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Bizarre ritual of owl sacrifice alive in Delhi

Lights, candles and sweets do not complete Diwali for some. So every year, they set out looking for an owl.

delhi Updated: Nov 08, 2015 15:44 IST
Soumya Pillai
A dealer while negotiating the price of an owl at the Kabootar Bazaar in Old Delhi on Thursday.
A dealer while negotiating the price of an owl at the Kabootar Bazaar in Old Delhi on Thursday.(Raj K Raj/HT Photo)

Lights, candles and sweets do not complete Diwali for some. So every year, they set out looking for an owl. From the rich to the poor, families in extreme luxury or misery, often end their search at the chaotic Kabootar Bazaar opposite Red Fort in Old Delhi.

A few enquiries later, dealers of exotic birds here promise a healthy owl, home delivered on Diwali night, for anything between Rs 6,000 and Rs 15,000. The belief goes that sacrificing an owl — the vahan (vehicle) of Goddess Lakshmi — can force her to stay put bringing wealth and prosperity all year round.

An HT team on Saturday landed at the Kabootar Bazaar looking for a dealer. Though the initial few shops refused to solicit in our ‘quest’ for a ‘desi ullu’, a few minutes later, we were guided to a shop in the corner of the market where a middle-aged couple dressed in silk and crisp formals had just sealed the deal for an adult owl for Rs 14,500.

“The idea behind this ritual of owl sacrifice is to not let the goddess of wealth leave your house. So, on Diwali night, when Lakshmi ji enters your house, if you sacrifice her vaahan she will stay with you forever,” a priest standing close to the shop explained.

When we approached the dealer, he offered to sell us a small owl for Rs 6,000 and the adult one for Rs 15,000. After negotiation, he brought the offer down to Rs 5,000 for the small bird and Rs 14,000 for the large one. He also offered to sacrifice the owl on our behalf on Diwali night if we paid an additional Rs 10,000.

“It is a banned here and we have to get it from Moradabad,” he told HT, fully aware of the illegality of the business.

Caught on camera | Illegal sale of owls before Diwali in Old Delhi

Renowned ornithologist and an expert in owls, Abrar Ahmed said that Delhi is the centre of the trade and the majority of the birds are supplied from Kanpur, Moradabad, Pilibhit, Lucknow and Nainital. “Nothing is going to change unless the government decides to save these species,” Ahmed said.