Mervyn storms Munneswaram festival, stops ‘sacrifice’ ritual

By Hiran Priyankara Jayasinha

The annual animal sacrifice ritual of the Sri Bhadra Kali Amman Kovil in Munneswaram was halted last week by a Court ruling.

But more drama was added to the controversial issue when Public Affairs Minister Mervyn Silva arrived at the temple premises, seized the animals that had been brought for slaughter and took them away.
The practice of animal sacrifice has drawn criticism from animal rights groups over the years. They had sought judicial intervention to end to the ritual. But it was on the intervention of the police last week that Chilaw Additional District Judge and Magistrate, R.M. Jayawardana issued an order temporarily suspending the animal sacrifice.

The order was issued after considering a petition submitted by the Intelligence Unit of the Chilaw police division. Soon after the Court ruling was made public, Minister Silva arrived at the Kovil in a convoy of vehicles.

A scene at the Sri Bhadra Kali Amman Kovil . Pic by Augustine Fernando

He entered the premises proclaiming loudly no animal sacrifice would be permitted. He added such practices had been introduced by the “kattadiyas’ of the kovil and was not in keeping with any religious practice.

The Minister then walked around the temple looking for the animals. All the goats and chicken found on the premises were then loaded into vehicles and taken way. Mr. Silva promised to hand the animals over to a farm.

The Minister told the journalists who were present his intention was not to disturb the devotees, but to stop the cruel practice of killing animals. He added he had shut all the beef stalls in Kelniya and would soon do so all over the country.

The Munneswaram Kovil draws thousands of pilgrims from all communities and religions and it is at this ‘Sri Bhadra Kali Amman Kovil’ animal sacrifice is carried out on the final day of the annual festival.
The sacrifice of around 1,000 goats and chicken as part of the ceremony has angered animal rights groups who want the practice outlawed.

Their protests become public in September 2010 when they staged a protest outside the Kovil while the animal sacrifice was taking place. Meanwhile there had been another attempt to halt the animal sacrifice by way of a petition to the Court of Appeal last Monday. However the Court declined to issue an Interim Order preventing the ritual at Sri Bhadra Kali Amman Kovil stating it was a very serious matter involving constitutional interpretation and customary laws. The Court of Appeal said it needed more time to issue an order, stating the ritual had been practiced for centuries.

The petitioners had also sought a Writ Order restraining the Chilaw UC and its Chairman or any person authorized by them from issuing an annual or a temporary licence or any other approval or authorization whatsoever to the Trustees of the said Kovil or their representatives to carry out the slaughter of animals at the Sri Bhadra Kali Amman Kovil.

The Court of Appeal fixed the next hearing for October 14. On the day following the Court ruling to temporarily halt the animal sacrifice ritual the Trustees of the Kovil returned to the Chilaw Magistrate’s Court requesting the decision to temporarily suspend the ritual be revoked as the Court of Appeal had not issued a restraining order.

However the Additional District Judge and Magistrate R.M. Jayawardena said he respected the CA decision. But, in this particular case the police had raised the issue of a possible breach of the peace and it was in these circumstances the temporary restraining order had been issued
Meanwhile a priest of the Kovil defended the practice saying that thousands of animals including cattle were slaughtered for their meat in the country daily and no one had raised the issue.

The Sunday Times spoke with members of the clergy of different religions to ascertain their views on the issue of animal sacrifice. A priest of the Tewatta Church in Ragama who wished to remain anonymous said while it was permissible to kill animals for human consumption, animal sacrifice was wrong.

However as it is a practice of another religion, he said he could not condemn it adding that if such practices were to be carried out, they should be performed in private, and not in public.

A cleric of the Mundel Mosque Meera Leebe said that he too was against the practice of animal sacrifice.
“Animals are killed during our festivals too he said, but it is not done as a sacrifice but to feed the poor,’ he said.

On the spot account by undercover activist

Animal rights activist G.P.D. Kumarasiri went undercover to gather details of the animal sacrifice which takes place at the Sri Bhadra Kali Amman Kovil in Munneswaram. His investigations revealed the killing of animals as part of a ritual was not confined to the annual festival, but was performed throughout the year.

He said he approached ‘swamis’ of the Kovil on the pretext of wanting to offer animal sacrifice to gather details on how the ritual was performed. “I spoke to them on September 11 and was told I could bring an animal on the 14th - the day a large number of animals are scarified. When I queried whether I could come on any another day, I was told I could do so on Tuesdays or Fridays on which days the ritual could be performed,” Kumarasiri said. He believed at least two to three animals were scarified weekly in this manner.

Kumarasiri claims he was told he could either bring the animals with him or purchase a goat for around Rs15, 000, or a chicken for around Rs1, 500 to Rs 2, 000.

He added the swami informed him he would perform the animal slaughter on those days and once the ritual was performed the body would be given to the person offering it to be cooked for consumption, while the head of the animal would be retained by the temple authorities.

“This is a business enterprise” Kumarasiri scoffed. Prior to offering an animal for sacrifice the temple authorities have to be paid a registration fee of Rs 2, 500. “It is a mere money-making exercise,” Kumarasiri said.

He said gullible people were fooled into believing they would be blessed if they scarified an animal at the altar of Goddess Kali.

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