Vijaya Dashami (Happy Dashain)

17 10 2010

 

Tika puja accoutrements, including the jamara barley sprouts

Tika puja accoutrements, including the jamara barley sprouts

 

Today is the 10th day and culmination of the Dashain festival, or what I like to call “Nepalese Christmas”. The holiday is also referred to as Durga Puja because people worship the Goddess Durga in her many avatars or manifestations. Dashain is the most auspicious time of the year in Nepal and it’s a much bigger holiday for Nepali Hindus than it is for Indian Hindus for whom Diwali/Dipawali is even bigger. For Nepalis, the last night of tika is most important, whereas in other Hindu cultures other auspicious days within the holiday may be more important. For example, the 9th night of Durga Puja, when animals are sacrificed, is most important for Hindu Bengalis because Durga is an important Goddess to them. One of Durga’s manifestations is the Goddess Kali, and she is quite bloodthirsty. Animal rights activists do not like Dashain because on the 9th day thousands of male animals are sacrificed to appease Kali/Durga, and then eaten that night or the next day during the final celebrations. Hindus only kill and eat male animals because females replenish life through birth. The parade of animals into Kathmandu markets began last week and it’s been a painful week of walking streets lined with cute goats ready for slaughter. Not all the animals are killed in religious  sacrifices. After all, people need to eat, too (especially during big family holidays). For animals that are being religiously sacrificed, a priest conducts the sacrifice at a temple. For those who just want to eat the animal, the eldest male relative, another respected male family member, or whoever is least turned off by killing animals would slit the animal’s neck.

The type of animal you sacrifice in temple depends on which gods are most important to you and your family as well as what you can afford. Non-religious slaughters depend on what you like to eat, as well as what you can afford. Durga/Kali likes water buffaloes, but she’s bloodthirsty so she’ll take what she can get. Other gods might require other animals such as ducks, roosters, pigeons, goats and others. And the gods don’t need the whole sacrificed animal or whatever food you offer them. You get to take the “leftovers” home as prasad because your offerings retain the blessings of the gods. Getting back to animals, the going rate for live roosters from Kathmandu’s Durbar Square was 1500 rupees, or about $21. I have no idea how much buffaloes cost, but you can probably take a guess based on the rooster price. By the way, buffalo meat is called “buff” here and when you order a burger in a restaurant, you’re probably getting buff meat since cows are sacred to Nepal’s Hindus. I don’t eat red meat so I stay away from buff and goat meat. However, when I’m traveling and living abroad (or even when I’m at someone’s house for dinner back in the U.S. and don’t want to appear rude) I eat more adventurously. So yes, I’ve tried both buff and goat.

During Dashain, many return to their ancestral homes or wherever their families live for tika (blessing of powdered pigment and rice on forehead), feasts, and gambling to honor Laxmi, the Hindu Goddess of wealth. This week, Kathmandu is actually quiet and pollution-free since at least one-third of the population returned to their villages for the final celebrations. My husband arrived in Kathmandu from Iowa last week and he’s been busy conducting the daily puja (worship) of planting and watering the barley seeds that grew, by today, into the sacred sprouts of jamara given by elders to younger family members as a token of Durga’s blessing during the family tika ceremony. There are several important days during Dashain when certain pujas must be performed at astrologically auspicious times determined by Hindu priests.

If I’m not doing the best job of explaining the holiday, I apologize. Dashain’s origins come from different accounts in the Ramayana Hindu holy text. It’s very complicated and you’ll hear a different version from nearly each person you ask. I’ll quote an explanation from Mary Anderson’s 1988 edition of “The Festivals of Nepal”:

 

Dashain goat

Goat being taken home for Dashain sacrifice and/or meal

 

The festivities of these two weeks glorify the ultimate and inevitable triumph of Virtue over the forces of Evil, commemorating a great victory of the gods over the wicked demons and devils who harassed mankind in ancient times. The Ramayana story is retold of the righteous King Rama, deified in Hindu mythology as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, or again as God himself, who after epic struggles slaughtered Ravana, the fiendish king of the demon hordes from Lanka, a legendary country believed by many to have been Ceylon [modern day Sri Lanka]. Some say Lord Rama was successful in his battle with the demon only when he evoked Shakti, or Supreme Energy vested in Goddess Durga, the Divine Mother of the Universe. Others have it that Rama’s saintly wife Sita, having been kidnapped by the demon Ravana, assumed the form of the Terrible Destructress, Goddess Kali – otherwise known as Durga – and destroyed this thousand-headed King of the Demons.

