There is a concerted campaign underway against the Hindu practice of animal sacrifice and it has been the case for quite some time. We have had at least two High Courts ban the practice in recent time and we have another state, Kerala, where it has been banned for years. But opposition to the practice has not come from the Courts alone as politicians have also attempted to punish Hindus that practice it using their influence.
Most recently, an FIR was registered against unidentified individuals over animal sacrifice at the Durga Saptakshi Temple in Kamptee, Nagpur. It was registered after BJP MP Maneka Gandhi instructed the police to take urgent action against the practitioners. Thus, it can be clearly seen that opposition to the practice is regardless of political affiliations.
The Supreme Court, fortunately, has been far more sensible in this regard, which is certainly highly unusual. The apex court stayed both the High Court orders and a bench led by Chief Justice SA Bobde made some very salient observations while hearing an appeal against the Kerala law that bans animal sacrifice.
“There seems to be a dichotomy. Killing animals and consuming it is allowed. But killing animals, offering it to a deity and then consuming it is not allowed,” the CJI-led bench said. The appellants had made the same argument in their plea challenging the law. “The Act criminalises the intent behind the animal sacrifice, and not animal sacrifice per se. If the sacrifice is not for propitiating any deity but for personal consumption, even in the precincts of temple, it is not forbidden. This arbitrary classification is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution,” the plea had said.
Animal Sacrifice in Hindu Dharma
Before we proceed any further, we shall first discuss the essentiality of the practice of animal sacrifice in Hindu religious practices. The core element of the practice has been recognized by a wide range of scholar and scriptural sanction for it can be found in all major texts. Mohit Bharadwaj, a ritualistic practitioner of Hindu Dharma and founder of Vaidika Bharata, told this journalist, “Animal sacrifice is prescribed in all major texts. But it is highly regulated.”
Mr. Bharadwaj continued, “There are several theological explanations, the most basic being that the Devata, to whom the animal is being offered, has commanded so in the scriptures. Later on, several sampradaya-s came up which while respecting Veda/Smrti-s, still did not abide by them, loosely speaking. For them occasionally, animal sacrifice is more from the point of view that they are offering it to the Devata because it is food.”
Mr. Bharadwaj also told us that Shrauta and Grhya sutras, which are the primary authority on all Hindu rituals, explicitly sanction animal sacrifice. Scholars agree with Mr. Bharadwaj here. In a paper authored by Suchitra Samanta and published by the Association for Asian Studies, it is said, “Several Tantra as well as Purana texts list appropriate animals and vegetables which may be offered in sacrifice. These texts unanimously emphasize the goddess’ pleasure in receiving such offerings, and eloquently describe the material and spiritual benefits to the sacrifier.”
The author adds, “In everyday speech, the gift-offering of goats, pathabali (chagabali in Sanskrit), is abbreviated to simply bali. It is included within the larger category of pasubali, animal sacrificial offerings. Vegetable offerings fall under the rubric of kusmandadibali.” Her study was based on observations at the famous Kalighat Temple in Kolkata, the homes of the worshippers, texts related to the worship of Maa Kali and interviews of Bengali devotees of the Goddess.
The author further adds, “Where in the Western tradition God and man are perceived as two separate entities, the distinctions between sacrifier and Sakti are ambiguous. The meaning of sacrifice to Sakti has less to do with the personality of God than with the act itself, that which represents the relationship between divinity and sacrifier. Crucially, such an act involves the intent, therefore the “self’ of the sacrifier.”
The author also demonstrates that animals have been traditionally sacrificed in a ritualistic manner for centuries. Another paper published in the International Journal of Hindu studies says, “Animal sacrifice, and specifically animal blood, is part of various rituals and worship practices in both Tantric Hindu and mainstream Hindu traditions and is used for a number of reasons. Blood offerings—probably the predominant background for most animal sacrifices—may be perceived as vigorous and effective means to either nourish a deity or, more often, to pacify and propitiate the potentially aggressive and/or dangerous nature of a deity.”
There are numerous Vedic rites involving animal sacrifice. The Vajpeya and Agnishtoma involve the sacrificing of an animal. Then there is the famous Ashvamedha ritual described in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata which involves animal sacrifice. Thus, there is ample evidence which establishes firmly that the ritualistic sacrificing of animals is an essential practice in Hindu religion.
Why a ban on Pashubali is an attack on Hindu Dharma
A ban on animal sacrifice is effectively a ban on particular aspects of the Hindu belief system rather than a ban on actions. As the Supreme Court duly observed, there is a clear dichotomy here. Killing animals for the consumption of food is not frowned upon by the secular state while sacrificing animals to please the Gods is treated as a crime.
Banning the practice is a frontal attack on the freedom of individuals to practice their religious faith. And as has become obvious in recent times, the secular state of India is ever willing to curb the religious freedom of only one particular religious community. Even the killing of animals during Eid, which is a barbaric practice, is tolerated and even encouraged by the secular state while every opportunity is seized upon to ban animal sacrifice.
Both theologically and in practice, the Islamic method of slaughter is barbaric which is not the case in Pashubali. The theological concept of Pashubali lies on the basis that it is performed to please the Deity and under the command of the Deity Herself. The Halal method of slaughter mandates that the slaughtering of the animal must be done in just one stroke without lifting the knife, using a sharp knife.
It says that the windpipe (throat), food-tract (oesophagus) and the two jugular veins must be cut in a single stroke. Care must be taken that the head is not severed and the spinal cord is not cut. As is obvious, this particular method of slaughtering is far more cruel and brutal. Even so, Islamic practices cannot be the metric for passing judgment on Hindu traditions.
As Hindus, we ought to be more concerned about preserving our own rituals and pleasing our Gods than judging our traditions on the basis of those of other faiths. Pleasing our Gods ought to be our primary concern and that objective ought to acquire greater priority than winning arguments online.
It is oft touted that the beauty of Hindu Dharma is its diversity. The ritualistic practice of animal sacrifice is part of that diversity. While paying odes to diversity within Hindu Dharma, every effort is made to homogenize it and murder that famed diversity of ours in cold blood. We need not actively participate in the ritual itself in order to support it, we need only recognize the fact that it is important to multitudes of our Hindu brethren. And that ought to be justification enough for us to oppose every effort to ban the practice.