Nepal just celebrated the two biggest festivals of the country, Dashain and Tihar. Since I am practically the only Nepalese person living in this city, I didn’t celebrate at all but the flood of photos that appeared on my facebook feed made me nostalgic.
Dashain, the biggest festival of the majority Nepali Hindus, is celebrated for ten days. Falling in September-October (fantastic clear, sunny, temperate days in Nepal), the festival is a celebration of victory of Hindu goddess Durga against a demon. The festival is the most anticipated in the country and brings relatives, family and friends together. The festival kicks off with the first day of Ghatasthapana, when a pot (kalash) is filled with holy water, then covered with cow dung (cow is the most holy animal in Hinduism) and sewn with barley seeds. The bed of sand is filled with grains and left for 10 days in the holy (puja) room. On the 8th and 9th day (Maha Asthami and Nava Ratri), thousands of animals (like buffaloes, goats, ducks, chickens) are sacrificed to the blood-thirsty goddess Kali. The meat is then cooked and eaten throughout the festival. The smell of goat meat (mostly, but also buffalo meat) comes off from almost every household in Nepal during Dashain.
On the tenth day, a mixture of rice, yoghurt and vermillion powder are mixed which is known as tika. Elders put tika on the foreheads of younger relatives and give them blessings and small amount of gift money. The red symbolizes the blood that ties the family together. Jamara (the plant that the barley seeds from first day grew to) is tucked on the ear or clipped in the hair. Tika is taken from even distant relatives and that continues for four days till full moon. This greatly helps in community ties. The other things that Nepalese people do during this festival are kite flying, playing on big traditional bamboo swings, playing cards and drinking.
After about two weeks of Dashain, the second biggest festival of Hindus, Tihar (Hindi: Diwali) is observed for five days. On the first day, crows (symbol of sadness and grief in Hindu mythology) are offered sweets and dishes on the roofs of houses to avert death and grief.
The second day of Tihar is the day for dogs. People worship dogs (regarded as the messengers of god of death Yamaraj) by putting garlands around their necks and giving them delicious food. Tihar is a celebration of divine bonding between humans and animals.
On the third day, cow is worshipped in the morning. Cow signifies prosperity and wealth in Hinduism and is worshipped as mother goddess. Houses are cleaned and decorated with flowers and lights. In the evening, goddess Laxmi, the symbol of fortune and wealth, is worshipped. Doorways and rooftops are lit with oil lamps and houses are lighted everywhere to welcome goddess Laxmi into the house. On the main entrance of the house, rangoli (folk art) is made and small footsteps symbolizing that of Goddess Laxmi’s is drawn and led to the main worship room of the house. All valuables like jewellery and money bills are put in the worship room and offered to Goddess Laxmi. Girls in this evening form a group and play bhailo, traditional Nepali songs and go from house to house singing and giving blessings (girls are considered a form of Goddess Laxmi). Money and gifts are collected from the houses and later shared among the girls. Firecrackers are also used from this night onwards which continues until the fifth day.
On the fourth day, oxen is worshipped in the morning. During evening, boys go from house to house singing traditional songs and performing dance. The money and gifts are collected and later shared, like on the third day.
The fifth and the last day is bhai tika, where sisters put colorful tika on brothers’ foreheads to ensure their long life and thank them for the protection they give. The brothers give money and gifts to the sisters. It is also applied among cousins as cousins are treated like brothers and sisters in Nepali culture. This is an auspicious occasion of brother-sister bonding.
I absolutely loved the festive season while growing up. Everybody relaxed, lazing off, taking part in celebrations, eating special dishes and receiving gifts and money, what was there not to like? However, I am now critical to certain aspects of the celebrations which I think should be modified over time to ensure betterment. I do like most aspects of the celebrations and take pride in it but I write about the points that I don’t agree with below:
1. The blood of thousands of animals flooding the streets and houses in the name of sacrificing to god has to stop. It is a barbaric way of holding onto the traditions. I know that animals are killed around the world and consumed for meat. But why can’t we learn to slaughter them in a more civilized manner in a certain place by authorized people like in the West? And the belief that goddess is happy with blood doesn’t sound at all logical to me because all livings beings should be equal in the eyes of god. Some people make bhakal, that is wishing for something and if that happens, offering animal and fruits and flowers to the god. If Nepal wants to live in the 21st century, unneccessary, unorganized, horrific sacrificing of innocent animals HAS to stop. How ironic it is that the same culture which worships animals like cows, dogs, crows, snakes etc sees it okay to murder other animals in cold blood in the name of same god.
2. Women are almost always the ones who do the tasks of making food, arranging stuff and such during the festival. Men are usually seen playing cards and drinking whereas women are bestowed with the chores of cooking special delicacies for the entire family, making all religious items ready for worshipping etc. The work should be shared and women should be able to relax and take part in card games as well. Men should give their helping hands to the women of the household in the kitchen and whereever it’s necessary. Where is the holiday spirit for women when they are busy with household chores all the time? Nepal’s patriarchal culture ensures that women on all occasions remain the servers.
3. Like in all developing countries, Nepal has a wide gap between the rich and the poor. While the celebrations are getting costlier and more extravagent every year, it’s the poor who suffer. The culture of showing off one’s wealth in Nepal is not unnheard of. Everybody should celebrate the festivals in a simple manner and avoid extravagent, unneccessary acts of showing off.
4. Bhai Tika on Tihar is exclusively about the relationship between brothers and sisters. Brothers (men) are worshipped and thanked for providing “protection” to the sisters. Again, the belief that women need to be protected and looked after by males is reinforced. And what about the women who don’t have brothers? This is one day a year when everybody pities on the brotherless sisters. This day, in my opinion, should be celebrated as a sibling-bonding day regardless of the gender. The relationship between sisters is equally as important and cherishing. No girl should be made feel bad because she doesn’t have a male sibling. Sisterless brothers are not made feel as bad. It’s absolutely okay in Nepali culture when you don’t have any daughters, but having no sons automatically weakens your position in the society.
5. Supersitions that are still widely followed such as menstruating women not allowed to put the tika and go to worship room has to definitely go. Imagine the embarrassment a woman feels when her extremely personal business is flashed out in the public. What is the logic behind this? If somebody can give a thorough explanation I’d be glad. I see no relation between tika and natural bodily functions whatsoever.
There, just my two cents.