Many Hindu temples have abandoned the use of bulls to pull chariots during Hindu religious festivals in Malaysia and India. However, there are some temples in the country that continue to use bulls to pull chariots defending their use on the grounds of religious tradition and past practice.
In India, especially in the southern states, the use of bulls has been discontinued in temple chariot processions. Reliance on devotees to pull the chariots, the use of tractors and other mechanisms have been favoured in place of the use of bulls.
While tradition is an important component of Hinduism, there is a growing thinking that the use of bulls in pulling the chariots is something cruel and an abuse of animal rights. The formation of animal rights groups in India and other places has played an important role in persuading temples from the use of bulls to pull chariots during religious occasions.
In Malaysia, there are definitive laws that can be used to prevent the abuse of animals. But their implementation leaves much to be desired for.
It is understandable that in the past when other methods were not available and when people were not aware of the rights of animals, the use of bulls in pulling chariots did not raise any questions.
Moreover, during these days, the chariots were considered lightweight compared to the present ones and those who ride on the chariots would be kept to a minimum of two. You did not have a situation where the chariots weighed more than five tonnes with 10 or 20 priests riding on chariots with their assistants.
Despite the general awareness of animal rights, there are some temples in Malaysia that continued to use bulls to pull the heavy chariots. Some of the chariots weigh more than five tonnes excluding those persons who ride on them. Given this weight, it would be a cruelty of great magnitude to force bulls to pull the chariots for a considerable distance.
The argument that the tired bulls would be replaced at certain critical points in the journey does not absolve those who are using the bulls from abuse and mistreatment of animals.
They have been a number of cases where these poor and unfortunate animals have died from sheer exhaustion. A few days ago, a devotee reported in Penang of witnessing an incident where one of the bulls that was beaten, collapsed and died as a result. Moreover, bulls that undergo this exhaustive journey of pulling chariots might not have really live long. So much for those who continue to defend the use of bulls in the name of Hinduism and tradition.
After a police report was lodged members of the public, the Veterinary Department swung into action to investigate the allegations whether the temple authorities in Penang, those who behind the silver chariot, inflicted cruelty on the animals. The department is yet to release its report to the public.
It is hoped that those temples that use the bulls to pull their chariots will cease to do so. Hinduism cannot be defended by mistreating and being cruel to animals. It is indeed ironic that Hinduism that pays so much respect to animals, especially to cows and bulls, is being misinterpreted to serve the selfish needs those who are bent on using bulls.
While we ponder the question of using bulls to pull chariots, let us remember the words of Mahatma Gandhi “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way animals are treated.”