Category Archives: Festivals

Dashain Tikka 2010

Another Dashain has come and gone. It was a good one this year. Good food, good friends, good blessings/wishes, good music, good dancing, and I finally won some taas money ;)

P’s brother U came to visit from Philadelphia and on Sunday morning some friends came over for a morning “family tikka.” P prepared the jamara…

Nice and yellow. Although I left the jamara out all day because I figured it was the last day of Dashain, and it turned green really fast... (it's supposed to be yellow)

… and the tikka (vermillion powder, yogurt and rice). The oldest in the house gives tikka to the younger people…

P gives me tikka

After P was done, the next oldest gave tikka…

KS giving me my second tikka

Finally I gave tikka to a few of the younger people…

I give tikka and blessings to D

Then we had a nice breakfast feast, before cleaning up the kitchen to start round two of cooking for S-di and M-dai’s tikka and party. I did my part and represented both the “American” (by making salad and apple crisp) and “Nepali” (by making rice and mattar paneer) aspects of our household in the cuisine department.

In the past few years, M-dai usually gave tikka since he is the eldest in our community, but this year S-di took charge. I later found out M-dai quietly decided not to give or take tikka this year as an activist measure, since as I noted before his ethnic community did not traditionally celebrate Dashain, but was at one point forced by representatives of the king. He was inspired by recent articles in Republica.

S-di giving P and I our tikkas and blessings for the year

Other party guests with their tikkas...

And of course, there was lots of food...

After tikka and eating, the guitar and drums were taken out and various Nepali folk songs were sung and danced to…

And we rounded out the evening with a bit of taas– not marriage, but “flush” which is another betting game kind of like a simpler version of poker. Although I wasn’t the big winner, I did alright, and finished with more money than I started out with :)

So Dashain this year was a lot of fun. P and his family have started talking about having us go to Nepal next year for Dashain. P hasn’t been home for a Dashain in ten years, and it will be our first Dashain as a married couple. I would love to see the festival in Nepal and take tikka from his family. It’s hard to take off time from work, especially during the school year, but maybe I’ll try…

Hope you all had an enjoyable Dashain! Any good stories? Good tikka blessings/wishes? Fun moments?

Jamara Status…

So Dashain tikka is tomorrow. I think we will start the day by getting our household tikka from P (he’s the oldest), and then we will be having our regular tikka and party at S-di and M-dai’s place tomorrow afternoon.

and… I’m happy to report that our jamara planting was successful!

I have to admit, during my first post “planting the jamara,” I was a bit worried that nothing was going to grow and I’d have to admit defeat to the internet community. On day three I was quite encouraged to see the jamara seedlings peeking up into the air. However on day 9 (today!), it is amazing to see how fast it has grown!

 

Top view

 

 

Side view

 

So it is ready to be used for tikka tomorrow! Hurray!

P’s brother U is coming up from Philadelphia, and we chatted online with family earlier today. Good times for Dashain! Best wishes to all…

Dashain Articles

A few people (thanks AS and P) sent me articles today from the Nepali online journal Republica that I wanted to share:

The first is called “Nava Durga: Nine incarnations of the Mighty Devi Durga” and discusses the different incarnations of Durga (the power goddess) that are worshiped on different days of Dashain.

The second article was on Dashain tikkas and why some communities use red versus white or black.

(From the Republica article on Tikka): This picture illustrates to those who have never seen or participated in a Dashain tikka giving what it looks like. An older member of your family/community gives tikka and blessing to younger people. Note the jamara grass tucked behind the father's ear.

In the “white tikka” section of the article it discusses how different ethnic communities sometimes choose to use different colored tikkas to differentiate themselves and their practices, since historically red vermillion was not readily available outside of the KTM valley, and tikkas were created with butter (potentially influenced by Tibet), or curd and rice. Also the article gives the example of the Limbu people, whose participation in Dashain can only be traced back to Rana Bahadur Shah’s reign. This reminded me of a story that M-dai told me a while back.

M-dai is from the Sunwar ethnic group traditionally from the mountains in the Solokhumbu region of Nepal. Many of the mountain people were not traditionally (and many still are not) Hindu, but Buddhist or animist/shamanistic. When Nepal became unified under a king, and the country was declared a Hindu kingdom, advisors of the king were sent to the more remote areas of Nepal to enforce Hinduization. M-dai said his grandfather’s grandfathers used to have to show that they sacrificed a goat for Dashain to prove their participation in the Hindu festival and their adherence to the king. For some families celebration of this festival may have stuck, but not for all.

