Hype on the streets, scurry of people, kites and pings, the festival of Dashain is here
With the sudden rush of busy-ness and hype on the streets and bazaars, the scurry of people from one place to another, the colourful kites flying in the blue sky, the grand bamboo swings put up on the streets of the city, children and their endless smiling, and the crisp, cool weather – today is the start of the fifteen-day long festival of Dashain. Dashain or Bijaya Dashami is one of the most significant and auspicious festivals delving deep into Nepal, celebrated predominantly by the Hindu sect, today all ethnicities participate in the revelry.
Dashain lasts up to two weeks and commemorates Goddess Durga’s defeat of the demon Mahishasura. The ancient Hindu myth tells the tale of the demonic Mahishasura who perpetuated fear and horror in the land of the Gods called Devaloka. Throughout the festival is when Goddess Durga fights with all her might to defeat the devil and finally on the tenth day she defeats him, representing the victory of good over evil. Along with this, Dashain is also a celebration of good harvests for the upcoming year and family reunions where everyone travels home from faraway places. The most significant days during this festival are the first, Ghatasthapana; the seventh, Phulpati; the eighth Maha Ashtami; the ninth, Maha Navami; the tenth,Bijaya Dashami; and the fifteenth day, Kojagrat Purnima.
On day one, a pot known as kalash is filled with water, cow dung and barley seeds, to represent Goddess Durga. Kept in a shady spot, and watered daily, jamara, the thin, fluorescent green holy grasses used for the rituals start to grow.
On day seven, the Phulpati ceremony takes place. On Phulpati, Brahmins from Gorkha bring the holy jamara, fresh sugar cane and banana stalks tied together with a crimson red cloth to Kathmandu. The King of Nepal used to observe the ceremony, which takes place in Tundikhel, the parade ground in the centre of Kathmandu city. Now the President of Nepal presides over the ceremony.
On the eighth day, known as Maha Ashtami or the Black Night, goats and buffaloes are sacrificed for Kali, a manifestation of Goddess Durga throughout the night. After the slaughter, the meat is taken home to be consumed as prasad, food considered to be blessings that will bring luck.
Day nine, known as Maha Navami is when the Nepali military holds sacrificial rituals of buffaloes, accompanied by fired salutes at Hanuman Dhoka. Also a day to honour Vishvakarman, the God of Creation, it is believed that all things that allow us to live a continued, comfortable life should be worshipped. Therefore, commoners also sacrifice their livestock to worship their vehicles such as cars, bikes and motorcycles for good luck.
Day 10 starts early, Bijaya Dashami brings families together. All gathered to give/receive tika, a combination of yoghurt, red powder and rice, is placed on the forehead by elders. The merrymaking does not stop there, along with blessings, money is also gifted to the young ones. During tika, in some ethnic groups such as the Newars, the colourful, small drum known as damaru is played. Afterwards, a delicious, full feast is served for everyone to enjoy, a hand or two in a card game (taas) is enjoyed. Throughout the holidays, people travel far and wide visiting relatives to receive tika.
The festival ends on the fifteenth day, known as Kojagrat Purnima. On a dark, full moon night, it is believed that Goddess Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth will descend and bless worshippers with luck and wealth. Families stay up all night gambling, since they are soon to be blessed with good fortune.
Although the ritualistic aspect of Dashain is major, we can’t forget the Dashain spirit. Weeks before the festival even begins, the pure essence and cheer of Dashain creeps up and fills the air. It starts off with the rainy, monsoon weather dying down, and people standing on rooftops flying their kites amid the clear, blue skies. The aroma of inviting Nepali foods and sweets lure passers-by. The piercing laughter and enjoyment of children swinging on the massive bamboo swings bring nostalgic childhood memories back. Traffic on the street becomes remarkably lighter but the rush of eager shoppers crowd the malls decorated with flamboyant ‘50% off’ sale signs. Families await merrily and look forward to their sons and daughters and nieces and nephews coming back home after months or even years of being away. Youngers and elders gather with their friends to play intense games of marriage and the board game, langur bruja (crown and anchor). Dashain is a rich time of not only culture and rituals but reunion and just simple content.