Sacrifice plays an important role in Hinduism, although the rituals associated with it have evolved over Hinduism's several thousand years of existence. The Vedic scriptures dictate the rules of sacrifice and priests follow highly structured methods of incorporating sacrifice into worship. In some parts of the Hindu world animal and human sacrifice still exist: The majority of Hindus disapprove of both these practices, and the latter is a criminal act.
Purpose of Sacrifice
In Hinduism, sacrifice, or "yajna" to use the Sanskrit word, turns the profane into the holy, according to Anna Smorag in the article "The Significance of Sacrifice in Hinduism." Hindus use it to achieve "moksa," which is liberation of the soul from the cycle of rebirth and knowledge of the true self through a state of unity with Brahman the Supreme Being. Smorag states that sacrifice has a special place in Hindu tradition because the ritual provides a separation between everyday activity and worship.
Following the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedic scriptures, Brahmin priests use grains, vegetables and ghee, which is purified butter, in sacrificial rites. The belief behind sacrificial rites is that these please the gods and preserve dharma. In Hinduism, dharma is a person's responsibility to observe a moral code and traditional customs. Although priests perform these sacrifices in a temple setting, many Hindus perform these daily rituals before an altar in the home.
Nepalese and Balinese Hindus still practice animal sacrifice whereas most Indian Hindus disapprove of the tradition, partly because many don't eat meat and because of the belief in nonviolence. However, even where it does exist, its practice is confined to special occasions. In support of the practice there is a Hindu belief that there are demons who have great powers and satisfying their desire for blood is a way of keeping them happy. Animal sacrifice might involve one chicken or thousands of animals, as in the Nepalese festival worshiping the goddess Ghadimai. Hindu priests in Bali might use it as part of the ritual of opening a new business.
In the 21st century human sacrifice is an extremely rare practice worldwide. The majority of Hindu practices and beliefs emphasize abstinence, vegetarianism and an ascetic approach to life, yet within Hinduism there is a history of blood sacrifice, particularly in the worship of the goddess Kali; she is the slayer of evil and has an appetite for blood. Journalist Alex Perry reports in Time magazine that some devotees of the goddess Kali perform ritual sacrifice in the hope of worldly riches and all types of success. The Indian police treat these cases as homicide. Perry says that some 200 years ago in Calcutta's Kali temple, a male child was sacrificed daily. Devotees flock to the Kali temples, but pumpkins instead of people are used in the sacrificial rite.
- George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images