Why Nepal has one of the world’s fastest-growing Christian populations – Danielle Preiss

A Swiss missionary talks to a Nepali woman about the Bible in Kathmandu

Danielle PreissChurches mushroom throughout the Kathmandu Valley and across the terraced hills. Proselytizing remains illegal, but with political instability and weak law enforcement, that doesn’t stop it from happening. – Danielle Preiss

Famous for its high peaks and wind-whipped prayer flags, Hindu-majority Nepal used to be a nation unreached by Christianity.

Now the country has one of the fastest-growing Christian populations in the world, according to the World Christian Database, which tracks global trends in Christianity.

Bishwa Mani Pokharel, news chief at Nepal’s Nagarik newspaper, pulls out copies of the census to show the statistical gallop of Christianity across Nepal. It listed no Christians in 1951 and just 458 in 1961. By 2001, there were nearly 102,000. A decade later that number had more than tripled to more than 375,000. Pokharel and others think the increase is really much higher but inaccurately reported.

“Before, when the Christians had a party, they slaughtered a chicken. Now, they slaughter a goat,” says Pokharel, who has been reporting on the conversions. That extra meat, he explains, is necessary to feed all of the new people who’ve joined the guest list.

Much of this growth can be attributed to Nepal’s internal changes. Before 1950, Nepal was closed to foreigners. Mountain climbing changed that. And starting with the Maoist Civil War of the 1990s and culminating with the end of the monarchy in 2008, the country has transitioned from a Hindu kingdom to a communist-led secular republic with greater freedom of religion. Encouraging someone to convert to another religion was always illegal, but as Nepal eased away from its official Hindu status, the rules lightened up.

Churches now mushroom throughout the Kathmandu Valley and across the terraced hills. Proselytizing remains illegal, but with political instability and weak law enforcement, that doesn’t stop it from happening.

Meanwhile, the earthquake last year may have strengthened the Christian surge. Where the government—long mired in political instability—has failed to help poor villagers, aid groups have trickled in to fill gaps, some of them carrying a message of salvation.

Climbing for Christ (C4C), an evangelical group based in Rochester, N.Y., is one.

Pledging to bring the Gospel “where others cannot or will not go,” the group began its “Mission: Nepal” in 2008. In 2011, it dedicated the first church in the village of Dapcha, 25 miles east of Kathmandu. Today, Dapcha—with a population of just 1,000 families—is home to three churches.

“They found some sick people and broken families and talked to them and prayed for them, and miraculously these people were convinced and began to follow Christ,” said Tej Rokka, pastor of the C4C partner ministry, Savior Alone Redeems Asians. “They distributed some food for the people, and clothes. Because of that, people began to listen to them.”

After the earthquake, C4C sent relief materials such as tents and money for food and first-aid items to congregants in Dapcha and other affected areas. Gary Fallesen, C4C’s founder and president, and a team were also in Nepal in October helping rebuild the earthquake-damaged house that belongs to the family of Sumitra Pariyar, a young woman who believes she was healed from paralysis and seizures by her acceptance of Christ.

Lauren Leve, a professor in the religious studies department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is researching women who have converted to Christianity in Nepal. She found that as in the case of Pariyar, many of these conversions were related to illness.

Others point to the Hindu caste system as an impetus. Though outlawed in 2001, caste discrimination is still widely practiced, particularly in rural Nepal, where people on the lower rungs suffer systematic abuse passed on between generations. Many converts come from these lower castes, and missionaries point to Christianity as a way to escape. “It’s the only way out,” says Fallesen. “Socially there’s nothing they can do to change that and then we come along and we share about Jesus and the love he has for them.” The system still exists, Fallesen says, but no longer has power over them.

Nepali leaders aren’t happy about the Christianity boom. Before the release of the country’s first constitution this September, debates swelled over whether to scrap secularism and go back to an official Hindu designation. While Christians and other religious minorities feared a clampdown on religious freedom, the Hindu right insisted secularism would allow Christianity to take over. The British ambassador in Nepal ran afoul of this sentiment in 2014 after telling Parliament the right to change religions should be included in the constitution. Pro-Hindu groups accused him of supporting proselytizing and called for his resignation. When lawmakers did ensure secularism in the constitution, police needed water cannons and tear gas to dispel angry Hindu protesters.

Leve thinks laws against proselytizing aren’t the best way for the Nepali government to keep conversions down. “What it needs to do is ramp up the public health and social support infrastructure so that its citizens are getting what they need from the state,” she says. “When public hospitals start to provide effective health services, when there’s a social safety net in place post-earthquake or any other time, you will see fewer people expressing any interest in Christianity.”

For Fallesen, this need for material goods can be a foot in the door to a conversation about Jesus. He said his team starts by building relationships with villagers to find out what their problems are. “Usually the solution to those needs is to share about Jesus,” he says.

