Nepali Times
A vegetarian Dasai


As khukuris are sharpened in anticipation of Dasai, goats, buffaloes, chickens and ducks are not looking forward to Nepal's great annual massacre.

This year, as the country plunges into a spiral of unprecedented violence, there are concerns about animal sacrifices. Some are even thinking this is the time to turn vegetarian. The only thing holding them back is habit and the belief that feasting on flesh is a part of our culture.

Researchers have long linked eating meat, especially red meat, to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis and osteoporosis. A vegetarian diet, on the other hand, is low in fat and high in fibre and combined with a healthy lifestyle it's known to reverse arteriosclerosis and even prevent cancer.

"It's a good idea to cut down on meat after 35," says Dr Sundar Mani Dixit, who prescribes fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts for the amino acids required by the body to build protein.

Still, the notion that meat is more nutritious lingers and countries with rising living standards always show an exponential increase in meat consumption.

At 81, Hem Bahadur Basnyat is proof that a vegetarian diet works. After giving up meat 35 years ago, the retired army colonel starts his day with an hour-and-half walk at 5AM.

Many Nepalis cannot afford to eat meat that often. But the urban middle class is consuming more animal products and finds it difficult to give up meat for purely health reasons. Until Nepal has modern meat processing plants, most Nepalis will turn to ritual sacrifices at home at Dasai, one of the few times in a year they get to eat meat.

But there are genuine health benefits to giving up meat. Vegetarians usually have more energy, need less sleep and lose weight. The remarkable part of giving up meat is that it seems to make people less aggressive.

enowned Nepali film director, Nir Shah, was a voracious meat eater till three years ago. After turning vegetarian initially to lose weight, he found other side benefits. "I am less angry now, and feel reduced tension."

Shah also worried about the psychological impact on children of having to watch animal decapitation. "Children are either traumatised, or they enjoy it. Neither is good for them," he told us. Steeped in rituals, Nir Shah's family is required to carry out a sacrifice at Dasai. Instead of a goat, this year he will bring home a gourd.

Organisations like the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Nepal (SPCAN) are also worried about the cruelty to animals in the name of religion-especially big sacrificial rituals like Dasai and Gadimai Mela in Bara district every five years. "Violence is learned, it could start by beating a dog, or witnessing a sacrifice," says SPCAN's Lucia de Vries.

The rationale for Dasai sacrifice is the cult of Durga, the goddess who vanquished demons and saved humanity. Priest Shivahari Rimal says sacrifices today have lost their religio-cultural facets: "These days people justify the sacrifices just to fill their bellies."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)