Friday, October 10, 2008
My friends in Nepal have been celebrating Dashain, their biggest holiday and festival. In importance it is on par with our December holiday season and New Year. Interestingly, the colors red (tika) and greem (jamra)are important in celebrating Dashain.
The 15-day festival falls around September-October, after the rice harvest. This festival is known for emphasis on family gatherings, as well as on a renewal of community ties. People will return from all parts of the world, as well as different parts of the country, to celebrate together. It's HOME for the HOLIDAYS, indeed!
On the first day, called Ghatasthapana, a special worship room is set up and used to worship the Astha-Matrikas (tantrik goddesses) as well as the Nava Durgas (the 9 durga goddesses), to whom the festival is consecrated. Married women will say the mantras for the next fifteen days, and guard the goddesses. Barley is sowed on big earthern pots which have a coating of cow dung. These seeds will sprout in ten days. The sprouts, which symbolize a good harvest, will be decoratively placed on the heads of family members later on in the festival as a blessing.
And here's the part that is VERY challenging to me...
The eighth day, Asthami, is the day of sacrifices. Goddess temples all over the Kathmandu Valley receive sacrifices, ranging from goats and buffaloes to ducks and chickens. Blood, symbolic for its fertility, is offered to the goddesses. This 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. (Auspicious is a BIG word in Nepali culture.)
Sacrifices continue on Navami, the ninth day. Families will visit various temples around the Kathmandu Valley. On the tenth day, "Dashami," a mixture of rice, yogurt and vermillion will be prepared by the women. This preparation is known as "tika". Elders put this on the forehead of younger relatives to bless them with fertility and abundance in the upcoming year. The red also symbolizes the blood that ties the family together. Elders will give "dakshina", or a small amount of money, to younger relatives at this time. The tika continues for five days, during which time people also gather to play cards around massive amounts of food and drink.
In several parts of Nepal, Dashain is the only time of the year when people receive a set of new clothing. Likewise, in poorer families, the animal sacrifice was eagerly anticipated since it might be the only animal protein the family would eat all year. This may be true in certain parts of Nepal where food is in low supply, but is less so in the cities. In general, the tradition of sacrifice is lessening with the easy availability of meat for daily consumption.