Hindu worshippers with swords and knives slaughtered thousands of buffalo this morning as what is believed to be the world's biggest animal sacrifice began in a remote area of Nepal.
Efforts from activists and officials were expected to cut the death toll from the 250,000 butchered at the last Gadhimai Festival five years ago, but thousands of creatures were still set to be killed over the two days.
The event, held in honour of a Hindu goddess, kicked off in Bariyarpur in the early hours with a ceremony known as the 'pancha bali': the sacrificial slaughter of a goat, rat, chicken, pig and a pigeon. A local shaman then offered blood from five points of his body.
Some 200 butchers with sharpened swords and knives then walked into a walled arena bigger than a football field that held several thousand buffalo as excited pilgrims climbed trees to catch a glimpse of the action.
'The sacrifices have begun today... We had tried not to support it but people have faith in the tradition and have come here with their offerings,' Birendra Prasad Yadav from the festival organising committee said.
A butcher swings his blade to kill a buffalo as the sacrificial ceremony begins during the Gadhimai Festival held at Bariyarpur in Nepal
A Hindu devotee slaughters a buffalo as an offering to Hindu goddess Gadhimai surrounded by dozens of dead animals
The festival, which dates back 265 years, began in Bariyarpur south of Kathmandu this morning despite an outcry over the bloodshed
Dozens of slaughtered buffalo surround a worshipper, who prepares to make yet another offering to the goddess Gadhimai
Men drag a dead buffalo across an enclosure for animals awaiting sacrifice on Tuesday as the ceremonial slaughter began
A butcher swings his blade to sacrifice a buffalo inside an enclosed compound during the centuries-old ceremony, which is held once every five years
A worshipper holds a blade behind his back ahead of slaughtering a buffalo during the extremely controversial festival
A Hindu devotee slaughters a buffalo as dozens of dead animals lay on the ground around it in Bariyarpur, south Nepal
At its height in 2009, the two-day event - held in honour of the Hindu goddess of power - took the lives of around 500,000 buffaloes, goats, pigeons and other animals
Humane Society International India plead with Gadhimai Temple priest Mangal Chowdhury to stop the slaughter on Tuesday
On Tuesday, photographs captured butchers as they used swords to slaughter buffalo which were marked with red paint, as dozens watched on and waved weapons in the air.
At dawn, an estimated 3,500 buffaloes were gathered in the main Temple arena for a mass beheading as the first day of the world's largest animal sacrifice event got underway, the Humane Society International reported.
Those at the event described animals collapsing from exhaustion, sickness and stress as devotees continued the gruesome festival.
But despite the unsettling scenes, the HSI said the number of animals slaughtered was many thousands fewer than in previous years.
Thousands of worshippers from Nepal and neighbouring India have spent days sleeping out in the open and offering prayers ahead of the event in Bariyarpur village, close to the Indian border.
'I believe in the goddess. My mother had asked her for the good health of my son,' Rajesh Kumar Das, 30, said, holding a goat in his hand.
A butcher holds his blade behind his head as he prepares to sacrifice an animal during the festival this morning
A buffalo lies dead inside an enclosure for animals awaiting slaughter on Tuesday. An estimated 200,000 animals ranging from goats to rats were butchered during the last two-day Gadhimai Festival
At dawn on Tuesday, an estimated 3,500 buffaloes were gathered in the main Temple arena for a mass beheading as the final day of the world's largest animal sacrifice event got underway
On Tuesday, an excavator was seen pushing dead buffalo inside a hole before burying them after the ceremonial slaughter
A devotee wrapped in a blanket sits near his temporary shelter as he waits for the Gadhimai Festival to begin on Tuesday
Hindu devotees in brightly-coloured clothing help each other cross a murky river near the site of the controversial festival
Hindu devotees ride in the back of a vehicle as they travel with a goat to the festival in Baryarpur, south of Kathmandu
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