Rokka, the Nepali pastor who is also C4C’s country representative, shows off the audio Bibles the team uses to minister to the illiterate in Nepal. People think the local language recordings of the New Testament are cellphones or MP3 players, he explained. He said that even when they find out what the gadget is, they’re still excited to get a new device.

Few avenues exist here for the rural poor to better their situation. For more than a decade, many parents have sent their children to “orphanages” in Kathmandu, where they hope they’ll get better resources and education than what’s available in their villages. The problem of false orphanages has grown so out of control that the U.S. and other countries banned international adoptions from Nepal in 2010. There were simply too many “orphans” with parents.

C4C supports an orphanage, too. Not all the kids are orphans in the western sense, Fallesen explained, but they come from families that don’t have the ability to properly care for them. How do these families feel about their kids getting baptized? “Some are happy, some are not. Some now want to take them out from the home,” said Rokka, whose ministry runs the orphanage. But the parents don’t typically act on their concerns, he added. “They have no way to help them. Anyway [the children] are getting help here, so [the parents] think, OK, let it be.”

Rokka came to the faith as a child after his mother died. He says some people convinced his father to send him and his brother to an orphanage run by an Indian missionary. Rokka estimates that 90 percent of the children he grew up with have since started their own ministries.

Sitting outside their Dapcha house, an elderly couple expresses disdain for the churches popping up around them. “We don’t go there,” the woman says, waving her hand dismissively and mimicking someone in Christian prayer. She then pretends to handle Buddhist prayer beads. “We say ‘om mani padme om,'” she says, using the Buddhist mantra to declare her faith.

To Christian relief workers like Fallesen, the importance of bringing Nepalis to Christianity outweighs the concerns expressed by nonbelievers. “If I have a choice between possibly offending you or saying OK, whatever you believe is fine, but I believe in my heart if you don’t believe in Jesus, you’re going to go to hell, well, then I’m going to take the risk of offending you,” he says.

So C4C has its sights on more remote areas of Nepal. Land was just purchased for its newest church in the hard-to-reach far west district of Humla, where Fallesen says the Nepali population of seven Christian men has grown to 150 men and women. The church will be strategically placed at the point where Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims begin the trek to Mount Kailash, a holy site for both religions. – NPR, 3 February 2016

» Danielle Preiss is an American radio and print journalist in Kathmandu.




Christianity’s rise tests Nepal’s new secularism – Peter Janssen

Nepalese Christians

Peter A. JanssenSince the advent of secular democracy in 2008, when the decade-long communist insurgency ended with the resignation of the last king and a pledge to draft a new constitution, Christianity has enjoyed a growing appeal among Nepal’s hill tribe minority groups, such as the Kirats and the Dalits. – Peter Janssen

Saturday is the one day off in Nepal’s working week and therefore has become the holy day for Nepal’s growing Christian community. At the Nepal Isai Mandali-Gyaneshwor Church in Kathmandu about 300 Christians gather every Saturday to pray, sing hymns, listen to Bible sermons and praise the Lord, many of them reverently raising their hands to the ceiling and shouting out “Hallelujah,” “Trust in Jesus” and “Amen.” The Nepali congregation provides a glimpse of what early Christians communities might have been like — simple, friendly and egalitarian—before Rome took over.

“One thing I like about Christians is they believe all Christians belong to one family,” said M. J. Shah, whose own family are descendants of the Shah monarchs who ruled Nepal for more than two centuries. When the country’s absolute monarchy ended in 2008, so did the reign of its last king, Gyanendra Bir Bokram Shah Dev, and the former Hindu kingdom was set on the path to a secular democracy.

“When I was growing up I was told Christianity was not for us. It was only for lower caste people,” said M. J. Shah, who “found Christ” in 2005. His family initially disowned him but have since reunited with him, in acknowledgement of his much-improved personal conduct since his conversion and marriage to another Christian. “Before, I was a gambler, a fighter, a drinker and a drug user. I used to beat people up. I was terrible,” he admitted.

M. J. Shah remains somewhat unique among Nepali Christians. Most significantly, he is related to the royal family and is therefore of a higher caste than most. Christianity has been on the rise since Nepal went secular, at least in name, in 2008. Previously Christian missionaries were banned from the kingdom. Now there are over 8,000 Christian churches in the country and more than one million converts, although exact estimates are difficult to find.

Nepalese Christian ChurchNeed for acceptance

A more typical convert is Dil Maya, a 70-year-old woman from the Dalit, or “untouchable” caste. “My husband Dhan Bahadur fell very sick once and no doctor could cure him,” she said as she attended the Nepal Isai Mandali-Gyaneshwor Church in Kathmandu. “Someone told me to go to a church and pray and that was how I first came here. It healed my husband, and I felt healed, too because for the first time in my life, I felt accepted by a community. No one accepted me before. I feel accepted here.”

