We Animals Media Takes You Inside Dakshinkali Temple in Nepal.

Story by Sayara Thurston.
Images and video by Jo-Anne McArthur.

Twice a week the Hindu temple Dakshinkali, located outside of Kathmandu in Nepal, is opened to people wishing to make offerings to the goddess Kali, which often takes the form of animal sacrifice. Animals are butchered on site and families take their meat home to cook and eat. 

Worshippers at Dakshinkali.

Around Dakshinkali Temple outside of Kathmandu, hundreds of candles burn and incense smoke billows through the dawn light. It’s 5 a.m. and already, a line of people stretches into the dark.

Their faces are lit into shadowy smiles by the candlelight. It’s cold and it’s early and some of them have travelled for hours, but there’s a feeling of happiness bubbling from the people waiting.

They’re carrying chickens and leading goats – or dragging the ones who won’t walk.

They’re bringing them to be sacrificed.

A chicken in line for slaughter at the temple.

Goats on the road to Dakshinkali temple, where animals are used in religious sacrifice.

On the way into the temple, a laneway of stalls sells flower chains, incense, fruit, and toys for the children. It’s stunning and colourful, even in the faded light before sunrise.

The market road to Dakshinkali temple in the early morning.

The stalls also sell chickens and goats for those families who did not bring their own. The chickens’ feet are tied to the tops of crates with twist ties, the goats tethered to the sides of the stalls.

The stalls also sell chickens and goats for those families who did not bring their own. The chickens’ feet are tied to the tops of crates with twist ties, the goats tethered to the sides of the stalls.

Chickens for sale for sacrifice on the road leading to the temple.

We walk past families buying animals and going on to wait with them in line – moving slowly closer to the smells of blood and butchering.

The progress of the line counts down the minutes left in the animals’ lives. Once they reach the front, they will be washed, blessed, and killed.

Anointed goats, moments before being sacrificed at the temple.

Lined up for a hundred metres behind the temple’s entrance, people carry chains of marigolds strung together and boxes of incense. Honestly, the scene is breathtaking, beautiful.

Lined up for a hundred metres behind the temple’s entrance, people carry chains of marigolds strung together and boxes of incense. Honestly, the scene is breathtaking, beautiful.

A goat in his last moments before being sacrificed at the temple.

But the smell of burning flesh fills the air and there’s blood pooled on the cold stones.

 

People walk barefoot out of the temple, where shoes aren’t allowed, carrying the bodies of the goats and chickens in one hand and the animals’ heads in the other.

People walk barefoot out of the temple, where shoes aren’t allowed, carrying the bodies of the goats and chickens in one hand and the animals’ heads in the other.

It’s brutal, but there’s an air of celebration and solemn reverence for the lives being sacrificed. Everyone I walk by smiles at me, even though I’m so clearly out of place. 

At the temple, I talk to a young man; he tells me he’s 18. He travelled two hours with his family to be here before sunrise. They come twice a year.

“We have to cut the animals to make our wishes come true,” he says.

“Does it work?” I ask.
 
“Yes!” He nods emphatically. And then he pauses. “But maybe in the future, it will be nicer and we won’t have to kill the animals.” He tells me that some people bring coconuts to be sacrificed instead. “For if you are vegetarian,” he explains. 
Vegetables and coconuts are also offered to the gods.
Animals being cleaned, dismembered, and cooked after the sacrifice.

At a small hut behind the temple, butchers accept the newly-killed animals’ bodies, eviscerating them and throwing them in huge, scalding bins of water to loosen their fur and feathers.

At a small hut behind the temple, butchers accept the newly-killed animals’ bodies, eviscerating them and throwing them in huge, scalding bins of water to loosen their fur and feathers.

The smell grows stronger as the sun rises and the day warms. The butchers hand temple-goers back their animals in plastic grocery bags. They’re meat now, cleaned, boiled and chopped.

Men and women wade back out of the crowd at the butcher’s station and grab their tired but excited children by the hand.
It’s time to go home.

The sun is almost up now, and the morning mist is burning off, mixing with incense smoke and steam from the boiling vats as it all rises together above the tree line. As we make our way out of the temple, we see a single crow sitting on a wire in the haze.

The sun is almost up now, and the morning mist is burning off, mixing with incense smoke and steam from the boiling vats as it all rises together above the tree line. As we make our way out of the temple, we see a single crow sitting on a wire in the haze.

The sun is rising behind him and it feels like too obvious an image of beauty and death, mixed together in this beautiful, solemn place where many have celebrated, and many others have died before the day has even begun. 

Written by Sayara Thurston. Photography by Jo-Anne McArthur.

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