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Dashain is one of the most widely celebrated and revered festivals in Nepal. The entire festive season lasts a fortnight, beginning with the holy day of Ghatasthapana and ending with the Kogajrat Purnima. The celebration has a deep cultural, religious, and philosophical significance in the mind of all Nepali Hindus. While primarily celebrated in Nepal, Hindus from India, Bhutan, and even Myanmar celebrate this delightful holy time. The fifteen-day festival is the longest festival celebrated in Nepal which follows the Vikram Samvat Calendar. Within the Newar community, the festival is celebrated in a slightly different way called Mohini.
The festival itself is a celebration of the victory of Good over Evil symbolized by the killing of the Asura Mahishasura by the Goddess Durga. There are deep cultural, religious, and philosophical ties to this celebration that we all can learn and appreciate. The festival also brings family and friends together. Those who have gone away to work in distant lands come back home to spend this auspicious time with the family. Society seems to gain new life and energy during this festival. Traditionally, Dashain has been a time where gifts are given, new clothes are bought and house renovations and cleaning is done. In the not-so-distant past, Dashain would be the only time where the villagers who live in the hills would get to eat rice instead of corn or wheat. Therefore, people celebrate the festival through not just religious rites and practices but also socially celebrate this grand festivity.
Almost all government offices, schools, and educational institutions are given a holiday during this time. The date for the festival is fixed according to the Vikram Samvat calendar following the luni-solar date system. The day of Ghatasthapana begins from the “Bright-lunar hald” of the month of Ashwin, which typically falls around late September or October. While all days of the festival have their significance, the first, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, and fifteenth days have been the most important. It is said that Dashain is celebrated at different times in the four different aeons of the world according to Hinduism, the Satya, Treta, Dwapar and Kali yugas and since this is the Kali Yuga, it is being celebrated at this time.
The Historical Mythos surrounding Dashain
There lived an Asura (a type of monster) by the name of Mahisha. At one point, he prayed to Brahma in the hopes that the god would bestow upon him a blessing that would make him invincible and unable to be defeated.
Mahisha sought forgiveness for his past transgressions by praying and abstaining from food for an extended period of time while standing on one foot. Because of the strength of his sacrifices, all three kingdoms were shaken, and a pleased Lord Brahma materialized before him to bestow a blessing. The plea of Mahisha to be granted immortality was turned down by the Lord on the grounds that everything that lives must eventually die. Mahisha then made up his mind that he would try to give himself a desire that would make him nearly immortal. If he was going to pass away, he preferred that it take place at the hands of a female rather than a male. It didn't matter to him how capable a woman was; in his mind, she could never stand a chance against him.
After Mahisha came to the conclusion that he could no longer be vanquished, they resolved to cause as much suffering and death as they possibly could on Earth before traveling to heaven to do war with the gods in the Devaloka. Even Indra's lightning bolt was powerless to stop the onslaught that was being launched by the asura. Mahisha cast out the gods so that he may ascend to the throne previously occupied by Indra. The divine powers of Lord Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma were brought together with Indra's and the other gods' respective divine potentials. This sacred power took the form of a stunning goddess with a thousand different limbs. She was armed with the weapons that belonged to each of the gods, and she held one of these weapons in each of her arms. That is, she was the goddess Durga or Durga Devi.
She climbed up on the roaring lion's back and let out a roar herself. The fury of the storm caused the oceans to produce enormous waves, which caused the mountains to shake. Even Mahisha was scared for a single second, but then his ego took over when he realized the terrifying figure in front of him was actually a woman. The two goddesses engaged in a fight, with Mahisha who took the form of a buffalo. She slaughtered him with her sword as he fought to free himself from the Buffalo form in order to release the world and the sky from the burden known as Mahishasura.
Significance of Dashain amid Buddhists
The many animals that are sacrificed during Dashain, particularly during the Asthami festival, are the recipients of prayers and sacrifices from a significant number of Buddhists. Lokeshvara, the compassionate bodhisattva, is also appropriated by other observances such as fasting and keeping a quiet vow. This is done in order to motivate him to assist the numerous animals that are being sacrificed and to ensure that they would have a favorable rebirth. This practice is known as Niunya. This day is commemorated by some Buddhists as the day on which Emperor Ashoka, after witnessing the aftermath of a bloody battle, decided to forsake the use of violence and instead devote himself to the Buddha Dharma. This festivity is also celebrated as the 10th Lunar day of Guru Padmasambhava, by Tibetan Buddhists.