Since the advent of secular democracy in 2008, when the decade-long communist insurgency ended with the resignation of the last king and a pledge to draft a new constitution, Christianity has enjoyed a growing appeal among Nepal’s hill tribe minority groups, such as the Kirats and the Dalits. The Federation of National Christians in Nepal (FNCN) estimates that 60% of all Nepali Christians are Dalits, as is their chairman, C.B. Gahatraj.

Dalits account for an estimated 12% of Nepal’s 30 million-strong population, with most of them living in the southern regions neighboring India. Although caste prejudices are arguably on the decline in the new Federalist Nepal, they are still there, especially in rural areas. Dalits are still barred from Hindu temples and from sharing drinking or eating utensils with upper caste Nepalis. “They are converting because they are treated like animals,” M. J. Shah said. “We have to change the structure of our society … then no one would convert.”

The earthquake and aftershocks of April 2015 provided another fillip for the country’s “Christian soldiers.” The quakes, which destroyed more than 800,000 homes and left thousands dead, offered an opportunity for Nepal’s growing Christian community to do what Christians do best—provide charity to the poor and neglected in the name of “brotherly love.” Christian charities managed to distribute relief packages in some of the country’s most remote areas, which the government’s operations failed to reach due to lack of funding or manpower.

“I think the earthquake was one of the reasons for the growing popularity of Christianity,” said Chandra Man Nepali, FNCN’s vice general secretary. “Where the government was not able to reach, there were the Christians. We went to the hard-to-reach districts with food, water and medical supplies. We had funding from the churches outside. In this way, Christians were more helpful to society.”

The earthquake also gave rise to fears that Nepal’s fledgling Christian community was using the natural disaster to help proselytize their faith. Nepalese media reported several cases of Christian charities, notably South Korean ones, passing out Bibles with the relief provisions. Local Hindu politicians were quick to jump on the Christian charities for exploiting vulnerable populations.

New Constitution of NepalBan on proselytizing

Under Nepal’s new constitution, pushed through in September 2015, people have the right to practice their religion but are barred from proselytizing. In fact, the charter implies that the country’s original religions—Hinduism, Buddhism and the animistic beliefs and practices of the Kirat minority (the indigenous race) should be protected. “Secularism means protection of religions and cultures being practiced since ancient times, and religious and cultural freedom,” reads the constitution. Christianity clearly does not qualify as an “ancient” sect in the former Hindu kingdom.

Legal experts argue that the constitution has good reason for banning Christians from advocating their beliefs. “The basic difference between Hinduism and Christianity is that in Hinduism you don’t have the concept of the church, and secondly you don’t have the concept of proselytizing,” said Bipin Adhikari, dean of the school of law at Kathmandu University. “The Hindus, Buddhists and Kirats don’t have the institutional apparatus to convert others so obviously they would like to see some reciprocity.”

Nepali Christians, however, see the anti-proselytizing clause as a form of discrimination. Another source of complaint is that Christian churches are not permitted to register as religious institutions but must do so as non-governmental organizations. Christian-run schools and medical clinics are often visited by local authorities to ensure they are not secretly converting students and patients.

Trying to keep a lid on proselytizing among newly-converted Christians goes against the tenets of the religion, which has from ancient times been about going out and “saving the world.” In modern Nepal, Christianity inspires the same evangelistic fervour it does elsewhere.

“When someone becomes a Christian they can’t shut their mouths from speaking about Christ. That is fundamental,” said Padam Parajali, a FNCN board member.

To date, Nepal’s Christian community has been spared the outright persecution and violent communal outbursts faced by other religious minorities such as Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims. Even so, some Nepali Christians claim they face discrimination, for example in the jobs market or in general social attitudes. The overall sense of religious coexistence however may be due to the national character of tolerance that the Nepali people are renowned for. Nepali Christians might be wise to partake of that tolerance, at least in the short term.

“There is a sea-change going on in Nepal,” Adhikari said. “First, the monarchy is no longer there, second, the country is no longer a Hindu state, and third, the political system is being adapted as a federal system. So people are getting more educated and they are given more opportunities. The problem is that things move very slowly in Nepal.” – Nikkei Asian Review, 4 December 2016

» Peter A. Janssen is a prize-winning editor and record-setting publisher of US magazines and media.

Christian baptism in Nepal

Did Nepal temple officials ban animal sacrifice at Gadhimai festival? – Anna Jones, Surendra Phuyal & Geeta Pandey

Gadhimai Devi

Gadhimai Festival“Ram Chandra Shah, the [Chairman of the Gadhimai Temple Committee] … said flat out that the ban [on animal sacrifice] was not true. ‘Devout Hindus could be requested not to offer animal sacrifice to the Goddess, but they could not be forced not to do so—nor [could] the tradition be banned or stopped completely,’ he told the BBC.”

News was reported around the world on Tuesday that one of the world’s bloodiest religious ceremonies was being ended.

The festival at the Hindu temple in Bariyarpur in Nepal sees tens of thousands of animals sacrificed to the goddess Gadhimai, and always provokes international outrage.

