12 min read

Gadhimai Festival 2014

My name is Martyn Stewart and I have a natural God that I believe in. My god surrounds me and sings her beautiful choruses in a manner that no man-made god could replicate, yet she is targeted by other Gods, or so it seems. Man tries often to destroy her beautiful voice and her very existence. You may know my god she is Mother Nature.

It is animals that bring me to Nepal this November 2014. What I am about to witness will be like nothing else I have seen, and I fear for my soul. I am here for the animals ... to be a voice for them and to help stop future killings. Thousands of them will walk long distances - emaciated, undernourished and of ill-health, to a place deemed a sacred temple to be sacrificed for a God.

People who believe in the Goddess Gadhimai, will behead them over a two-day festival. Babies with their mothers will watch their species drop to the ground in agony, decapitated, wounded badly by blunt blades and hacked until they can no longer stand. In my world ... I cannot imagine a God wanting their creation to be destroyed this way. To take away any life is to kill. Killing is supposed to be a sin.

We left the hotel at 4:30 p.m. and made our drive to Gadhimai. It took three hours along primitive roads filled with tractors pulling trailers full of women, men and children. Exhausted horses pulled overladen carts, and buses overflowed with emaciated-looking people. Young children you would expect to be playing with their toys and teddies and well-worn faces, stared at my white face as though I was an alien.

With dust kicking up off the roads and the smell of feces and urine, we made our way to the temple in darkness. The multitudes of people who were walking goats, buffalo and carrying birds, was intense. Cars and motorbikes beeped their horns along the narrow roads as we came upon the temple.

People filled the surrounding fields slaughtering young goats, their heads hacked off as their bodies ran sideways on the ground. Tents full of vendors were selling fried food and spices and grinders sharpened hatchets. Voices screamed over poorly amplified speakers to compete with music louder than what the equipment could handle, distorting the sounds into the night air.

People stared at me constantly as I filmed everything I saw. We got through the rush of people into the temple because I had shown my press credentials, doves and pigeons were being brought to some kind of effigy and given up as a sacrifice to the Gods. They were thrown onto a roof overloaded with birds, many of their wings were broken after being crushed into bags and cages. People threw rice into the house of Gods and fell to their knees in hysteria, crying and screaming as police dressed in military clothing smacked them on the heads with empty plastic bottles to move them along.

We made our way to the temple were they were to sacrifice the first five animals of the new day - a white mouse, a dove, a goat, a pig and a buffalo. The goats, the pig, the doves and the buffalo were slaughtered. As their heads were hacked off, worshippers dived to the ground to anoint their heads with the blood of the killed animals. People screamed their joy as they pushed and shoved to get a glimpse of the newly sacrificed animals.

Each chosen knife wielder was blessed by the priest who marked them with blood on their foreheads before they entered the buffalo enclosure that held over 3,000 thousand animals. Thousands of people stormed the walls to get vantage spots to witness the killings. I watched through the holes in the walls, as no media were allowed into the killing fields.

One by one each young calf was decapitated, some had the privilege of a clean cut, others were brutally hacked several times as they tried to flee their killers, stumbling over the dead bodies of their families. Men with hatchets branded them over their heads warrior-like as they looked for the perfect angle to swipe. Some blades were blunt and screams were heard from the animals, some fell to the ground and broke their legs.

Every animal that slaughtered shit themselves before dying. Every animal felt fear ... and every animal I saw, cried. When I was allowed into the killing fields I walked among the bodies and heads, feces and blood spewed between each carcass. I found a young calf still alive with its eye slightly open, he looked up at me and I cried. He dropped his head and lay there in his own feces. I took his picture and filmed him, all the time talking to him. I felt useless, I told him to forgive me filming him instead of helping him, because I couldn't do anything except to tell his story.

There were other young calves that stood by the entrance waiting for the killers to return, they had red sacrificial scarves around their necks. One young calf stood on another because there was no room on the ground - to many animals lay dead. He was confused and watched my every move. The imagery was torturous. All I could do was give my love and apologies for my own species. Tears ran down his cheek, as did mine.

The marauders returned to the arena like warriors,showing off to the masses that lined the walls. The remaining few animals were butchered to death.

The contractor pulled out of the festival on the 1st day of the slaughter after knowing that 3256 buffalo were killed instead of the expected 10 thousand animals. The locals took the meat and the heads of the buffalo stayed in the killing fields. The hides were taken and sold by another contractor.

In my world, my God asks for nothing but respect, I don't need to pay a tithing, break bread or drink wine. We need to become good stewards of the planet. We simply cannot accept cruelty and mistreatment of the very planet we live on, we have got to reconnect to the beauty that so many of us fail to see.

I believe my grandson Brooklyn will carry on from me, and I hope his kids after him. He will never see the black rhino I recorded in the wild, or the Hawaiian crow - the last two in their natural habitat. He will never hear the sounds in real life that I have recorded in my lifetime and that now no longer exist naturally. What he will have though is values; values that need to be instilled at an early age in every child.

Written from my notes by: Elizabeth Batt

Gadhimai 2014 The Story in Video