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Thousands slaughtered as festival of animal sacrifice begins
Swati Vashishtha
Tribune News Service

Mehravana (Jaunsar Bawar), January 14
Tens of thousands of goats have sensed the fear of death lurking in the bone-chilling air that hangs heavy in the stark hillsides of the Jaunsar-Bawar tribal valley. It is mid- January and with the ushering in of the month of Magha according to the Hindu calendar, the beasts have already seen one round of slaughter.

About 10000 goats were sacrificed to local deities here in the Jaunsar-Bawar tribal belt on Tuesday to mark the beginning of Maroj, one of the biggest fests of animal sacrifice. At least two more rounds of animal sacrifice are in the offing as a part of the month-long festival celebrated across nearly 400 villages in and around the valley.

In the home of Jaunsari hill tribe, the animal sacrifice in the white winter month is an ageless tradition the Jaunsaris find unthinkable to do away with.

Perched on a hilltop in raw lower Himalayan terrain, the Jaunsaris in Mehravana village , about 150 km from Dehra Dun, are more than happy to welcome visitors to witness the festival of animal sacrifice.

Known for their unparalleled hospitality, the villagers eagerly invite strangers to their houses for rounds of cinnamon tea. In the three-storey wooden houses with minimal furnishings, radio sets and portable televisions are one’s only link with the outside world.

Around noon when the sun is overhead, the villagers head for the panchayat courtyard overlooking the quaint temple of the local deity ‘Bhairo Baba’. Men and women drag goats along with the freshly sharpened axes. The men purify the goats with the holy water from the temple before lining them up.

Amid thumping drumbeats, the villagers pull a goat into the square and kill the animal to thank the deity for a year free of ailments. A roaring cheer lasts throughout the ritual even as all 35 families sacrifice their goats.

Severed heads lie at the foot of the temple while the villagers cross the pool of blood to collect blood gushing through the torsos. A farmer, Tikaram Joshi, says “it feels bad to slaughter the goat we have kept for a year but it is a tradition and the deity must be offered the animals to ensure another year of health and prosperity.”

Once slaughtered goats are taken home, dogs feast on the leftovers and the drops of blood leading into every house mark each family’s participation in the celebrations. The meat is cut into pieces and wrapped to be sent to the married daughters. Locally called ‘banta’, these pieces of meat hold huge significance to any Jaunsari woman, says Krishna Devi, who waits for her brother to come with ‘banta’ and take her along. After the feast is shared with the whole village, the leftovers are hung-dried and stored to be eaten the year round.

Even as the villagers have little idea about when and how the festival began to be celebrated, Narayan Dutt Joshi from Chakrata, who has been studying the Jaunsari culture, figures out the tribal logic. Since there was no cultivation during January, the month of snowfall in the region, this time of the year was used to celebrate and catch up with relatives and friends, he says. The festival marked the month of bonhomie in the tough way of life in the hill terrain.

Legend has it the celebrations began after an ogre called Maroj whose fear stalked the region was killed, he adds. Even as it has not yet snowed in the valley, overlooking the Trishul peaks of the Himalayan ranges known to be the mythological abode of the Pandavas, the celebrations are under way.

Tens of thousands of animals would be killed in the two rounds of sacrifice in the following week.


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