In the middle of the fall festival season comes the biggest of Nepali festivals. During the 10 days of it’s duration all offices and businesses shut down and people travel to their homes from all corners of the country (and in some cases the world). Time is spent with family and friends, eating a lot of food, and engaging in all sorts of unique rituals and ceremonies. It is such an important time that even all the groups in the Terai that have been causing a ruckus for months issued public statements that they would not do anything to impede travel during this time.
One of the best parts of experiencing this festival was that it coincided with the time my parents came to Nepal to pay a visit. I had promised all my friends in Gaighat that I would return to spend Dashain with them when I moved to Kathmandu. So amidst more adventure than I have energy to recount, the three of us worked our way through Gaighat to spend the peak of the festival in Harriya. It was “quite a memorable event” as members of my extended family in Gaighat/Harriya like to say.
Essentially the whole reason for this massive festival (and massive it is) is to celebrate the Hindu goddess Durga for saving the world from evil by killing demons and keep her happy and ready in case she needs to do it again. Temporary shrines and temples are erected all over Nepal and it is common to depict the scene of Durga (with the assistance of the Lion she travels on) killing a demon.
Man inspecting the life-size portrayal of Durga in a Gaighat Temple.
Though Durga is sometimes perceived as a benevolent protector she also has a blood-thirsty side when she gets angry. The key focus of the celebration becomes to keep her mollified and entails huge numbers of animals being sacrificed in her honor. Rumor has it that in Kathmandu alone 40,000 animals (goats, sheep, and water buffalo) are decapitated at the largest temples. Luckily for me, the tradition in the villages, and that we witnessed, is smaller in scale.
After buying a goat (or a smaller animal depending on economic circumstances) at some point over the summer, people care for and fatten it up, and then ceremonially behead it on the appropriate day. Though we arrived late into Harriya Arjun-dai (discussed in earlier blogs; the current President of NESPEC) was kind enough to postpone his family’s ceremony so we could witness the affair in full.
Bisal Dahal (Arjun-dai’s son) catching his breath after sacrificing a goat
After the brief ceremony was conducted and the goat’s head was swiftly removed with an axe the body was cleaned, skinned, quartered, and delicately dissected before being prepared in a variety of ways and feasted upon for days. (I’ve decided not to put the most graphic details or pictures on this site, but thanks to my Dad I have a complete series of the process so if you would like to see them, feel free to email me directly.)
The day after the goat-sacrificing comes the peak of the festival. On this day everyone wears new clothes and “takes tika” from all their older relations. “Taking tika” entails receiving a heartfelt blessing for happiness, health, prosperity, etc from older generations of relations as they place a paste of uncooked rice and red powder on your forehead, sprinkle flowers and leaves on your head, tuck a seedling behind your ear, and give you money (the amount tends to vary depending on how close they are to you). The younger you are the more you can make, and the older you are the more you spend!
Me receiving tika from Arjun-dai’s mother and father, 89 and 88 respectively.
People spend the next few days traveling around to visit relations and take tika, flying kites, gambling with cards, playing on huge bamboo swings erected especially for the festival, and eating more meat than they probably eat during the rest of the year combined. As the saying goes, “it was quite a memorable event.”
My mom and dad after receiving tika
Posted By Nicole Farkouh
Posted Nov 7th, 2014