As a traveler, nothing provides a much better understanding of the people, places and cultures of a country than the festivals it celebrates. Including various aspects of a country from the Gods we believe in, to our traditions, unique practices and delicacies, festivals are a perfect depiction of our identities. And what better way to learn about Nepal and its diverse yet united people, than the major 15 day long festival celebrated by the entire country that has been celebrated for centuries by Hindus all over the world. However, in Nepal Dashain is one of the major festivals celebrated by all Nepalese regardless of their differences in religion, caste, creed, ethnicity, location, etc. Nepal sets itself apart for the religious harmony and unity it has developed and sustained for centuries so that all castes, creeds and religions as shown in the celebration of Dashain festival. The main attractions of the Dashain festival throughout the nation are the colorful kites all over the sky, the bamboo swings in all open spaces, playing cards and kauda and various fairs and events conducted throughout the country.
Dashain Festival in Nepal is celebrated during the month of Karthik, from the new moon to the full moon day. This 15 day long festival marks the victory of good over evil as Goddess Durga killed the demon Mahishasur in an extreme battle that started and continued till the tenth day when Durga finally killed the evil and freed the world from its terror. The Buddhists celebrate Dashain as the occasion when Ashoka adopted ahimsha (non-violence) and Buddhism.
The first day is Ghatasthapana when a Kalasha is filled with holy water and barley seeds and worshipped as a symbol of a vessel containing lord Durga. A puja is conducted at an auspicious time to bless the vessel. The barley seeds are watered till the 10th day when they grow into long, yellow “Jamara”.
From the very first day, all devotes are in festive mood which can be seen in the decorations of houses, red attires of women, heavy sales promotions in almost all shops and all the temples thronging with devotees to worship the Goddess and get their wishes granted.
There are no special events from the second to the sixth day but all the major shopping destinations and city centers are filled with people buying new clothes, household items and other goods as it is considered lucky to use new items with the blessing of the Gods during the festivities.
The seventh day “Fulpati" is another important day. In previous years, the day had more importance as a royal procession from the old palace in Gorkha with the royal Kalasha (pot), banana stalks, Jamara (grown barley) and sugarcane tied with red cloth used to come to Hanuman Dhoka and Tudhikhel of Kathmandu which were witnessed by many government officials and locals of the area. There used to be programs with canons and army events to honor the tradition of Fulpati. In recent days, the Kalasha is taken to the Prime Minister‘s house instead of Hanuman Dhoka palace.
The eighth day “ Maha Asthami “ is the day when the most demonic manifestation of Goddess Durga, Kali, is worshipped by offering sacrifices of animals like buffaloes, goats, chicken, ducks, etc as she is believed to be blood thirsty. Numerous animal offerings are made in the various temples of the Goddess especially in the courtyards of Hanuman Dhoka palace. As the sacrifices are made till midnight, the night is rightly named “Kaal Ratri”. The offered meat is taken home and cooked and eaten as “Prasad” (food blessed by the Gods) which is believed to bring health and prosperity.
The ninth day is another auspicious day as the Navaratri comes to an end. The worships and other rituals are performed extensively on this day with more sacrifices as a symbolic as demon-hunting. (Myth dictates that all demons in fear of Goddess Durga hid themselves in the bodies of the animals on this very day of the battle). Taleju temple in Kathmandu is opened to the public on this day and is visited by hundreds to get blessings from Goddess Taleju.
Vishwokarma, the god of divine architect, is specially worshiped on this day as he is believed to make all aspects of livelihood easier and possible. To make him happy, all people, mainly artisans, mechanics, craftsmen and businessmen offer sacrifices and conduct big pujas. Various tools, equipments, vehicles and other productive goods are also worshiped to avoid accidents throughout the year and increase productivity.
This is the day when goddess Durga is believed to have finally defeated the demon Mahishasur after 9 days of battle. So, to celebrate the victory people enjoy the entire day with their family members and friends eating delicacies and playing cards. The elders of every household put tike ( a mixture of yogurt, rice and vermillion) on the forehead of the younger members along with Jamara ( full grown barley sown during Ghatasthapana) and Dakshina(money as a symbol of blessings). The tika, Jamara and Dakshina as a tradition is supposed to bring good health and prosperity to every home.
This tradition is carried on till the Full Moon for five days, visiting the houses of the relatives and enjoying the delicacies and playing cards. Visiting even the distant relatives brings a sense of happiness and harmony between the people and is celebrated with enthusiasm. The last day is the Kojagrat Purnima which is also very auspicious as Goddess Laxmi (Goddess of wealth) is believed to visit the houses of people awake till midnight and bless them with wealth and prosperity.
Dashain, the 15 day long festival provides a golden opportunity to anyone trying to live the Nepali life in a very short time span as one gets to see the entire country, (mountains, hills and Terai), come together in the celebration of good over evil, strengthening the idea of unity in diversity that Nepal proudly boasts of.