Of animal sacrifice and cow slaughter

Author Sushobhit Saktawat
“Guilt lies at the root of sacrifice. Sacrifice is not a way to avoid guilt or to excuse guilt, it is a repetition of guilt. A reinforcement of it.” [Roberto Calasso]

Come Eid-ul-adha, and a debate on gains momentum all over again, almost as a social media ritual.

Many people term it barbaric and call for a full-blown ban on it. Many raise the questions of animal rights, in light of and other such institution’s activities. Animal rights that are brutally abused on Eid. Many say that in ancient times many religious faiths used to practice animal sacrifice and even today they exist in some way. Jews have Zevah, Shelamim and Olah. There are many forms of Holocaust. Christians have “The Lamb of God.” They slaughter lambs and rooster. Muslims have “Qurbani”, where goats, lambs, cows and camels are slaughtered on Eid and during Haj. Many Hindu sects, especially those who worship Shakti (Goddess), indulge in the sacrifice of a bull or a buffalo.

However, in no other religious faith, the practice of animal sacrifice exists on as big a scale, boasting such mass involvement, as it happens during Eid-ul-adha. In modern times, when torture of animals for religious practices has constantly been under attack by animal rights activists (as in Jallikattu festival of Tamil Nadu), the Eid debate is gaining momentum more than ever. Recently the celebrated thespian Irrfan Khan also raised questions on such barbaric practices.

Noted mythologist has famously likened the practice of animal sacrifice to a “relation with unknown” and the “reinforcement of guilt.” He says that in the act of sacrifice, we establish a relation with something that we recognize as enigmatic and powerful. in his short fiction “Under the Jaguar Sun” emphasized on an erotic aspect of animal sacrifice and tried to find a coherence between sexual activity and cannibalism. maintains that “Sacrifice is central to Hinduism through its history” and quotes Ananda Coomaraswamy to emphasize upon her thesis, where the notion is that “To sacrifice and to be sacrificed are essentially the same.” Andrei Tarkovsky’s film “Sacrifice” deals with the latter part of Coomaraswamy doctrine, where the protagonist sacrifices “himself”, his life and his house at the altar of his newly found faith in occult.

A lot is claimed to be “lost in translation” when it comes to the question of Hindu texts and animal sacrifice. “Ashwamedha Yajna” of Vedic Hindus is described as the sacrifice of a horse. No such practice exists now. Things become fiery when “Gaumedha Yajna” is described as the practice of cow slaughtering and beef feasting among ancient Hindus. It was also stated that beef was served to guests during ceremonies. But in Hindu texts there are also the notions of “pitr-yajna” and “atithi-yajna”, that can’t be plainly translated as the “ritual of the father” and “ritual of the guest” where the father and the guests are supposed to be sacrificed! Not to forget, cows are also called “aghnya” in several places in the Vedas, which literally means that cows are not to be hurt or killed. Many Western scholars studying Vedic texts were not very well versed in Sanskrit and given the subtle, nuanced and multi-layered syntax of this ancient language, they were always susceptible to misinterpret the sacred texts.

However, one thing is certain that no such practice of horse or cow slaughtering exist today with Hindus. Even the slaughtering of other animals like bull, goat or buffalo are very rare and mainstream Hindus contrary prefer to worship various animals on their festivals and in general too. In a stark contrast to the bloodbath of Eid, cows are adorned and worshipped on Pratipada during Diwali. Not only Hinduism but the spread of reformist spirit in many religious sects have coincide with the gradual extinction of barbaric practices. It’s now time for Islam to stand up and get rid of such age-old, heinous practices as brutally sacrificing animals on Eid-ul-adha.
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