Animals sacrificed in drought-hit Orissa distt to appease gods
Jatindra Dash, Bhubaneswar
Jan 03, 2001 13:40 Hrs (IST)

HOUSANDS of farm animals were sacrificed as part of an old annual tribal custom in villages in the impoverished Bolangir district of western Orissa.

Roosters, goats and buffaloes were put to death during the Sulia Yatra festival Tuesday by the residents of 12 villages seeking to appease the gods with the belief that the drought that has gripped the area is an outcome of divine wrath.

About 10,000 cocks, 3,000 goats and 150 buffaloes were killed during the festival this year, according to eyewitnesses. College professor Govind Meher said that in his Jarasingha village alone he had witnessed the killing of at least 100 animals.

"Although the district is reeling under severe drought, people celebrated this festival with pomp and gaiety to satisfy the gods," another villager said. "People believe that god's anger is the reason behind the acute drought the district is facing, therefore they offered more animals this year for killing during the festival," he said.

"I cannot say how many animals have been sacrificed but if the total sacrifice would be taken into account the number would be more than a thousand," Rajanikant Das, the additional superintendent of police, told IANS. "We cannot check this because it is a traditional festival and law does not allow it to be stopped. What we can do is to create awareness," he added.

The festival was reportedly celebrated in a big way in the Khairaguda, Kumuria, Mirdhapali, Kharlikani, Chandrapur and Thairaguda villages in the district, located some 300 km from state capital Bhubaneswar. All these villages are surrounded by forests and are situated within a 100 km radius from the district headquarters.

As part of their custom, tribespeople first wash the animal to be sacrificed and anoint it with turmeric. The animals are then hacked in the presence of hundreds, including women and children. The sacrifices carry one through the one-day festival. The Dehuri, a woman considered an incarnation of a goddess, drinks the sacrificed animal's blood to drive out evil spirits.

"While many villages have stopped the killing of animals during this occasion, a large number of villages still continue the tradition," a district official said. "Animal sacrifice is a 100-year-old practice here and it is difficult to stop unless the villagers are well educated. However, the number of killings is going down year by year. We are hopeful that a day will come when there will be no killing," he said.

Some eminent people of Bolangir had tried to hold a meeting to mobilize opinion against animal sacrifice ahead of the festival, but no one reportedly attended.

"Although the state government has been creating awareness against the killing of animals, there is no law to stop the celebration and sacrifices. Therefore we are not able to check this heinous act," a district police officer said.

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