India // Himachal Pradesh //

Blood sacrifice in Sarahan

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The Bhimakali deity, a local manifestation of the black-faced, bloodthirsty Hindu goddess Kali (Durga), has for centuries been associated with human sacrifice. Once every decade, until the disapproving British intervened in the 1800s, a man was killed here as an offering to the devi. Following a complex ceremony, his newly spilled blood was poured over the goddess’s tongue for her to drink, after which his body was dumped in a deep well inside the temple compound. If no victim could be found, it is said that a voice would bellow from the depths of the pit, which is now sealed up.

The tradition of blood sacrifice continues in Sarahan to this day, albeit in less extreme form. During the annual Astami festival, two days before the culmination of Dussehra, a veritable menagerie of birds and beasts are put to the knife, including a water-buffalo calf, sheep, goat, fish, chicken, crab, and even a spider. The gory spectacle draws large crowds, and is a memorable alternative to the Dussehra procession in Kullu, which takes place at around the same time in mid-October.

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