Greatly celebrated during Dashain, again glorifying the triumph of Good over Evil, is Goddess Durga’s slaying of the terrible demon Mahisasura, who roamed the earth, terrorizing the population in the guise of a ferocious water buffalo. Other accounts reveal how Lord Rama, having sworn to kill the evil Mahisasura of the Underworld, enlisted the Divine Energy of Goddess Taleju – still another of Durga’s many forms – promising to take her to his Indian capital of Ayodhya and erect there a temple in her honor…No matter how the story is told, victory is celebrated during Dashain fortnight with great rejoicing, and Goddess Durga is adored throughout the land as the Divine Mother Goddess who liberated the suffering people from the miseries of Evil.

After reading this excerpt, you can understand why an easy explanation is impossible! And lest you think the holiday season is over, there’s another 5-day holiday in early November: the Diwali/Dipawali festival that I referred to earlier, or Tihar as it’s called in Nepali.

In late-breaking news as I finish this post, I could swear I just felt a small earthquake. It’s 2:00am here. Hopefully there will be something in the news about it tomorrow. If not, it’s my imagination and I’ve had too much cold medicine.

 

 

Dashain tika

I decided to have a little fun while giving my nephew tika. The tika paste really belongs on the forehead. Note the jamara sprouts behind his ears.

 

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17 responses

25 10 2010
Anna

Kathryn,

I see that Hinduism is much about their gods and their celebration of them. I am curious about Hindu art though, are most of the Hindu paintings depicting the gods or are there a lot of other themes seen in Hindu art?

29 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi Anna,

Well if it’s Hindu art then there’ll be Hindu religious themes. If we’re talking Nepali art or Indian art unrelated to religion, then anything goes. Though a large portion of Nepal’s population is Hindu, there is a huge diversity of beliefs including Buddhism and indigenous religions, so there may be religious themes from those beliefs. However, there could just as easily be landscapes or portraits or still life images.

Within Hindu art, there are a number of themes because the holy books, like the Bible, contain stories of their gods and instructing moral tales. Many of those stories form the bulk of Hindu artwork, but there are contemporary religious stories and important people (gurus, for example) that might also figure into Hindu art. Your textbook includes an image of (if memory serves me correctly) the Hindu god Krishna and his consort Radha. I think it’s either in the chapter on religion in art or human sexuality in art.

24 10 2010
Kayla

Hi Kathryn,
In this blag you talked about the sacrifice of animals, I was wondering if they did that in public for everyone to see or do they do it in the privacy of someone’s home?

29 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi Kayla,

For home sacrifices for practical food purposes, the killing can be done anywhere the family wants. Religious sacrifices, on the other hand, must be performed in a temple. Some smaller temples will do the sacrifice outside if the temple is too small. Often, the sacrifice is performed just inside under a special arch or gate. Some of the blood is collected and offered to the god, often poured over or onto the statue of the god. The animal’s head might be kept by the temple priests after the blood is collected or sometimes returned to the animals’ owner. The animal’s body is given back to the owner so that he/she/they might eat the meat because the god’s blessing is contained in the body after the sacrifice. Eating the meat is like ingesting the blessing.

18 10 2010
Amanda Walker

Kathryn,
I was actually going to ask you if you missed you husband and other family, but its awesome that your husband was able to join you! You have been mentioning that there are different derivatives of Hindu and other religions in Nepal, and we have been studying them a little bit. I was wondering how tolerant they are of other religions?
I think the weirdest thing would be is that cows are sacred. I grew up on a dairy farm, and I just cant even think about cows like that! It makes me realize how cultures are different, and also appriciate the things that we can learn from other cultures. I appriciate that you are relaying your experiences to us, because I will probably never visit Nepal, but I am always up for learning new things. So Thanks =)
Amanda Walker

19 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi Amanda,

Never say never. When I was in college, I don’t remember thinking I’d ever travel to Nepal either (or half the places I’ve been) but here I am in Kathmandu!