The announcement that sacrifices were now banned was greeted with delight by animal activists—but then the temple’s chairman said it was not true. So what happened?

Bird offerings to Gadhimai DeviWhat happens at the Gadhimai festival?

Every five years, Hindu pilgrims from Nepal and India buy animals ranging from buffalo to rats, and bring them to be sacrificed at the temple in Bara district.

Over several days of gore, thousands of buffalo and tens of thousands of smaller animals are killed, either by priests in the temple or by others in the surrounding fields.

The tradition dates back to a priest who was told about 250 years ago in a dream that spilled blood would encourage Gadhimai, the Hindu goddess of power, to free him from prison.

What did the charities say?

“Victory! Animal sacrifice banned at Nepal’s Gadhimai festival, half a million animals saved,” said the press release from Humane Society International (HSI) and Animal Welfare Network Nepal (AWNN).

After “rigorous negotiations”, the temple agreed to “cancel all future animal sacrifice” and would “[urge] devotees not to bring animals to the festival”, they said.

They quoted the chairman of the Gadhimai Temple Management and Development Committee, Ram Chandra Shah, as saying: “The time has come to replace killing and violence with peaceful worship and celebration.”

The charities held news conferences in Delhi and in Bihar—where most of the sacrificial animals originat—with four key members of the temple committee, including the chief priest, though not Mr Shah.

Motilal Prasad, secretary of the temple trust, confirmed to AFP news agency: “We have decided to completely stop the practice of animal sacrifice,” he said. “I realised that animals are so much like us … and feel the same pain we do.”

How did the temple chairman respond?

Then Ram Chandra Shah, the man quoted by the charities, said flat-out that the ban was not true.

“Devout Hindus could be requested not to offer animal sacrifice to the goddess, but they could not be forced not to do so—nor [could] the tradition be banned or stopped completely,” he told the BBC.

It was not clear whether he denied giving the statement used by the charity, but he said the quotes from other officials had been taken out of context.

While he had “no objections” to the campaign against the sacrifices, “if people don’t heed, we can’t do anything about it”.

“Nothing will change as far as the tradition of offering animal sacrifice during the festival is concerned. Things will not change no matter what the four [in the delegation] do or say. It’s our age-old tradition,” he said.

What did the charities say to that?

HSI spokeswoman Navamita Mukherjee said she was “surprised and confused” by Ram Chandra Shah’s comments. The ban was true, she told the BBC. “Why would we organise a press conference on such a large scale to announce such a move” if it wasn’t true, she said.

Another HSI spokeswoman, Alok, who was in Bihar with the temple officials, said the statement quoting Mr Shah “is definitely from him”.

“We have the priests and the rest of the temple here,” she said, all ready to promote the no-sacrifice rule to future festival pilgrims.

“There might be a misunderstanding—they might think we’re implying that the entire festival is over but it’s only the animal sacrifice.”

Manoj Gautam, president of AWNN who was also in Bihar, said the temple had agreed outright to end their involvement in the killing inside the temple, and to dissuade others from “spontaneous” sacrifices outside.

Pramada Shah & Gadhimai High PriestThe support of the chief priest—a direct descendant of the festival’s founder—was key, he said. “Just a year ago he was a very proud supporter, but now he despises it and vowed to take a step forward on this matter.”

“Without him sacrificing the animals, it cannot be done,” he said, which would promote the view that a sacrifice is not expected.

He said the charities had been carefully campaigning against the festival for years, but that neither they nor the temple had wanted to risk resentment by issuing a ban before they had public support.

Gadhimai Devi TempleAre temple board members split on the issue?

Tripurari Shah, a member of the temple board, denied that temple trust members were divided.

“There’s no rift. I think what [Ram Chandra] Shah is trying to say is that we have millions of devotees. We have to reach out to them and make them aware,” he told the BBC.

The temple was campaigning to stop animal sacrifices, and he believed that the “2019 festival will be blood-free”.

What does this mean for the next festival?

Mr Gautam said the slaughter tradition had been dying out anyway in recent years, with a huge drop in the number of animals killed, and the charities would spend the next four years working with the temple to ensure the 2019 gathering would be “completely bloodless”.

“We don’t oppose the festival,” he said, but there was no reason people couldn’t bring pumpkins or fruit, making it “a grand celebration of life itself “, as well as a boost to tourism.

But many in southern Nepal have a deep-rooted belief and faith associated with the festival, and feel the tradition is unlikely to stop anytime soon. – BBC, 31 July 2015

» Anna Jones, Surendra Phuyal & Geeta Pandey report for the BBC in Asia.

