COLOMBO: In a landmark ruling, a Sri Lankan Supreme Court bench has allowed animal sacrifice in Hindu temples while laying down conditions under which the ritual could be performed.
In the ruling given on Monday, on an appeal filed by the trustees of the Bhadrakali Amman Kovil located at Munneswaram, north of Colombo, Chief Justice Mohan Peiris said that he was not inclined to ban animal sacrifice because the practice was more than a hundred years old.
But he urged the parties concerned to talk to each other to bring down the number of animals put to slaughter. At the annual “velvi” festival of the temple, 300 to 400 fowl and goats are sacrificed, and this, the Chief Justice said, was too high.
He directed the Public Health Department to supervise the slaughter. He further said that the slaughter should take place, one animal at a time, in a specially designated enclosure, away from the public eye.
Manohara de Silva, counsel for the animal rights and Buddhist groups, which had objected to animal sacrifice, stated that his clients were ready for a compromise.
A R Surendran, counsel for the temple trustees, said that his clients had worked out a system to meet some of the objections of the animal rights activists and Buddhists while sticking to the argument that animal sacrifice is part of the Hindus’ right to religious freedom guaranteed by the Lankan constitution.
Both sides seemed ready to let animal sacrifice take place under controlled conditions and the apex court was amenable to this.
The compromise has to be seen in the context of the popularity of animal sacrifice among the majority Sinhalese Buddhists, despite Buddhism’s injunctions against it. Kali and tantric worship are deeply ingrained in Sinhalese culture.
According to social anthropologist Rohan Bastian, who did field work at the Kali Kovil in the 1980s, 82 per cent of the worshippers were Sinhalese Buddhists. Sinhalese political leaders, both high and low, were, and still are, among the key patrons, he said.
Bastian points out that the Kali Kovil had been in existence even in early 17th century, as the record of a Jesuit campaign against its gory rituals shows.