18/25 Dover Lane,
1st October 2010
Dear Boromama, Mejomani, Sejomani, Nomama, Chhotomama, Bachi, Ma and Bulimashi,
I was in Nirole on the night of the 27th September and returned in the morning of the 28th of September 2010. I stayed at Padarenu and was really pampered by Khokon, Shanti, Sanjeev, Archana and Rupali. Baba accompanied me on my trip. The reason for my visit was to pay my homage to Kamakhya and Ishaneswar for my 50th birthday. But I combined this visit with another mission which has occupied my mind for quite a while now. This mission is to convince people to stop the practice of animal sacrifice. You may have noticed that I have not been to Nirole during the Pujos for the past 25 years and the sole reason for this long avoidance is the simple fact that I am unable to face the ritual of animal sacrifice. Therefore, I decided to make an assessment of the overall opinion in the village regarding this practice. What follows is a report of my interaction with the opinion makers on the issue of animal sacrifice.
I barely had a swig of water and rushed off with Khokon as my guide to Attahash. This is the first time that I ever visited the temple. I met the trustees and they informed me that the temple had banned animal sacrifice from their mode of worship ever since the Directive Principle 51 of the Indian Constitution was put in place making animal sacrifice an offence to the Indian law. The temple trustees also informed me that animal sacrifice is banned all over India in public temples held under trusts. The devotees however continue to use the temple facilities as public infrastructure to sacrifice animals. This is how animals continued to be sacrificed in Attahash as well. But the trustees have been able to reduce the numbers and frequency of this killing by campaigning intensely against the superstition. They showed me their campaign materials and asked me whether I could contribute by giving them ideas on the campaign against animal sacrifice and promote vegetarianism as a way of life. I assured them that I would do whatever I can from my present location in Delhi.
I went over to the Panchayat as my next stop. I spoke to the Pradhan, Smt Pratima Chunari. Her husband, Narayan Chunari did most of the talking and on hearing of Ma Kamakhya, put his hands over his head and did a massive pronam in air in deference to the Goddess. He said that he was against animal sacrifice and that he would do everything in the Panchayat’s power to put into effect the Directive Principle 51 that bans animal sacrifice. But the problem was that the sacrifice in Kamakhya bari was a private affair and conducted within the boundary walls of a private property and hence the Panchayat could only intervene if the office bearers received a complaint. He advised me that I should put in a formal complaint, which I decided to refrain from for the time being. Mr Chunari was much enthused over my project and suggested that I should widen my horizon to convince devotees who choose to remain steeped in the darkness of ancient rites and superstitions by issuing pamphlets at regular intervals. I have promised him that I would indeed do this.
The next person I met was Bikash Mondal, the Secretary of the Cultural Society. Mr Mondal organizes jaatras in Nirole and in the neighbouring villages. His grandfather and father have also put up shows for Kamakhyabaari and I immediately recalled the heartrending melodramas of Devi Sultana and Masnad Kaar. Bikashbabu said that animal sacrifice was a private affair of Kamakhyabaari and that the villagers had nothing to do with it. Villagers had no opinion on the practice and really would not care if it continued or was stopped. But on the point that animal sacrifice made a public spectacle out of a heinous act, he agreed, was damaging for one’s sensibilities and especially was very harmful for children. Animal sacrifice in any case should be stopped and since he is an ardent believer in vegetarianism especially in view of the climate change, he felt that we should stop eating meat altogether.
While Bikashbabu and I were talking, Sanjeev informed me that the animal sacrifice was a tax that the family imposed on lessees of Nopukur. He said that he has the papers to this effect. But the others like Shanti, Archana and Bikashbabu differed saying that the practice started after the Big Fire in which Dasudadu’s father was badly injured. I would then place the vintage of the ritual only at 150 years and not ever since Kamakhya’s worship started some 400 years ago. Interestingly, it is believed that Ishaneswar himself set Nirole on fire!! I wonder why He would want to do that!
Bikashbabu took me to the Secretary of the Nirole High School, Mr Saradindu Rano. Saradindubabu turned out to be a scholar of English literature presently doing his doctoral thesis on Mulk Raj Anand. Saradindubabu is vehemently opposed to the ritual of animal sacrifice. He shares my concerns on making violence into a public spectacle and its possible adverse impact on children. If there is just one reason to stop animal sacrifice it is for the mental health of the children. He said that the sacrifice can be turned into a gift giving ceremony like giving new clothes, or books and stationery or even food to the poor children. Kamakhyabari would be far better known through such acts of giving rather than holding on to psychologically damaging practices such as the animal sacrifice.
Saradindubabu gave me some interesting insights on the family of Kamakhyabaari. It seems that this family was famous in the village for maintaining a veritable army of henchmen, those who were “non-Bengalis”. These henchmen were given the Debottor lands to be cultivated. Most probably these were the Baghdi people that the Attahash records mention. Jogindranath Gupta’s book “Banglar Dacaat’ has details on these henchmen. It was only after these henchmen were cracked down upon by the Indian government after Independence, that they dissipated and the land came to be occupied by the present Mondals, or the Morols, from who Morol para, the locality in which Kamakhyabaari is situated gets its name.
