A well orchestrated campaign against Hindu dharma has been launched in the name of animal rights and temple reform. If Hindu leaders are not vigilant about the sensitivities of the devout, non-believers will literally hold the community to ransom. I first noticed this danger in June 2002 when King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah of Nepal visited the country, after the tragic massacre of the royal family the previous year, and sought divine blessings for his Maoist-ravaged country, which has since gone under. As he visited various temples and the gurus of the Nepalese royal family, he was hounded by NGO upstarts in the performance of his religious rituals. People for Animals harassed the king at both Kamakhya and Kalighat temples, and the raison d?etre for their opposition was that they could not tolerate his adherence to traditional Hindu rites in both places.
And now, as Kolkata was steeped in the annual Durga and Kali pujas, reports suggest that an organisation known as the Humanists Association Committee of Midnapore district, has demanded a ban on animal sacrifice during the pujas (which mercifully passed off without any untoward incident), citing a Calcutta High Court ban on sacrificing animals in the Kalighat temple. The Association has asked several important temples in the district to stop the sacrifice of hundreds of goats during the pujas, citing a September 15, ruling by a Division Bench headed by Chief Justice Shri Bikash Sridhar Sirpurkar, prohibiting animal sacrifice in the open in Kalighat temple. The Association has threatened contempt of court cases against the temple authorities and demanded that the district administration ensure that the ruling is observed.
As animal sacrifice is a centuries-old practice in these temples, and is performed by firm believers, it is obvious that the protestors represent those wishing to bait Hindu dharma. There is little doubt that these groups include non-Hindu religious groups as well. I do not know exactly what the court did rule, but it is pertinent that the court certainly did not impose a ban on the killing of animals for food, or animal slaughter by other religious groups for religious purposes?Id in the case of Muslims and Christmas in the case of Christians. It is argued that the judgment said that the sight of slaughter is bad for tourists. If this is true, it is a peculiar argument. The persons normally expected to be present in a Hindu temple must surely be Hindu devotees and pilgrims. If tourists do indeed visit this famous temple to see its auspicious deity, temple ritual and practice cannot be altered to suit the tourist palate, especially as it seems obvious that they have a different religion. Can one man'sreligious prejudice determine the beliefs of another? Has anybody cared to ask the believing devotee at Kalighat or Kamakhya if he wants an end to the practice of animal sacrifice there? Are those adjudicating on such matters aware that thousands of devotees visit these temples and offer vegetarian offerings?sweets and coconuts, and that the temple authorities make no discrimination against any devotee?
It needs to be reiterated that sacrifice is an intrinsic part of Vedic dharma. It is performed for individual and societal welfare; even nation building. As such, it is the ruler'ssacred duty to preserve the ancient ways of worshiping God and protecting the people. This is probably what the maverick West Bengal minister Tapas Chakraborti meant when he said he was first a Hindu, then a Brahmin and then a Marxist (though he later retracted under party pressure). In the Vedic world-view, sacrifice is intimately linked with the quest to understand the nature and origins of the creation. Unlike other cultures, the Rig Veda does not posit a single creation story; it mirrors the multiplicity of Hindu thought and refers to several myths. The hymns to Indra show creation as the consequence of a cosmic battle; another hymn suggests it resulted from the separation of heaven and earth. The Vedic rishis struggled with such complex notions as the origin(s) of the existence of existence itself, as also of the creator. There was also a notion of sacrifice as the origin of the earth and its people. The Purusa Sukta says the gods created the world by dismembering the cosmic giant, Purusa, in a Vedic sacrifice?a familiar myth all over the ancient world.
Then there is the story of Aditi, and another fable about the creation of the universe out of water and the rescue of the sun from the primordial ocean. Actually, creation remains mysterious and the origins of sacrifice obscure; but it is obvious that the concept of sacrifice is central to creation. Those who understand the meaning of sacrifice are aware of the link between the internal landscape and the external ritual; they do not share this sacred knowledge with those who have not attained that level of consciousness. They do not explain its deeper significance to those out to profane it. Hindu dharma upholds ahimsa as a superior moral norm, but this does negate the necessity of the use of force in the service of dharma. This idea is intimately linked with the ritual of sacrifice. The so-called animal rights activists out to assault age-old Hindu customs must tell us if they distinguish between occasional animal sacrifice on festive occasions and the routine slaughter of animals for culinary purposes. On what basis do they exempt regular non-vegetarians from the purview of their activities? What do they intend to do about, say, licensed slaughter-houses in Kolkata and elsewhere? And will the activism against animal sacrifice in temples extend to the sacrifices of other religious groups, or is this honour reserved for Hindu dharma alone? Finally, how come no animal rights activist (secular, that is) ever joins the movement for a ban on cow slaughter? Is it because the cow is India'smost revered symbol of dharma?