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Nepal & Pokhara – Onset of the festive months and winter season when the entire country is in festival mode, and the air is crisp and clear, with the majestic Himalayas visible in its splendour!
The Dashain Festival
The Dashain Festival, also known as Bijaya Dashami, is Nepal’s most grand, extensive, and significant celebration.
This festive occasion spans 15 days and occurs during the Nepali month of Ashwin, typically between September and October, according to the Solar Calendar. Dashain is akin to the Chinese Spring Festival in terms of its nationwide observance, commemorating the triumph of the Goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura. Apart from venerating Goddess Durga, Dashain is a time when the Nepali people celebrate the fertility of the land and anticipate a prosperous harvest year. Moreover, Dashain greatly emphasizes the reunion of families, fostering harmony and resolving social conflicts. All government agencies, educational institutions, and other public sectors remain closed throughout this festive period.
Due to the unavailability of the Nepali lunar calendar for the subsequent year, it becomes challenging to determine the precise date of Dashain. However, traditionally, Dashain is observed between September and October.
The festival of Dashain holds excellent significance in Nepal as it symbolizes the triumph of justice over evil. Legend has it that long ago, the powerful Goddess Durga, adorned in a vibrant red attire and manifesting in ten different forms, mounted a tiger and armed herself with magical weapons to confront the demon Mahishasura. The fierce battle between Goddess Durga and the devil raged for nine days and nights until she finally defeated the evil force, saving the entire country. In honour of the brave Durga, the king of Nepal bestowed upon her the title of “the sacred protector.” Since then, offering sacrifices to the Goddess has become a cherished and widely observed ritual during this festive occasion.
The Nepalese people celebrate the Dashain Festival with zeal and enthusiasm, spanning fifteen days. Among these days, the most significant dates are the first day, seventh day, eighth day, ninth day, and tenth day of the festival.
Ghatasthapana, sowing holy Jamara
On the first day of the Dashain Festival, known as Ghatasthapana, the sacred ritual of sowing Jamara takes place. Symbolizing the presence of the Goddess Durga, a kalash is used. The Kalash is filled with holy water, along with a mixture of barley seeds and cow dung, and then entrusted to the priest for invoking the blessings of the Goddess Durga. Following the ceremony, the Kalash is positioned in a designated room, traditionally off-limits to outsiders and women. Men traditionally conduct worship to the Kalash twice a day, both in the morning and at night.
However, as society has progressed, women now also have the privilege to partake in worship. The Kalash is diligently protected from direct sunlight and carefully watered each day, allowing the seeds to germinate. After several days, the Kalash becomes adorned with vibrant yellow grass, typically five or six inches long. This sacred grass is called Jamara, and these rituals continue until the seventh day of the festival.
Celebration of Fulpati
The seventh day of the Dashain Festival is marked by the splendid celebration of Fulpati, which revolves around the presentation of sacred flowers. On this day, Brahmins undertake a remarkable journey from Gorkha to Kathmandu, carrying a royal Kalash, holy Kamara, banana stalks, and sugar cane, all adorned with vibrant red cloth. Covering a distance of approximately 169 kilometres, this arduous trek takes them three days to complete. Dressed in traditional attire, numerous government officials gather to witness the majestic Fulpati parade, which used to include the king’s presence before the royal family was overthrown in 2008.
In the present era, the president of Nepal presides over the ceremony. The procession makes its way towards the Hanuman Dhoka royal palace, adding a sense of grandeur to the occasion.
Maha Asthami, slaughtering the livestock
On the eighth day of the Dashain Festival, a significant event known as Maha Asthami occurs, characterized by the sacrificial slaughtering of livestock. This day is dedicated to Kali, the awe-inspiring manifestation of the Goddess Durga. Temples across Nepal witness the sacrifice of numerous animals as an offering to appease the Goddess. This night is often referred to as the “Black Night.” As midnight approaches, a solemn ritual unfolds in the courtyards near Durbar Square, where the heads of eight buffaloes and 108 goats are ceremoniously severed. Once dedicated to the Goddess, the meat becomes “Prasad” and is brought back home. Consuming this sacred offering is believed to bestow good fortune upon those who partake.
Maha Navami, visiting Taleju Temple
The ninth day of the Dashain Festival is known as Maha Navami, reaching the pinnacle of celebrations and ceremonies. It is a day filled with significant rituals and fervour. The Nepalese army partakes in an official worship ceremony, where buffaloes are sacrificed as an offering. Through these sacrifices, they seek the blessings of Goddess Durga for unwavering courage and strength.
