India animal sacrifice,
Hindus devotees watch as a buffalo is beheaded by Hindu priests at a Durga temple in Cooch Behar town, 175 km from Siliguri, West Bengal, during the Durga Puja festivalGetty Images

A court in a northern India state has banned animal sacrifices for religious purposes in the region, defining the practice "cruel and barbaric".

Although the Hindu religion does not condone animal sacrifice, goats and sheep are slaughtered in Hindu temples in southern and eastern regions of the country, in a bid to please Hindu and local deities.

After the animals are sacrificed, villagers who are not vegetarians take them home to eat.

"No person will sacrifice any animal in any place of worship. It includes adjoining lands and buildings," the high court in Himachal Pradesh said.

Religion must adapt to 'modern area'

"A startling revelation has been made… thousands of animals are sacrificed every year in the name of worship," it continued. "Sacrifice causes immense pain and suffering to innocent animals. They cannot be permitted to be sacrificed to appease a god or deity in a barbaric manner."

The court also highlighted the need of religious rituals to change and adapt to "modern area".

Animal activists who had shed light on the issue of animal sacrifices welcomed the ruling.

"We welcome this ban on animal sacrifice as it will end centuries of cruelty to animals in the name of religion," local activist Rajeshwar Negi told news agency AFP.

However, lawmaker Maheshwar Singh defended the practice, adding that "this judgment is against the age-old beliefs and customs of many people".

The majority of Hindus in India do not engage in animal sacrifice.

Some Hindus have circumvented bans on animal sacrifice by travelling to Nepal to attend the month-long Gadhimai festival, held in Bariyarpur. In 2009, approximately 5 million people attended the festival, where 250,000 animals were killed in the name of the Hindu deity Gadhimai, the goddess of power.