Sacrificing Animals in Hindu Temples: A Case Pointer - Kownawatte Narishimma Vairavar Temple

By K.T.Rajasingham
Asian Tribune

The practice of sacrificing animals in Hindu Temples in the Northern Sri Lanka, especially in the Jaffna District is continuing unabated, despite numerous organizations and respected personalities raising their voices against such unwritten practices in Hindu precepts.

Normally this animal slaughter in Hindu temples take place mostly in village temples for local deities or clan deities like Amman, Bairavar, Muniyappar , Kaattha Virayar, Aiyappan, Veerapaththirar , Paththirakali Amman, and such like them. These deities are said to be ‘guardian lords’ of villages and villagers have developed a tradition of sacrificing, cows, he-goats and cocks said to appease such deities.

The cow sacrifices are almost over and number of temples now practice sacrifices of he-goats and birds like cocks.

Villagers belief that offering of animals, called ‘Bali’ means “tribute offering or oblation,” mainly animal oblations and it is practiced without any rhyme or reasons. ” Bali” among other things refers to the blood oblation of an animal and is known as Irattha Bali among Jaffna villagers.

In the Hindu exalted precepts, there are no mention found about these types of ‘Bali’ or ritual sacrifices practiced in many temples.

The most reported temple for animal sacrifices in the Jaffna district is Kownawatta Narasimha Vairavar Kovil, located in the Ilavalai Police Division.

In the earlier days, a couple of thousand goats used to be slaughtered in the front side of the outer courtyard of temple. Last year, according to a report 345 goats were slaughtered in the name of offering tribute to the ferocious deity Narasimha Vairavar – claimed to be the guardian deity of the village.

The annual sacrifice rituals which used to be called Valevi (annual feast, a practicing religious merits) will be held this year on the 14th of this month.

Already, arrangements are made, according to available reports, for the animal sacrifices and I learnt nearly 500 he- goats are to be slaughtered in the forthcoming Valevi.

Furthermore, according to reports the Chairman of the Valikamam North Predesha Sabaha too has given permission to the temple authorities to conduct the annual animal sacrifice rituals at the temple on the Valevi day – 14th June.

I have vehemently opposed this animal sacrifice rituals practiced in Hindu Temples and this time I have joined with Mr. J. Jeyarupan, an Attorney – at Law from Erlalai and lodged a complaint in the Police Station at Ilavalai urging the police to take appropriate steps to stop the proposed animal sacrifice at Kownawatte Temple on the 14th of this month.

It was pointed out that the goats used to be slaughtered by chopping off the head of the animal. This chopping-off head of goats used to be held in the front open courtyard of the temple, where hundreds of young people including underage children, infants, pregnant women and hundreds of animals waiting for their turn to be slaughtered used to be present.

Also, carcasses of the slaughtered animals and the chopped heads were seen in heap in the open court yard and the whole slaughtering area would be muddied with blood of the slaughtered animals.

This gory sight would be very revulsive and in the name of religious merit of slaughtering of animals used to be done without any substantiated clauses favoring rituals of animal sacrifices in the Hindu religious scriptures.

I dare say that, there are no canons in any Hindu books substantiating the rituals of animal sacrifices in Hindu temples.

For the first time on 29th August 2013, Court of Appeal by writ Application No: 510/ 2011 stopped the annual ritual of animal sacrifices at Hindu temples throughout the island following a petition by a Buddhist monk group.

Jathika Bhikku Federation (Federation of Buddhist Monks) had filed the petition against the annual sacrifice of animals conducted at the Munneswaram Kovil in the north-western town of Chilaw.

"The order we received on 29 August 2013 (from the Appeal Court) was the result of action over the last one year", Ven Thumbugoda Sarananda of the JBF said.

The Attorney, Raja Dep, who appeared for the petitioners, said that anyone wanting to perform animal sacrifice from now on will have to obtain a license.

"So anyone killing animals for sacrifice would be a butcher", Dep said.

