Don’t poo-poo it! Indian dung festival celebrates end to Diwali

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Laughing and cheering as they scoop up handfuls of cow dung to roll into balls, men and boys from Gumatapura village in southern India mark the ‘Gorehabba’ festival every year by flinging poo at each other. AFP

Dozens of exuberant villagers scooped up handfuls of cow dung to mould and toss at each other like snowballs last week for the Gorehabba festival, a local conclusion to India’s most important festival, Diwali.

The festival is unique to a village where locals believe their god – Beereshwara Swamy – was born in cow excrement.

Some Hindus believe cows and everything they produce is sacred and purifying. Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pushed for greater protection of the beasts, and many Indian states have long banned their slaughter for meat.

“People from neighbouring villages and districts come to participate in this festival and enjoy it,” local headmaster Shambu Lingappa told AFP on November 17.

The day begins with the collection of “ammunition” from cow-owning homes in the village, which lies on the border of the southern states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

The manure is brought to the local temple on tractors pulled by cattle adorned with marigold flowers, before a priest performs a blessing ritual.

After that, the dung is dumped in an open area – with men and boys wading in to prepare their weapons for the battle ahead.

“By lifting cow dung with your hands, it cures a lot of diseases . . . and there is a strong belief that participants will never get sick,” said school teacher Mahendra.