Dashain or Vijaya Dashami is the longest, most popular, and most auspicious Hindu festival in Nepal. It is a celebration of the victory of beneficent gods over evil demons. The fifteen day long holiday usually falls around the end of September and the start of October. The Dashain festival involves many prayer rituals called pujas, offerings of fruits and delicacies, animal sacrifices, blessings of family members, and all sorts of other special activities.
|Goddess Durga fighting the demon Mahishasura, Guler School, early18th century|
In the first nine days of Dashain, the goddess Durga is worshipped in her many manifestations during what is called Navaratri. This celebration commemorates the fierce battle between the goddess Durga and the demon Mahisasur. It is believed all the gods of the Hindu pantheon were nearly powerless compared to the strength of the army of demons lead by Mahisasur. The gods all contributed a portion of their divine powers to form the new and ultra powerful goddess Durga. Each day of the Navaratri has a special significance.
|Sacred barley sprouts called jamara|
The first day of the festival is called Ghatasthapana. Ghata or kalash means 'holy vessel' and sthapana means 'to establish.' A ghata made of metal or clay symbolizes the goddess Durga and is purified with cow dung, decorated with flowers, and placed in a special sacred room called the puja or Dashain ghar for worship. The ghata is placed in the center of a rectangular sandy area in the room. Pure and blessed barley seeds are sown about the ghata. The ghata is treated as if it were the goddess Durga herself and is worshipped throughout the festival. An oil lamp, called a diyo is kept flickering next to the ghata at all times until the final day of the festival. The ghata is propitiated every morning and evening in rituals led either by priests or by the home owner. The ghata and the seeded sand are sprinkled with water daily and protected from the sun. By the tenth day, the seed grows into five to six inch tall yellow sprouts called jamara. The pale yellow jamara is believed to confer all the blessings of the goddess.
Flying kites is an important part of celebrating Dashain in Nepal as it is considered a way of asking the gods not to send anymore rain after the Monsoon. People of all ages fly kites from their roofs in Nepal during the festival. Many people often pass the time by playing cards for money and fun too.
|A very tall Nepali swing called a ping constructed from bamboo|
Giant bamboo swings called ping are constructed by community members for persons of all ages to enjoy. These swings are quite tall often reaching over twenty feet high. Buying and wearing new clothes is part of the festival too so there are lots of sales and discounts in shops.
|Buffalo being sacrificed by Nepali army members with a traditional khukri knife.|
The eighth day of Dashain is called the Mahaastham and is the day for animal sacrifices in homes all over the country. The night is called the Kal Ratri when hundreds of sheep, chickens, ducks, buffaloes, and goats are sacrificed in the temples of the goddess, the palaces, and army barracks all over Nepal. The ninth day is called Maha Navami is the last day of the Navaratri and is the biggest day of animal sacrifices. Buffaloes are favored for sacrifice as it is believed that the demon Mahisasur took the form of a buffalo on the final day of his battle against the goddess. All sacrificed animals are eaten as prasad or food blessed by divine powers. On Maha Navami, the god of creation called Vishvakarman is also worshipped. All factories, vehicles, machinery, instruments, equipment, tools, and even weapons are blessed by offerings of animal blood. This blessing protects of all machinery, tools, or weapons from damage and calamity throughout the year. It is believed that any vehicle denied of this offering will meet with certain destruction.
|Elders applying tika and jamara|
The tenth day of the festival is called Dashami and all the pujas cease. On Dashami all the worshippers in towns and villages across Nepal participate in processions of idols of gods and goddesses rejoicing in the victory of Durga over Mahisasur. Blessings are given by elders in by applying tika to the forehead and adorning with the blessed barley sprouts called jamara. Tika is specially prepared by mixing unbroken grains of rice, yoghurt and red powder. Relatives from afar visit over the last four days of the festival to receive tika and blessings from elders. Nepalis used to wait in line outside the royal palace to receive blessings and tika from the king of Nepal himself. Now I understand the president of Nepal offers tika and blessing in his place.
|Some lovely Nepali ladies sporting tika, jamara, and traditional attire.|
The last day of the festival falls on a full moon and is is called Kojagrata. The meaning of Kojagrata is 'whom is awake'. On this day Laxmi the goddess of wealth is worshiped. It believed that Laxmi descends upon earth this night and showers whomever stays awake all night with wealth and prosperity. Nepalis enjoy staying up all night singing, dancing, as well as playing cards and various games.
Unfortunately Dashain falls during peak tourist season and used to be a fourteen day bank and government holiday too. When I first moved here all government offices and banks would be closed for a full fourteen days minimum during Dashain. This posed problems for tourists as well as local business owners as you can imagine. Visa issues were impossible to address as all government offices were closed and any bank transactions were impossible. Not really an ideal financial situation in one of the poorest nations in the world in peak tourist season. Within the last few years the legal holiday has been shortened to a ten days for government offices and some banks will open for half days during the festival. All hotels, hospitals, and other services that remain open for business usually only have a skeleton staff as most Nepalis go to visit their families for the holiday.
Right now it's raining AGAIN so I'm going to go fly a kite!