On your question about religious tolerance in Hinduism, I think Hinduism is probably the most tolerant religion I’ve ever encountered. Within Hinduism, Buddha is viewed as a reincarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu, so there’s one example of another belief being absorbed by Hinduism. It’s a religion that people can cater to their own tastes, which explains why there is so much variety in practices and gods from one end of the Hindu spectrum to the next. Hindus don’t seek converts, as is often the case in Christianity and Islam. I will say that in Nepal, proselytizing (actively trying to convert Nepalis to a foreign religion) is illegal. There are faith-based groups here in Nepal doing important work, but they have to do it in the name of humanitarianism and not with any intention of winning people over.

18 10 2010
Crit

Kathryn, Jane G sent me your link and I have really enjoyed your KTM tales. Yes, I remember Dashain and the food nd rice we put out for Lakshmi. also KTM winters… so chilly in the house and then out to the sun on the terrace. Keep writing we love your perspective. Crit

19 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Crit!

Thanks for reading my blog! We’re not quite to winter yet, but I’ve already been warned that my apartment will be very cold. I hope I packed enough long underwear for the cold nights and mornings!

18 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi William,

I revised my earlier post to include answers to some of the common questions I received, so hopefully you’ll find your answers there.

18 10 2010
yer sister

Wow, 21 bucks for a rooster! I know food is incredibly cheap in the US, but that really drives the point home.

What has your diet been like there–more or less meat than usual, or about the same? How much are you cooking at home vs. eating out?

Is water buffalo tastier than rooster, or is it more about being able to afford one? In a family like your in-laws, who does the slaughtering–them or hired help?

18 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hello Sis,

I’m going to revise my post to answer some of the resulting questions, but I’ll answer some of your other questions here.

Once I got settled into the apartment, I mostly ate at home. If I’m running errands or teaching, I usually eat out or in the school “cafeteria” (a woman or young guy in a shack-like kitchen cooking one standard dish of the day). I have packed a lunch for work, especially if I have leftovers at home. I do plan on writing up a food post at some point but I’ll go into a little detail here. With a basic kitchen and not wanting to spend money on all new cookware and food basics, I’m cooking pretty basic things like Nepali daal-bhaat-tarkari with achar (pickled stuff) or pasta. I’ve only bought meat to cook at home once when I had some guests over for dinner. Other than that, I eat meat when I’m out sometimes but more or less have become vegetarian here. The first few days Suresh was here, we ate out a lot but with the holidays and restaurant closures, we’ve been eating at home (either my home or his family’s home).

18 10 2010
yer sister

Achar = kimchi?

18 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Achar can be like a chutney (sauce) to something resembling a salad. You’ve eaten it. Remember my “Nepali potato salad” at a couple past family gatherings?

19 10 2010
yer sister

Yes, yum. I still need to get some recipes from you.

18 10 2010
Michelle Fiester

Hi Kathryn,
Where do they slaughter the animals and who? I wonder how it is explained to children and if it is kind of scary for them.

Be safe!

Michelle

18 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi Michelle,

I revised my earlier post to answer some of the questions I received. But in reference to your question about children, my nephew was very excited about the live goat my family brought home the other morning. He watched it all day and laughed everytime he heard it bray. The goat was killed that evening and he was upset, mostly because he’d wanted to keep it as a pet.This didn’t prevent him from eating the meat for dinner, because he loves goat. So, there you have it. Not everyone likes to witness sacrifices or slaughters, but these things are much more out in the open here than they are in the U.S. where our meats are conveniently cleaned of all hair/feathers and neatly packaged.

17 10 2010
william allen

You mentioned that they sacrifice male animals for the festival, is there a specific animal that they sacrifice, or does each animal have a meaning/specific goal if they sacrifice it?

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