Dashain Festivals in Nepal
During the month of Kartik (late September and early October), the Nepalese people indulge in the biggest festival of the year, Dashain. Dashain is the longest and the most auspicious festival in the Nepalese annual calendar, celebrated by Nepalese of all caste and creed throughout the country. The fifteen days of celebration occurs during the bright lunar fortnight ending on the day of the full moon. Thorough out the kingdom of Nepal the goddess Durga in all her manifestations are worshiped with innumerable pujas, abundant offerings and thousands of animal sacrifices for the ritual holy bathing, thus drenching the goddess for days in blood.
Dashain commemorates a great victory of the gods over the wicked demons. One of the victory stories told is the Ramayan, where the lord Ram after a big struggle slaughtered Ravana, the fiendish king of demons. It is said that lord Ram was successful in the battle only when goddess Durga was evoked. The main celebration glorifies the triumph of good over evil and is symbolized by goddess Durga slaying the terrible demon Mahisasur, who terrorised the earth in the guise of a brutal water buffalo. The first nine days signify the nine days of ferrous battle between goddess Durga and the demon Mahisasur. The tenth day is the day when Mahisasur was slain and the last five days symbolise the celebration of the victory with the blessing of the goddess. Dashain is celebrated with great rejoice, and goddess Durga is worshiped throughout the kingdom as the divine mother goddess.
In preparation for Dashain every home is cleansed and beautifully decorated, painted as an invitation to the mother goddess, so that she may visit and bless the house with good fortune. During this time the reunion of distant and nearby relatives occur in every household. The market is filled with shoppers seeking new clothing, gifts, luxuries and enormous supplies of temple offering for the gods, as well as foodstuffs for the family feasting. Thousands of sheep, goats, ducks, chicken and water buffalo are prepared for the great slaughter. All types of organisations are closed for ten to fifteen days. Labourers are almost impossible to find; from the poor to the rich, all enjoy the festive mood. Anywhere you go the aroma of 'Vijaya Dashami' is found.
The first nine days of Dashain are called Nawa Ratri when tantric rites are conducted. In Nepal the life force is embodied in the divine energy and power of the female, depicted as goddess Durga in her many forms. All goddess who emanated from goddess Durga are known as devis, each with different aspects and powers. In most mother goddess temples the deity is represented simply as a sacred Kalash, carved water jug or multiple handed goddess holding murderous weapons. During these nine days people pay their homage to the goddess. If she is properly worshiped and pleased good fortunes are on the way and if angered through neglect then misfortunes are around the corner. Mother goddess is the source of life and everything.
The first day of Dashain is called Ghatasthapana, which literally means pot establishing. On this day the kalash, (holy water vessel) symbolising goddess Durga often with her image embossed on the side is placed in the prayer room. The kalash is filled with holy water and covered with cowdung on to which seeds are sown. A small rectangular sand block is made and the kalash is put in the centre. The surrounding bed of sand is also seeded with grains. The ghatasthapana ritual is performed at a certain auspicious moment determined by the astrologers. At that particular moment the priest intones a welcome, requesting goddess Durga to bless the vessel with her presence.
The room where the kalash is established is called 'Dashain Ghar'. Generally women are not allowed to enter the room where Dashain puja is being carried out. A priest or a household man worships the kalash everyday once in the morning and then in the evening. The kalash and the sand are sprinkled with holy water everyday and it is shielded from direct sunlight. By the tenth day, the seed will have grown to five or six inches long yellow grass. The sacred yellow grass is called 'Jamara'. It is bestowed by the elders atop the heads of those younger to them during the last five days when tika is put on. The jamara is taken as a token of Goddess Durga as well as the elders blessing.
As days passes by regular rituals are observed till the seventh day. The seventh day is called 'Fulpati'.
In fulpati, the royal kalash filled with holy water, banana stalks, jamara and sugar cane tied with red cloth is carried by Brahmans on a decorated palanquin under a gold tipped and embroidered umbrella. The government officials also join the fulpati parade. With this the Dashain feasting starts.
The eighth day is called the Maha Asthami: The fervour of worship and sacrifice to Durga and Kali increases. On this day many orthodox Hindus will be fasting. Sacrifices are held in almost every house through out the day. The night of the eighth day is called 'Kal Ratri', the dark night. Hundreds of goats, sheep and buffaloes are sacrificed at the mother goddess temples. The sacrifice continues till dawn. While the puja is being carried out great feasts are held in the homes of common people where large amount of meat are consumed.