In the meanwhile I had been to Ishaneswartala for paying my respects. Some children were playing cricket in the ground in front of the temple. They surrounded Baba and me and started asking for food!! These children went to school and they came from respectable families of weavers of the village. Their begging for food sent a chill down my spine as I sensed that India was steadily heading towards one of the worst food crises since the Bengal Famine of 1943.
On my way back, I met Bansidadu doing his aaroti at the Kamakhya temple. I raised the topic of ending animal sacrifice in the Kamakhya mandir. He looked relieved at the prospect of no longer having to witness a young lively kid being cut into two. He said that he eagerly awaited the family’s decision to end the practice and replace a young goat with a pumpkin.
The following morning I met Atmaram Mukherjee, the head of the Priest’s Association in Nirole. Atmaram explained to me very patiently why animal sacrifice was an integral part of the Durga puja of the Shaktas and since the Kamakhyabaari was a Shaktabaari, animal sacrifice was necessary for the worship to be of any consequence. I was a bit surprised because all along Dida told us that the Guptas of Nirole were Vaishnavs. Why then I used to ask her, do we have such a violent ritual? She did not seem to really know how such an anomaly emerged, but she was certain that we did not have animal sacrifice since time immemorial.
Atmaram tried to convince me that animal sacrifice was not only permitted by the Shastras but was in fact prescribed by the Holy texts to signify the completion of a certain process. If we stop the ritual, then all our efforts at worshipping Kamakhya will be belied. When I asked him why the public temples had no sacrifice, he said that these temples had a different mode of worship and which did not render benefits to private individuals. Since Kamakhya pujo was a private affair, sacrifice constituted an integral part of the pujo meant to deliver private gains. When I asked why a goat and not a pumpkin, as his own family sacrificed a pumpkin, he said that there was no problem if a vegetable was to be substituted for an animal because according to the Shastras, sugarcane could replace a buffalo, pumpkin could come in place of a goat and arecanut could be imagined to be a lamb. But some families were meant to sacrifice vegetables and some were meant to sacrifice animals and Kamakhya baari was an animal sacrificing family.
I was getting a bit confused with Mr Mukherjee’s discourses and it was only when I asked him what the procedure through which such conversions could be done was, I realized what he had been hinting at all along. Animals are sacrificed to appease the bad spirits that threaten to destroy the pujo. The flesh and blood are made available to these ill meaning spirits so that they do not disturb the Brahmins from peacefully pursuing the worship. Brahmins are the pure ones and hence they have no need for flesh, the flesh is meant for the witches. Why is it that witches come to Kamakhyabaari and not to the Mukherjees? Simply because the witches are the members of Kamakhyabaari; the impurity and hence the bestiality of the family members make it important that their baser senses be first satisfied by having the blood and the meat. In the Indian society, such attributes are reserved for the lower castes and Atmaram’s repeated mention that only three families in Nirole practice animal sacrifice, among who are the benes, sadgopes and us, does he bracket the family of Kamakhyabaari as a low caste one? Is it because of our low caste that we must sacrifice animals?
I suddenly could find the larger picture. The animal sacrifice started after the Big Fire and the Big Fire was set by Ishaneswar. While one would think that the Morolpara was saved by Kamakhya and hence the goat sacrifice, this fails to explain why the benes and the sadgopes who were almost annihilated by the Fire also cut live goats during the pujo? To the best of my understanding of Indian sociology, this was a caste war. The Brahmins were the ones who set us on fire because we were running the Sanskrit school and a temple and the largesse that the family parted with to maintain a huge army of henchmen shows that Kamakhyabaari was gaining in economic, intellectual and social power. So the fire was a typical caste war, one that we see so often all across the country even today. The ritual of animal sacrifice was a compromise made by Kamakhyabaari as the defeated party in the caste war because it was an acceptance of the essentially low caste and even untouchable status of the family despite its riches and erudition. Till this date, the Kamakhyabaari continues this self deprecating and self demeaning practice that reinforces its low caste status and makes itself ranked on the same level as the benes and the sadgopes.
It is not surprising that Mr Mukherjee encouraged our pala to stop the practice of goat killing immediately and he insisted that the shoriks need not be consulted for affairs during our pala. I suspect that he has hopes that some shoriks would continue with the animal sacrifice reminding the village of our low caste status while in our pala we graduate to ritually higher castes through pumpkin sacrifice.
In sum, the following points have emerged from the above ;
- villagers have no opinion on animal sacrifice but would like it to be stopped.
- the intellectuals in the village think that animal sacrifice may be damaging for children’s sensibilities and is a superstition that can be done away with.
- Priest’s have no issues with replacing a goat with a pumpkin.
- Goat sacrifice is a marker of a low caste status of the family.
- Shoriks have really nothing to do with the specific content and scale of offerings and the pala members are free to spend or not to spend in any manner that suits their means and beliefs.
I have placed before you the results of my tour in Nirole as transparently as I could. It is clearly evident that a pumpkin could well come in the place of a goat right from this time onwards. Indu, an animal rights champion, will make all the necessary conversions in the pujo podhhoti.
With regards to all,