A haunting sacrifice

December 3, 2014

Bariyapur, Nepal

By Navesh Chitrakar

Butcher holding his blade stands among sacrificed buffalos inside an enclosed compound during the sacrificial ceremony of the "Gadhimai Mela" festival held in Bariyapur

Known for its large number of animal sacrifices, the Gadhimai Festival is held once every five years at the Gadhimai Temple in Bariyapur, around 150 km (95 miles) from Nepal’s capital Kathmandu.

The open-air pen where buffaloes are scarified is about as big as two football pitches and surrounded by tall walls – the only high ground available to shoot pictures is to climb to the top to get an overall view, and so I did.

As I looked down, I saw hundreds of butchers with blades in hand, slaughtering buffaloes one by one. The place was filled with blood and the headless bodies of the scarified animals.

There was a lot going on at once, but I suddenly noticed a butcher standing alone among the animals. He was searching for another buffalo to sacrifice, as was his job, and I immediately shot two pictures of him.

He had such a sad expression on his face, surrounded by the carcasses of the sacrificed buffaloes. His head was hanging down and he had a knife dangling in his hand. For me that look is what makes the image strong – there is something haunting about it.

When I visited the place the day before, it was completely different: the site was full of live buffaloes. I felt helpless as a human being, but as a professional I had to do my job, so I began shooting.

While shooting, I felt a calf licking my hand. I didn’t think much of it, so I carried on. I then felt something pulling at my camera strap. I turned around, and there was a calf pulling it gently. I felt as if he wanted to tell me something: maybe someone to take care of him or save him.

However brief, this incident touched me a lot. Like the butcher, I too felt a little bit haunted.

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