The sacrifice, or bali, of the title is a religious ritual of purification by bloodshed. The young King who is the play’s protagonist has left behind this traditional religion, which his mother, the Queen Mother, still follows. Ideally it should be accomplished by sacrificing an animal to the gods. Through his marriage to the Queen as well as developing his own personal convictions, the King has converted to her religion, Jainism, which calls for non-violence. Torn between these two traditions, he is in constant conflict between his mother over his “betrayal” of her traditions and his wife, who abhors even thinking about the animals to be sacrificed. The King suggests a compromise, which is to create the effigy of an animal out of dough, and to sacrifice the effigy.
As the Queen is pregnant, the Queen Mother wants a sacrifice conducted when her child is born, but she refuses because it would be wrong for a Jain child. However, she loses the baby and, distraught, turns to a lover, the Mahmout, whom she meets in a ruined temple. When her infidelity is discovered, the Queen Mother demands that the man be punished—that he become the blood sacrifice. For a moment it seems as though the Queen—having already betrayed her husband, her marriage vows, and thus her religion—will become the instrument of that sacrifice, as she grabs a sword and goes after the Mahmout. At the last minute, however, she commits the ultimate betrayal of herself and her faith, by using the sword to kill herself, becoming the sacrifice.