Butchers at the Gadhimai Mela

Gadhimai Animal Sacrfice

Gadhimai Buffalo Sacrifice

Hindu devotees attending celebrations of the Gadhimai festival watch butchers brandish khukris (traditional Nepalese knives) from a tree, in an effort to get a better view of the first sacrifices, in the village of Bariyapur on November 27, 2014. Millions of Hindu devotees from Nepal and India migrate to the village to honour their goddess of power. The celebrations includes the slaughtering of hundreds of thousands of animals, mostly buffalo and goats. Worshippers have spent days sleeping out in the open and offering prayers to the goddess at a temple decked with flowers in preparation.   AFP PHOTO/ROBERTO SCHMIDTROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

Gadhimai Festival

See also

Hindu Nepal: Christians send bibles, Muslims send beef – Premji

Bibles for Nepal!

More than 100,000 paperback editions of Gideon Bibles have arrived in Nepal to provide relief for the millions of Nepalese desperate for help following the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that has struck the country. But the jet loaded with skids of boxed Bibles is being called misguided and “dumber-than-dumb-ass” by rescue groups and world governments alike. “Well, isn’t that just a plane-load full of stupid?” said a shocked and annoyed Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala. “It is not a surprise to see the evangelical vultures are playing with the life of the people in distress. This is what they do everywhere when people are suffering.”

“We cannot eat Bibles. We cannot use them as shovels.” “Nepal desperately needs food and medicine and equipment and workers not best-seller books.” “If you are praying for Nepal, we thank you,” said Koirala. “But I humbly ask that you also get up and actually do something, donate, encourage others to donate just please do not send us any more Bibles.”

Wherever disasters happen, the evangelist takes the opportunity to harvest souls. They do not provide food and water or clothes and medicine or shelter to the people who suffer, instead they provide bible and lure and coerce them to convert. Nobody in the world will have this kind of senseless and selfish mentality to exploit the pain and sufferings. The attitude of these evangelists are inhumane and insane.

The senseless, shameless evangelist sees opportunity in every disaster to harvest souls. It is time for the people to spit on the face of these vultures who are mercilessly exploiting the pain and suffering of the people to convert. The senseless evangelists who are preaching for Jesus, provides help and service to the people in distress only if they accept and convert to Christianity. It is shame for the entire humanity. One can find umpteen numbers of hospitals and other service centres run by missionaries, but none of them are accessible to the poor. They mint money in the name of evangelism. These vultures are to be exposed and isolated.

Just for soul harvesting evangelist are ready to go to any extend to exploit the sufferings of the people. They preach miracle healing and the preacher reaches out to medical care when in distress. These kinds of false propaganda by the shameless evangelists are to be stopped. Exploitation in suffering should not be permitted. They should be driven out far away. They do not have the right to be in the midst of a civilized society. – Wishesh, 28 April 2015

Pakistan aid to Nepal April 2015

Beef Masala

Pakistan sends ‘beef masala’ to Nepal’s Hindu earthquake survivors – Premji

Nepal is left with an unsavoury taste in the mouth when it received packets of ‘beef masala’ as part of the relief package from Pakistan. The Hindu majority country treats cows as sacred and there is a blanket ban on slaughtering the animal, the development has the potential of triggering diplomatic acrimony between the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member countries.

Indian doctors at Kathmandu’s Bir Hospital told that the packets of ‘beef masala’ were sent by Pakistan as part of relief aid to the temblor survivors. These doctors are from Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital, Safdarjung Hospital and All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and are members of a 34-member medical team sent to Nepal for treating the survivors.

“When we reached the airport to collect the food items from Pakistan, we found packets of ready-to-eat meals, includes packets of ‘beef masala’. There were other food items too,” Dr Balwinder Singh told.

“Most of the local people are not aware of the contents. When they understand, they avoid it,” said another doctor on the condition of anonymity. He added: “Pakistan has hurt Nepal’s religious sentiments by supplying this masala. Shockingly, it did not care about the sensitivity of the matter.”

Exclusive photographs of the ‘beef masala’ packets supplied to Nepal clearly show that the place of origin of these packets was Nowshera Cantt in Pakistan. These packets also prominently mention that these are not for sale and the contents include ‘potato bhujia’ and ‘beef masala’.

“The matter has been conveyed to Prime Minister Sushil Koirala and the intelligence chief. We are also starting an internal inquiry to verify the facts. If the report is correct, we will raise the matter at the diplomatic level with Pakistan. India, being our key partner, will also be informed of the developments,” Nepal government official said.

Pakistan is infamous to be known as the haven of terrorism. They belittle and demean the people of other religions. The ISIS and Taliban has a great influence in the Pakistani Army and ISI which is the main propagators of terrorism and they provide training and shelter to terrorists. Since the Army of Pakistan s incapable to fight from the front, they utilize the services of terrorists against their enemies. In this circumstance Pakistan hurting the sentiments of the people of Nepal who are suffering from the aftermath of a devastating earthquake is not a surprise. Recently a Christian organization also has sent tons of Bibles instead of food, water, medicine or any other aid which is badly needed for the survivors. – Wishesh, 30 April 2015

Soul Vultures

» Images courtesy Struggle for Hindu Existence

Gadhimai Mela: The mother of all sacrifices must be reformed – Pramada Shah & Anthony Dias


Pramada Shah & Gadhimai High Priest

Gadhimai Devi TemplePramada Shah, president of the Animal Welfare Network Nepal and wife of the king’s nephew, explains what happens during the Gadhimai Jatra festival on November 24-25, at which half a million animals and birds are expected to be sacrificed. – Anthony Dias

Animal sacrifice is an everyday occurrence in Nepal. One could visit one of the countless temples and suddenly find oneself witnessing the beheading of a goat, a chicken, a duck, or even a young buffalo. The visitor might catch the last sounds of a dying animal or find oneself wading through a stream of blood.

