Tradition. A simple word that is not always simple to stomach. Take for instance a ritual that has occurred for centuries in the small Indian village of Betul. Located in the state of Madhya Pradesh, in central India, the inhabitants of this town happily toss their children into a large, steaming pile of cow dung.
Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is the largest celebration in Hinduism. In the weeks leading up to the event, villagers in Betul begin collecting cow poop from the roughly 600 cows that reside in the surrounding area. All of this dung is piled up in a location at the center of town. On the day after Diwali, parents take children and dip and roll their offspring in the feces, all the while drums and fireworks roar in the background.
The beliefs behind this activity are multi-faceted. First, cows are among the most sacred animals in Hinduism and anything that brings a person closer to a cow is viewed in a favorable light. Second, Hindu preachers claim that both cow pee and cow poop have curative properties. Third, adherents believe that the ritual honors their ancestors, who also participated in the cow dung dipping, and that this will bestow good luck onto the children as they grow up. The ceremony lasts from sunrise to sunset, with villagers waiting their turn to dunk their children. Youths, ranging from six months to nine-years-old, experience this smelly tradition. Older children are tossed into the pile of feces, while infants are gently laid in the dung.
While this is certainly a strange tradition, doctors note that there may be some truth to the claim that this weird practice has medicinal benefits. By their early exposure to the bacteria-filled dung, children are able to develop resistance to infections which they might otherwise succumb to as they grow up in a polluted environment.