The ninth day is called Nawami: Temples of mother goddess are filled with people from dawn till dusk. Animals mostly black buffaloes are slaughtered to honour Durga the goddess of victory and might and to seek her blessing. Military bands play war tunes, guns boom and officers with beautifully decorated medals in full uniform stand there. When the function ends the courtyard is filled ankle deep with blood. On this very day the god Vishwa Karma, the God of creativity is also worshiped. All factories, vehicles, any machinery instruments and anything from which we make a living are worshiped. We also give sacrifices to all moving machinery like cars, aeroplanes, trucks etc. to get the blessing from goddess Durga for protection for vehicles and their occupants against accidents during the year. The entire day is colourful.
The tenth day is the Dashami: On this day we take tika and jamara from our elders and receive their blessing. We visit our elders in their home and get tika from them while our younger ones come to our home to receive blessing from us. The importance of Dasain also lies in the fact that on this day family members from far off and distant relatives come for a visit as well as to receive tika from the head of the family. This function continues for four days. After four days of rushing around and meeting your relatives Dashain ends on the full moon day, the fifteenth day. In the last day people stay at home and rest. The full moon day is also called 'Kojagrata' meaning 'who is awake'. The Hindu goddess of wealth Laxmi is worshipped. On this day the goddess Laxmi is given an invitation to visit each and everyone.
After Dashain everyone settles back to normal. After receiving the blessing of goddess Durga, people are ready to work and acquire virtue, power and wealth. Dashain thus is not only the longest festival but also the most anticipated one among all the festivals of Nepal.
~ Article by Avigya Karki
Dashain (Nepali: दशैँDaśãi, or Baḍādaśãiबडादशैँ), also Bijayā Daśamī (Nepali: विजय दशमी), or Mwohni (Nepali: मोह्नी), or Durga Puja (Maithili : दुर्गा पुजा) is a fifteen-day-long national festival of Nepal, the ethnic Nepali people of Indian hill states of Sikkim, Assam and Darjeeling district and among the Lhotshampa of Bhutan and the Burmese Gurkhas of Myanmar.
It is the longest and the most auspicious festival in the Bikram Sambat annual calendar, celebrated by Nepalese people, along with their diaspora throughout the globe. It is the longest and most anticipated festival in Nepal, Bhutan, Burma and North Indian hills. People return from all parts of the world, as well as different parts of the country, to celebrate together. All government offices, educational institutions and other offices remain closed during the festival period.The festival falls in September or October, starting from the shukla paksha (bright lunar fortnight) of the month of Ashvin and ending on purnima, the full moon. Among the fifteen days on which it is celebrated, the most important days are the first, seventh, eighth, ninth and the tenth.
Among the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, Dashain is celebrated as the most important festival of the calendar year. Among the Hindus and Buddhist Newars, it is celebrated with slight differences and interpretations, where each nine days Navaratri (Nepal Bhasa: नवरात्री) leading up to the 10th day called 'Dashami' carry special importance. The goddess Durga and her various manifestations are especially worshiped by Hindu Newars throughout the Shaktipeeths of Kathmandu Valley. Among Newars, Mwohni is also important for its emphasis on family gatherings as well as on a renewal of community ties, highlighted by special family dinners called Nakhtyā (Nepal Bhasa: नख्त्या) and various community processions of deities called Jātrā (Nepal Bhasa: जात्रा) throughout the three royal cities of Kathmandu Valley.
Dashain symbolizes the victory of good over evil.
For followers of Shaktism, it represents the victory of the goddess Parvati. In Hindu mythology, the demon Mahishasura had created terror in the devaloka (the world where gods live ) but Durga killed the rakcchesh(demon). The first nine days of Dashain symbolize the battle which took place between the different manifestations of Durga and Mahishasura. The tenth day is the day when Durga finally defeated him. For other Hindus, this festival symbolizes the victory of Ram over Ravan as recounted in the Ramayana.
Day 1: Ghatasthapana dashain
Ghaṭasthāpanā (घटस्थापना "sowing Jamara") marks the beginning of Dashain. Literally, it means placing a kalasha or a pot, which symbolizes Durga. Ghaṭasthāpanā falls on the first day of the festival. On this day the Kalash is filled with holy water which is then covered with cow dung and sewn with barley seeds. Then the Kalash is put in the center of a rectangular sand block. The remaining bed of sand is also seeded with grains. The priest then starts the puja by asking Durga to bless the vessel with her presence. This ritual is performed at a certain auspicious time which is determined by the astrologers. The goddess is believed to reside in the vessel during navratri.
