The 'Self-Animal' and Divine Digestion: Goat Sacrifice to the Goddess Kali in Bengal

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My paper explores the cultural meaning and central logic of the gift-offering of goats, pathabali. I elicit this meaning from the incantations in the rite of bali itself, my own observations on ritual action that follows it, as well as from myth and exegetical commentary. I propose that a specific and indigenous concept of the Hindu self, in relation to the divine, is central to understanding bali. My proposition is based on the premise that the Hindu conception of deity as Sakti is essentially different from that of Judea-Christian divinity. Where in the Western tradition God and man are perceived as two separate entities, the distinctions between sacrifier and Sakri are, as I will show, ambiguous. The meaning of sacrifice to Sakti has less to do with the personality of God than with the act itself, that which represents the relationship between divinity and sacrifier. Crucially, such an act involves the intent, the “self” of the sacrifier. Act, intent, and self are defined within a unique cultural configuration that bali, in act and exegesis, involves. Such an approach offers a different perspective from that of previous theories of sacrifice in anthropology, which drew largely from the Judea-Christian tradition (see also Das 1983; Hayley 1980; de Heusch 1985). I support my argument by presenting and discussing a theme that is dominant in the different types of discourse related to bali. This theme suggests a homology between the 'self' (jiva) of the sacrifier and the sacrificial animal (pasu), and the "consumption" of the "self-animal" by the goddess over many lifetimes until it achieves union with divinity and liberation (moksa).