The ‘mother of all sacrifices’ is at Gadhimai Jatra in Bara district in the south of Nepal. This festival is held once every five years. Last time 20,000 buffaloes were killed as well as an unknown number of other animals, including rats, snakes, pigeons, chicken, ducks, goats and sheep. The total number of animals killed in the span of just two days was estimated to be 200,000. This year the organisers aim to sacrifice no less than half a million animals. Local communities are being pressurised to increase the numbers; each village committee is supposed to pledge one thousand animals.

Some 70 per cent of devotees come from India, which is just across the border from Gadhimai. One reason for the event’s huge popularity is its proximity to India, where some states have now banned sacrificial slaughter. In India today there is greater awareness about animal sacrifice and animal suffering so it is sad to see that Nepal caters to those devotees who will be able to conduct sacrifices that are illegal in their home states.

Sacrifice in itself is gruesome. Unsystematic mass sacrifice such as the one in Gadhimai is no less than barbaric. The worst killings are those of panchbali – five offerings – in which the throats of five kinds of animals (buffaloes, goats, pigs, roosters and rats) are slit with a knife. It is not done quickly. The animals die a slow, extremely cruel, violent death while the priests sprinkle the blood across the idol and its surroundings.

Right after the panchbali, it is the buffaloes’ turn. Wielding swords, men enter a fenced yard where around 20,000 buffaloes are kept, and start hacking at the buffaloes’ necks. As the killers cannot chop off the buffaloes’ heads at once, they first cut the hind legs. After the animal falls on the ground the men hack until the buffalo’s head is separated from the body. It takes up to twenty-five attempts to kill a big buffalo. The suffering is unimaginable.

Campaigners have protested against the widespread public sacrifice in Nepal for the last two decade, but I am a late entrant to this movement. Despite the fact that I have been involved in the women’s movement for long, I had to give it some thought before becoming equally vocal about another sensitive issue. But I have always been against sacrifice.

Gadhimai FestivalI remember creating a scene when I was about eight when I realised that a goat I used to play with was going to be killed. What upset me even more was that the fact that the goat would be beheaded in the name of God. In my Hindu upbringing I was taught that God was the Creator; even as a child I could not understand why God would want His creatures to be killed.

After seeing how upset I was my family stopped sacrificing animals. My relatives are animal lovers too so they might have been secretly relieved to be offering coconuts instead of animals. When I married a member of the royal family, my in-laws kindly agreed to abandon animal sacrifice and introduce the offerings of fruits and vegetables. They too are aware of the futility of animal sacrifice.

Since then I have talked to numerous people about this issue. I have come to realise that pledging animals to get one’s wishes fulfilled is a deep-rooted tradition. Children grow up witnessing numerous public sacrifices; people are made to believe that killing animals in a temple is a short cut to becoming successful. Even well-educated Nepalese, social campaigners and development agencies continue the tradition.

When I ask educated people why they don’t stop sacrifice, at least in their own family, they answer that bad luck could be the outcome and that a tragedy might occur. They feel it is better to continue the age-old traditions and be safe. With such widespread deep-rooted superstition it is easy to imagine how hard it is for campaigners to address this issue. The superstitious nature of the Nepalese people stands in the way of abolishing archaic practices such as animal sacrifice as well as witchcraft, racial discrimination, women’s suppression and others.

Nepal’s leaders might be concerned about the image of the country when the world’s largest sacrifice starts next week, but they will not want to interfere. They regard the issue as ‘too sensitive’ and claim they do not want to hurt the sentiments of religious groups.

Animal sacrifice benefits the business community involved in fairs such as Gadhimai. This year the organising committee expects to raise about 2 million euros from selling animal hides and carcasses as well as payment for logistics and recreational facilities. In contrast, the poor do not do well out of it. Some will have to spend up to two months’ salary to buy an animal to be sacrificed at the fair.

Another issue that is overlooked is that cruelty against animals harms society as a whole; it signals and normalises insensitivity in children who can become numb to the suffering of living beings. Now that the armed conflict has ended, Nepal needs peaceful practices that educate the next generation for a harmonious society.

The involvement of the international community is crucial to the campaign’s success. The support of the world at large will act as a catalyst by creating an atmosphere of shame among those who continue to sacrifice innocent creatures and motivate lawmakers to introduce a legal and administrative framework.

