As ‘dark’ Diwali dawns, Himachal awaits animal sacrifice
Shimla: A month after the rest of India marked the festival of lights, Himachal Pradesh will celebrate its unique four-day ‘dark’ Diwali – slaughtering hundreds of cattle amid the beating of drums, playing of trumpets and chanting of mantras to appease the gods.
The ‘dark’ Diwali, locally known as Buddhi Diwali, will begin Sunday on ‘amavasya’ (the last day of the dark fortnight of a lunar month) with merrymaking and singing of folklore related to the epic Mahabharata.
It is mainly celebrated in Ani and Nirmand in Kullu district, Shillai in Sirmaur district and Chopal in Shimla district and is considered as one of the biggest festivals of animal sacrifice.
The festival is associated with the battle of the Mahabharata as it is said to have started on the first day of Buddhi Diwali. Another legend says the news of Lord Ram’s return to Ayodhya reached late in these parts and hence the late celebration.
In Kullu district, the festival is celebrated to commemorate the killings of demons Dano and Asur who resided there in the form of snakes.
Hundreds of goats, sheep and buffalo are sacrificed during the festival to appease gods and deities.
‘For this particular festival, we rear sheep and goats round the year. We feel bad when we sacrifice them. But their sacrifice ensures round-the-year prosperity and protection from natural calamities,’ said Sudha Rani, an octogenarian villager in the Shillai area.
She said the locals believe if the age-old practice of ‘bali’ or animal sacrifice was stopped, the villagers would face the wrath of the deities.
However, state language, art and culture department director Prem Sharma told IANS that the practice was registering a decline.
‘We are motivating people to break coconuts instead of animals. Somehow the practice (of sacrificing animals) has declined in some areas,’ he said.
As per the tradition, villagers take animals to a nearby temple where the sacrificial ceremony is performed on ‘amavasya’. The severed heads are offered to the gods and deities and the animal’s body is taken home for cooking. The feast is shared among villagers.
Sheetal Devi, another villager in Nirmand, said the leftover flesh is dried up and stored for consumption during the winter season.
‘This festival also marks the beginning of the extreme winter season. The meat stored during this festival is used for consumption over the next three-four months when the entire area is marooned in snow,’ she said.
Kullu Deputy Commissioner B.M. Nanta said the practice of animal slaughter was more prevalent in Sirmaur district, where people were still backward.
The animal protection groups and religious leaders have demanded that the illegal practice of animal killing be stopped.
N.G. Jayasimha, US-based Humane Society’s campaign manager in India, said: ‘The state government should take steps to prevent the slaughter of innocent animals.’
A prominent centuries-old Buddhist monastery, the Key monastery in the Spiti Valley in Lahaul and Spiti district, last month appealed to the people to stop slaughtering animals and be more humane to other species. The monastery has even warned locals, mostly Buddhists, that if they are caught slaughtering animals, including wild ones, or drinking liquor, a fine of Rs.20,000 would be imposed.