Which leads me into the final article: “Commentary: On Not Celebrating Dashain.” Even though to me Dashain feels more cultural than spiritual, it is important to remember that the festival– much like Christmas (regardless of how secular and commercial it might seem to some) in the US– is not celebrated by everyone. This article is from the perspective of a Nepali who is not Hindu, and thus doesn’t celebrate.

I hope you don’t mind all the posts on Dashain… it’s just on my brain as of late. Thought others might find these interesting….

Marriage (the Nepali Card Game)

In the spirit of Dashain, I wanted to post about the Nepali card game “Marriage.” As I’ve mentioned before one of the favorite pass-times of Dashain (besides eating of course) is gambling, and it is not unusual for families to spend the holiday playing cards. We were at a Dashain party at R and S’s over the weekend and there was card playing/gambling from 10:30pm until 5 in the morning!

There are several favorite games to play for Dashain’s “taas” (card playing)– “Kitty,” “Call Break” (which is similar to the American game Spades), and probably most famously “Marriage.”

I grew up in a card playing family (at least on my dad’s side) but I’m forever forgetting the rules of “Marriage.” A quick google search led me to realize there wasn’t a good listing of the rules out there in internet-land, (although there is a website where Nepalis can play “Marriage” online). So I thought it would be useful to try and explain the rules of the game in a nutshell for anyone who might find themselves pulled into a game during this Dashain season.

If I have misunderstood any of the rules or I forgot something, I encourage readers familiar with the game to comment. Also special thanks to N who took the time this evening to play a round with me and explain the rules in detail.

Marriage is all about the “points” (each point is money that the players have to pay each other), strategically knowing what to throw and what not to, and trying to figure out the “joker” (or wild card).

1 point is a unit of money, whether it is 1 rupee, 1 penny, 10 cents, etc.

The game is played with three decks of playing cards and can be played with 2-5 players. The dealer deals 21 cards to each player. The players look at their hand to see if they have any sequences (either three-of-a-kinds or same suit trials of three). If you have a three-of-a-kind it is called a “tanella” and you can put the cards out in the open. Each player must pay the person with the tanella 5 points. If multiple people have tanella than multiple people are paid 5 points by each player. If you don’t call your tanellas at the beginning before the game begins, you are not able to collect your points.

The play begins with the person sitting to the right of the dealer. The top card of the un-dealt pile is turned over and the player has a choice to pick up this card, or take the next card. If the player wants the card then they take it into their hand and discard a card they do not want. The cards in the discard pile are spread out so all can see the cards that are no longer in play (this can be strategically important).

The game continues in that fashion until someone gets three sequences (either three-of-a-kind or same suit trial of three). The person who gets the sequences lays them out face up and gets to blindly choose the “joker” or wild card  amongst the unused portion of the deck, looks at the joker, and places at the bottom of the pile.

Knowing the joker is a key aspect to the game, and players will only get a chance to look at the joker after they get three sequences.

The joker can be used as a wild card to complete sequences where you are lacking a card. Since you are playing with three decks it is possible that there might be two other of the exact same joker in play, but the same joker of any suit is also usable (just not worth points later on). Also the exact card above the joker and the card below the joker (called “maal”) can be used as wild cards and are also worth money later on. So an example– if the “joker” is the 5 of diamonds than all 5’s are also wild cards (although only diamonds are worth points), and the 4 of diamonds and 6 of diamonds are wild cards (“maal”) worth points as well.

The play continues with picking cards, discarding and making sequences (keep sequences in your hand except for the three original sequences that allow you to look at the joker). The person who first makes all the sequences in their hand discards their final card, lays out the sequences and starts counting points.

The key to the game is in the points:

So you get points for being the first person to complete all sequences in your hand– 10 points from any player that hadn’t made the initial 3 sequence that allowed them to look at the joker, and 3 points from everyone else.

But then other people can get points too…

Anyone who has the exact joker (5 of diamonds in the example above) gets 3 points from each person, and anyone who has a “maal” card (4 or 6 of diamonds in the example above) gets 2 points from everyone.

There is an alternate version as well where you could get 5 points if you have a joker of a different suit but same color (meaning 5 of hearts in the example above) but there are no “maal” points for the same color different suit variation.