The movement is already gaining momentum and will continue to grow after images from the killings fields of Gadhimai are broadcast across the nation and the world. Animals cannot speak for themselves. Until now it has been the priests and business community to speak for them: bring more, kill more animals. It is high time for every concerned citizen to speak out and stop inhumane killings in the name of religion. – The Guardian, 23 November 2014

» Pramada Shah was interviewed by Anthony Dias, a Kolkata-based journalist.

Gadhimai Festival

Gadhimai Animal Sacrfice

Gadhimai Buffalo Sacrifice

Gadhimai Festival

India bans animal exports to Nepal during the sacrifice period – PTI

“The festival took place in Bariyapur near Nepal-India border, where the animals had their heads chopped off or throats slit to please the Goddess Gadhimai. India’s Supreme Court had recently ordered the government to stop the export of cattle to Nepal during the Gadhimai festival.” – PTI

India’s animal export restrictions has led to a sharp decline of 75% in the number of buffaloes getting slaughtered this year at Nepal’s Gadhimai festival, a mass animal sacrifice ritual held once in five years.

Over 2.5 million worshippers from India and Nepal visited the holy religious shrine for offering prayers within the past one month, according to local authorities. The devotees sacrificed buffaloes, goats, pigeons and rats to the Hindu goddess of power, Gadhimai, on Friday and Saturday, in a ritual held every five years. The event took place despite mounting pressure from animal rights groups.

Utam KafleFive years ago, the number of animals and birds sacrificed in the temple was estimated to be 200,000 but this time it has sharply declined due to campaign by various rights groups, said Uttam Kafle of Animal Nepal, an organisation advocating for the animal rights in the country. There has been a decline of 75% in the number of buffaloes getting slaughtered this year. “Some 5,000 buffaloes were sacrificed, which was a sharp fall as compared to 20,000 buffaloes sacrificed in 2009,” he said.

The festival took place in Bariyapur near Nepal-India border, where the animals had their heads chopped off or throats slit to please the Goddess Gadhimai. India’s Supreme Court had recently ordered the government to stop the export of cattle to Nepal during the Gadhimai festival. The Animal Nepal has staged a rally in Kathmandu against the animal sacrifices in Gadhimai and elsewhere in the country.

More than 200 rights activists took part in the rally carrying placards that reads “stop animal sacrifice in temples. ” We have organised rallies in Kathmandu and other parts of the country to sensitise the people and to show protest to animal sacrifices in the temples, said the organisers. – DNA, 1 December 2014

Protest at Nepalese Embassy in New Delhi

Gadhimai Festival Protest

Nepal flooding presents Gospel opportunities – Katy Hearth

Nepalese Children

This article is written by a Christian missionary, Katy Hearth of the Christian Aid Mission, one of the largest US-based Christian NGOs operating in India and Nepal. She shamelessly invites her fellow missionaries to exploit the critical flood situation in Nepal for evangelical work and conversion of Hindus and Buddhists to Christianity. She even finds an opportunity to falsely accuse Indian Prime Minister Modi of persecuting Nepalese Christians (when he has just given a billion dollar development loan to Nepal plus half a million dollars in flood aid). No doubt Modi will have to deal with these soul-scavenging Christian missionary NGOs soon, and how he does it—when he does it—will be interesting to see. — Editor

Christian Aid MissionNepal (Christian Aid Mission) — Nearly 300 people have died and more than 100 are missing due to severe Nepal flooding. Heavy rain, which began August 13, has affected 25 of Nepal’s 75 districts, overflowing riverbanks and causing landslides. More than 22,000 people have been displaced.

“Most of the believers from two of our churches lost their shelters, household items, cattle, and food grains,” says a ministry leader supported by Christian Aid Mission, your link to indigenous missions, in Bardia. Bardia is one of the four districts most-affected by Nepal’s flooding.

The leader reports that he has “never, in the past 52 years,” seen this kind of flooding in Bardia. “All of the sudden, the Orai River changed its course, and within a few minutes entire villages were washed away without any time for the people to react.”

Before the rains began, the majority of the flood victims lived in extreme poverty. They now have nothing.

Many homeless families are living at the school run by this ministry–a school that recently received negative attention from a news channel in Nepal after it became known that several children converted to Christianity there. Converting someone to a religion other than Hinduism was illegal in Nepal until 2008, when it Narendra Modi with his Nepalese godson Jeet Bahadurchanged from the world’s only Hindu Kingdom to a secular state.

India’s newly-elected Prime Minister, a Hindu Nationalist, is fueling Christian persecution in Nepal. The Nepal flooding is presenting local Christians with an opportunity to share the love of Christ with their persecutors.

International aid agencies are trying to help the victims but aren’t able to communicate with and reach many regions that remain without electricity and are inaccessible to outsiders.