The room where all this is done is known as the Dasain Ghar. Traditionally, outsiders and women are not allowed to enter it. A male family member worships the Kalash twice every day, once in the morning and then in the evening. But the coming of time has brought about women empowerment and the woman now is equally responsible for doing these rituals. The Kalash is kept away from direct sunlight and holy water is offered to it every day, so that by the tenth day of the festival the seed will have grown to five or six inches long yellow grass. This sacred grass is known as jamara. These rituals continue until the seventh day.
Day 7: Phulpati
Phulpati is a major celebration occurring on the seventh day of Dashain.
Traditionally, on this day, the royal Kalash, banana stalks, Jamara and sugar cane tied with red cloth is brought by Brahmins from Gorkha, a three-day walk, about 169 kilometres (105 mi) away from the Kathmandu Valley. Hundreds of government officials gather together in the Tundikhel grounds in conventional formal dress to witness the event. The king used to observe the ceremony in Tundikhel while the Phulpati parade was headed towards the Hanuman Dhoka royal palace.Then there is a majestic display of the Nepalese Army along with a celebratory firing of weapons that continues for ten to fifteen minutes honoring Phulpati. The Phulpati is taken to the Hanuman Dhoka Royal Palace by the time the occasion ends in Tundikhel, where a parade is held.
Since 2008, when the royal family was overthrown, the two-century old tradition is changed so that the holy offering of Phulpati goes to the residence of the president. The President has taken over the king's social and religious roles after the fall of the royal government.
Day 8: 'Maha Asthami'i
An eighth day is called the 'Maha Asthami'. This is the day when the most fierce of Goddess Durga’s manifestations, the bloodthirsty Kali, is appeased through the sacrifice of buffaloes, goats, hens and ducks in temples throughout the nation. Blood, symbolic for its fertility, is offered to the Goddesses. Appropriately enough, the night of this day is called Kal Ratri (Black Night). It is also the norm for buffaloes to be sacrificed in the courtyards of all the land revenue offices in the country on this day. The old palace in Basantapur Hanuman Dhoka is active throughout the night with worships and sacrifices in almost every courtyard. On the midnight of the very day the Dasain Ghar, a total of 54 buffaloes and 54 goats are sacrificed in observance of the rites. After the offering of the blood, the meat is taken home and cooked as "prasad", or food blessed by divinity. This food is offered in tiny leaf plates to the household Gods, then distributed amongst the family. Eating this food is thought to be auspicious. While the puja is being carried out, great feasts are held in the homes of common people. On this day Newar community has an event called "Khadga Puja" where they do puja of their weapons.
Day 9: Maha Navami
The ninth day of dashain is called Mahanavami, "the great ninth day". This is the last day of Navaratri. Ceremonies and rituals reach the peak on this day. On this day, official military ritual sacrifices are held in one of the Hanuman Dhoka royal palaces, the Kot courtyard. On this occasion, the state offers the sacrifices of buffaloes under the gunfire salutes. This day is also known as the demon-hunting day because members of the defeated demon army try to save themselves by hiding in the bodies of animals and fowls.
On Mahanavami, Vishvakarman, the god of creation, is worshiped as it believed that all the things which help us in making a living should be kept happy. Artisans, craftsmen, traders, and mechanics worship and offer animal and fowl blood to their tools, equipment, and vehicles. Moreover, since it is believed that worshipping the vehicles on this day avoids accidents for the year all the vehicles from bikes, cars to trucks are worshiped on this day.
The Taleju Temple gates are opened to the general public on only this day of the year. Thousands of devotees go and pay respect to the goddess this day. The temple is filled with devotees all day long.
=Day 10: Bijaya Dashami or Vijaya Dashami=Hi
The tenth day of the festival is the 'Dashami'. On this day, a mixture of rice, yogurt and vermilion is prepared by the women. This preparation is known as "tika". Often dashain tika time is different every year. Elders put this tika and jamara which is sown in the Ghatasthapana on the forehead of younger relatives to bless them with abundance in the upcoming years. The red also symbolizes the blood that ties the family together. Elders give "Dakshina", or a small amount of money, to younger relatives at this time along with the blessings. This continues to be observed for five days till the full moon during which period families and relatives visit each other to exchange gifts and greetings. This ritual of taking tika from all the elder relatives (even the distant relatives) helps in the renewal of the community ties greatly. This is one reason why the festival is celebrated with so much vigor and enthusiasm.
Before the collapse of the monarchy system in Nepal, thousands of people ranging from the ministers, diplomats and general public used to gather in the old royal palace to take the tika and blessing from the king who is considered to be the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. However, after the collapse of the monarchy system the president of the country who is considered the head of the state has been continuing the trend by offering the tika to the general public and ministers.
