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Ritual animal slaughter and its possible karmic reactions
On November 24th and 25th every year the religious festival of worship of Gadhimai, the Nepali goddess of motherhood of all living beings was celebrated. Pleasing her is supposed to release the worshipers from sin, anger, desire and stupidity. It is shocking that a group of Nepali priests decided that the best way to worship Gadhimai is by slaughtering up to 500,000 animals in two days. The animals include cows, buffaloes, goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, rats, pigeons, rabbits, etc.
The animals are hacked to pieces by traditional Nepali knives called kukri traditionally used by the Gurkhas. These blades of these weapons vary in size from a few inches to three feet. The longer kukri are used to chop off the heads of the buffaloes and cows with one strike. The animals are penned up and often tied down. A group of 250 appointed hackers, usually in an alcohol induced frenzy, mutilate to death the animals. The brutal slaughter turns many acres surrounding the temple of Gadhimai into bloody marshes in which people stand. The stink of the hacked body parts of the animals and their entails will spread for miles and last for months. The spectators regale hearing the piercing shrieks of the animals and many people’s clothes are splattered in blood. Rather than release the hackers and spectators from sin, anger and stupidity, it inflames them to extreme acts of cruelty and calloused savagery against defenseless animals in the name of religion.
This orgy of slaughter is supposed to be a religious festival during which the Deity of Gadhimai is literally covered with the feces, urine and blood of the sacrificed animals. It takes place every five years in the Bara district of south-west Nepal. It is partially funded by the government of Nepal and attended by up to one million worshippers.
Manoj Shah, a Nepali driver, has attended the event since he was six. In an interview this year he said: â€œIt is the traditional way. If we want anything, we come here with an offering for the goddess. Within five years, all our dreams will be fulfilled.â€ It is the popular belief that the worshippers can make their wishes come true by offering animals for slaughter to the goddess. This was validated by a Hindu priest named Chandan Dev Chaudhary. He declared: “The goddess needs blood so that the person can make his wishes come true.”
The Gadhimala mela was run by the animal skin, bone and meat coalition of businessmen and money-lenders which fund the priests and temple for their blessings amid a ceremonial air of piety. Deals were made with butchers. Trucks commissioned to take away the fresh meat and bones. The skins sold to contractors in Chennai and Kolkata for the manufacture of shoes. Stalls rented to alcohol, food and flower vendors. The animal sacrifices were propelled by commercial interests.
Is there justification in the Vedas (the Hindus scriptures) for this spectacle of animal sacrifice? Are the Hindu priests in Nepal justified in encouraging the common people to engage in such religious ceremonies of animal sacrifice?
Animal sacrifice was performed in earlier times by qualified Vedic priests. This was over 5000 years ago in a previous age called Dvapara yuga when there were highly qualified Vedic priests who could rejuvenate the dead cows. Such practices were performed to prove that the priests were actually qualified. They were only allowed to kill if they could resuscitate the dead cows. But such practices were not permitted when the present age began 5000 years ago because there are no longer qualified priests who can rejuvenate a dead animal.
We must understand from Vedic authorities the real purpose of animal sacrifice in the Vedas. This question was debated by Lord Caitanya (the 15th century with Chand Kazi, the Mohammedan magistrate of the area of Bengal where the Lord appeared over five hundred years ago. Lord Caitanya challenged the Chand Kazi by asking a question:
The Lord said, “You drink cows’ milk; therefore the cow is your mother. And the bull produces grains for your maintenance; therefore he is your father. Since the bull and cow are your father and mother, how can you kill and eat them? What kind of religious principle is this? On what strength are you so daring that you commit such sinful activities?” (CC. Adi.ch.17.153)
Chand Kazi was a Muslim scholar of the Koran as well as knowledgeable in the Vedas. He stated that killing cows is permitted in the Koran. He reminded Lord Caitanya that the Vedas also recommend cow sacrifice:
“In Your Vedic scriptures there is an injunction for killing a cow. On the strength of this injunction, great sages performed sacrifices involving cow-killing.”
