Sacrificial Appeasement of Gods

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.      


Animal sacrifice is the ritual killing of an animal as part of a religion. It is practiced by many religions as a means of appeasing a god or gods or changing the course of nature. It also served a social or economic function in those cultures where the edible portions of the animal were distributed among those attending the sacrifice for consumption. Photograph©Chulie De Silva

Prices have gone up for bulls and cows. Prices can be anything upwards from 30,000 Takas with price specimens fetching as high as 900,000 Takas. Photograph©Chulie De Silva

 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.

The archaeological record contains human and animal corpses with sacrificial marks long before any written records of the practice. Photograph©Chulie De Silva

AAlthough 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.  

A common street scene: bulls tethered on the side of the road. Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photograph©Chulie De Silva

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 honour 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  flowers 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 by a widow at her husband’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.” 

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7 thoughts on “Sacrificial Appeasement of Gods

  1. Chulie, well written. With the limited time l have left today let it suffice to say that the Sacrificial Appeasement of Gods is an inane notion particularly in today’s so-called enlightened world.I don’t think even the “Gods” approve of the bribes offered!

    What we have to remember is that these defenceless animals are also inhabitants of this planet and need to be shown some respect and compassion. The pics tell a very sad tale.

  2. Sacrifice is a common theme in all religions (Buddhism is not a religion, but a philosophy, so is excluded).

    A Brahmana text says “In the beginning, the gods used the Man (purusha) as their sacrificial beast; when he was used, his sacrificial quality went out of him and entered a horse” Thus the centrality of the Ashvamedha (horse sacrifice) in ancient Hindu practices.

    The sacrifice that the Judeo-Christian God asked for from Abraham was his son. And he gave the sacrifice (at least intended to). Abraham is in Muslim lore, so one can say this is the basis of the current sacrifices documented in Chulie de Silva’s blog.

    I guess one should be happy that humans are not sacrificed; that proxies are; and that the meat is eaten.

  3. Sacrifice in Islam is about charity and sharing in the name of God. It cannot be compared to human sacrifice which is murderous and a sin. Eid sacrifices use the meat to give to the poor and spread their wealth.

    Animals slaughtered in factories and are torture (via’s post). The Islamic method is more humane and showing kindness and humanity towards animals before they are slaughtered is also a requirement.

  4. So appreciate your photos showing the animals with beautiful scarves, clean and ready for the annual ritual. Was helpful reading the history of sacrificial offerings to better understand the differences and similarities of cultures.

  5. I would like to disagree with Whacko. The best way to help the poor is to invest in their earning capacity, not by giving them meat mass-sacrified on religious holidays.

    This said, I agree with his view that animals slaughtered in modern-day meat factories is inhumane.

    On a different note, I am not sure about the read on the Indus valley seal.

  6. Pingback: The night before Eid-ul-Azha in Bangladesh | Chuls Bits & Pics

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