The goddess Durga
|Observed by||Hindus and Buddhists in Nepal|
|Observances||Prayers, Religious rituals, animal sacrifices|
|Begins||Ashvin shukla prathama|
|2014 date||Sep 25 to Oct 7|
|2015 date||Oct 12 to 26|
It is the longest and the most auspicious festival in the Nepalese annual calendar, celebrated by Nepalese people throughout the globe. It is also celebrated by many Hindus elsewhere. It is the longest and most anticipated festival in Nepal. The festival falls in September or October, starting from the shukla paksha (bright lunar fortnight) of the month of Ashvin and ending on purnima, the full moon. Among the fifteen days on which it is celebrated, the most important days are the first, seventh, eighth, ninth and the tenth.
Throughout the country, the goddess Shakti is worshiped in all her manifestations. Dashain is also known for its emphasis on family gatherings, as well as on a renewal of community ties. 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.
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 live ) but Durga killed the demon. The first nine days of Dashain symbolizes 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 Rama over Ravana as recounted in the Ramayana.
Day 1: Ghatasthapana dashain
Ghaṭasthāpanā (घटस्थापना "sowing Jamara") marks the beginning of Dashain. Literally, it means placing a kalasha or pot, which symbolizes Durga. Ghaṭasthāpanā falls on the first day of the festival. On this day the kalasha is filled with holy water which is then covered with cow dung and sewn with barley seeds. Then the kalasha 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 and women are not allowed to enter it. A male family member worships the kalasha twice every day, once in the morning and then in the evening. But the coming of time has brought about women empowerment and the woman now are equally responsible for doing these familial rituals. The kalasha 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 seventh day.
Day 7: Fulpati
Fulpati is a major celebration occurring on the seventh day of Dashain.
Traditionally, on this day, the royal kailasha, 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 Tudikhel while the fulpati 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 Fulpati. The Fulpati is taken to the Hanuman Dhoka Royal palace by the time the occasion ends in Tudikhel, 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 fulpati goes to the residence of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has taken over the king's social and religious roles after the fall of the royal government.
Day 8: Maha Asthami
An eighth day is called the 'Maha Asthami'. This is the day when the most demonic of Goddess Durga’s manifestations, the blood-thirsty Kali, is appeased through the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of buffaloes, goats, pigeons 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.
The ninth day is called Mahanavami, "the great ninth day". This is the last day of Navarati. 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 is 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 for 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 or Vijaya Dashami
The tenth day of the festival is the 'Dashami'. On this day, a mixture of rice, yogurt and vermilion is prepared by the women. This preparation is known as "Tika". 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 of vigor and enthusiasm.
Before the collapse of the monarchy system in Nepal, thousands of people ranging from the ministers, diplomats and general public used to gather in the old royal palace to take the tika and blessing from the king who is considered to be the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. However after the collapse of the monarchy system the president of the country who is considered the head of the state has been continuing the trend by offering the tika to the general public and ministers.
The last day of the festival which lies on the full moon day is called 'Kojagrata' Purnima. The literal meaning of Kojagrata 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 over the night by playing cards and many 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 compassionate to the sacrificed victims think otherwise stressing that the sacrificial act is nothing but an excuse to fulfill the appetite for food/meat.
Forms of celebration
As Dasain approaches, kite flying becomes more and more common. Flying kites has been a very important part of celebrating Dasain in the country as it is considered to be one way of reminding god not to send rain anymore. Not only the children of the family but during the festival you can see people of all ages in their roofs flying kites. Colorful kites of different shapes and voices shouting out 'Changa cheit' (this phrase is usually used when one is successful in cutting the other person's kite) fill the days during the festival.
Playing cards is another way of celebrating Dasain. While children are busy flying kites during Dasain, the older members of the family pass their time by getting together and playing cards with each other for money and fun all day long.
Buying and wearing new clothes is an important part of the festival. As many people are living in the villages and are below the poverty line and for them it is often the case that new clothes come only with Dasain. Almost all the shops in the country have festival offers and discounts. This makes shopping more attractive to people. Clothes is the item which has the highest sales during the festival.
Bamboo swings are constructed in many parts of the country as a way of celebration. These bamboo swings is called 'ping' in Nepali. These kind of swings present the best of local culture, tradition, community spirit and fun. These swings are constructed with the help of community members using traditional methods which make the use of ropes made from tough grass, bamboo sticks and wood etc. Theses swings are normally constructed a week before Ghatasthapana and dismantled only after the festival of Tihar which comes after Dasain. Heights of some swings exceed twenty feet and one can swing really high. One can see people of all ages enjoying in the swing. It is specially famous with the children.
Different kinds of fairs and celebration events are also organized during the festival. Usually small fairs are organized in the villages with the Ferris wheels for children and other items of entertainment for the adults. However, in the city it is the commercial fairs and celebration events that is usually organized.
Thousands of animals including buffalo, ducks, and rams are slaughtered in Dasain every year. It has been considered an important ritual since it is believed that the goddesses are appeased by such sacrifices. Almost all the temples, especially the Durga and Kali temples of the country are offered with thousands of sacrifices. Asthami and Navami are the days where the sacrifices reach the peak. While thousands of animals are sacrificed to appease the goddesses, people also slaughter animals for the purpose of feasts. Since a large number of feasts and gatherings are organized throughout the fifteen days of the festival, the demand for meat goes up considerably. Hence to meet the demands the slaughtering of animals becomes considerably high and necessary during the festival.
However, for the past few years the animal rights activists in the country have been continuously opposing these acts of slaughtering of animals in such a manner. They have been requesting people to stop such inhuman acts of killing the innocent animals and instead have suggested them to offer fruits and vegetables to the Goddesses since they believe that it is mentioned nowhere in the Hindu religious books that animal sacrifices appease the gods and goddesses.
Also called mini dashain, Chaite Dashain is celebrated on Chaitra Shukla Ashtami, on the last month of Nepalese calendar. Unlike another dashain, it is celebrated for just a single day. Thousands of goat kids and bucks are sacrificed on this day as an offering to the gods. For some people of western Nepal it is the greatest festival.
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