It was a sunny summer morning in the Himalayan valley. The whole village of Solang Nala was geared up for the annual fare. A jostling colourful and noisy crowd appeared magically from behind the little mounds, hills and rocks. Men, women and children emerged in twos and threes and greeted one another and regrouped themselves to share their views, cares and happiness of life.
People, cattle, homes and little streets decked up for the occasion. Native music played on indigenous instruments added to the fervour of the celebration. The smell of incense, fresh flowers and torches burning on ghee wicks perfumed the mountain air. It was that time of the year to appease Naga Devatha and the other little gods who guarded their lives and property in the treacherous terrain.
An elaborate ritual was conducted at the designated temple site. Then, a wonderfully bedecked, nine headed serpent goddess was carried out of the premises by sterling young men on an open palanquin from the nearby temple. A procession of devoted crowd plodded on amidst much fanfare and music. People rushed to offer her fresh flowers and lengths of cloth as a mark of their respect.
The goddess went around the hamlet before entering the precincts of the home of the chief devotee. There was another round of ritual welcome performed in full public view of the members of the family, the denizens of the village and also the tourists and trekkers who found the whole exercise very fascinating. Incidentally, members of the host family ensured that every visitor and stranger to the valley was invited to the feast that would follow right after the function.
Cameras and online operations were kept busy. Locals who could speak English and Hindi were in demand to explain the proceedings. The host family ensured that everyone in the audience was invited for the feast later in the day. Everything seemed to be happening like clockwork, till a young, white, bathed and garlanded lamb was dragged into the scene literally.
A gory spectacle
A pin drop silence ensued, as the priest sanctified the helpless and uncooperative animal. Onlookers, mostly outsiders who stood in the periphery were a divided lot. Some kept their cameras ready while the other walked away. The sheep was slaughtered amidst bated breath. The head rolled on one side still throbbing with life and the body straddled on the earth writhing in pain. Blood splattered everywhere and on some people, even as the priest was busy anointing the life fluid on the foreheads of devotees and on the doorstep of the home.
The natives appeared to be at ease amidst the happenings. Those who shunned the scene walked away with mixed feelings. A young girl in our group was traumatised, another threw up out of sheer disgust while yet another vowed to not to participate in the feast that ensued. Every one appeared to be very disturbed and was rendered helpless by the barbaric incident. So was I. Yet, I did not feel judgmental about the villagers.
On the other hand, I was very surprised to note that 90 per cent of the people who made these comments included meat and poultry in their meals. I really wondered how many of them connected the delectable dishes that they polished off their plates to have been bonnie gamboling living beings before being cut, chopped, steamed, roasted, and fried.
I am sure that if they had spent even a few minutes, thinking on these lines, they would not have reacted the way they did. Perhaps, the shock of seeing the animal throb to death as its blood ebbed away unnerved them. I did not voice my thought at that point because I did not want to ruffle feathers in an already disturbed gathering by flying a flag for vegetarians and vegans.
True, it was a gory spectacle and certainly a very repugnant one for the denizens of twenty first century’s civilised society. It is high time that such practices are retired as redundant. Yet, it was very plain to see that these people of the valley were completely in awe of and in tune with Mother Nature. They did not display an iota of guilt or signs of vicarious satisfaction on witnessing the scene.
The sight filled them with a sense of hope and fervour. They had collectively offered the lamb to the goddess to appease her and to protect their families, cattle and lands from natural threats like landslides, avalanches, snakebites and attacks from the beasts in the wilderness.
In their eyes, the lamb was a martyr and a representative of the sacred. The life of the lamb equalled the number of lives that could be possibly lost and the crops that could be destroyed. Their principle in sacrificing the lamb can be comparable to the adage, “A stitch in time saves nine.” Maybe, a little education and exposure could cleanse them of their ignorance and change their ways. It is only a matter of time. Nevertheless, the challenge lies in sensitising people who seldom see beyond their range of vision.