Sri Bhadra Kali Amman Kovil in Munneswaram, Chilaw draws thousands of pilgrims from all communities and religions and animal sacrifice used to be carried out on the final day of the annual festival.

A government minister during the 2011 festival stormed the sacrifice site and released all animals that were being readied for slaughter.

The sacrifice of around 1,000 goats and chicken as part of the ceremony has angered animal rights groups and Buddhist majority nationalist groups who wanted to end the practice of the rituals of animal sacrifices.

A circular issued by then IGP Victor Perera in 2007, clearly says that police officials should take extra care in enforcing law of the Butchers Ordinance and other animal right Acts.

The circular also states that those officers who failed to perform duties will be dealt severely.

The 1893 Butchers’ Ordinance only deals with slaughtering of cows. Though, it is true that the Ordinance has given prominence to killing of cows in its definition of animals But, it clearly states that it includes cows, goats, pigs, turtles and etc,.
Seven countries in the world have no legislation to protect animals from cruelty. They include along with Sri Lanka, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq and Iran. Sri Lanka has an antiquated piece of legislation that is 100 years old i.e., The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, No. 13 of 1907. The maximum punishment is a mere Rs.100 fine. This is hardly a deterrent punishment in today’s context.

In having such ineffective legislation as the governing statute Sri Lanka virtually falls into the category of countries with no real legislation on preventing cruelty towards animals. This is a sad reflection on a country that can still boast of having founded the world’s first wild life sanctuaries by pre-colonial Buddhist Kings.

However, earlier the Law Commission drafted a Bill with sound legal provisions to safeguard the welfare of animals and the Bill was presented to the Parliament by JHU group leader Ven. Aturaliye Ratana Thera as a personal bill in February 2009.

The Bill provided the framework for the protection of animals from cruelty; to foster kindness, compassion and responsible behavior towards these creatures and to establish a National Animal Welfare Authority; among other matters.

In another development the same day a significant amendment to the Animals Act, No 29 of 1958, was adopted in Parliament without a division. The Ministry of Livestock Development introduced this amendment by which the punishment for slaughtering cows and cow calves, including female buffaloes and calves, has been increased from Rs.250 to Rs.50, 000 plus the imposition of three year sentence of imprisonment.

Further any illegal use of a vehicle for transport of cows and female buffaloes for slaughter would result in the confiscation of both the animals and the vehicle.

The Animal Welfare Bill was a long awaited result particularly of the growing animal welfare lobby in Sri Lanka as it seeks to replace the antiquated Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance enacted by the British colonial Government, 104 years ago, in 1907. Its inadequate penalties like maximum fine of Rs.100 (less than one US Dollar) for a heinous act of cruelty to an animal has removed the deterrent effect of this legislation, in the current context, leading to poor enforcement of the statute. It was also a national embarrassment to Sri Lanka seeking to establish modern standards in all aspects of governance by rule of law.

The Animal Welfare Bill aims to accept greater state responsibility for animals. It seeks to provide for the protection of animals from cruelty, to foster kindness, compassion and responsible behavior towards animals in the community and to establish a National Animal Welfare Authority with wide powers to deal with matters relating to animal welfare.

If enacted, the Animal Welfare Bill can be expected to inspire and generate a chain reaction in other Asian countries, particularly in the SAARC and ASEAN regions, to update their legislation incorporating modern standards in the way we treat and co-exist with other living creatures.

The Authority will have Animal Welfare Inspectors working under it to enforce the law, under which anyone can lodge a complaint even against a neighbor if he or she treats an animal cruelly. The NAWA will be similar to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) of the United Kingdom.

However, this Bill did not see the light owing to Parliament being dissolved.

Therefore, I personally appeal to Sri Lanka President to come up with the law to prevent Animal Sacrifice rituals in Hindu Temples throughout the Island.

I also personally appeal to all Hindu devotees to educate those involved in rituals of animal sacrifices to desist from doing so and explain to them what the great Thiru Valluvar had said in Abstaining from Eating Meat Verse 260-

All that lives will press palms together in prayerful adoration
 of those who refuse to slaughter and savor meat.