- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2002

CALCUTTA A fundamentalist Hindu group has revived a ritual not performed in India for 500 years by sacrificing 10 horses, horrifying animal rights activists and at least one federal minister.

The group slaughtered 10 stallions in the village of Juna Padia, about 270 miles southwest of Calcutta, on March 29 as 10,000 supporters chanted in praise of the god Rama.

About 150 priests performed the ritual, which is believed to have cost $123,000.

"Some anti-Hindu elements tried their best to stop this holy ritual. But we have succeeded because the god was on our side," said Maharshi Girisurya Swami, a leader of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, who organized the ceremony.

As required by the ritual, 10 white and perfectly healthy male horses were taken on a tour of the state before being slaughtered on the altar on the 10th day. Blood of the animals was collected in hundreds of earthen pots to be sprinkled on fire and distributed among supporters to preserve at homes.

Before the sacrifice, a "purification ritual" was performed when the horses were forced to stand in the middle of circles of fire, surrounded by the group's supporters to prevent the horses from escaping. The horses suffered extensive burns, witnesses reported to the animal rights campaigners.

Animal rights activists had appealed to the state and federal authorities to use animal cruelty laws to prevent the slaughter in the name of religion. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik of eastern Orissa state, where the ritual was performed, ignored an appeal by Maneka Gandhi, the federal minister for culture and animal care and a well-known animal rights activist. In fact, some of his Cabinet colleagues were seen attending the ritual.

Mr. Patnaik's party, Biju Janata Dal, is a member of the ruling coalition in New Delhi led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

In ancient India, "dasaswamedh yajna" or the "ceremony of fire and sacrifice of horses" was conducted by Hindu kings in the hope of bringing peace and prosperity to the nation. Many Hindus believe the mythical god Rama sacrificed 10 horses to please the creator of the universe and happiness returned to his kingdom.

Asish Basu, a prominent historian at Calcutta University, said the last horse sacrifice is believed to have taken place in India at least 500 years ago.

Over the past few years, Hindu militancy has been on the rise in Orissa, a poor, arid state. In January 1999, an Australian evangelist missionary and two of his children were burned to death while they were sleeping in their vehicle in a tribal region of the state. A Hindu militant was convicted of the killings.

Addressing the congregants at the ritual, Girisurya Swami said the state will be blessed with good luck as a result of the sacrifice.

"Don't be ignorant and blame poverty, illiteracy, drought and other natural calamities for the backwardness of the state," he said. "To be happy and prosperous you need to be blessed by gods. We have appeased gods by our ritual and soon we will see peace and prosperity."

Biswanath Acharya, one of the priests who conducted the ceremony, said the country is suffering because for centuries Hindus did not care for such ancient holy traditions.

"To bring happiness throughout the country we need to organize many such rituals in different corners of the country," he said.

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