The Grandest Festival: Dashain.
Dashain, also known as Vijaya Dashami, is Nepal's most grand and widely celebrated festival. Depending on the lunar calendar, it usually occurs in September or October. Dashain lasts 15 days, during which the entire country is filled with excitement, family reunions, traditional rites, and celebratory enthusiasm. It's a time when the entire country comes together to celebrate the triumph of good over evil, as represented by the Hindu goddess Durga conquering the demon Mahishasura.
The auspicious beginning of the Dashain festival is marked by Ghatasthapana, the ceremonial planting of barley, rice, wheat, or corn seeds in miniature pots placed in dwellings and worshiped daily. While history shows that barley was traditionally used to make jamara, rice, and corn have recently become popular choices for cultivating jamara due to the introduction of several new cereals. This ritual represents the household's progress and wealth, and the Jamara is said to bring the goddess Durga's blessings.
The seventh day of Dashain is officially called Phulpati. Phulpati refers to the ceremonial offering of flowers, leaves, and jamara to Goddess Durga. Priests make a special offering in the morning using flowers, sugar cane, banana stalks, and jamara. This offering is brought to Kathmandu from Gorkha Palace by an official. From Gorkha, a magnificent parade passes through cities and villages, attracting fervent spectators. There are musical selections, cultural presentations, and audience applause. The Phulpati is presented by government representatives and members of the royal family in a momentous ceremony that is witnessed by dignitaries and the general public at Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square in Kathmandu.
The eighth day of Dashain is called asthami which is dedicated to goddess Kali. Animals, typically goats, sheep, or buffalo, are sacrificed to honor the goddess. The blood is offered to the goddess, and the meat is shared among family and relatives. Considering hearing and seeing the sound of animal sacrifices, Asthami can be a very sorrowful day. However, this can be indicative of the deeply rooted religious and cultural customs connected to Dashain in Nepal. Even though it may not be observed by everyone, many Nepalese families still find great significance in the animal sacrifice tradition.
The tenth day of Dashain offering of tika (yogurt, rice, and vermilion), and jamara (barley sprouts) by seniors to the younger generations is the climax of Dashain. This is a symbolic act that represents blessings, protection, and family bonding. Elders also give "Dakshina," or modest sums of money, to the younger members of the family, and the entire family gathers for this auspicious ritual.
The last day or fifteenth day of Dashain is known as Kojagrata Purnima. This full moon event honors Laxmi, the goddess of prosperity. People tidy their homes, adorn them with oil lamps, and maintain nightly vigils in honor of Goddess Laxmi.
Tihar: Festivals of Lights
Tihar, also known as Deepawali, occurs immediately after Dashain, usually in late October to early November. This enthralling festival lasts five days and offers a one-of-a-kind celebration that not only honors animals and birds but also places a great emphasis on the loved connections between brothers and sisters. It is a time of rich cultural traditions, vibrant decoration, and profound importance.
Each day of Tihar is dedicated to commemorating different animals. Crows, who are considered the messengers of death in Hindu mythology, kick off the festivities. People give them food, usually grains, and sweets, in the hope that it will protect them from misfortune and grief.
Dogs take center stage on the second day. They are decked with garlands and tika, symbolizing a day of thanks for their steadfast loyalty and companionship. Dogs are regarded as our defenders and friends, and this day honors their contributions to our lives.
The third day is dedicated to the beloved cow, which in Hindu culture is a symbol of wealth and prosperity. The cow is not only respected, but also handled with great care, and is frequently fed with the utmost regard. The streets are filled with colorful rangoli (sand art) designs, and lively processions and cultural events.
The fourth day of Tihar is dedicated to the strong oxen, which play an important part in agriculture. On this day, their hard work and strength are recognized, with many localities hosting activities such as ox cart races and other festivals in their honor.
Bhai Tika, the fifth day of Tihar, symbolizes the special link shared by brothers and sisters. Sisters dress their brothers in tika and garlands, feed them scrumptious sweets, and execute traditional rituals to ensure their wealth and well-being. Brothers, in turn, give gifts and blessings to their sisters. This day honors love, respect, and the strengthening of family bonds.
Chhath: Festival of Worship and Gratitude.
Chhath, also known as Chhath Puja, is a distinct and important holiday observed throughout northern India and Nepal, having special significance in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. This one-of-a-kind event honoring the Sun God demonstrates a deep love for nature, spirituality, and appreciation. Chhath is an ancient event with roots that are thought to trace back to the Vedic period. It is observed with tremendous devotion as a way of thanking the Sun God for preserving life on Earth. The festival is usually held in late October or early November, right after Nepal's Dashain and Tihar festivals. The ceremonies of Chhath last four days and are practiced with severe discipline, purity, and dedication.
The Chhath festival begins with believers taking a traditional plunge into a river or other body of water and returning with holy water to purify their houses and environs. They fast and prepare a meal known as "Thekua" for the Sun God. On the second day, worshippers fast all day, breaking their fast only in the evening after praying to the Sun. They prepare a unique dish called "Kheer" and serve it to the Sun at dusk. The third day is Chhath's important day. Offering Arghya (water offerings) to the setting sun, devotees seek blessings for their families. Sugarcane, fruits, and other traditional products are among the offers. Devotees congregate around water bodies, mainly rivers or ponds, in the evening to perform rituals under the setting sun, followed by the burning of traditional lights on a bamboo platform. On the last day, devotees present Arghya to the rising sun, signaling the end of the festival.
Chhath is a profound spiritual experience as much as a festival. It represents the harmony of man and nature, highlighting the necessity of clean and pure living. The strict fasting, purity of body and mind, and great devotion displayed during Chhath represent the devotees' close link with the Sun God, who is viewed as the source of life and energy.
Thus, these festivities in Nepal transcend conventional tradition; they are a tribute to the people's unity and spiritual connection with the environment. As we've gone through Dashain, Tihar, and Chhath, it's become evident that Nepal's cultural fabric is stitched with strands of respect, thanks, and community. These festivals are more than just occasions for celebration; they represent Nepal's rich culture and customs. So, if you're seeking to experience the true heart of Nepal, plan your visit during one of these festive months with Trekking Planner Nepal, and you'll witness why this country is a cultural gem in its own right.