After counting up points, and exchanging money, the deal moves to the person on the right and the whole process starts again. The game continues until people decide to stop, there is no definitive end… unless maybe someone runs out of money ;)

Of course there are many other intricacies to the game, but at least this will get you started on the right path…

So happy gambling, and happy Dashain! (Luckily I’ve only lost $5 so far…)

The Jamara is Growing!

When I checked out my jamara this evening I was excited to see the little yellow shoots popping up! I was so excited I ran in to the room with my jamara planter while P was talking to his parents on skype, and I showed them the progress on the webcam. His mom and dad were impressed with their growth (“Wow, your jamara is beating ours!”) but then they started scolding, (“Don’t carry the jamara around the house! Leave it growing until the last day of Dashain! Put it back!”)

So I wanted to share the progress… :)

 

Planting the Jamara (in pictures)

So, little did I know that traditionally men are in charge of the jamara planting ritual, but I took charge of our planting tonight, since I seemed to be most excited. Hopefully I didn’t commit some terrible taboo. First I took a shower to “purify” myself and then started the planting.

So what did I do?

Step one: Soaked the jamara seeds. You are supposed to soak them overnight, but I only soaked then for about 20 mins. My housemates said that was okay, hopefully it won’t disturb my jamara growing process…

Step two: Gathered materials… jamara seeds, container for the plants, and sand.

Step three: Filled the bottom of the container with sand

Step four: sprinkled jamara seeds in a single layer on top

Step five: covered with a thin layer of sand

Step six: Watered generously

Step seven: covered and stored in a dark place (the seeds grow better when moist and dark)

Step eight: water when necessary. Jamara should be moist but not swamped.

The plants are supposed to look yellowish green not green-green… so hopefully I start to see shoots soon.

I hope my little seeds grow. I’ll let you know what they look like in ten days!

Ghatasthapana and Jamara

Friday is Ghatasthapana, the first day of the ten day festival of Dashain. One of the activities on Ghatasthapana (as I just learned last year) is planting jamara or barley grass.

Having just learned about this custom last year, while watching S’s father plant the jamara seeds on the first day of Dashain, I made a mental note to look for jamara and try it out myself.

So a few days ago P and I went to the local Indian grocery store where packets of jamara seeds were on sale.

Last night we were video chatting with P’s family, and his mom and dad were giving him some tips on growing jamara. Later P found a nice article in the Nepali online journal Republica which gives step by step instructions.

Check out the 5 easy steps HERE.

I think we will do it tonight since I go to work early in the morning and the seeds are supposed to be planted in the morning. I’ll let you know how the jamara planting goes…

 

Jamara grown and ready for the Dashain tikka ceremony

 

Dashain Ideas

Dashain is soon to be upon us. The first day of the ten day festival is October 8th and it ends on October 17th.

A reader asked me what she might be able to do for her Nepali partner for Dashain. In her specific situation he is across the country. I brought the topic up at dinner last night to see if my in-house Nepali focus group had any ideas.

AS: “That’s tough… Dashain is all about getting together with family and eating lots of food. So if you are far away? I don’t know.”

P: “Make some goat curry and send it through the mail.”

Hmmm… not the most helpful advice.

So I was googling around during lunch today and found a website that explained the importance of Dashain in Nepali culture and the individual aspects of it quite well. It’s not necessarily specific advice, but it might give some ideas:

Dashain is big in Nepal mainly for the following :

