activists creating vastly popular petitions, numbers were reduced by about 70 percent in 2014.
Earlier this month India's Supreme Court issued directions to states to set up mechanisms to prevent animals from being taken to Gadhimai in future, and create awareness against animal sacrifice.
HSI's Gauri Maulekhi, who petitioned the court against the movement of animals to the Gadhimai festival, said in a statement: "This is a tremendous victory for compassion that will save the lives of countless animals."
He described how he and other conservationists were left "heartbroken" to witness the bloodshed at Gadhimai, and commended the temple committee for banning the event.
"Animal sacrifice is a highly regressive practice and no nation in the modern world should entertain it," Maulekhi said.
Earlier this year, following the global outrage stemming from the Gadhimai massacre, the temple committee also decided not to sacrifice any animals during the harvest festival of Sankranti. Instead, temple officials have been confiscating the animals and caring for them until rescuers can rehome them.
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