Sacrificing Goats – Where the Temple Runs Red with Blood.
So having left the melting pot of sights, sounds, smells and extraordinary things that is Kathmandu we headed up to the tiny mountain town (and by mountain town I mean 1302 metres above sea level high up a mountain) of Manakamana to see more of the rural local Nepal. We took a delightful journey in a cable car up the mountain, for us $20 return, for locals 575Rps return, and for goats 250Rps one way, looking at the really and truly unbelievable scenery. I was instantly enchanted by the completely untouched little village, not a tourist in sight, barely a word of spoken English, local people carrying vast amounts of weight on their backs supported by just a strap round their foreheads, little stalls selling toys and bangles abound and pilgrims galore. Because there is a very sacred temple there. And goats. Lots of goats. The reason for which was to become gruesomely apparent soon enough.
Still in a daze of serene happiness and cheerful ‘Namastes’ to everyone who was just as intrigued by us as us them, it seemed an impossibly idyllic setting and certainly not the backdrop for something as shocking as what goes on there. The temple there is one of the most important to Hindus because it is the temple of Bhagwati, an incarnation of Pavati, who can grant wishes. So couples head here in force to pray for male children. And the best way to ensure you get your wish is to bring a goat for sacrifice, to seal the deal as it were. The temple itself is hectic, bells clanging all over the place, red paint adorning people and goats alike, impossibly long queues to get into the temple, shuffling crowds and you can guarantee you’ll be in the way of a photograph being taken no matter where you’re standing. It was here the smile began to slip from my face for two reasons. One the atmosphere is touching on feverish, there’s almost a just bordering on manic energy to the place which I sponged up straight away and two, the smell. Like the vibe it’s almost just out of reach, an undercurrent, but I got a powerful whiff of it before it slipped under the mask of a hundred incense sticks again. I couldn’t quite place it, a sickly sweet cloying smell, that makes your stomach cringe up and leaves you with a bad feeling. Upon further inspection, and following what we had no idea was the scent of death we found the grisly little pavilion behind the temple, where the floor is slick with sacrificial blood, goat heads sit in piles, flies buzz, and the executioner stands with gore drenched feet looking bored with the whole thing. Soon enough a family pulling a little brown and white goat on a lead turned up. I couldn’t bear to watch but I heard the sound and seconds later I’ve seen the headless body flung on it’s side, legs still trying to run, blood gushing down the drain.
That sealed the deal for me, no longer could I look at this temple as a revered place of worship, the best way I can describe it to others, and the only way I will ever be able to look at it in my head is exactly like that scene out of the film Apocalypto – except it’s goats rather then humans and red paint instead of blue. Everything else is the same, creepily so.
It got worse. Later, knowing that I wanted to write this blog and be fully informed but completely unsure about the whole thing, we went back. . A different executioner was there this time, one that looked barely out of nappies to be honest – and one that had more of the brutality of a teenager and less of the skill of the older slightly jaded looking man. A delightful little black goat was led to the chamber, and there was much bustling around it with a knives. I wasn’t sure what was going on, as after everyone stood back it was still standing with it’s head very much on. In fact they jovially nudged it back out the pavilion where it walked dazedly down the stairs. I was repeatedly asking what was happening, of course nobody answered, but for a joyful second I thought he was ok. Then he just stood, not behaving in a very goatish manner at all, stock still and completely silent in the middle of the crowd. I was transfixed in horror as very slowly I saw a few drops of blood falling on the floor beneath it’s neck. It quickly became apparent that it was bleeding to death, slowly standing there. There wasn’t time to process this before the next poor little mite was led in. This was a no holds barred sacrifice, and I saw the whole thing. It took more then a few seconds before the head was hacked off and held by an eerily defiant teenage sacrificer (?) for a moment too long before it was thrown to the floor, the body twitching manically on the floor. I’d seen enough.
Fighting nausea I was ready to leave when a local chap that had been standing next to me suddenly started speaking. Now this was unusual for more then one reason, bear in mind that we had come across virtually no English spoken words at all, and we were in the place where people come to do this specifically. He said very clearly “I don’t believe in this” with a vague look of distaste on his face. “I am a Hindu, and I do not believe in this – if this is what people want to do in private then ok, but not in the name of God. Not here under the eyes of God. No God asks for this”. And then he turned and left. I was in information overload and my brain was swimming.
After calming down and having a (vegetarian) dinner I suppose this is where I stand. It’s shocking and awful to see, but really much better then how we treat our animals in the west. I had the fortune to see some of the goats in their natural environment obviously before D-Day, and they live a life how every animal should live. How ours in their factories and with their miserable existences could only dream of. Nibbling away in sun without a care in the world, they really live in some kind of goat nirvana up here. And maybe not for the bleeding to death one, but for the others at least it’s all over very quickly and in a much more humane way then the cows that end up as our Big Macs. None of the animal is wasted, the owners collecting the bodies and heads after and using all of it. We even saw just a head being barbecued on the side of the road by a cheerful looking man waving away.. Faith is a powerful thing, and despite one man standing against the tide, that isn’t going to change round here anytime soon. But neither are we from the Western world in any position to be clutching our hearts and bleating (no pun intended) about how primitive and barbaric it all is. I’m pretty sure if any of these people here saw the conditions we keep our factory farmed animals in, it would be us who are the heathens. Barbarism against animals seems to have become part of human nature sadly, be it as a sacrifice, for food, sport, clothing, entertainment, whatever the list goes on, and I wish it wasn’t like that. But in the wise word of Dr Seuss “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not”