Sacrifice or slaughter?

Never had I seen heads being chopped off their bodies than recently. My soul was shaken; my breath was taken; my heart was frozen; my faith was broken–as I witnessed the murder of innocent animals in a North Eastern temple recently.

Recently I happened to go to the Kamakhya temple, a well-known Hindu shrine located on the outskirts of Guwahati. It was a fortnight-long trip to the Assamese capital. It was purely a business travel. However, I had times to roam around popular attractions. The Brahmaputra river is the key vantage point for visitors and tourists in the growing capital city. Besides, the Kamakhya temple calls on thousands of Hindu pilgrims from all parts of the country. Yes, you heard it right: thousands. The temple is an important one for Hindus, basically for those whose faith is well entrenched in Tantrik practices.

Everybody in my circle, friends or otherwise, had advised me to pay a visit to the temple since I was coming to the city. During the fourteen days–the time I spent in the North-Eastern city, I paid as many as three visits to the renowned temple. Surprising it may sound, yet true, since on Sundays I’d barely anything to do. In addition, the location of the temple was the most fascinating factor to attract me no less than three times. And I felt that this was the easiest way out, apart from different interesting things in the city.

The first two visits were incomplete and brief. The length of the rows which devotees had formed perhaps was the reason to drive me off. However, I managed to see the temple through a special gate–No. 2– that shows a distant view of the goddess adorned with myriad things.

Indeed, it is a beautiful temple with a rock-erected dome, a vagina-shaped narrow round base which leads to a water spring underneath through a downward passage, a dark passage though. A number of rock-cut figures–installed around on the outer facade–indulge in a direct conversation with us about the antiquity which the temple boasts of. Juxtaposed with the modern architecture, the old temple structure strikes a fine balance between art and faith.

On my first two visits, I barely had a chance to interact with the locals. However, I saw a number of red-gowned priests, pilgrims and stray goats teeming the temple court and thought they were its natural inhabitants. The stray goats frisked around the main temple, reminding me instantly of the Baba Balaknath temple in Himachal’s Hamirpur district where goats are supposed to tell fortune through their symbolic nods. Was this the reason to keep them at the Kamakhya temple? I guess not.

The true secret of their presence surfaced during the final visit to the temple. It was a visit during which I noticed a specially-constructed shed, half-walled, in front of the main temple. Around this shed a beeline of devotees wait for hours for their turn to enter the interiors to bow down at the holy spring and do darshan. But it takes hours to move a few meters for a line. I was one of them on the third visit caught in the line guarded by iron nets on both sides. The nets barred devotees from mixing with people in the other line. The long hours in the line mean that I had plenty of time to explore the truth behind the shed.

At around 8 am in the morning, I saw a red-dressed man, possibly a priest, lugging a long chopper into the shed. He dipped the chopper into the cemented water tank, built right at the curved door of the shed, and then washed its sharp edge clean. It was a massive weapon, with a  long hilt. Somebody after me in the line whispered “time for bali‘. I was flabbergasted. He meant that it was time for sacrifice. The cold chill ran through my spine. Who will be sacrificed?, I thought.

The whisper soon turned out to be a reality. Very soon I saw the priest and his associates hacking goats after goats. Their purring voices diluted in the air in one shot. The priest’s dexterous hands beheaded goats in just one shot. It is a must to separate the head in one go. Later a priest told me that the heads, chopped off in one shot, can only be offered to the goddess. This was the first time I saw animal sacrifices taking place in a temple, though I am aware of the sacrifices at the Goddess Kali temple in Kolkatta.

In 4 hours there were around 20 goats and two buffaloes sacrificed. Certainly I had not the courage to witness all this. I kept on listening to their dying voices with every thud on their neck behind the wall. I was unnerved as the people who popped up their heads to see over the wall kept on explaining to what was going on in the slaughterhouse.  I was numb and mind-frozen. Indeed, I don’t have words to explain the experience. At one point I thought that if it were us, we could die the same way.  Later my numbness multiplied when I saw all the goat and buffalo heads offered to the goddess. I’m speechless. It got on my nerves.

Is the beheading of speechless animals sacrifice?

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