  • Holidays – Rest and Relaxation for nearly 10 days!
    This is the longest festival in Nepal. It allows one to travel and be with family and friends for up to a week or more.
  • Shopping – Clothes for wife, children, dad, mum… In spite of extreme hardship, during the festival season, Nepalese families manage to shop if not for all, but at least for the children. Clothes are the most selling item during the season. Those who could not afford to wear even a single new cloth in the entire year will now attempt!
  • Eating – Meat Products, Sweets, Fruits, and meat products again! Dashain’s most popular cuisine is meat, and in popularity order are goat meat, sheep, buffalo, duck, and chicken. Meat is expensive and poor to middle class families usually cannot afford it. So dashain is the time of eating lots of meat. Usually animals are bought live from the animal market such as Kalanki Bazaar, Bag Bazaar, and sacrificed at home or in temples. At home, the whole family is involved in cutting and preparing the meat which usually lasts for 2 to 3 days of feast. But some family prefer to buy the meat already prepared by Butchers
  • Visiting – Meet your Family and Friends near and far
    Dashain is also about forgiveness, kindness and respect, all of which prevails so broken families come together. Cities suddenly seems to empty itself, more people returning back in villages or terai (lower, flat region of Nepal) than that of people joining families in cities. During this season, city rushes to book tickets, bus or plane!
  • Kites – Children love the season also for flying Kites
    If you visit Kathmandu or any other city during this season, the day-sky is filled with colorful kites like shinning stars in the night!
  • Tika and Love – Receiving and Giving Tika and Respect.
    Getting a tika from an older person in your family or from relatives or from anyone is a blessing. Dashain tika begins from the oldest person in your family giving tika to the youngest then the second youngest in the family and so on. Faith, hope, inspiration and blessings, all come alive in Dashain.
  • Money Notes – stacks of notes to give!
    Receive a tika and offer money notes as an appreciation. Popular Dashain notes are Rupees 2, 5, 10, and Rupees 25. Everybody tries to exchange for smaller and new notes, so banks are usually busy during the season.
  • Cleaning – Clean and decorate homes
    Walls get a new coat of paints, roads are cleaned better than before, temples are decorated with lights, villagers join together to clean and build new trails, paint their homes using red-colored mud. People clean themselves mentally too by visiting various temples and worshiping during the festival.
  • Puja – Worshiping God for Peace and Prosperity. Various pujas are performed from beginning to the end of Dashain.
  • Gambling – although not legal in Nepal, but it’s played! Playing cards are popular during Dashain. Usually family members play cards with each-other or with friends for money.

Perhaps you could send or gift your loved one a new shirt or pair of pants and some playing cards, cook a goat curry meal, and/or send Dashain greetings to Nepali family and friends. If you live in a community with Nepali people, you might visit the homes of elder Nepalis for tikka.

Other ideas out there?

Kumari and Indra Jatra

Yesterday was Indra Jatra. I know this only because I like to look at BBC’s “in pictures” each day and there was a photo from Kathmandu depicting the ceremony.

From BBC "In Pictures"

I don’t know much about Indra Jatra (so I’ll look up some information to share) but the festival caught my attention because I’ve been reading up on Kumari (or the “living goddesses” from Nepal). I find their stories fascinating and was thinking of writing about them for my writer’s group. Indra Jatra is one of the festivals that kumaris participate in.

Basically Kumari are little girls chosen from a specific Buddhist Newar ethnic group (Shakya) in Nepal who become the embodiment of the Hindu goddess Taleju (which is an avatar of power goddess Durga). Much like the Dalai Lama or Pachen Lama, the girls are a reincarnation of the goddess, and are chosen based on specific attributes such as “a neck like a conch shell,” “a body like a banyan tree”, “eyelashes like a cow,” “chest like a lion” and have to pass a test to prove that she is the goddess. Supposedly one such test comes during Dashain (coming in October), when the young goddess has to spend the night in a temple with 108 sacrificed goats and buffalos. Since Durga is strong and fearless, the Kumari candidate must also show no fear.

Various photos of Kumari in full regalia including headdress, full tikka, and naga (snake) necklace. Kumari are not allowed to touch the ground, so they are carried or ride in chariots when they have to go outside for religious functions

Girls are chosen very young (usually when they are only a few years old) and live out their childhood in a temple away from their families. They are worshiped and often sought for guidance, and I believe the Royal Kumari of Bhaktapur gives a tikka to the king of Nepal during Dashain as a blessing (at least, back when there was a king). Tradition holds that if a king does not receive tikka from the Kumari at this time, something horrible will happen. I remember reading somewhere (although now I can’t find the link) that supposedly when the former King Birendra went to take tikka from the Royal Kumari the Dashain before the Royal Massacre (June 2001), she cried (or something like that) which denotes a bad omen. Less than a year later ten members of the royal family including the King, Queen, two princes and the princess were dead.

The Kumari remains a goddess until her first menstruation, at which point the spirit of the goddess leaves her body to inhabit someone else, and she again becomes a mere mortal. Image the confusion for the poor child—having spent the formative years of her life worshiped and treated to every desire only to reach adolescence and be tossed back to her family (which at this point she hardly knows) and be treated like a regular person again.

