By Dr. Nanditha Krishna
The late Paramacharya of Kanchi – venerated as a saint in his lifetime – said that any function (wedding, festival, etc.) involving the death of animals – including the wearing of silk – cannot be termed as “Hindu”, as every Hindu shastra and mantra speaks of ahimsa as an ideal and invokes nature, both animals and plants, in every ritual.
Unfortunately, Hinduism, in its all-absorbing catholicism, has permitted the entry of all kinds of practices, including animal sacrifice, which was given up in the Vedantic period (1000 B.C.) following the influence of the Upanishads, which came out strongly against the sacrifices of the early Vedic period. Buddhism and Jainism were a similar result of Upanishadic teachings.
Durga puja (Navaratri) also celebrates the defeat of the buffalo-grazers of ancient India by the food-producing Dravidians (Mundas) who worshipped the Mother Goddess. Thus you will find that Durga pooja and buffalo sacrifice is strongest in places of Dravidian culture, such as eastern, north-eastern (including Nepal) and southern India. It has nothing to do with religion. It is a mere celebration of the take over of land which belonged to indigenous people by their conquerors. Tribes such as the Gonds, Maria Gonds, Todas, etc., still worship and graze the buffalo and bury it with ritual honours when it dies. Sacrificing the buffalo – who is described as a demon – was their way of showing contempt for the buffalo grazers. I have written extensively on this subject in my BOOK OF DEMONS, published by Penguin India.
There is neither God nor religion in the act of taking life. I condemn it strongly. We Hindus should work BEFORE the next Navaratri to educate people about how and why buffaloes are sacrificed. The Devi Mahatmya, which is read for nine days during Navaratri, does not even mention animal sacrifice, so it is obviously alien to Durga Pooja. Devi merely kills the demon Mahisha-asura (among others), who took the form of a buffalo. Animal sacrifice is a laukika (folk) not shastraic (canonical) tradition, so you have to persuade local people to give it up at every individual temple.
In the 7th century A.D. the great philosopher Adi Shankara stopped animal sacrifice wherever he went – from Pashupatinath in Nepal to Kanchi Kamakshi in the south (he walked all over India). The Shankaracharyas of Kanchi have stopped it in many villages in Tamilnadu, which is one of the reasons why they were hounded by the government. Unfortunately, it suits governments to let the common people “amuse” themselves with sacrifice, etc. so that they will not notice more important problems such as corruption and mis-governance.
Today we are living in an age of crass commercialisation and conspicuous consumption. How does a person show off his/her wealth and power? By sacrificing many buffaloes. It has been mentioned that the cost of a young buffalo is anywhere between Rs 30,000 and Rs 35,000. A person who wastes his money and the life of an animal so easily is not only showing off his wealth, but also his power to take away life – making him a “living God”. That is the ultimate arrogance.
Unfortunately, thanks to the Muslim demand for animal sacrifice on Bakr-Id, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act says that nothing contained in the Act shall apply to the use of animals for religious purposes, giving a clean chit to animal sacrifice. Muslim and Hindu animal activists have to work together to stop this cruelty and nonsense. While Ibrahim may have sacrificed a ram instead of his son, God never asked him to kill a ram every year. Nor does Ma Durga thirst for buffalo blood.
Top photo: Zzvet / dreamstime.com / A water buffalo
Second photo: The Varahariswarar Temple near Kanchipuram, Tamilnadu
Third photo: A temple cat, Kanchipuram