The Lord immediately replied, “The Vedas clearly enjoin that cows should not be killed. Therefore every Hindu, whoever he may be, avoids indulging in cow-killing.” There is an explicit statement in the Bhagavad-gita (18.44) that cows should be protected, “The duty of vaisyas (businessmen and agriculturalists) is to produce agricultural products, trade and give protection to cows.” Therefore it is a false statement that the Vedic scriptures contain injunctions permitting cow-killing.
The Lord proceeded to give the correct explanation of why cow sacrifice was permitted in earlier Vedic period. The Vedas permit qualified brahmanas to kill animals for experimental purposes if and only if they have the power to immediately bring the animal back to life. Whenever there was a Vedic sacrifice, the brahmanas performing it were tested to see if they were successful or not. The test was a sacrificial offering of an old cow placed in the fire. The brahmana priest repeated certain mantras while the cow burned and then pulled the cow out of the fire. If he conducted the sacrifice perfectly the cow was rejuvenated to a young calf. The purpose of the sacrifice was not to kill the animal and then eat it. It was to test whether the brahmana could give the animal new life. The animal sacrifice tested the power and purity of the Vedic mantras he recited and his character. It was not a frenzy of ritual animal killing for commercial profit or a huge barbecue.
The Vedas enjoin that in the present age called Kaliyuga such animal sacrifices are not allowed because the brahmanas no longer are qualified to conduct them successfully.
In the Brahma-vaivarta Purana (KrÌshna-janma-khana 185.180), it is stated, ‘In this Age of Kali, five acts are forbidden: the offering of a horse in sacrifice, the offering of a cow (or bull) in sacrifice, the acceptance of the order of sannyasa (renunciation), the offering of oblations of flesh to the forefathers, and a man’s begetting children in his brother’s wife.’
For a more complete historical perspective, we must mention that Lord Buddha, an incarnation of Lord Krishna, who appeared over 2500 years ago in India, raised the same objection to animal slaughter by Hindus in the name of religion. Lord Buddha was born into a Hindu royal family. On attaining adulthood, he noticed that there was tremendous suffering in his kingdom. He tried to understand why. After a period of renunciation and contemplation, he realized that the cause was due to improper teaching of the Vedas by the priestly brahmana class that misled people into sinful activities. Rather than attempt to correct the brahmanas of his time who were not qualified to perform Vedic sacrifices because they had lost the power and purity to do so, he decided to categorically reject the Vedic authority and set up a standard of ahimsa paramo dharma (supreme spiritual practices) based on ahimsa (nonviolence and compassion for all living beings) for the benefit of the common people. He recognized that the brahmanas had strayed so far away from the correct following of the Vedas and that they were so corrupted by material benefits derived from ritual performances that they would never understand. So he undermined their entire corrupt system of ritual sacrifice by rejecting the Vedas.
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, a Vedic authority and recognized scholar and author of translations and commentary on many Vedic texts, has written about Lord Buddha,
“Technically Lord Buddha’s philosophy is called atheistic because there is no acceptance of the Supreme Lord and because that system of philosophy denied the authority of the Vedas. But that is an act of camouflage by the Lord. Lord Buddha is the incarnation of Godhead. As such, he is the original propounder of Vedic knowledge. He therefore cannot reject Vedic philosophy. But he rejected it outwardly because the asura, or the demons who are always envious of the devotees of Godhead, try to support cow-killing or animal-killing from the pages of the Vedas, and this is now being done by the modernized sannyasis. Lord Buddha had to reject the authority of the Vedas altogether. This is simply technical, and had it not been so he would not have been so accepted as the incarnation of Godhead.
Nor would he have been worshiped in the transcendental songs of the poet Jayadeva, who is a Vaisnava Ãcarya(guru in disciplic succession). Lord Buddha preached the preliminary principles of the Vedas in a manner suitable for the time being (and so also did Sankaracarya) to establish the authority of the Vedas. Therefore both Lord Buddha and Ãcarya Sankara paved the path of theism, and the Vaisnava Ãcaryas (such as Ramanujacarya, Madhavacarya and), specifically Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, led the people on the path towards a realization of going back to Godhead.”