Vijaya Dashami, receiving Tika from the elder relatives
Vijaya Dashami, also known as Dashain, presents a beautiful opportunity for families to come together and reunite. During this auspicious day, relatives and friends engage in the tradition of exchanging greeting cards and gifts as tokens of affection. Parents lovingly apply a unique mixture of red powder, yoghurt, and rice, known as Tika, on their children’s foreheads. At the same time, younger family members visit their elders to receive Tika and seek their blessings. Additionally, the Kathmandu Valley becomes alive with vibrant parades and captivating masked dances, offering a splendid spectacle for observers to enjoy when this festive occasion arrives.
Kojagrata Purnima, worshipping the Goddess of wealth and luck
Kojagrata Purnima, the full moon day, marks the culmination of the Dashain Festival. Kojagrata translates to “who is awake.” It is believed that on this auspicious day, Laxmi, the revered Goddess of wealth and fortune, descends to Earth and blesses those awake throughout the night. Consequently, it has become a widespread practice among Nepalese people to engage in overnight gambling to stay awake and potentially receive the Goddess’s favour.
Celebrations in Dashain Festival
Tourists visiting Nepal can immerse themselves in the country’s rich religious culture and traditional customs by participating in various Dashain celebrations. One popular activity is flying kites during Dashain, where colourful kites fill the skies, creating a vibrant and festive ambience.
Dashain Flying Kites
Kite-flying is significant during the Dashain Festival as it serves as a symbolic gesture to request the gods to withhold rainfall.
Playing cards in Dashain
Card-playing during the Dashain Festival brings families together in a joyful atmosphere, where laughter, jokes, and friendly competition abound. It is a cherished tradition that strengthens familial bonds and creates lasting memories.
Purchasing and buying new clothes
During the Dashain Festival, shopping for new clothes is vital. Many rural residents wait for this time to make purchases. Stores across the country offer attractive discounts, adding to the appeal of shopping.
Playing on the Swings and Ferris Wheels
During Nepal’s biggest festival, Dashain, festivities include organising Ferris wheels and traditional swings in small bazaars, entertaining the public.
Traditionally speaking, the Dashain Festival is to Nepalese what Christmas is to Westerners.
Tihar, the second-most important festival in Nepal after Dashain, commemorates the victory of good over evil, much like India’s Diwali. This five-day celebration encompasses various significant rituals:
1. Expressing gratitude to animals for their contribution to the harvest.
2. Worshiping Lord Yama, the god of death, for fair judgment regarding souls.
3. Seeking blessings from Goddess Lakshmi, the embodiment of wealth and prosperity, as she is believed to have been born during Tihar.
4. Honoring Govardhan Mountain, renowned for protecting people from floods, to ensure safety.
In 2023, Tihar falls on November 12th, with celebrations lasting five days from November 10th to 14th.
2023 Tihar will be observed from November 10th to 14th, with the primary festivities occurring on November 12th. This festival takes place on the night of the new moon in the Hindu month of Kartik, considered the darkest night of the year. To dispel the darkness, Nepal is adorned with strings of lights, candles, and clay lanterns known as “days.” Homes, markets, and temples are transformed into radiant displays, earning Tihar the moniker of the “festival of lights.”
5-Day Celebration of Tihar 2023
Kaag Tihar – Worship of Crows (November 10th, 2023)
On this day, crows, believed to be messengers of death, are worshipped and thanked. People offer sweets and grains on rooftops or on the ground as a gesture of gratitude. Feeding the crows is believed to bring protection and ward off misfortune.
Kukur Tihar – Worship of Dogs (November 11th, 2023)
Dogs, considered guardians of heaven’s gates, are honored on this day. People adorn dogs with marigold garlands and apply red tika marks on their foreheads as a symbol of appreciation for their loyalty and friendship. Dogs are treated to a feast and receive special care and attention.
Day 3: Gai Tihar – Worship of Cows and Lakshmi (November 12th, 2023)
Cows, revered as sacred animals, are worshipped and adorned with marigold garlands and blessed with a red tika mark. They are fed with the best grass as a token of gratitude for their significance in Hindu culture. Additionally, Goddess Lakshmi, the deity of wealth, is worshipped on this day, with oil lanterns, candles, and rangoli decorations symbolizing prosperity.
Goru Tihar – Worship of Ox, Mountain, or Oneself (November 13th, 2023)
Depending on cultural backgrounds, people either worship oxen, perform Govardhan puja to honour Govardhan Mountain’s significance or partake in the Newar community’s ritual of self-purification and new beginnings called Maha Puja.
Bhai Tika – Celebration of the Bond between Brothers and Sisters (November 14th, 2023)
The final day of Tihar is dedicated to celebrating the bond between siblings. Sisters perform a ritual to bless their brothers, placing a tika on their foreheads and receiving gifts in return. This day commemorates the love between Lord Yama and his sister Yamuna and signifies protection and well-being.
Throughout the festival, Nepal enjoys a three-day national holiday from November 10th to 12th, with government offices, banks, and schools closed to observe the celebrations.
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