Down below my apartment block, I hear the continuous bleating of two goats as if they knew what is in store for them when dawn comes today. Going down, I see the two goats and next to them two beautiful white bulls with such sadness in their eyes — a sort of animal ESP that has forewarned them of their doom.
Dhaka will celebrate Eid al-Adha today the 17 November. Today Muslims will commemorate and remember Abraham’s trials, by themselves slaughtering an animal such as a cow, bull, sheep, camel, or a goat.
Although I had lived in two strong Muslim countries –Malaysia and Brunei, the sacrificial slaughtering of animals at this festival was not visible to us outside the faith. In Dhaka at many street corners and in front of houses cows, bulls, and goats tied are tied and sometimes petted fondly and fed.
The earliest evidence for human sacrifice in the Indian subcontinent dates back to the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilization. An Indus seal from Harappa depicts an upside-down nude female figure with legs outspread and a plant issuing from the womb. The reverse side of the seal depicts a man holding a sickle and a woman seated on the ground in a posture of prayer. Many scholars interpret this scene as a human sacrifice in honor of the Mother-Goddess.
Even in the Aztec culture human sacrifices were ritualistic and symbolic acts accompanying huge feasts and festivals. Victims were sacrificed and died usually centre stage while dancers performed and music played on. There were elaborate costumes and decoration, carpets of fowers and an audience of many elite as well as ordinary people.
The Aztecs also refered to human sacrifice as neteotoquiliztli -, the desire to be regarded as a god. For each festival at least one or more victims took on the paraphernalia, habits and attributes of the god or goddess whom they were dying as. Particularly the young man who was indoctrinated for a year to submit himself to Tezcatlipoca’s temple was the Aztec equivalent of a celebrity rock star, being greatly revered and adorned to the point of people “kissing the ground” when he passed by.
The practice of Sati sacrificed a widow at her hiusband’s funeral pyre and continued till India brought Sati Prevention Act to suppress it. And at home the suicide cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was another form of modern day human sacrifice – a form of ritualistic offering to the Tiger God. Then detractors of the death penalty may consider all forms of capital punishment as secularised variants of human sacrifice.
Across may cultures human sacrifice accompanied the dedication of a new temple or bridge. Sacrifice of people upon the death of a king, high priest or great leader; the sacrificed were supposed to serve or accompany the deceased leader in the next life. Human sacrifice in times of natural disaster. Droughts, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc. were seen as a sign of anger or displeasure by deities, and sacrifices were supposed to lessen the divine ire.
When my brother Prasanna Kirtisinghe, died in the tsunamiof 2004 in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka he was the only one in the family and the first to succumb to the tsunami. I can still hear my sister-in-law Padmini say “he gave himself up like a billa (sacrifice) to the gods, so we could all live.”