Sri Lanka animal sacrifice: ‘A gory ritual that underscores insanity’

Posted on September 2, 2012


Today (2nd September), an item was posted on Sri Lankan web-site The Nation titled ‘A gory ritual that underscores insanity’.

‘… Animal sacrifice: roaring business or religious must?

Sacrificing animals is as ancient as history, cutting across all religious faiths and found in almost every country, including the so called civilized west. The ritual killing of animals as sacrifice as an act of worship, or to appease the gods, is mentioned in the ancient Vedas, in Judaism, Jainism, in the Bible and in the Buddhist scriptures. In Sri Lanka while this practice has been on the decline for many years, it continues in certain temples especially in the northern part of the island, the most recent case being the animal sacrifice which was scheduled on August 25 at the Munneswaram Pathirakali Amman Kovil in Chillaw.

The scheduled event also drew heated protests from animal lovers, with the controversial minister of Public Relations Dr Mervyn Silva vowing to commence a sit up campaign before the Munneswaram Hindu Temple on the day the sacrifice is scheduled. Police then said they would take the issue to court for a final decision. The case when heard on Tuesday, August 28 was postponed. An appeal for a stay order directing Police to prevent the sacrifice till the main case was heard again, was refused by the Chillaw Court. The case will be taken up again on September 4. Last year similar protests, by animal lovers, who led a protest march to the Hindu temple, forced organizers to abandon the ritual where about 700 goats were to be slaughtered.

The Munneswaram Pathirakali Amman Kovil authorities defended the act of animal sacrifice stating that it was a tradition that dated back centuries. They alleged that such accusations were leveled against the temple by certain people who wanted to gain political mileage and create division within the communities of the country. A member of the temple administration who wished to remain anonymous said the issue has become politicized. They pointed out that animal sacrifice was not initiated by the temple.

“The people have their own vows and bring these animals to be sacrificed once their vows are fulfilled,” the official said. The official said several temples in the North too continued animal sacrifice to this day. “It is not a ritual that came into being a few years ago. It is a tradition. The temple only facilitates this ritual,” the official added.

Accordingly, the devotees who attend the festival bring the animals with them and sacrifice them according to the vows they had made. The official scoffed at allegations leveled against the temple that the meat of the sacrificed animals was sold. “There in no truth in any of these allegations. The remains of the animals that have been sacrificed are taken away by those who bring them,” the official said.

It was reported that animals that were to be sacrificed were brought to the temple premises a few days before and were left tied. However, the administration denied such reports and the animals that are to be sacrificed were brought to the temple premises on the day of the festival. “The remains of animals are not kept at the premises. They are taken away immediately,” the official added.

Former senior public officer, lawyer, and animal rights activist,Lalani Perera, who is a volunteer working for Animal Protection Trust and the Animal Welfare Trust says that, as in some Indian States, we need a law prohibiting animals sacrifice in places of religious worship. We also need to make the people aware that this is a primitive, barbaric and uncivilized practice, which has nothing to do with Hinduism. It is a pity that even so called educated persons engage in animal sacrifice in return for various favors.

Animal Protection Trust Chairperson Lorraine Bibile in a forthright comment said, “Although there are Kali Amma Kovils throughout the island, the one at Munneswaram is the only one practicing this barbaric ritual on such a large scale and with such cruel methods. Around 400 goats and 1000 chickens are slaughtered each year. This has become a huge commercial business with everyone involved getting a cut and making money, including the poosari, the law enforcement officers. I’m not just making this statement. We have evidence to prove it as we sent detectives to check it out.”

Kandy Association for Community Protection Through Animal Welfare Secretary Champa Fernando endorsed her views. “I personally believe this is not something Hindus believe in, but what the poosari is doing on his own for some personal gain from the gods. Unfortunately, every time we animal activists protest against these sacrifices, they introduce the religious sentiment, although this has nothing to do with religion and is an easy way to avoid controversy. I congratulate Minister Mervyn Silva for taking a positive stand on this issue.”

