Up to a million Hindu devotees gathered Tuesday in a tiny village in Nepal to witness the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of animals in a mass sacrifice that has drawn widespread criticism.
Worshippers travelled long distances, many coming from neighbouring India, to attend the Gadhimai festival, which honours the Hindu goddess of power and takes place once every five years in southern Nepal.
A huge cry of "Long Live Gadhimai!" went up after the village temple's head priest launched the event with the ritual sacrifice of two wild rats, two pigeons, a rooster, a lamb and a pig.
The gathered crowd then rushed to a nearby field where 250 sword-wielding butchers were waiting to begin the mass slaughter of around 20,000 buffalo, brought by devotees to be sacrificed near the holy temple.
"This is a very special day for Hindu devotees," head priest Mangal Chaudhary Tharu told AFP as the Gadhimai festival began.
"All the people who came here to worship Gadhimai have been waiting a long time for this day. I am very proud to be part of this event," added Tharu, the fourth generation of his family to serve as a priest at the temple.