The Dashain Festival
Once a year during the month of Kartik (late September, early October), the people of Nepal get ready to enjoy Dashain, the biggest festival of the year. This is the biggest and longest festival on the Nepali calendar and it is celebrated by virtually every person in Nepal, regardless of their social caste. The entire festival lasts approximately fifteen days and is a riot of color, festivity and religious rites.
The festival is said to be held in honor of the gods’ victory over wicked demons. Legend has it that the god Ramayan was only able to kill Ravana, the king of the demons, when the goddess Durga was evoked. Thus the goddess Durga plays a pivotal role in the celebrations and the entire event is seen as a celebration of good over evil.
The festival starts on a lunar fortnight which ends on the day of the full moon. All homes in Nepal are cleaned, painted and decorated to encourage the mother goddess to visit and bless the household. Relatives from distant towns are reunited and the markets come alive with those looking for items they may use during the festival, such as clothes, food, gifts and animals for sacrifice. Thousands of animals such as goats, chickens, ducks, sheep and water buffalo are prepared for the sacrificial slaughter. During the course of the festival the blood of all these animals will be poured out for a ritual holy bathing that glorifies the goddess Durga. During the first nine days of the festival – the period during which Durga supposedly fought the demon Mahisasur – are a period of worship.
During this part of festival the tantric rites are conducted and the people pay their homage to the goddess by visiting her image in the temples around the country. Each day follows a pattern set thousands of years ago and is different from the next. On the ninth day, the Taleju temple at Hanuman Dhoka is opened to the public – the only time during the year that this occurs. Thousands of people visit the temple on this day and thousands of animals are sacrificed to honor Durga and seek her blessing.
On the tenth day the festivities settle a bit and the focus turns towards family. Elders visit each home and bless the family members – some of which have come from far away to receive this blessing. Even the king receives this blessing and the entire process takes about four days.
On the fifteenth day of the festival – the last day – the people of Nepal settle down to rest. The very next day the shops are open once again and life in Nepal returns to normal. Some travelers will likely find the animal sacrifices offered at Dashain to be somewhat offensive but should remember that these are an integral part of a festival which has been held for hundreds of years.
Dashain is the most important festival on the Nepal calendar and is a most interesting event to witness.