The significance of Dashain
The legend surrounding Dashain has a deeper significance. Change is the nature of reality. While suffering runs deep and injustice, falsity and the many atrocities of life can make us feel suffocated, akin to how the three worlds were terrorized by the demon Mahisa and his army of asuras, it always comes to an end. Goodness does return and the eventual triumph of the truth over falsehood does happen.
As the moon wanes so does it wax. As winter comes, so does spring. It is this philosophical truth of life that Dashain emulates. It is something that everyone can resonate with as all of us have at some point been subject to suffering which we overcame eventually through hardship.
How is Dashain Celebrated religiously?
The ten days of Dashain are all with significance. However there are a few days that are considered especially important. The following days and their significance are noteworthy during Dashain.
Day 1: Ghatasthapana
“Ghata” and “Sthapana” literally mean ‘pot’ and 'the placement of 'respectively. The first day of Dashain begins as many families establish a “Kalasha” or pot with an initiation rite. The main significance of this day is that seeds of wheat that will later sprout to be “Jamara” are sown on this day. The Kalasha or Ghata is then positioned in the middle of a square or rectangular sand block. The rest of the bed of sand that is there is also planted with grains. The priest will then begin the puja by requesting that Durga bestow her presence of blessing upon the vessel. The astrologers will identify the most auspicious moment for carrying out this rite, and they will do so at that time. During the nine nights of Navaratri, it is believed that the goddess resides in the vessel. The kalasha is kept away from direct sunlight also. The seeds then grow into sprouts known as “Jamara” that are used later in the festival.
Day 7: Phulpati
The day of Phulpati is when the grown Jamara seeds are brought to Kathmandu from Gorkha by the Magar people. This used to be a royal procession where the Jamara would be carried and walked for three days to bring it to the royal residence in Kathmandu. For the purpose of observing the ceremony, hundreds of government employees dressed in customary formal attire would have gathered together on the Tundikhel grounds. In the past, the king would watch the ceremony from Tundikhel while the Phulpati march made its way towards the Hanuman Dhoka royal house. Following this, there is a magnificent spectacle put on by the Nepalese Army, which is followed by a celebratory firing of weapons that lasts for ten to fifteen minutes in Phulpati's honor. When the celebration is over in Tundikhel, where a procession is taking place, the Phulpati is carried to the Royal Palace of Hanuman Dhoka to be displayed there. Now, after the overthrow of the monarchy, the president of Nepal fulfills the duties during Phulpati.
Day 8: Asthami
The eighth day of the festival is known as Maha Asthami or “The Great Eighth”. On this day, temples all throughout the country offer sacrifices of buffaloes, goats, chickens, and ducks in an effort to placate the most ferocious aspect of the goddess Durga, the vengeful Kali. In keeping with the auspicious nature of this day, the evening of this day is known as Kal Ratri (Black Night). On this day, it is also customary to sacrifice buffaloes in the courtyards of all of the land revenue offices located around the nation. . Throughout the night, worshipers and sacrificers can be found in nearly every courtyard of the ancient palace at Basantapur Hanuman Dhoka. Many Buddhists offer prayer for the many animals sacrificed on this day.
Day 9: Navaratri
According to the Devi Mahatmya, many of the defeated asuras hid as animals like fowls and cattle, as such, they are sacrificed on this day also.
It is thought that all of the things that assist us in making a livelihood should be kept joyful, hence the day of Mahanavami is dedicated to the worship of the mother goddess Devi. The instruments, equipment, and vehicles used by artisans, craftsmen, traders, and mechanics are worshiped, and the blood of animals and birds is offered to them. In addition, it is thought that if one worships their vehicle on this day, it will protect them from harm throughout the year, hence all types of vehicles, from motorcycles to automobiles to trucks, are worshipped on this day.
This is the only day of the year when the gates of the Taleju Temple are opened to members of the general public. On this day, thousands of worshipers make their way to the goddess' temple to offer their respects. The temple is constantly bustling with worshipers throughout the day.
