Nepali Goats and Brahmans

During the Dasain festival in Nepal I think daily of an old Kathmandu story.

A Brahman was preparing to sacrifice a goat to the goddess Durga. He raised his khukuri knife and pulled the goat’s head back to expose the neck. As he did so the goat’s eyes met his, the goat said, “Thank you.” Now, even in Nepal a talking goat is a surprise, so the Brahman lowered his knife and said, “I’m about to kill you. Why are you thanking me?”

The goat stared into the Brahman’s eyes and said, “I too was once a Brahman. Now after one hundred and eight incarnations as a goat, I will get another chance to be a human in my next life.”

This is obviously a Buddhist story, and despite Nepal’s wonderful religious tolerance, there are some strains between the faiths here. Animal sacrifice is definitely one of them. While the great Dasain bloodletting is going on at Dakshinkali Temple, lamas in Pharping, just down the road, pray for the souls of the animals killed. At Boudhanath some monasteries keep a continuous vigil during the festival.

It’s not that Buddhists won’t eat meat: lamas and lay people alike can follow a religious proscription against taking life while enjoying their non-veg meals. Bhutan, a predominantly Buddhist country, prohibits the slaughter of animals for food but imports thousands of tons of meat each year.

On my first trek my guide was Buddhist and my porter was a high-caste Hindu. After ten days of a vegetarian diet, we came upon a village market selling, among other things, chickens. And so we had chicken curry for dinner, the guide and I. My porter declined a share, saying that he was a strict vegetarian but would happily dispatch the rooster for us.

But Buddhist carnivores generally refrain from killing, though if another old Kathmandu story about Kwa Bahal, the Golden Temple, in Lalitpur has any truth, not always. Legend tells of a debate outside the city walls between a Brahman and a Vajracharya priest of Tantric Buddhism over a matter of theology. Arguments were exchanged thick and fast, the debate became heated, and each man resolved in his heart that he would rather die than lose.

Since this too is a Buddhist story, the Brahman was eventually defeated in debate and fled into the city. As he passed Kwa Bahal, the Vajracharaya’s wife recognized him and threw the end of her sari over the Brahman’s head, momentarily confusing him. The Vajracharya, following him in hot pursuit, quickly cast a spell to immobilise the Brahman and then cut off his head. The Brahman’s body was put under the monastery’s threshold, and, the story says, the head was kept inside and remains there to this day.

Like our talking goat in the first story, let us hope the unfortunate Brahman got a good reincarnation.

My Buddhist – Hindu – Christian household’s goat arrived on Phoolpati. We decided to call him Bhoj Raj, and he was faithful to his name for the next four days.

John Child
John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.