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada also writes about Jesus Christ in the Srimad Bhagavatam (7.15.10) as follows,
“Upon seeing the person engaged in performing the sacrifice, animals meant to be sacrificed are extremely afraid, thinking, “This merciless performer of sacrifices, being ignorant of the purpose of sacrifice and being most satisfied by killing others, will surely kill us.”
“Animal sacrifice in the name of religion is current practically all over the world in every established religion. It is said that Lord Jesus Christ, when twelve years old, was shocked to see the Jews sacrificing birds and animals in the synagogues and that he therefore rejected the Jewish system of religion and started the religious system of Christianity, adhering to the Old Testament commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ At the present day, however, not only are animals killed in the name of sacrifice, but the killing of animals has increased enormously because of the increasing number of slaughterhouses. Slaughtering animals, either for religion or for food, is most abominable and is condemned herein. Unless one is merciless, one cannot sacrifice animals, either in the name of religion or for food.”
Today, as in the time of Lord Buddha (2500 years ago) and Lord Caitanya (500 years ago), the priestly class whether, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jewish or even Buddhist who are not qualified to teach their scripture have invented horrible rituals or customs permitting massive animal slaughter in the name of religion. For example, the Thanksgiving Day in the USA requires the slaughter of 47 million turkeys. In Islam, after Ramadan or Hajj, millions of animals are slaughtered ritually. The rabbis slaughter animals for the kosher diet. Even amongst some sects of Buddhism there is also animal slaughter. A friend of one of my sons is a Buddhist. He attends a Buddhist temple in Redmond. He explained to me that the chief monk of the Buddhist temple explained that when a Buddhist (in their sect of Buddhism) eats meat, the soul of the animal is elevated quickly to a human birth. This is their belief. People can believe whatever they want, but there is no evidence in the life and teaching of Buddha that such a claim is true.
The problem is not with the teaching of the prophets, it is with the misinterpretations of unqualified teachers or priests who misrepresent the teaching for vested interests. This misrepresentation is taking place in all the religions of the world and is causing havoc in society. The common people are bewildered in determining what is right or wrong.
There was once a marriage ceremony. Right before the marriage was consecrated a bird fell down dead in front of the bride and groom. Everyone looked at the elder amongst them for an explanation. He said immediately get a straw hat. The hat was handed to him. He carefully and seemingly ceremoniously placed the hat over the bird. He said solemnly, “Let the marriage continue.” Years later, the elder died and the child of the bride and groom became of marriage age. When the preparations for the marriage were being discussed they consulted with the elders on how to perform the marriage according to their religious and family customs. The elders said, “You must have a dead bird place about two feet nears the bride and groom. A special straw hat must be placed ceremoniously on the bird by the groom’s father and he must say solemnly, “Let the marriage continue.” Thus a family tradition became part of the marriage ritual for all future generations.
Many customs and rituals that are being practiced today are also similarly fabricated like the dead bird ritual above. The ritual slaughter of cows and buffaloes in Nepal is a ceremonial performance that dates back hundred of years. Similarly, in other parts of India such as Calcutta when Kali or Durga puja is performed many thousands of animals are slaughtered. However, these sacrificial slaughter of innocent animals have no basis in Vedic scriptural evidence. Yet, the common people believe that because these ritual performances have a long history, if they stop them, there will be catastrophic consequences.
By testing the validity of a statement against Vedic evidence and the collaborating evidence of previous recognized acaryas or great teachers such as Buddha, Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhava, Caitanya, we can determine what is true and what is misrepresentation.
We can ask if there is Vedic evidence that permits animal sacrifice? The answer is yes but with many strict restrictions. First, there is no provision for slaughter of cows.
It is explained in the Sri Caitanya-caritamrita (Adi-lila, Chapter 17, verse 166): “Cow killers are condemned to rot in hellish life for as many thousands of years as there are hairs on the body of the cow.” The Yajur Veda 13.43 and 13.48 states, “Do not kill the cow which is splendor of life and [which is] inviolable,” and “Do not kill the Ox.”