Day 10: Vijaya Dashami
The day’s name is literally translated as “The Victorious Tenth”. It is this day that all the demons including Mahisa are vanquished and the victory of goodness over evil established. To celebrate this combination consisting of rice, yogurt, and vermilion is made. This is known as "tika." On the foreheads of younger relatives, the elders place this tika and jamara, which is sowed in the Ghatasthapana, as a blessing for them that they may be blessed with abundance in the years to come. The color red is significant because it represents the blood that binds the family together. Along with their blessings, older relatives traditionally present younger family members with a "Dakshina," which is a term for a modest monetary gift. This practice is carried out for the duration of the five days leading up to the full moon, during which time members of families and extended families pay one another visits to exchange presents and well wishes. This ceremony of receiving tika from all of one's elder relatives, including distant cousins, contributes significantly to the process of renewing relationships within the community.
Day 15: Kojagrat Purnima
The name given to the day that marks the end of the celebration and coincides with the full moon is "Kojagrat" Purnima. The name Kojagrat can be translated to mean "who is awake" in its literal form. On this day, Goddess Laxmi, who is believed to be the goddess of wealth, is worshipped because it is believed that Goddess Laxmi descends on earth and showers whoever is awake all night with wealth and prosperity. People have fun by doing things like playing cards and enjoying the final day with family.
The socio-cultural celebration of Dashain
Because of the relaxed and joyful atmosphere that can be seen across the country during Dashian, it is an ideal time to travel to Nepal. However, due to the fact that it is the holiday season, many stores and businesses, including those in the administrative sector, are closed so that people may focus on getting the most out of spending time with their families. A street in Kathmandu that was once very busy will now be largely unoccupied. It is estimated that approximately 1.5 million travelers were recorded as having left the Kathmandu Valley in open transportation, while approximately 500,000 travelers were recorded as having left the Valley in their own private vehicles to travel to the places outside of the Valley where they had grown up in order to visit and reunite with family.
Every Hindu family in every part of the country addresses this issue in a manner that is consistent with the ways in which they live their lives. Dashain is the only time of year when people living in cities receive new clothing, despite the fact that new clothes are considered to be of utmost significance during this holiday. The old garments are thrown away while new ones are purchased and stored away. While newer homes are merely painted and given a fresh coat of paint, older homes are given a thorough cleaning, renovation, and makeover.
Playing cards are a common activity during the holiday of Dashain, which is celebrated by adults. Betting and other forms of gambling, albeit on a smaller scale, are considered important during the Dashain holiday. Playing cards together as a family is a tradition that continues throughout the day and into the night.
Swings, often known as ping, are erected specifically for the festival of Dashain in many cities and towns across Nepal. These swings are hung from the highest bamboo shafts that are physically possible, and they remain in place through the subsequent festival of Tihar. Large swings and classic "ferris wheels" are popular places for children to play during their free time.
During the entire holiday of Dashain, delicacies, particularly those involving meat, are prepared. It is at this stage when the finest ingredients available are utilized. Rice was considered a luxury food not so long ago, thus many households would put their money away so that they could eat it during this season rather than buckwheat, corn, or wheat because rice was a more expensive option.
During the festival of Dashain, another activity that may be observed is kite flying. In addition to the various kite-flying and kite-fighting tournaments that take place in towns and schools, the sky is filled with kites that soar high into the sky. It is said that flying kites was done to request the Deva King Indra to stop the rains to let people celebrate along with the birds in the sky.
It is the time of year when the entire country appears more beautiful and lively as a result of the climate conditions; the rain stops falling, and the temperature is generally lower than it was in the first few months, but it is not yet extremely cold. The sun is brighter, the trees are looking greener, and there is a profusion of beautiful blossoms.
Dashain is a festival celebrated with many names and in many forms. Some call it Mohini, Dusshera, Navaratri, Durga Puja, and much more. Nepal becomes a bustling destination and the vibe in society is very uplifting. In the end, it serves as a reminder that no matter how broken our world becomes due to injustice, goodness must always win. Winter always ends, and spring always comes; it doesn't regardless of how hard we struggle through our own personal winters. We can find solace in this undeniable fact of life. This is the significance of Dashain.
Come with Accessible Adventure to explore this amazing festival season in Nepal as we take you through the major festivities and celebrations and give you a taste of what Nepal has to offer when its society is all uplifted and happy.