Diwali, also known as Deepawali, celebrates the triumph of good over evil, and light over dark. Whether it is lighting candles in front of the house, bursting crackers or exchanging gifts with near and dear ones, such occasions are a time to practice togetherness, compassion and gratitude. The festival is celebrated all across India, with each region having its own particular customs and traditions. People also offer prayers to the goddess Lakshmi in the hope of prosperity and wealth, at local temples and homes. A lot of people also decorate their courtyards and buildings with rangoli artwork involving intricate designs.
However, at the same time, Diwali is also important for followers of black magic, as well as, for tantriks. This festive occasion has a very different meaning for them and they get indulged in different rituals. One such ritual is killing of owls during Diwali by them.
The bird that is seen as the vehicle for the goddess Laksmi is sacrificed in tantrik rituals during Diwali. This is considered by many to bring good luck and prosperity. During Diwali, owls are smuggled from all over the country and are traded for killings.
Abrar Ahmed, an expert on the trafficking of birds, said:
“You take the leading newspapers of today itself, there will be 50, 20, 30 ads from tantriks advertising remedies of almost all kinds. When people can be milked out, these tantriks will prescribe something which is difficult to get — they’ll say an owl of 5 kgs or a certain weight or certain size. There is where they make money…. They are the ones creating a demand.”
Out of 32 owl species found in India, 13 are being sold as part of the illegal trade in wild birds. Among the most common species that face sacrifice include spotted owlet, brown fish owl, and threatened rock eagle. The members of the Baheliya community in the Lal Kurti area of Meerut city handle the owls brought by trappers and poachers.
As per Ahmed, every part of the bird has significance in sorcery and black magic. For instance, a bird is blinded and slowly killed over the days. In another, a live owl is buried outside the door of the house to bring prosperity.
Owls killed during Diwali could carry a price tag from Rs 300 to Rs 50,000, depending on the species. The most prized are the rock eagle owl, dusky eagle owl, and brown fish owl.