Day 15: Kojagrata Purnima
The last day of the festival which lies on the full moon day is called 'Kojagrata' Purnima. The literal meaning of Kojagrata is 'who is awake'. On this day Goddess Laxmi who is believed to be the goddess of wealth is worshiped as it believed that Goddess Laxmi descends on earth and showers whoever is awake all night with wealth and prosperity. People enjoy the night by playing cards and much more.
Animal sacrifices are often the norms during this time, as the festival commemorates the mythical bloody battles between the "divine" and "demonic" powers. The proponents of animal sacrifice interpret that this sacrificial act as the symbolic sacrifice of our animal qualities, but those who are opposed to animal sacrifice stress that the sacrificial act is nothing but an excuse to fulfill the appetite for food/meat.
Forms of celebration
As Dashain approaches, kite flying becomes more and more common. Riding kites has been a very important part of celebrating Dasain in the country, as it is considered to be one way of reminding God not to send rain anymore. During the festival people of all ages fly kites from their roofs. Colorful kites and voices shouting out 'changa cheit' (this phrase is usually used when one cuts the other person's kite string) fill the days during the festival.
Playing cards is another way of celebrating Dasain. While children be busy flying kites during Dasain, the older members of the family pass their time by getting together and playing cards with each other for money and fun.
Buying and wearing new clothes is an important part of the festival. As many people living in the villages are below the poverty line, for them it is often the case that new clothes come only with Dasain. Almost all the shops have festival offers and discounts. This makes shopping more attractive. Clothes is the item which has the highest sales during the festival.
Bamboo swings are constructed in many parts of the country as a way of celebration. Dashian swings are called 'ping' in Nepali. They present the best of local culture, tradition, community spirit and fun. These swings are constructed by community members with traditional methods which use ropes made from a tough grass, bamboo sticks and wood, etc. The swings are normally constructed a week before Ghatasthapana and dismantled only after the festival of Tihar which comes after Dasain. The height of some swings exceeds twenty feet. People of all ages enjoy in the swings. They are especially famous with children.
Fairs and celebrations are organized during the festival. Usually, small fairs are organized in the villages with Ferris wheels for children and other entertainment for the adults. However, in the city commercial fairs and celebrations are usually organized.
Thousands of animals including buffalo, ducks, and rams are slaughtered in Dasain every year. It has been considered an important ritual since it is believed that the goddesses are appeased by such sacrifices. Almost all the temples, especially the Durga and Kali temples, are offered with thousands of sacrifices. Ashtami and Navami are the days when the sacrifices reach a peak. While thousands of animals are sacrificed to appease the goddesses, people also slaughter animals for feasts. Since many feasts and gatherings are organized throughout the fifteen days of the festival, the demand for meat goes up considerably. To meet the demand, the slaughtering of animals becomes considerably high and necessary.
However, for the past few years, the animal rights activists in the country have been continuously opposing these acts of slaughter. They have been requesting people to stop such inhuman acts and instead have suggested them to offer fruits and vegetables to the goddesses since they believe that it is mentioned nowhere in the Hindu religious books that animal sacrifices appease the gods and goddesses.
The festival of Dashain is often criticized for its animal sacrifice. Many online petitions have been registered on Change.org, calling for a government action against mass slaughter. Driven by the belief that offerings of fresh blood will appease goddess Durga, scores of animals and birds are ritually slaughtered especially in the eighth and ninth day of the festival. Birds and animals that are traditionally eligible for sacrifice include goats, buffaloes, sheep, chickens, and ducks. Some animal activists have called for the use of pumpkins and coconuts, as opposed to birds and animals.
Numerous national luminaries and animal rights activists alike have expressed their concerns over the issue of animal cruelty in the festival. On October 3, 2016, renowned Nepali comedian Hari Bansha Acharya wrote a satirical piece on Nepal Saptahik – entitled "Euta Khasiko Aatmakatha" (Autobiography of a Goat) – in light of "horrendous" exploitation inflicted upon animals during the festival. Moreover, another noted actor and comedian Deepak Raj Giri urged his Facebook followers to go vegetarian or at least refrain from posting "disturbing" images of animal sacrifices on social media.
Dashain has also become controversial in Nepal's current political climate as several indigenous groups (adivasi janajati) argue that festival has been imposed on them by the state. In an effort to resist what they view as the cultural domination by the Hindu elites that dominate the Nepali state, several organizations have organized a boycott of Dashain. So far those campaigns have had limited effect across the country, but they do reveal the political origins and importance of the festival.
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