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Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)

From The Vegetarian (London), March 28, 1891:

Some Indian Festivals

At this Easter timeI should have liked to write something on the holidays which correspond to the Easter in point of time ; but these holidays with their painful associations not being the greatest Hindu festival may very properly give way to the Divali holidays which are far superior in importance and grandeur to the former.

Divali, which may be termed the Hindu Christmas, occurs at the end of the Hindu year, i.e., during the month of November. It is both a social and a religious holiday. It spreads over nearly a month. The first day of the month of Ashwin (the twelfth month of the Hindu year) heralds the approach of the grand festival when the children let off their first fireworks. The first nine days are called Nava ratri (nine nights). These days are chiefly marked by Garbis. Some twenty or thirty, and even more people form themselves into a large circle, in the centre is placed a huge lamp-post tastefully constructed and illumintated all round, in the centre also sits a man with his tabors reciting some popular verses. The people forming the circle repeat the verses, keeping time to them with claps of hands. While repeating the versesthey move round the lamp-post at the same time bending down in a half bending posture. It is very often a great treat to hear these Garbis.

It may be remarked that girls - much less women - never take part in them. Of course they may have their own garbis where men would be excluded. In some families the custom of half-fasting prevails. It is sufficient if one member only of the family fasts. The fasting manhas onyl one meal a day, and that, too, in the evening. Moreover, he is not allowed any corn or pulse, but is restricted to fruit, milk, and root vegetables such as potatoes, etc.

The tenth day of the month is called, "Dashara," when friends meet and feast one another. It is also customary to make presents of sweets to one's friends, and especially patrons or superiors. Except on the "Dasharia" holiday all the amusements are carried on at night, while the ordinary daily pursuits are are attended to in the daytime. After the "Dashara" everything is comparatively quiet for about a fortnight, except that the ladies are making preparations for the approaching grand day, by cooking and baking sweets, cakes etc., for in India women of the highest class would not mind cooking. In fact, it is an accomplishment which every lady is supposed to possess.

Ths, spending the evenings in feasting and singing, we reach teh thirteenth day of the dark half of the month Ashwin. (In India every month is divided into two parts, the dark half and the bright half, the full-moon day and the new-moon day beingstarting points ; thus, the day following the full-moon day is he first day of the dark half of a month, and so on.) The thirteenth day and the three following days are wholly devoted to amusements and enjoyment. The thirteenth day is called "Dhanterash," i.e., the thirteenth day set apart for the worship of "Laxmi", the goddess of wealth. Rich people collect different kinds of jewels, precious stones, coins, etc. and put them carefully into a box. These they never use for any purpose other thant that of worship. Each year an addition is made to this collection. The worship, i.e., the external worship - for who, save a selct few, is there who does not at heart covet, or in other words worship money? - consists in washing the money with water and milk, and then decorating it with flowersand kum-kum, i.e. red ochre.

The fourteenth day is called "Kali-Chaudush" ; but this day people get up before the break of day, and even the laziest person is required to take a good bath ; the mother even compels her little children to take a bath, though it is the winter season. On the night of "Kali-Chaudush," cemeteries are supposed to be visited by a procession of ghosts. Persons affecting to believe in ghosts would go to these places to see their ghost friends. Timid ones would not stir out of their houses lest they should see a ghost.

[The editor of The Vegetarian then inserted the following]

There was here a break in Mr. Ganhi's MS., and another hand had interpolated the following.

[What followed appears to have been a fictional narrative relating to Kali and Laxmi, and was concluded in the following issue - without Gandhi's name at the end.]

M. K. Gandhi.