Sunday, March 20, 2011

Holi - Part 1 (X Rated!)

Ok, this is a serious disclaimer. If you class yourself as any of the following, you may not want to read this post:
  • Vegetarian
  • Animal lover
  • Squemish
This is a serious warning, some of the stuff in this post is not for the faint of have been warned! (you can go straight to the next one - Holi part 2 - Fluffy Bunnies and face painting if you want to)

So, this weekend was the festival of Holi. Holi is the Hindi equivalent of Easter – it is a resurrection story. To be honest though, from what I've seen the reasons for the festival have kind of been lost in what it has turned into (much like Easter and Christmas in much of the UK) – it is the festival of colour.

I was invited by Efren (the other volunteer in Hazaribag) to join him and his colleagues on a day trip on Saturday. I headed to his house around 8am where we were collected in the 4x4 hired for the day. I had no idea where we were going or what the plan was. I was a bit nervous about the whole “colours” bit, so I was wearing clothes I though I could afford to get caked in paint!

The journey was a fairly long one (2hrs) mainly due to a big jam at a bridge. Indian driving is erratic at speed, but just stupid in jams. Rather than letting people through to allow traffic to flow, everyone edges as far forward as they possibly can and then honks their horn to tell the person in front to move! Eventually you inevitably reach a stalemate and then everyone sits there honking horns until some people get out of their vehicles and do a sort of traffic cop impression!

Anyway, we eventually pulled up in this area with lots of touristy shops and stalls. We got out and wondered down past a load more stalls until we reached one by a river. There we had to take our shoes off and wash our feet and hands in the river. This amused me because in the 5m back to my shoes my feet were now dirtier than they had been in the first place, but hey ho!

At this point, Efren's colleagues bought some baskets of offerings for the temple. We each had to hold one of these baskets, with coconuts, sweets, flower necklaces, etc. in them. Then we set off through the stalls again to the temple.

The temple was at the top of a small flight of steps. We walked through a small gate into a courtyard and heard some commotion off to the left. As I turned I saw a goat being used in what looked like a tug of war between two men. One had hold of it's head. The other had it's front legs pulled back in one hand and it's hind legs in another hand. It was stretched out almost perfectly horizontal, resting on a block of concrete or something. Standing behind the goat was a man with a machete.
***CHOP****!!!! Off went the head, blood everywhere! We had to head on into the temple, but I wanted to see more of this!

The temple was bizarre. We queued for about 15mins, then finally got to go inside. It was about 2m square. There were three or four priests (? - possibly not the right word?) and one of them started chanting for our group and taking various bits and pieces out of our baskets. We threw the flower necklace onto a statue and then gave the priest Rs10 each and then left!

Back in the courtyard I wanted to go see the goats again, but first we had to go to the other side where we had to smash the coconut on a stone and then pour the juice onto a statue. Finally, we went back to the goats. Unfortunately all of the sacrifices were done for the day, so no pics :-( The goat body was still lying around though, and there was a woman just walking around with the head of the goat in her hand, like it was a loaf of bread and she was in Tesco!

Then, something I really wasn't expecting happened – one of Efren's colleagues bought one of the goat's heads! Next thing I know, we're walking out of the temple and following goat-man down to the river. There are rocks and platforms everywhere and he makes his way into the middle of the river. Then he takes out a razor and starts shaving the goat!

After watching this for a couple of minutes, I decided to look around. That's when I noticed that there were lots of people cutting up goats in this river. Some were emptying stomachs of all the grass in them, cleaning intestines, slicing up meat, hacking up legs. It was quite a scene!

I spent a bit of time taking pics, then trying to take some of the hawks (?) circling above. Unfortunately, it was pretty windy, which meant they were not exactly staying still. Managed to get a couple of good ones though.

Back to our man. He's chopped up the head pretty good now. They bag it all up and off we go, back to where we washed our feet originally. Here they give the meat to the owner of this stall, who is going to cook it for our lunch! He has some open fires and they discuss which spices etc. we're going to have.

In the meantime, we visit a couple of the other temples in the area. They aren't anything special to be honest. In fact, none of the temples are. The only thing special about the place that I can tell is the goats! Luckily (maybe) at one of the temples, we happen upon another goat sacrifice, so I actually manage to get some photos. Just missed the actual moment of cutting though – sorry all you gore fans!

Eventually we head back to have our lunch. Mutton curry. It was pretty good actually. Interestingly, they leave the skin on (hence the shaving earlier), which is pretty chewy. Not sure I'd go out of my way to have it again, but it was ok.

To see all the other pics - check out the Flickr stream

After lunch it was back into the car and off we went. You can read about the rest of the day in “Holi – Part 2 (The Fluffy Bunnies and Face Painting version)”

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