The Manu Samhita states that the karmic punishment for killing a cow is very severe.
“If he has a strong desire (for meat) he may make an animal of clarified butter or one of flour (and eat that); but let him never seek to destroy an animal without a (lawful) reason. As many hairs as the slain beast has, so often indeed will he who killed it without a (lawful) reason suffer a violent death in future births.” (Manu-samhita 5.37-38)
A lawful reason means according to scriptural laws. According to Vedic scripture, license is given to meat eaters to sacrifice a black goat once a month on the dark moon night. It is strictly forbidden to purchase a slain animal for consumption in Vedic scripture. The person who wants to eat meat must kill the goat on a dark (or new) moon night under the supervision of a priest who instructs him to repeat the following mantra before cutting the throat of the goat, “Mam sa khadatiti mamsah.” The Sanskrit word is mamsa. Mam means “me,” and sa means “he.” I am killing this animal; I am eating him. And in my next lifetime he’ll kill me and eat me. When the animal is sacrificed, this mantra is recited into the ear of the animal ˜You are giving your life, so in your next life you will get the opportunity of becoming a human being. And I who am now killing you will become an animal, and you will kill me. (Journey of Self Discovery 6.5)
The purpose of the ritual and the repetition of the mantra is to contain unrestricted meat eating by forcing the meat eater to kill the animal himself and witness the horror of the act as well as to repeat the mantra that reveals the consequences of such an act. Such regulation is meant to discourage the meat eater by making him understand the consequences of his acts. Unrestricted meat eating is forbidden. The massive slaughter of animals for Gadhimai or Kali puja is not a bona fide Vedic ritual.
Further Vedic evidence is given in the Srimad Bhagavatam (11.5.14),
“Those sinful persons who are ignorant of actual religious principles, yet consider themselves to be completely pious, without compunction commit violence against innocent animals who are fully trusting in them. In their next lives, such sinful persons will be eaten by the same creatures they have killed in this world.”
In conclusion, we may cite two quotes, one by Mahatma Gandhi and the second by His Divine Grave A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.
“Cow-slaughter and man-slaughter are in my opinion two sides of the same coin.” (Mahatma Gandhi)
“You are killing innocent cows and other animals, nature will take revenge. Just wait. As soon as the time is right, nature will gather all these rascals and slaughter them. Finished. They’ll fight amongst themselves, Protestants and Catholics, Russia and America, this one and that one. It is going on. Why? That is nature’s law. Tit for tat. “You have killed. Now you kill yourselves.” (Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada)
Animal sacrifice is also practiced officially in the Armenian Christian Church since it began as the state religion of Armenia in 303 AD, St. Gregory the Illuminator, the Armenian Saint who converted King Drtad of Armenia, converted a large portion of the Armenian people in his kingdom to Christianity, He also used the forces loyal to the king who objected to conversion. This happened in Taron, which is an area of traditional Armenian habitation west of Lake Van known as Sassoun and Moush in modern times. There was also an colony of Hindus that lived in the area of Taron who maintained Hindu temples. The Hindus that numbered approximately 15,000 revolted against the forced conversion and they were defeated by the forces under the control of St. Gregory. Once the Hindus were defeated, St Gregory had their main temple and other shrines destroyed. On the ruins of their main temple which was dedicated to the worship of Rukmini and Krishna St. Gregory established the second most famous temple and monastery of ancient Armenia called Sourp Garabed (St. John the Baptist). It is here that he instituted the ceremony of matagh or sacrifice of animals. The following is a first hand account of British scholars who witnessed and chronicled the practice of animal sacrifice in traditional Armenia which was in the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century.
“I now pass on to report a few noticeable survivals of animal sacrifice amongst the Armenians.
Mr. Croybeare, whose acquaintance with Armenian history and literature is of the first order, had advised me that such sacrifices were still extant amongst the Armenians, and I was interested to verify the matter for myself. In his Key of Truth, p.115, note 4, he tells us that ‘the custom of offering victims in church and eating their flesh continues in Armenia and Georgia until today.’ Thus Gregory of Datev, c. 1375, in his manual condemns the Mahometans because they refused to eat of the Armenian victims.”
