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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Indian temple revives 'human sacrifice'
Kamakhya Temple
Human sacrifice was thought to have died out
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By Rahul Karmakar
in Guwahati, north-eastern India

Followers of a Hindu cult in India's north-eastern state of Assam have revived the ancient practice of human sacrifice.

A willing human being is difficult to find these days

Temple researcher Dr Pradeep Sharmah

But in the absence of human volunteers, devotees at the Kamakhya Temple near the state capital Guwahati are using six-foot effigies made of flour for the rite.

Steeped in secrecy, human sacrifices to the Mother Goddess Shakti were thought to have died out completely.

The revival of the "Nara bali" practice a few years ago would have remained under wraps had it not been for an academic researching the temple, one of India's holiest pilgrimage sites.

The cult followers had apparently wanted live humans to revive the gory tradition, but opted for an effigy instead fearing a backlash.

Ancient worship

"A willing human being is difficult to find these days," said Dr Pradeep Sharmah, director of the Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture (VKIC).

Map of Assam

He said priests had already been heavily criticised by animal rights groups for their use of animals in ritual sacrifices, hence their decision to use human effigies instead of the real thing.

Dr Sharmah was inducted into the inner circle of a handful of "Shakta" priests after he won their trust.

"The sacrifice is made at midnight, on the day of Ashtami during the 10-day autumnal Durga Puja," said Dr Sharmah.

But it can also be carried out on any day specified by divine forces.

"The ancient worshippers believed that the person to be sacrificed was sent by god, and as a rule a woman would never be put to the altar," Dr Sharmah said.

The Kamakhya Temple attracts some 10,000 devotees per day, but certain aspects of the temple's ceremonies - including sacrifices - have been kept closely-guarded secrets.

No witnesses

The administrator of the Kamakhya Trust, Bharati Prasad Sarma, said that no outsiders were ever allowed to witness a sacrifice.

Goddess Durga
Thousands of devotees worship at the temple

"It is believed that if anyone tries to see the act, evil is bestowed upon him by the Mother," he said.

The administrator said the schoolboy son of a temple priest, or panda, fell blind last year when he tried secretly to watch a ceremony.

The pandas say that only a chosen few are eligible to conduct a sacrifice.

Research shows that human sacrifice at Kamakhya was first revived 75 years ago, but was discontinued a few years later.

A 1933 journal of the Assam Research Society says that living people were sacrificed until the reign of King Gaurinath Singha between 1780 and 1796.

Records of earlier periods at the Department of Historical and Antiquarian Studies indicate that the practice was widespread in Assam.

See also:

15 Mar 02 | South Asia
India's secularism under threat?
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: India
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