Kathmandu, Nepal - Celebrations were in full flow across Nepal this week for the festival of Dashain, with widespread animal sacrifices planned for the Friday and Saturday despite objections of animal rights activists.
Workers have the week off, and most can count on a 50-per-cent bonuses for the month in honour of Hindu goddess of power Durga, and her slaying of a particularly vicious demon.
An annual 15-day celebration of the victory of good over evil, Dashain means new clothes, lots of meat and general merrymaking for the Nepalese.
But it is a less festive affair for the animals involved, who are ritually slaughtered in their hundreds of thousands every year.
They are herded from remote districts and neighbouring India into Nepal's cities, where goats being dragged home behind shoppers and commuters become a common sight.
Parts of the capital Kathmandu are congested with goats, chickens, ducks and the people buying or selling them.
The animals are intended as sacrifices to the protective but fearsome Durga.
Not everyone slaughters their own offerings, as eating the meat alone can be enough to honour the goddess. Dashain is also a time of brisk business for Nepalese butchers.
"With the start of the Dashain festival, I have been slaughtering about 25 goats a day," says Anish Bahadur Basnet, who runs a small slaughterhouse in Kathmandu. The rest of the year, he averages two a day, and has to hire additional hands during the festive season.
Saturday is main day of the sacrifices, when 54 buffaloes and 54 billy-goats are to be beheaded at the Taleju temple in the heart of the city.
The Nepal Army are also scheduled to make their own offering of 108 buffalo calves to the goddess.
The goddess' favour is believed to protect against accidental or violent death, and in the same spirit, some sacrifices are dedicated to individual vehicles or weapons.
But in recent years, the more than 1,000-year-old custom has offended the modern sensibilities of animal rights organizations, who have spoken out in public against the state-subsidized sacrifices.
Over 1 million animals were sacrificed last year in Nepal, according to Animal Welfare Network Nepal, which has launched the Stop Animal Sacrifice Campaign.
"Nepal is the world's key implementer of animal sacrifice, a practice that promotes superstition and violence, drains the poor and prevents Nepal from becoming a truly advanced country," the group said in a letter to the government.
"Decapitating a bleating buffalo or goat should not be the symbol of the Nepali civilization," it added in its appeal to have the state support for sacrifices cut.
The animal rights campaigners have also targeted the five-yearly festival of Gadhimai in the plains district of Bara.
Last year 16,000 water buffaloes were slaughtered at the festival, where people make sacrifices of any animal they can afford, including rats, pigs, chicken, goats or pigeons.
Despite the campaigns, there appears to be little shift away from the practice by the public.
"People share a very tight attachment with their culture and religion, which makes it very difficult to discourage animal sacrifices during festivals," filmmaker Aman Adhikari said.
His film "In God's Pond" shows how inhabitants of Khokna, 10 kilometres south of Kathmandu, drown baby goats in the local pond to protect their own newborn children from a similar fate.
"There are some young people who would like to break away from the tradition," Adhikari explained. "But they can't get away because it's something they have grown up with and the local belief is very strong."
Attempts by the government to withdraw support for the rituals have not been popular. In 2008, a proposed cut of the budget for sacrifice animals met with strong protests from local communities.