By Avinash Jha, Foreign Correspondent, Diplomatic Watch, Nepal,
Dashain (also Bijaya Dashami) is the longest and the most auspicious Hindu festival celebrated by Hindus in Nepal, along with their diaspora throughout the globe. It is also celebrated in some parts of India where it is called Dashera. This festival is celebrated for fifteen days, which starts on the bright half of the lunar month usually on September/October and ends on the full moon day. This year, the festival started on October 10 and will end on October 24.
There are a number of mythological stories that are attached to this festival. One of the most common story reveals that Dashain honors ‘the victory of gods over demons’. The symbol of power, Goddess Durga is worshiped during this festival. Although the festival is generally celebrated to honor Durga, for this occasion she is also believed to be the collective strength of all gods and goddesses gathered in one form.
The first nine-day of Dashain commemorate a fierce battle between Durga (vice) and the demon Mahisasur (virtue). One of the victory stories according to the Hindu myths reveals that at one point of time the gods were almost powerless compared to the strength of the demons headed by Mahisasur. So to get rid of him, the gods were ordered to contribute a portion of their divine powers to form a new goddess.
The goddess took the form of Durga, was created as a combination of 330 million gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. The new goddess Durga had a battle for nice days and nights and defeated Mahisasur finally on the tenth day. The tenth day of Dashain, also called Bijaya Dashami is celebrated as the day when the gods had victory over demons. This tenth day signifies the triumph of good over evil. Another Hindu myths ‘Ramayana’ discloses that Dashain symbolizes as the triumph of Ram (vice) over Ravan (virtue) with the blessings of Goddess Durga.
Among the fifteen days on which it is celebrated, the most important days are the first, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth and the fifteenth. In the first nine days of Dashain, the Goddess Durga is worshipped in many manifestations during the sub-festival called Navaratri (means nine nights). Out of nine nights of Navaratri, the first three nights are dedicated to the manifestations of Durga as the Mahakali, the goddess of action and energy; as Kumari, a young virgin girl; as Parvati, an auspicious wife and mother, and as Kali, the angry old woman. The next three days are dedicated to Mahalaxmi, the goddess of wealth, plenty and bliss. The last three days of Navaratri are dedicated to Mahasarashwati, the goddess of knowledge who teaches how to earn a living as well as how to live
Significance of fifteen days
The first day of Dashain is known as Ghatasthapana, on this day, people fill a vessel with sand and sow maize and barley seeds and is covered and worshiped for 10 days. On the seventh day, Phulpati is celebrated which is also known as ‘Saptami’. The eighth day of Dashain is called the Mahaasthami. On this day, animals like goats, ducks, hens are sacrificed to Goddess Kali and the meat is taken as holy food. Some orthodox Hindus fast on this day and others who don’t favor animal sacrifice offer vegetables like bottle gourds and radishes, coconuts, or eggs. Families who make animal sacrifices also feast on the meat afterwards. The night of this day is called the dark night- ‘Kaal Ratri’. Maha Navami is the ninth day of Dashain. On this day, artisans, craftsman, mechanics, and traders worship their tools, equipment and vehicles by offering animal and fowl blood.
Moreover, it is believed that worshipping the vehicles on this day avoids accidents for the year. The tenth day is named as Bijaya Dashami which is the most important day of this festival. On the tenth day, younger ones in a family receive Tika (a mixture of yogurt, rice and vermilion) on the forehead, Jamara (planted on the first day of Dashain) on the head and blessings from elders as well as respected people. The rest of the five days mark the celebration of this victory with blessings from the goddess. The Dashain festival includes numerous pujas (prayer rituals), profuse offering of fruits and other special foods, many animal sacrifices, blessings of family members, and specific kinds of merriment.
The cultural significance
Although the religious aspects of the festival are most prominent, this festival is, in fact, the ceremony of reunion, togetherness, and unity among friends, relatives, and wellwishers. Dashain is associated with buying new clothes, eating good food, playing cards, inviting guests, visiting relatives’ places, flying kites, building bamboo swings (called “ping”) and get involved in various entertaining activities, hence a relaxing time of the year. Kite flying is believed to send a reminder to god not to send any more rain. In most towns and villages swings are set up especially for Dashain on the tallest bamboo poles possible, where no matter of the age group, people gather to watch and take turns flying into the sky. There is a tradition mean to swing at least once in this festival. It is a saying that if you leave the ground swinging in Dashain, the swing will take away ill feelings and replace it with new and rejuvenation inside oneself.
Throughout the nation, every Hindu household manages this according to their standards of living whether they are rich or poor no matter what. One of the most important aspects of Dashain is the huge business that comes along with the festival. There is a massive flow of sales and purchases of animals, grains and vegetables, alcohol, fruits and sweets. New clothes are considered especially essential, and for majority of the people living in villages, new clothes come only with Dashain. Old houses are cleaned, renovated and painted, whereas the new ones are decorated and beautified. Every sector of the economy experiences a boost around this time of the year. A lot of people travel within the country, returning to their homes. This is the only time in a year when people like to and can afford to be extravagant. On top of this, the sunny, cool and crystal clear days with the fascinating scent of the flowers mesmerize the surrounding atmosphere adding up more flavors to the festival.