Let the State Stay Away from Religious Affairs

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

In the temple of Bhagavati of Banpur, Dasahara festival could not be celebrated as the State interfered with the practice of Vali. The interference was obnoxious inasmuch as an officer with magisterial power entered into the temple with leather shoes on his leg along with a pack of armed police dressed with leather shoes and leather belts in search of goats meant for the Vali. People have strongly protested against this official disrespect to the deity they worship and priests have kept the temple closed till action is taken against those who desecrated the temple.

Constitution of India, in Article 26 has given Indians the right to manage their religious affairs. Vali in Devi temples belongs to religious affairs that the believers in the Goddesses have been managing from time immemorial. Who is anybody to ban or act against Vali when the right to manage religious affairs including Vali is a fundamental right that has never been dropped or withdrawn or deactivated by way of amendment in the Constitution?

On the other hand, a few Indians styling themselves as animal lovers with access to different layers of society starting from media to judiciary, have been harping on stoppage of Vali in temples of Goddesses. To them, Vali is an act of cruelty to animals. But in reality they do not know how ancient and archaic is this practice and how their objection to Vali is misconceived. Love for animals does not need discarding of the archaic components of culture.

As far as their opposition to animal sacrifice in the temples of Goddesses is concerned, theirs is naked hypocrisy. None of the opponents of Vali has given us any evidence that he/she is a true lover of animals. No opponent of Vali has ever opposed operation of non-veg hotels that serve customers in every nook and corner of the country. Non-Veg diets do not come from vegetables; they come from animal meat.

Animal breeding is not banned in India. If animals are not killed despite breeding, their over population will play havoc with human life. They are kept and bred to be killed so that human being get the necessary nurturing food. The breeders have the inherent right to sale or kill the animals as they like for shake of food. And, any of these two steps is cruel. If animal killing in the slaughter house is not objected to by the so-called opponents of cruelty to animals, why the Vali in the temples of the Goddesses should be opposed by them?

The plea that temples of Devi are too sacred to allow animal killing in their premises is not tenable.

Temples are relevant to two types of people. Firstly, the exploiters, who use the temples as shock absorbers for smooth running of their machine of exploitation and secondly, the exploited persons, who come to a temple to overcome their sense of insecurity in hope against hope that the worshiped deity may save them from the exploiters.

When the first category indulges in pompous celebrations of the festivals just to show their love for the Goddess and thereby to hoodwink the exploited, the latter loves Her just like a child loves his/her mother. As a loyal child offers to his mother whatever tests good or whatever is good for health, innocent people, who because of innocence suffer exploitation, offer fish or meat to Mother Goddess. This is not unnatural and there is no wrong in this; just as there was no wrong in offering of fish to Mother Kali by Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

It is to be noted that Vali is a ritual in Orissa during the Durga puja days. Vali is not offered to Goddess Laxmi, Kali or Saraswati whose puja follows the Durga puja successively.

Why this? In its answer lies the reason of sacrifice of goats and sheep during Durgapuja or Dasahara festival.

Dasahara is celebrated when harvesting days arrive.

It is wrong and illogical to say that Dasahara is celebrated in commemoration of Ram’s victory over Ravana, which he could accomplish only by worshiping Durga in the battle field.

Ram was never a real person as he was a character created from imagination by a sage called Valmiki in an epic written to espouse his own as well as his class outlook. In the Ramayan claimed to have been originally authored by Valmiki, there is no trace of Durga puja by Ram in the battle field. So, this must be an interpolation by any vested interest to hijack Devi Durga, which the farming community was propitiating in Dasahara for use in interest of the trading community. A deep look into the word ‘Dasahara’ makes the scenario clear.

Dasahara literally means end of bad days.

The word is an amalgamation of dasaa (bad days) + haraa (termination). Durga had ended the bad condition of the people. So the festival was named Dasaaharaa meaning termination of bad days. It has been corrupted into Dasahara.

In those ancient days, family was mother-centric. Men had no allegiance to women. Under biological urge, they were having union with the women and wandering away. The women were giving birth to children, whom they were also bringing up. So, leader of the families were naturally the women. The women had invented agriculture and therefore they were the owners of agricultural fields. Thus the agro society was matriarch.

The nomads, who by avocation were shepherds, were patriarchs and were against the matriarch society. They were empire builders and intimidators of farmers. They were attacking the scattered agro matriarch families and plundering their crops. Their character was akin to wild buffaloes that the farmers were calling Mahisa. So their chief was called Mahisasura.

Mahisa was destroying crops in the field and looting rice after harvest. So the bad condition of the people was getting worse. They were entering into a stage of durgati (days of decadence).

The plundered farmers felt that unless they unite, it was not possible to save their crops from Mahisa. They united. As they were matriarchs, their collective wrath against Mahisa looked like a form of female power. Every agro family (Deva) equipped this united female force with the best of its weapon. Thus the united female force, vanquished Mahisa and became Durgatinasini Durga. The agro families commemorate that victory by making Vali of buffaloes, goats and sheep before Durga images on occasion of Dasahara. So Vali symbolizes the strength of united farmers against exploiters.

It is worthwhile remembering that Durga had appeared in form of a female to destroy Mahisasura. Different Davas had given her their weapons with which she destroyed Mahisa.

Devas were not the Gods as is being said.

Notwithstanding how they were named, they were farmers. The word ‘Deva’ means one that gives sustenance. Anna (rice) was the source of sustenance. (Annad bhavanti Bhutani- Geeta). So the producers of Anna were the Devas.

But these Devas had no unity amongst themselves as they were staying in separate clusters with their respective mothers. When they united, their collective entity became Durga that destroyed Mahisasura.

The farmers observe that day of victory against Mahisasura as Dassaharaa and sacrifice the goats, sheep and buffaloes – properties of the invading nomads – to commemorate their victory over them.

This is why the well-to-do class and the traders are against Vali. They have hijacked Durga into the world of elite and are bent upon to destroy her social significance.

Banpur gives us an opportunity to understand why the State, anti-farmer in aptitude and attitude, run by agents of the rich and foreigners, with a system of justice susceptible to superficial slogans of opposition to cruelty to animals, has banned animal sacrifice even when butchering of animals in slaughter houses and road sides continues unabated through out the country.

The government and no other functionaries have any right to interfere with the right of people to manage their religious affairs. Moreover Vali is a practice of agro magic with its roots in tradition of tribal response to Mother Nature besides being a reminder of united indigenous farmers’ victory over invading shepherds of foreign origin.

Better leave the matter of Vali to the experienced judgment of the common man. Avoid splitting the society on non-issues.

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