The animal sacrifice at the Sri Pathirakali Amman Kovil in Munneswaram is an annual event in the kovil. Animal activists who have witnessed the sacrifices, say that during the sacrifice, hundreds of goats and thousands of fowl are slaughtered in the most cruel and barbaric manner. “Goats are beheaded alive and chicken dashed on a concrete slab,” an activist said on grounds of anonymity.

“It is not only Hindus who participate in this purported religious ceremony, but also persons of other races and faiths, who offer the animals to the kovil, seeking various favors from Goddess Kali, such as success at examinations, success in court cases, wreaking vengeance on an enemy or conception of a child,” she added. “The sacrifice has now transformed into a thriving business where goats and chicken are bred purely for sacrifice and sold to devotees at a high price,” she informed.

Animal activists are not alone in their condemnation of the ritual. Their public outcry against the animal sacrifices has been shared by religious leaders and organizations that have condemned the sacrifices. Hindu religious and other dignitaries confirm that it is certainly not a tradition associated with Hinduism. The main Shivan Kovil at Munneswaran too has declared that this practice isn’t acceptable to Hindus. In 2010, prior to the sacrifice, Buddhist and Hindu organizations as well as animal rights activists took several measures attempting to stop the massacre taking place that year. These included calls from the Jathika Sangha Sammenalaya, which condemned the planned animal sacrifice, and the All Ceylon Hindu Congress (ACHC) which issued a press release that:
“Such an act of sin can be committed only by those who do not know our religion. Our religion treats even animals as the children of His almighty and not only killing of animals, but even any cruelty to animals cannot be tolerated in the precincts of a Hindu Temple.”

It also appealed to all concerned not to be misguided and to cancel the proposed animal sacrifice on the August 25, and urged all authorities to take action to stop this unwarranted and wrongful act.

The President of ACHC V. Kailasapillai had vehemently condemned animal sacrifice at Hindu Temples and had said that we sided with the Buddhist clergy on the issue and asked the IGP to stop the sacrifice. I am very disappointed that nothing came out of it …

Although there is no special law in Sri Lanka banning animal sacrifice, unlike in some States of India, the manner in which it is conducted violates several other laws of the land, such as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the Butchers Ordinance.

In the early 1970s there were court rulings in Jaffna prohibiting Hindu Temples from engaging in animal sacrifice.It is recorded that on June 24, 1979, the then Cabinet of Ministers banned animal sacrifice in Hindu temples. The practice however has been revived in the late 1980s.

In 2009 the mass slaughter took place on August 25, in public at the kovil premises watched by thousands of men, women and even children. When the media highlighted the “event”, a public uproar was created, calling it a national shame and demanding a ban. In 2010, several attempts were made by Buddhist and Hindu religious organizations and animal welfare groups, to stop the sacrifice that year. A Peace March against the sacrifice organized by the Jathika Sangha Sammelanaya was stopped by the Chilaw police on a court order. The sacrifice therefore took place, this time however, in a covered shed.

In August 2011, a petition with over 600,000 signatures collected island wide, appealing to the President to ban ritual animal sacrifice by law, was handed over at Temple Trees.

In 2011, however, in stark contrast to what happened in 2010, the Chilaw Police obtaineda court order, preventing the sacrifice from taking place on the ground that the sacrifice will lead to harming peace.

A writ application has been filed in the Court of Appeal in August 2011, by 14 petitioners, representing religious and animal welfare organizations, seeking court orders directing the police to prevent the slaughter since it violates the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance and prohibiting the relevant local authorities from giving licenses under the Butchers Ordinance to carry out the slaughter. The case was taken up for argument on August 28, 2012. Submissions will continue on September 4.

A private plaint too has been filed in the Magistrate’s Court in Chilaw, seeking the punishment of two kovil priests for offences committed under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the Butchers Ordinance during the sacrifice in 2010. Trial in the case commenced has and will continue on October 19 …’

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