GHT Blog

Dashain – A Beginner’s Guide

October 24, 2015

Most would agree that October and November are the best months to visit Nepal. Not only does the cool and clear post-monsoon weather offer unrivalled trekking opportunities and beautiful panoramic views of the Himalayas, but this is also when the biggest festivals in Nepal are celebrated. Colorful kites in the clear sky, crowded city shops blasting Dashain Dhun and young people in the countryside queuing up for their turn on the Ping (a traditional Nepali swing) all mark the beginning of the immensely sacred festival called Dashain.

Kite flying is a popular activity with young and old during Dashain. Photo by Oliver Whiteside

Kite flying is a popular activity during Dashain. Photo by Oliver Whiteside

Dashain is a 15-day long festival that starts from the Shukla Paksha (bright lunar fortnight) and ends on Purnima, the full moon.  

All governmental and private organizations and educational institutions announce 5-10 days of Dashain vacation allowing their staff to celebrate the festival with their families and friends, which is one of the major essences of Dashain. During the fifteen days of festivities, the most significant days are the first, seventh, eighth, ninth and the tenth. The first nine days of Dashain are called NavaRatriNava meaning nine and Ratri meaning Night. Some people also refer to Dashain as NavaRatri.

Although people share different mythological tales behind the celebration, Dashain has always been regarded as a festival of victory over evil.

To help you make sense of this special festival season, we’ve put together a complete guide to the most significant days of Dashain.

 

Day 1: Ghatasthapana

Ghata (pot) Sthapana (establishing) marks the beginning of the festival. On this day, a Kalasha (pot) is filled with holy water and covered with cow dung and later sown with barley seeds. All the while a Puja (worshipping and offering to God) is performed. The auspicious time to perform the ritual is determined by astrologers. The room where the Kalasha is established is called ‘Dashain Ghar’- Dashain Home. The pot is kept isolated from sunlight and Puja is performed every evening until the day of Vijaya Dashain (the 10th day of Dashain). After a few days the barley seeds will sprout into yellow-green buds called Jamara. Jamara is an essential part of the offering on the day of Vijaya Dashami , (see day 10) along with the Tika (a mix of vermillion powder, rice, and curd) that is put on the foreheads of younger family members by their elders.

This year, the first day of Dashain fell on October 13th (27th Ashoj 2072 in the Nepali calendar).

From this day, people are busy visiting all the temples of Goddess Durga, especially in the morning hours. People living away from home return to their families with gifts. Luxurious feasts, family gathering, kite flying and playing cards is the customary way to celebrate Dashain.

http://holistatus.in/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/ghatasthapana-shubh-muhurat.jpg

Sowing the Jamara for Vijaya Dashami. Image from www.holistatus.in


Day 7: Fulpati

During Fulpati, the royal Kalasha filled with holy water, banana stalks, Jamara and sugar cane tied with red cloth is carried by Brahmans from Gorkha (original home of Shah Dynasty) to Tudikhel on a decorated palanquin under a gold tipped and embroidered umbrella. Hundreds of government officials gather together in national dress to witness the event. There is a splendid parade by the Nepalese Army followed by a celebratory firing of weapons lasting for 10-15 minutes. After the event, the Fulpati is taken to Basantapur Hanuman Dhoka (also called Dashain Ghar), the ancient seat of Nepal’s kings. In the past the Jamara was brought to the royal family, but since the abolishment of the monarchy in 2008 the offering of Fulpati is taken to the residence of the Prime Minister.  

This year, Fulpati is on 20th October 2015 (3rd Kartik 2072).

 

Day 8: Maha Asthami

On this day, temples of Goddess Durga are drenched with the blood of sacrificed buffaloes, goats, ducks and pigeons. The sacrifices are performed throughout the country to appease the fierce Goddess Durga. This day is called Kal Ratri (Black Night). At midnight, a total of 54 buffaloes and 54 goats are sacrificed in the Dashain Ghar. After the blood has been offered to Durga, the meat is taken home, cooked, offered to the household Gods and distributed among the family members as Prasad (food blessed by divinity).

Today more and more Hindus have condemned these traditional practices as inhumane acts in the name of religion and while still a common practice, animal sacrifices have seen a declining trend over the years.

Maha Asthami, this year falls on 21st October, 2015 (4th Kartik 2072).

 

Day 9: Maha Nawami

The ninth day of Dashain, Maha Nawami is also the last day of Navaratri. On this day, official military sacrifices are held in the Kot – courtyard of Hanuman Dhoka. Mostly black buffaloes are slaughtered to honor and seek blessing from Durga. The Taleju temple at Hanuman Dhoka is opened for the public only once a year on this day. The temple is therefor crowded with thousands of people coming to pay their respect to the Goddess. Even foreigners are allowed to witness this celebration.

On this day, Vishwa Karma – the God of creativity is also worshipped with the belief that all things responsible for our living should be kept happy. So, all factories, vehicles, machinery instruments are worshipped. Worshipping vehicles on this day is believed to hinder accidents throughout the year.

This year, Maha Nawami falls on 22nd October, 2015 (5th Kartik 2072).

http://www.nepalnews.com

Riders worshipping their vehicles on the occasion of Vishwa Karma Puja. Image from www.nepalnews.com


Day 10: Vijaya Dashami

On the day of Vijaya Dashami, Tika is prepared and together with Jamara is administered on the forehead of younger relatives by the elders. Along with the Tika, the elders also give ‘Dakshina’ – a small amount of money, which is one of the exciting parts of Dashain for children and youngsters. Family members who live away from home return to their families to receive the Tika. Like all good holidays the Tika is accompanied by a lavish feast. This continues to be observed for five days till the Purnima, the full moon.

http://nepalecoadventure.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Dashain.jpg

Tika and jamara. Image from www.nepalecoadventure.com

The last day of the festival is Kojagrata – ‘who is awake’ Purnima which falls on the full moon day. It’s the day for rest and revitalization from the hectic activities of the festival. The Hindu Goddess of wealth, Laxmi, is worshipped on this day. It is believed that Goddess Laxmi descends on earth and showers wealth and prosperity to everyone who is awake throughout the night. To prevent oneself from falling asleep, people keep themselves busy, usually by playing cards.

The Tika day this year, is on 23rd October, 2015 (6th Kartik 2072).

There, you’ve now mastered the basics of Dashain. With this knowledge you’re now equipped to fully appreciate this wonderful festival and maybe even confident enough to join in on the celebrations next time around.

Enjoy the festive season and Happy Dashain to you all!

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