| Festivals of Nepal: Dashain |

Dashain, also called Bijaya Dashami, is an important festival on the Nepalese calendar. During the month of late September/ early October, the people of Nepal get ready to enjoy Dashain, one of the biggest and major festival of the country. This is also the longest festival which most of the Nepalese, regardless of their social caste observed with joyfulness. 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. Homes and courtyards are cleaned, painted and decorated to observe the festival. Family members, who are away, returns to their home and are reunited with their family. The markets are alive and crowded everywhere.

The major part of the festival lasts for 15-days and every day is full of color, festivity and religious rites. The festival, however, starts on a lunar fortnight which ends on the day of the full moon. Among the fifteen days on which it is celebrated, the most important days are the first, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth and the fifteenth. First 9 days, people pay their homage to the deity (mostly mother goddesses) by visiting the temples around the country. Each day follows a pattern set hundreds of years ago and is different from the next. The 10th day is the peak of the festival and most important day. This is also the day of social harmony- on this day the festivities settle a bit and the focus turns towards family. Younger ones visit their Elders and receive the “Tika” (the blessings) from the senior family member. Upto Purnima, younger people keep visiting elders to receive blessings.

Significance of Dashain

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 lives) but Durga killed the rakshas (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.

Important Days

Day 1: Ghatasthapana

Ghaṭasthapana marks the beginning of Dashain. Literally, it means placing a kalasha or a pot, which symbolizes goddess Durga. Ghaṭasthapana falls on the first day of the festival. On this day the Kalash is filled with holy water and is then 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 are not allowed to enter it. A family member worships the Kalash twice every day, once in the morning and then in the evening. 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 ninth 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

The eighth day is called as ‘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: Mahanavami

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

The tenth day of the festival is the ‘Bijayadashmi’. On this day, a mixture of rice, yogurt and vermilion is prepared. 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.

Day 15: Kojagrat Purnima

The last day of the festival which lies on the full moon day is called ‘Kojagrat’ Purnima. The literal meaning of Kojagrat 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.