BBC "In pictures" from today... girls dressed like Kumari dance in the street (although they are not real Kumari)

Another BBC "In Pictures"... a (real) Kumari peeks outside her temple window at the Indra Jatra festival

If you want to learn more about the Kumari I recommend watching the documentary “The Living Goddess” (watch trailer HERE), it is currently streaming on Netflix. Interestingly, when the documentary came out, the Kumari featured traveled to the US for the premiere, and she was temporarily “fired” from her role as Kumari because she became “unclean” from traveling abroad.  A purification ritual was performed before she could be reinstated.

So back to Indra Jatra—Indra is the god of rain and the festival is celebrated for eight days in the Kathmandu Valley mostly near Hanuman Dhoka. Classical dancers assemble in the square wearing different traditional masks and costumes to celebrate Indra’s visit. On the third day the Kumari is brought to the square in a chariot procession to watch over the ceremonies.

Pictures of Indra Jatra dancers

Panchami and the Bhutanese Refugees

Back from New York, Teej and fasting.

I fasted from about 9pm on Friday night until about 9pm on Saturday so that when we were in the South Asian section of the city (Jackson Heights, Queens) I could eat at the Nepali restaurant with our friends. I found fasting a bit easier this year, I think because we were so busy walking around and doing things in the city that it made the day pass more quickly and kept my mind off of it. Although when someone sitting next to me at the tennis match ate a delicious smelling panini it made my mouth water.

Me at the US Open, Roger Federer in the background, wearing my red Teej clothing

On Sunday P and I woke up early and drove back to Massachusetts so that I could meet up with AS and S-di at the Bhutanese refugee gathering. By the time I arrived one of the pujas had already taken place, but I was quickly ushered to the newly forming ring of women preparing for the second puja.

AS and S-di were dressed in beautiful red saris, AS wearing the same clothes as she wore several months prior for her wedding including potes, bangles, dori and tikka. Since I was walking in straight from the highway, I was only wearing a red shirt and sweater and P’s mother’s red Teej necklace, but at least I had the right colors on.

AS explained that the women had organized a puja for Panchami, which is technically the fifth day (panch= five) but was actually the third day of Teej (Day 1—Daar feast, Day 2—Teej fast)– sometimes I really don’t get the Nepali calendar. The puja is in honor of seven gods represented by seven stars in the sky that are in the shape of a question mark (I’m assuming she was referring to the “seven sisters,” or Pleiades, in Orion’s belt, but maybe she meant a different constellation?). Again, the women generally fast until after the puja, and the puja is supposed to cleanse them of any sins they committed during the year (particularly sins they may have committed breaking menstrual taboos such as touching food, etc).

I enjoy pujas, especially larger chaotic ones. I don’t ever really understand anything that is going on, but there is always a lot of activity and confusion. Yesterday the large cluster of women sat in a circle with the priest (the only man in the group), who had spread before him an assortment of puja paraphernalia such as flowers and flower petals, fruits, rice, water, and incense. As the priest chanted prayers the women would pass around paper plates/bowls with flowers, water, or rice. I’d periodically be prompted to take a small handful of flower petals or water, hold it between my hands (in the namaste gesture), drip the water on my head, or touch the petals to my forehead, and then throw the petals into the middle of the circle.

At one point I was given a small plate on which  I  had to place a banana, apple, rice, flowers, water dyed with red tikka powder, and coins, and I offered it to the priest as a blessing. Even if I’m unsure of what to do, the other participants are usually willing to share or help me out, passing me handfuls of rice or miming the hand gestures I should follow.

Near the end of the puja the women stood, and started shuffling clockwise around the pile of puja material while the priest chanted, and plates with apples stuffed with handfuls of incense were lit as an arti and burned like candles. We were supposed to circle the altar seven times (but I might have only made it around three), and after the priest circulated through the crowd giving post-puja red tikkas.

Here are a few pictures from the event—

women sitting in the circle near the priest

AS (left) explains a few nuances of the puja as I'm passed a bowl of water. The priest's peach-pink-gray topi hat is seen to the left.

Listening to the priest for the next step. S-di is in the red sari with green pote to the left

Center of the puja activity-- bananas, flowers, yogurt, incense, apples, oranges, money, rice, nuts, even glass bangles

Giving offerings to the priest

Apple arti

Circling the puja area. You can tell the married women from the unmarried women by their necklaces (or lack there of).

Puja aftermath

And apparently a Nepali website (Sajha.com) captured me in action too-- chatting with AS and S-di

And posing for pics! AS, me, S-di, and an acquaintance of S-di's

For more views of Teej you can check out Nepal News video clip on celebrating in KTM this year.