(Reuters) – Sword-wielding Hindu devotees in Nepal began slaughtering thousands of animals and birds in a ritual sacrifice on Friday, ignoring calls by animal rights activists to halt what they described as the world’s largest such exercise.
More than 80 percent of Nepal’s 27 million people are Hindus, but unlike most of their counterparts in neighboring India, they frequently sacrifice animals to appease deities during festivals.
Authorities deployed hundreds of police personnel to make sure there were no clashes between activists and the devotees.
“It is a ritual connected with people’s faith,” said Yogendra Dulal, an assistant administrator of the Bara district, where the temple is located. “We can’t hurt their sentiments and ban the practice.”
Tens of thousands of people flocked to the ceremony, which is held every five years at the Gandhimai temple near the border with India. About 500,000 animals are killed during the event, rights group Humane Society International estimates.
Worshippers believe the animal sacrifice, meant to appease the Hindu goddess of power, brings them luck and prosperity.
The ritual began at dawn with a ceremonial “pancha bali” or the sacrifice of five animals, comprising a rat, a goat, a rooster, a pig and a pigeon.
About 5,000 buffaloes were held in an open-air pen prior to being beheaded by butchers using swords and large curved knives.