International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)

From The Vegetarian (London), April 25, 1891:

Some Hindu Festivals

Next in importance to the Divali holidays are the Holi holidays, which were alluded to in the Vegetarian on the 28th March.

Holi holidays, as will be remembered correspond to Easter in point of time. Holi takes place on the full moon day of the fifth month Falgun, of the Hindu year. This is just the spring-time. Trees are budding forth. Warm clothes are put off. Light clothes are the fashion.That the spring has come is even more manifestwhen we have a peep at one of the temples. The moment you enter a temple (and you must be a Hindu in order to gain admittance thereinto), you smell nothing but sweet flowers.Pious persons are sitting on the steps, making garlands for Thakorji (god). Among the flowers you see beautiful roses, champeli, mogra, etc. When the doors are flung open for Darshan (literally seeing), you observe the fountains in full play. You enjoy soft and fragrant breezes. Thakorji has worn light costumes of delicate shades. Piles of flowers before him, and garlands round his neck almost hide him from your view. He is swung to and fro. The swing too, is covered with green leaves sprinkled with fragrant waters.

Ouside the temple the sight is not edifying, you here meet with nothing but obscene language during the fortnight preceeding the Holi. In small villages it is difficult for ladies to appear without being bespattered with mud. They are the subject of obscene remarks. The same treatment is meted out to men without distinction. People form themselves into small parties. Then one party competes with another in using obscene language and singing obscene songs. All persons - men and children, but not women - take part in these revolting contests.

Indeed, it is not considered bad taste to use obscene words during htis season. In places where people are steeped in ignorance they even pelt one another. They paint obscene words on your clothes, andif you wear a white garment and go out, you are sure to return home with plenty of mud about you.This reaches its climax on the Holi day. Whether you are in the house or out of it obscene words are jarring on your ears. If you happen to visit a friend you are sure to be bathed in foul water, or in fragrant water as the case may be.

In the evening a big pile of wood or dried cow dung is made and set on fire. These piles are often as high as twenty feet or more. And the pieces of wood used are so thick that the fire is not extinguished for seven or eight days.

On the day following people heat water on these fires and bathe with it. So far I have spoken of the way in which the Holi holidays are abused. It is a relief to be able to say that with the progress of education and civilisation such scenes are slowly but surely dying out. But the richer and refined classes use these holidays in a very decent way. Coloured waters and fragrant waters take the place of mud. Throwing pails of water is replaced here by a little sprinkling only. Orange coloured water is most used during these days. It is made by boiling dried flowers called kesuda which have the colour of an orange. Rose water too, is used where people can afford it. Friends and relations meet and feast one another, and thus enjoy the spring in merriment.

In many respects the Divali holidays present a beautiful contrast to the, for the most part, unholy Holi days. Divali holidays begin soon after the monsoon seasonwhich is also the time of fasting. So the feasting during the Divali holidays is all the more enjoyable. While the Holi holidays follow the winter which is the time for taking cncentrated foods of all sorts. Such foods are left off during the Holi holidays. Obscene language of Holi follows the most sacred songs of the Divali. Then again people begin to wear winter clothes in the Divali, while they put these off in the Holi. The Divali proper takes place on the fifteenth day of the dark half of the month Ashvin and consequently there is much illumination ; while on account of the Holi taking place on the full-moon day, illumination wold be out of place.

M. K. Gandhi.