Practices of Hindu animal sacrifice are mostly associated with Shaktism, and in currents of folk Hinduism strongly rooted in local tribal traditions. Animal sacrifices were carried out in ancient times in India. Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita, and some Puranas forbid animal sacrifice.
It is a ritual that is practiced today and is mentioned in Medieval Hinduism too. It is important to note that the practice of animal sacrifice is not a required ritual in some sects of Hinduism. The majority of practicing Hindus today choose not to participate in or acknowledge the practice.
Methods for sacrificing range from decapitation, strangulation, to a spike being driven into the heart of the animal.
The Ashvamedha ritual – in which a horse is sacrificed – is mentioned in the Vedic texts such as the Yajurveda. In the epic Ramayana, Lord Ram performed the Ashvamedha sacrifice for becoming the Chakravartin Emperor. In the epic Mahabharata, Lord Yudhishtra performs the Ashwamedha after winning the Kurukshetra war to become the Chakravartin Emperor. The Mahabharata also contains a description of an Ashvamedha performed by the Chedi King Uparichara Vasu, however, no animals were sacrificed. The rulers of the Gupta empire, the Chalukya dynasty, and the Chola dynasty all performed the Ashvamedha.
Agnisomiya was the simplest of all Soma sacrifices in which animal sacrifice played an important part; it required that a goat be sacrificed to Lord Agni and Lord Soma preceding the day of offering of nectar to the gods. These rituals didn’t focus on the killing of the animal but as a symbol to the powers it was sacrificed.
In the Bhagavad Purana, Lord Krishna tells people not to perform animal sacrifices. Animal sacrifices are forbidden by the Bhagavad Purana in the Kaliyuga, the present age.
Animal Sacrifice in Contemporary Hindu Society
Animal sacrifice is a part of some Goddess Durga puja celebrations during the Navratri in eastern states of India. The Goddess is offered sacrificial animal in this ritual in the belief that it stimulates her violent vengeance against the buffalo demon.
The Rajput of Rajasthan worship their weapons and horses on Navratri, and formerly offered a sacrifice of a goat to a goddess revered as Goddess Kuldevi – a practice that continues in some places. The ritual requires slaying of the animal with a single stroke. In the past this ritual was considered a rite of passage into manhood and readiness as a warrior.
The tradition of animal sacrifice is being substituted with vegetarian offerings to the Goddess in temples and households around Banaras in Northern India.
Animal Sacrifice is practiced by Shaktism tradition where ritual offering is made to a Devi/Goddess in Southern Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. It is most notably performed in front of Local Deities or Clan Deities.
In some sacred groves of India, particularly in Western Maharashtra, animal sacrifice is practiced to pacify female deities that are supposed to rule the groves. Animal sacrifice is also practiced by caste Hindus to placate deities at temples. The goddess temples in Assam and West Bengal in India and Nepal where this takes place involves slaying of goats, chickens and sometimes male Water buffaloes.
Animal sacrifice is practiced in some Eastern states of India and Nepal. For example, one of the largest animal sacrifice in Nepal occurs over the three-day-long Gadhimai festival. In 2009 it was speculated that more than 250,000 animals were killed while 5 million devotees attended the festival.