A Nepali Hindu devotee slaughters a buffalo as an offering to the Hindu goddess Gadhimai in Bariyapur village. (Prakash Mathema/Getty Images)

More than 1 million people have descended upon a remote temple in southern Nepal in recent days, where thousands of animals were set to be slaughtered starting Friday, as part of a ritual sacrifice to honor the Hindu goddess Gadhimai held every five years.

In 2009, the last time the festival was held, sword-wielding men killed an estimated 250,000 buffalo, sheep, goats and chickens in a frenzied, two-day period as thousands looked on.

Animal activists have decried the event, which attracts thousands of devotees from Nepal as well as close-by regions of India.  Gadhimai is the Hindu goddess of power, and it is believed sacrificing an animal in her honor will bring prosperity.  Many of the animals -- most of which are babies -- are brought illegally over the border from India.

Last month, India’s Supreme Court ordered the government to ensure that no live cattle or buffalo were exported out of India and into Nepal without license, and its Ministry of Home Affairs directed its border patrol to ensure that “the movement of cattle for sacrifice during Gadhimai Mela [Fair] be stopped.”

So far, activists said, more than 2,000 animals have been seized along the India and Nepal border, and 100 people arrested.

“It’s madness, it’s really madness,” said N.G. Jayasimha, director of the Humane Society International of India, who is at the temple site this week. “There are no roads, no infrastructure, not a single public bus, no sanitation and no drinking water. There are human feces everywhere. A number of people have come, and everybody is carrying an animal to be sacrificed.”

Jayasimha said that activists think there has been a drop in attendance in the festival this year over five years ago, when an estimated 5 million people attended.  Jayasimha said he thought border control efforts and public awareness campaigns in Nepal and India may have been having some effect. Yet the festival remains a public health concern.

More than 2,000 baby buffalo had already been corralled into a huge arena where the ritual was to begin at 3 a.m. Friday, he said. The chief priest of the temple was to offer prayers and cut himself for a symbolic offering of human blood before the animals were slaughtered, continuing into Saturday. Afterward, a Nepalese meat contractor will take the meat and skins, and the skulls of the buffalo will be piled in a pit and worshiped, Jayasimha said.

Yes, there’s a Change.org petition.