Showing posts with label Dashain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dashain. Show all posts

Oct 3, 2016

Dashain or Vijaya Dashami in Nepal

Dashain or Vijaya Dashami is t
he 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 any more 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, yogurt 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 called Kojagrata. The meaning of Kojagrata is  'who is awake'. On this day Laxmi, the goddess of wealth is worshiped. It believed that Laxmi descends upon earth this night and showers whoever 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 the 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 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!

Sep 19, 2016

Ingredient of the Week- The Mysteries of Mutton

Ingredient of the Week The Mysteries of Mutton life, love, nepal, mutton. lamb, sheep, goat, chyangra, shangri-la, Dashain,
Mutton? Naaaaah!

Mutton specifically means the meat of an adult sheep in Western countries. However, in South Asia mutton refers to meat from a goat or sheep of any age. Although sheep and goat meat are similar in taste they can vastly differ in texture, fat content, and intensity of flavor. The breed, the age, and the way the animal was raised can result in variances of flavor and texture also.

What's the difference between sheep and goats? 
While both hail from the subfamily Caprinae each is a distinct genus and species. Sheep (Ovis aries) have 54 chromosomes, while goats (Capra aegagrus hircus) have 60. The easiest way to tell the difference between a sheep and goat is to look at their tails. Goat's tails are usually up unless sick or distressed. Sheep tails hang down whether docked (shortened) or not. Sheep have a split upper lip, goats do not. Goats have beards, sheep do not. Sheep are grazers preferring short, tender grasses and clovers. Goat are foragers and will eat darned near anything high or low. Most often sheep have wool, whereas goats have hair. However, there are "hair sheep" without wool and goats with long hair that looks like wool. Goats are far more common than sheep in South Asia and are the preferred red meat here in Nepal. There are many different types of goats and sheep across South Asia depending upon elevation and climate. 

A bakra strolling down Bibi's driveway and soon to be our guest of honor for Eid.
The photo you see above is a typical young Nepali goat weighing about 18kgs/40lbs. This type of male goat is called a bakra in Hindi and a bokaa in Nepali. In general bakra meat is the toughest in texture and the most gamey or goaty in flavor of all the meats called mutton in South Asia. The flavor and texture of the meat from this type of goat can vary a bit by season. In the warmer months the local goats are slaughtered and the meat can be rather fatty, rubbery, and gelatinous. In the cooler months goats are brought down from higher elevations, their flesh tends to be leaner, tougher, and quite fibrous. (You definitely need a pressure cooker or 3-4 hours to cook this type of mutton to a tender state.) Most Nepalis will tell you black or brown colored goats are considered to be the tastiest.

Khasi = castrated goat
The first time I saw this at a Nepali wedding I was a bit confused. Khasi is pronounced "khah- she." Khasi is the name of an ethnic group in the eastern Himalayas. Khashi also means pious or devoted in Arabic and Urdu. What khasi or khashi meant in this context is a castrated male goat. The meat from castrated goats is considered a delicacy and purported to be milder in flavor as well as richer in fat content. If you see a goat on a spit like this you know there's a grand event taking place, this is like the Nepali equivalent of a wedding cake. If you look closely you can see the skin of the goat is still intact except for a few knife punctures. Some Nepalis like to eat the crispy skin of the goat with the fatty layer attached. After the goat has been slaughtered Nepalis will pour boiling water on it or use a propane blowtorch to remove the hair from the skin. I'm not certain if other South Asian peoples eat the skin like this. I did not partake of the khasi ko masu as it was not halal so I can't comment on it's flavor. Kashmiris do not eat the skin of a goat or sheep, the pelt is saved intact for use in making leather or fur items.

Chyangra is domesticated mountain goat in Nepal.
This domesticated mountain goat is called a chyangra which is pronounced "tsang-rah." These long haired goats live in the higher elevations of the Himalayas and are raised for fiber as well as meat. If you buy a pashmina from Nepal most likely the fiber was plucked from the underside of a chyangra. Chyangras are only brought down from the mountains in the Fall around the time of festival of Dashain for sacrifice. They are quite delicious! Their meat is dark, lean, rich, and surprisingly tender with a flavor much like good quality venison. I have a theory about the name of the fictional utopia called Shangri-La in James Hilton's famed book Lost Horizon. Others have guessed Shangri-La was a corruption of Shambhala, the name of the mythical Buddhist kingdom mentioned in Kalachakra teachings. Some have linked it to a region in Tibet called Tsang. I think Mr Hilton derived the name from "chyangra-la" which roughly translates to "mountain goat pass." 

Another guest of honor for Eid. Sheep always look so depressed. 
Sheep are called bheda in Nepali and khhut in Kashmiri. Their meat is also called mutton in South Asia or bheda ko masu in Nepal. No matter what their age or size sheep meat is definitely less gamey in flavor and far more tender than goats. This little guy would qualify as lamb in western terms as he's only a year old. I'd never seen sheep at the market before here in Nepal. Kashmiris prefer sheep and think goat's too strong in flavor and a bit second rate. We usually buy a couple of chyangras but they didn't have any at the market yet so we bought this bheda. I think it's due to lack of grazing pasture that the sheep are so small in Nepal.

Kaju sheep being sold for Eid in Kashmir.
These festively decorated rams are called cashew sheep or kaju khhut in Kashmir. In addition to grazing in the lush alpine valleys of Kashmir they have been feasting upon cashews and all sorts of goodies to fatten them up. This is what we usually have for Eid in Kashmir. They are huge (like up to 150kg/330lbs) and quite yummy! Kaju sheep are the most tender, succulent, rich, delicately flavored lamb you've ever eaten. No pressure cooker required for these beauties!

And then comes the messy part. After the animal has been slaughtered or sacrificed the mutton is usually chopped into whatever sized bits you wish with a cleaver on a wooden block. All of the animal is used. Every mutton eating culture in South Asia usually has specific recipes for nearly every part of the sheep or goat. In Nepal even the fried solidified blood is made into a special dish served during the festival of Dashain called rakahti.

Goin' to a party?

On October 8th of this year the Hindu festival of Dashain will start in Nepal. It is the longest, most popular, and most auspicious holiday on the Nepalese calendar. It is called Dussehra in India. Animal sacrifices are required during Dashain as the festival commemorates the bloody battles between divine and demonic powers. Goats are the most common animal chosen for the sacrifice in Nepal. The Nepalese government estimates the Kathmandu valley alone will demand around 60,000 goats during this celebration. Goat farmers in Nepal will only be able to supply about 20,000 goats so the remaining 40,000 goats will be have to be imported from India.

They're doing WHAT in Kathmandu?

That concludes today's discussion of mutton. Our internet provider has informed us that they will be upgrading their system for the next three weeks. This will cause internet service to be intermittently slow or nonexistent during this time. (Personally, I think they're just going on holiday for Dashain.) So, I'll be trying to post at least once or twice a week if possible. Bear with me!

Calmly currying on,
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