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Do you remember the age-old tradition of ‘bali’ — balipratha?  Animal sacrifices seem to have gone under the carpet in India. We have either stopped thinking of them or else we think of them as rituals of the past. Animal sacrifice in Hindu rituals have a common thread with the worship of the forms of Shakti, the feminine divine force.

Why am I narrating this old dead custom of animal sacrifices on Iris? That is because when we think that some customs and traditions have gone dead, it is either our own blind acceptance of everything that is modernized or else we have not seen the realities of life that exist ‘beyond’ our immediate context.

I am recounting this story from an event that happened this summer during my vacation in the depths of Odisha. I was into the forests of Koraput (one of my favourite destinations — there are other articles on Koraput on this blog) traveling through the deeps of Kolab, Macchkund, etc. There is a Devi temple very close to the industrial location of  NALCO. It’s an ancient temple — centuries old. One morning I just walked across the road to have a look into the temple. It was a Tuesday.

Usually that early in the morning there are not many people in these temples. However, the number was sizeably large that morning. I saw people — not tribals, but perfectly educated people from well-to-do families (perhaps employees of these industrial localities) standing in a group and waiting clustered around the deity, chanting something, perhaps a sloka or perhaps a rhyme. In the meanwhile, a lady and her husband walked-in and a person followed-in with a living hen. The hen was placed near the deity and marked with red vermilion, people raised the voice of their chants, and slowly moved closer to the deity. It was squeaking helplessly — the eyes spoke of fear and pain. I could not believe my eyes! Could anticipate the magnitude of the event that was waiting to happen. Thought I was living in the 21st century in an ultra-modernized India. I did push my way through the crowd in order to stop the event from happening, but someone from my family held my hand and stopped me from moving forward, saying that “people will get crazy if you stop them right now. These are rituals — do not fight against them”.

In no time the hen was taken right out of the temple by a man (perhaps a temple employee) and before everyone’s eyes was killed with one stroke. Pools of blood gushed out and coloured the premises with a deep maroon. People cried out the name of Devi with an even greater fervour. I ran out of the temple and vomited. Could not think of the event — tears streamed down my eyes. My mother tried to explain the event to me saying that it is an age old custom of the temple and people usually promise the deity with an animal sacrifice if their wishes come true. I felt desperate! An innocent animal is sacrificed to fulfill one human dream and wish in the stream of many-many such dreams and wishes.

I am not against non-vegetarianism per say — that is the choice of someone’s food habit. However, sacrificing an innocent creature at the altar of your purely ulterior motives — is that the correct version of spiritualism and worship? What I found even more ironical is that human beings sacrifice an animal at the altar of the deity whom they name “Mother goddess — Mother of the Creation”. Which mother wants the flesh of her child? I am yet to figure out the configurations….

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