Post-travel blues are something I’ve been familiar with over the years, but it’s even worse if the traveling involved meeting family that I don’t get to see everyday. This past month, I was away in Nepal visiting my family and celebrating two of the biggest festivals that fall during autumn: Dashain and Tihar. I had such a fantastic time that coming back to cold and rainy Poland and going to work have been really difficult.
I was elated to be back in Nepal in time for the festivals after seven long years. I’ve visited several times during the seven years, but somehow it was always during summers when monsoon rainfalls cripple the country. I guess I didn’t really care for the festivals but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that holidays are the best ways to strengthen family bond while also having a jolly time. My family was understandably even happier to have me back home in time for celebrations.
Dashain, the biggest festival in Nepal, is celebrated during autumn and started as a after-harvest party in traditionally agricultural Nepal. This was a time when people could finally relax after months of toiling in the fields in the farming season. The weather in autumn is often the best in the year, with the monsoon rainfalls finally making way for clear blue skies and warm weather. There are of course religious elements to Dashain as well. In Hindu mythology, Goddess Durga was said to be victorious upon Demon Mahishashur after a battle that lasted for days, and Dashain marks a 10-day celebration of victory over evil as a result.
Culturally, Dashain is when people fly kites in the blue sky, lots of delicacies (especially meat items) are cooked at family get-togethers, tall bamboo swings are set up on the streets and most importantly, when elders put tika (red powder mixed with raw rice grains) on the forehead of younger family members as they pass on their blessings for good health and success while doing so.
Schools and workplaces are closed for the duration, and the traffic chaos in Kathmandu is at last much more tolerable. I had missed the atmosphere during all those years.
A fortnight after Dashain begins the second most important festival in Nepali calendar, Tihar. Tihar is a five-day festival with each day dedicated to a separate cause. The first day is when people remember crows, also believed to be messengers of god in Nepali culture, by giving them food in their terraces and rooftops.
The second day is for dogs when people decorate them with tika and flower garlands and offer them food as a way of thanking them for guarding humans. The third morning is for cows, also a holy animal and believed to be a form of goddess, and the same evening is Laxmi puja. Laxmi is the goddess of wealth, luck and prosperity in Hinduism. In the evening, people make a colorful rangoli (floor art that uses colorful patterns) at the entrance of their homes and paint foot steps originating from the rangoli all the way until the worship room or spot of the home, symbolizing Laxmi entering the household and bringing luck.
There’s a tradition of groups of people going door to door as they sing folk songs and dance and the hosts present them with festive delicacies and cash. It is believed that these groups bring luck by singing and dancing on the eve of Laxmi Puja. Houses are lit up with traditional butter lamps and electric lights, and firecrackers are used. The fourth morning is for remembering and honoring oxen, significant animals in a country where subsistence farming is the bread and butter for many. The evening looks exactly like the one before, with the lights, festive singing and dancing and firecrackers.
The last day of Tihar is a major holiday in Nepal. It’s called Bhai Tika, and it’s when sisters and brothers exchange a long multicolored tika on the forehead, best wishes and gifts, accompanied by many Hindu rituals. Sisters typically invite brothers to their homes and prepare delicacies for them. It’s a day that is for appreciating the relationship between brothers and sisters and strenghthening their bond.
Festivals in Nepal like everywhere are a family and social time. Add perfect weather to that and the festive atmosphere on the streets was something that I had been nostalgic for over the years. But once I was there, I noticed that it just wasn’t the same.. there were very few kites on the Kathmandu sky, only few children who went door-to-door singing and dancing, fewer bamboo swings in Kathmandu neighborhoods and only few complete families due to massive number of Nepali people living and working abroad.
I also visited a few places in Nepal which I will be blogging about soon. Other than missing my Nepali family, I’m also glad to be back with my Polish family and to enjoy orderliness on the streets, peacefulness and proper infrastructures. It helps that Christmas is around the corner. Home is two countries for me after all 🙂