Nepalese festival angers animal rights groups

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MARCO WERMAN: Many Hindus cross the border from India to be in Nepal today. As many as a million worshipers traveled to a small Nepalese village for a big festival. It honors the Hindu goddess of power and as part of the festival thousands of animals are slaughtered and that's drawn the ire of animal rights activists. The BBC's Joanna Jolly is back in Katmandu after spending the day in Bariyapur where the ritual took place. Joanna explains what the slaughter is all about. I mean you've got a million Hindus coming to this. Describe the scene.

JOANNA JOLLY: Well it's extremely crowded as you can imagine with a million people. There are many of whom who've come over the border from India and are sleeping rough outside in the fields around this tiny little village in Southern Nepal. And many of them have brought their own animals. And today was the day 10,000 buffalos were sacrificed by 250 men who'd been specially appointed to do it. And this happened with big machete knives. And mostly the buffalos were decapitated in one blow. But this is very much part of Gadhimai Festival which only happens every once every five years and is seen as a chance to say thanks for any good luck that you have and also to ask for good fortune from the goddess Gadhimai, a Hindu goddess of power.

WERMAN: And so you've got 10,000 buffalo being killed simultaneously by 250 men. That's some pretty serious carnage. How long does it take?

JOLLY: Well it can take hours actually. It took several hours this morning. There is some skill in decapitating the buffalos and they do die instantly but those that aren't killed immediately run around the filed and it's quite distressing.

WERMAN: Why do people come to this? I mean they're coming from many, many miles away � hundreds even thousands of miles away. Is it the festivities? Is it a religious thing for them?

JOLLY: Well it's certainly a very festive event. I mean when I was wondering around last night at midnight it was absolutely crammed full of families who were buying sweets from stores, presents for each other. There were 14 tellers. There was a Ferris wheel even. It's quite a happy event. It's like a big village fair and I can see the attraction in going. It looks like a lot of fun. But more than that I think animal slaughter is very much a part of life here in Nepal and appeasing goddesses is very much part of the Hinduism that's practiced here. Some people � . In fact we met some people today who were taking their buffalo along to the slaughter but couldn't afford to have their buffalo slaughtered so their buffalo was just having his ear chopped off which was considered a symbolic small slaughter in order to bring good luck and fortune.

WERMAN: A lot of people have criticized this ritual. When you say the phrase in Nepal what does that mean to people there?

JOLLY: Well there is an animal rights group here. It tends to be made up of the sort of rich members of society here and has a lot of support internationally from people like Bridgette Bardot, the French actress, who's written to the president to try and stop the Gadhimai Festival going ahead.

WERMAN: So when the Nepalese received this letter from Bridgette Bardot how did he react to that?

JOLLY: I've heard of no official response to the letter to be honest. And the day before the Gadhimai Festival started animal rights activists had a symbolic protest sacrificing coconuts just to say look here you don't have to kill an animal in order to please a goddess. But many people feel that you do. That this is what the goddess wants. This is what the priest is asking for and this is the only way to ensure good fortune and good luck for their family.

WERMAN: I mean I have to ask you Joanna what did you feel when you witnessed this festival?

JOLLY: I went to see the enclosure of buffalos at night before they were slaughtered and I did feel pretty bad. I'm not a vegetarian but I did think gosh this is quite sad.

WERMAN: The BBC's Joanna Jolly in Katmandu. Thank you so much for your time.

JOLLY: Thank you.