Animal Sacrifice: A Distortion of Hinduism


In many respects, Hinduism is one of the friendliest religions toward animals. The principle of “ahimsa,” or harmlessness, has been a central Hindu virtue for thousands of years, and many schools of Hinduism encourage or require a vegetarian diet from their followers. Despite this, the worship of goddesses in Hinduism is sometimes closely associated with bloody animal sacrifices, such as the Gadhimai festival in Nepal held every four years.* This goes against the overarching spirit of the religion, and stems partly from a misunderstanding of Hindu theology, in which goddesses represent Shakti, the divine feminine principle.

Kali, a violent manifestation of Shakti (image from Wikipedia)

Kali, a violent manifestation of Shakti (image from

As the active force which moves the universe, Shakti is often associated specifically with violent, destructive force, and so some practitioners believe that by indulging in violence and destruction themselves they are worshiping Shakti. This ignores the fact that Hindu spiritual practice is not about blind indulgence, but harnessing and disciplining one’s nature to achieve a higher state of consciousness.

The proper use of violent force, and the dangers of giving it free reign, are both portrayed in the origin story of Kali, one of the most popular goddesses (and sadly, most often sacrificed to). She is said to have come to Earth in order to defeat a plague of demons, but because every drop of blood shed would invariably birth another demon, Kali was forced to drink it in order to prevail. However, she herself then became drunk on the blood, and went on a wild rampage which itself threatened to destroy all life on Earth, necessitating the self-sacrifice of her husband Shiva to quell her bloodlust and bring her to her senses again.

Butcher and buffalo at the Gadhimai festival in Nepal (Image courtesy oriana.italy)

Butcher and buffalo at the Gadhimai festival in Nepal (Image courtesy

The moral message is clear: even if violence is occasionally necessary against extreme evil, we must always avoid indulging in bloodlust, or else we risk becoming as wicked as the enemy we would seek to defeat. Yet many self-identified Hindus have overlooked or ignored this lesson, and by needlessly slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocent animals as a form of “worship,” participants in Gadhimai and other sacrifices more closely resemble demons than the goddesses who combat them.

*As of the publication date, the temple in charge of Gadhimai has declared that the next festival, in 2019, will not involve animal sacrifice.

(Featured image: Hindu saint Caitanya preaching to the animals, who dance with joy in his presence – courtesy Krishna Path)

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About Author

Born and raised within the animal rights movement, Wolf Gordon Clifton has always felt strongly connected to other creatures and concerned for their well-being. Beginning in childhood he contributed drawings of animals for publication in Animal People News, and traveled with his parents to attend conferences and visit animal projects all over the world. During high school he began writing for the newspaper and contributing in various additional ways around the Animal People office. His first solo trip overseas, to film a promotional video for the Bali Street Dog Foundation in Indonesia, led him to create the animated film Yudisthira's Dog, retelling the story of an ancient Hindu king famed for his loyalty to a street dog. It also inspired lifelong interests in animation and world religion, which he went on to study for college at Vanderbilt University. Wolf graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies and minors in Film Studies and Astronomy. In 2015, he received a Master of Arts in Museology and Graduate Certificate in Astrobiology from the University of Washington. His thesis project, the online exhibit Beyond Human: Animals, Aliens, and Artificial Intelligence, brings together animal rights, astrobiology, and AI research to explore the ethics of humans' relationships with other sentient beings, and can be viewed on the Animal People Forum. His diverse training and life experiences enable him to research and write about a wide variety of animal-related issues, in a global context and across the humanities, arts, and sciences. In his spare time, he does paleontological work for the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, and writes for the community blog Neon Observatory. Click to see author's profile.

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