Nepal seeks to end social malpractices

Kathmandu: An NGO in Nepal is seeking an end to 57 social “malpractices” and grisly traditions, including a cannibalistic custom that takes place when the king dies.

In 1955, when King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah, who had ascended the throne of Nepal at the age of five, died, the practice was not so well documented. But 17 years later, when the 49-year-old’s successor and son Mahendra passed away, the outside world witnessed the ritual of a Brahmin accepting the “bad karma” of the dead king for a monetary consideration and then being banished from the kingdom.

It was a veiled reference to the “katto khane” tradition of Nepal, a cannibalistic ritual brought along by the ruling Shah dynasty of Nepal and observed during the deaths of its kings. In 2001, when a massacre in the royal palace saw two kings die in less than a week, the “katto khane” ritual was described and reported more explicitly.

Literally meaning to cut and eat, the ritual literally means having a Brahmin eat a part of flesh and bone hacked from the dead king’s body in the belief that by doing so, he would absorb all the demerits and bad luck of the dead king. The stigmatised Brahmin is then put on the back of an elephant and ordered to leave the kingdom.

It is believed that in the past, the kings brought Brahmins from neighbouring India to undertake the dark ritual as the Brahmins of Nepal were loath to perform a rite that would lead to their banishment from their homeland. From King Tribhuvan’s time it is believed that the banishment was only symbolic and that the Brahmin was allowed to stay on in the country.

“This is a cruel and stigmatising ritual that needs to be abolished,” says Uttam Niraula, executive director of SOCH (Society for Humanism) Nepal, a secular NGO that campaigns against superstition, malpractices arising due to religious beliefs and paranormal practices.

Some say that the actual practice of eating the dead king’s flesh was discontinued a long time ago and what the Brahmins ate subsequently was only a symbolic representation. SOCH Nepal says even a symbolic representation of such a horrifying custom should be banned, like the practice of sati – burning widows on the pyres of their husbands. (IANS)

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