In the same work, p.134, note i., there is a long passage from Neres Shnorhali, born c. 1100, and Armenian Catholicos 1165, in defence of the custom of sacrificing animals in church in expiation of the sins of the dead. This sacrifice was called Matagh, and was said to be for the repose of the dead. If I understand Nerses rightly, the sacrifice was to take place at the door of the church, the body of the animal being divided in the following order: (i.) the priests, (ii.) the poor and needy, (iii.) the friends of the offerer.
At Archag, not far to the east of Lake Van, I took the opportunity of inquiring from the priests of the village with regard to this custom. They readily admitted the fact; the sacrifice occurred at leading festivals such as Easter, but especially, if I understood rightly, on the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin. The victims were usually lambs. Their blood was poured out upon the ground and the meat given to the poor. The sacrifice was not, however, performed in the church, but outside. They also informed me it was done in remembrance of the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham!” (Notes from Armenia, p. 439 Folklore Vol XV no.1, March 25, 1904, Transactions of the Folklore Society, A Quarterly Review of Myth, Institutuion and Custom)
Today, the Armenian Apostalic Orthodox Church continues the practice of animal sacrifice, which is explained on the official web page of the Armenian Church, The Catholicosate of All Armenians, the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. They explain the meaning of Matagh performance as part of the church tradition.
“Matagh, offering, is one of the traditions of the Armenian Church, its main meaning is giving a gift to God and giving alms to the poor.
Matagh existed in Armenia as early as in the times of St. Gregory the Illuminator. After having converted King Trdat to Christianity, along with all his people, St. Gregory the Illuminator offered a thanksgiving sacrifice to God in the Church of St. John the Forerunner, in Taron, killing numerous animals and distributing them to the poor.
Since ancient times the custom of offering sacrifice during great feasts, in the connection with the consecration of Churches or khatchkars (cross-stones), was practiced in the Armenian Church.
Offering is carried out for different purposes:
as gratitude to God for having saved the individual from misfortune or for granting health and well being,
as plea for the peace of the souls of the deceased.
One needs two elements for offering a sacrifice: an animal and salt. The animal must be male. It can be a cow, sheep, chicken or dove. When a cow is killed, its meat is distributed to 40 houses, a lamb, to 7 houses, a chicken, to 3 houses. The meat must not be left until the next day. If the sacrifice is a dove, it should be set free. First, the salt must be blessed. The salt is the element which purifies the matagh and makes it different from the pagan sacrifice. The meat is cooked only in salted water.
The custom of the Armenian matagh is a profoundly humane, Christian custom, which gives an opportunity to the faithful to express their love towards God, show mercy by helping the poor.
The origin of matagh comes from Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and other patriarchs. Christ Himself during the Last Supper ate the meat of the Easter lamb, which is considered to be matagh, handed down by Prophet Moses.” (web page of the Armenian Church, The Catholicosate of All Armenians, the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin)
The sacrifice of Matagh (animal sacrifice) is not actually a Christian practice. It has no relevance to the teaching of Jesus Christ. In fact, Christ stopped the practice of animal sacrifice as performed traditionally by the ancient Jews when He presented the bread and wine of the last Supper as the embodiment of His blood and flesh. He presented Himself as the lamb of sacrifice for all time which ended the Jewish practice and instituted a new covenant in which Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross would atone for the sins of all who put their faith in him.” (Matthew 26:28)
We can see a pattern in modern religions or religions that have started in the last three thousand years from Judaism onward, including the modern form of the Vedic religion which is Hinduism, of deviation from the original teachings of the founders. Animal sacrifice or ritual killing of animals whether in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity has brought misfortune to those who insist on practicing it. Ritual sacrifice of animals (or animal slaughter for food) is not necessary in any of the religions. It is contrary to the principle of compassion and mercy which is inherent to all the religions. Yet, the priests of the different religions promote it for material gain and to satisfy the palate of meat eaters who would be reluctant to follow a vegetarian diet.
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