The Nepalese government is ill-equipped to respond to such a disaster. According to one ministry leader assisted by Christian Aid Mission, the government is calling upon “each able individual to contribute 100 rupees [$1] for the people in the affected regions.”

Indigenous ministries inside Nepal are in a unique position to reach out to their hurting neighbors in Jesus’ name immediately, with help wired directly from Christian Aid Mission.

Among the most-needed items are food, blankets, and tents. Your gift will enable native missionaries to provide these basic necessities to those who have lost everything. – Mission Network News, 27 August 2014

Nepalese army rescue a cow in flooded Bardia
Nepalese women search for higher ground in flooded Bardia
Nepal Map

See also

Will shrine discovery end Buddha’s birth date dispute? – Rediff

Maya Devi Temple with the Ashoka Pillar on the left.

Birth of Siddhartha Gautama at LumbiniThere is a dispute over the birth date of Buddha, many scholars believe that the sage lived and taught in the 4th century BCE and died at the age of 80. However, Nepalese authorities favour 623 BCE as the birth date of Buddha, though other traditions favour more recent dates, around 400 BCE. – Rediff

The key discovery of the oldest ‘Buddhist shrine’ at Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal will throw more light on one of the world’s earliest religions, archaeologists have said.

The international team, led by Nepal’s top archaeologists Robin Coningham and Kosh Prasad Acharya, said the discovery at Lumbini in western Nepal contributes to a greater understanding of the early development of Buddhism as well as the spiritual importance of the place.

Recent excavations within the sacred Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini, a UNESCO World Heritage site long identified as the birthplace of the Buddha, uncovered the remains of a previously unknown sixth-century BC timber structure, suggesting the sage may have lived earlier than thought.

Gautama Buddha“This is the first archaeological material linking the life of the Buddha — and thus the first flowering of Buddhism — to a specific century,” UNESCO Nepal office said in a release.

“Very little is known about the life of the Buddha, except through textual sources and oral tradition,” said lead researcher Coningham from Durham University‘s Archaeology Department.

“Now, for the first time, we have an archaeological sequence at Lumbini that shows a building there as early as the sixth century BCE,” Coningham said.

There is dispute over the birth date of Buddha, many scholars believe that the sage lived and taught in the 4th century BCE and died at the age of 80.

However, Nepalese authorities favour 623 BCE as the birth date of Buddha, though other traditions favour more recent dates, around 400 BCE. Now with the new excavations, it has been confirmed that the Buddha’s birth could have taken place in seventh century BCE as claimed by the Nepalese authorities or even earlier than that period, says Nabha Basnet, an official at UNESCO Nepal office.

To determine the dates of the timber shrine and a previously unknown early brick structure above it, fragments of charcoal and grains of sand were tested using a combination of radiocarbon and optically-stimulated luminescence techniques.

Sacred tree by the tank of the Maya Devi TempleGeoarchaeological research has confirmed the presence of ancient tree roots within the temple’s central void.

The archaeological investigation was funded by the Government of Japan in partnership with the Nepal government under a UNESCO project aimed at strengthening the conservation and management of Lumbini.

“UNESCO is very proud to be associated with this important discovery at one of the most holy places for one of the world’s oldest religions,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.

“More archaeological research, intensified conservation work and strengthened site management” to ensure Lumbini’s protection,” he pointed out.

“These discoveries are very important to better understand the birthplace of Buddha,” said Nepal’s Tourism Minister Ram Kumar Shrestha.

“The Government of Nepal will spare no effort to preserve this significant site.”

Lumbini is one of the key sites linked to the life of the Buddha besides Bodh Gaya, where he got enlightenment; Sarnath, where he first preached; and Kusinagara, where he passed away.

Except Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha, other three important sites linked to Buddha’s life are situated in north India.

Their peer-reviewed findings are reported in the December 2013 issue of the international journal Antiquity.

Ashoka pillar marking Buddha's birthplace at LumbiniBuddhist tradition records that Queen Maya Devi, the mother of the Buddha, gave birth to him while holding on to the branch of a tree within the Lumbini Garden, midway between the kingdoms of her husband and parents.

Lost and overgrown in the jungles of western Nepal in the Medieval period, ancient Lumbini was rediscovered in 1896 and identified as the birthplace of the Buddha on account of the presence of a third-century BCE pillar.

The pillar bears an inscription documenting a visit by Indian Emperor Ashoka to the site of the Buddha’s birth as well as the site’s name – Lumbini.

Despite the rediscovery of key Buddhist sites, their earliest levels were buried deep or destroyed by later construction, leaving evidence of the very earliest stages of Buddhism inaccessible to archaeological investigation, until now.

Half a billion people around the world are Buddhists, and by 2020, some 22 million Buddhist pilgrims are expected to visit South Asia. Many hundreds of thousands make a pilgrimage to Lumbini each year. – Rediff, 28 November 2013

Ashoka Pillar Edict at Lumbini

Lumbini street scene.