Tag Archives: Dashain

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?

Happy Dashain Part II

Happy “Dashami” or the 10th day of Dashain. The day when the goddess Durga triumphed over the demon Mahishasur and again “good” prevailed over “evil.”

Always up for a good story, I’m happy to share:

Powerful Durga slays Mahishasur on Dashami

Powerful Durga slays Mahishasur on Dashami

Mahishasur’s father was king of the “asuruas” (sometimes described as “demons” although I guess the translation is debatable) and once fell in love with a water buffalo. Mahishasur was born of this union, and could thus change between buffalo and man. Mahishasur happened to be fairly pious, or was at least a great devotee in meditation to the god Brahma. In turn Brahma granted Mahishasur a “boon” (I love how in Hindu mythological stories there is always a “boon” granted to the wrong person, and then all hell breaks loose) in which he could not be defeated by any man or any god.

Given this power Mahishasur started terrorizing heaven and earth, and none of the gods had the power to stop him. Something had to be done, so the gods conspired to beat the boon by creating a powerful young woman who could channel the power of the gods in the form of Durga. After nine days of vicious fighting, Durga prevailed and killed the human/buffalo demon. The days that followed were joyous days of celebration.

The jamara planted at S's house 10 days ago... has already grown so much!

The jamara planted at S's house 10 days ago... its already grown and ready to go...

Much like Dashain, when friends and family get together, neighbors visit neighbors, everyone calls home to say hello and send holiday wishes, and the jamara grass is harvested to use for blessing along with red tikkas which are given out to those who are important to you.

Unfortunately R-dai has gone back to Nepal, and M-dai and S-di both lost in-laws during the past year and were thus unable to give tikkas, so hopefully P will give me one later tonight (although I guess that means he doesn’t get one…). Yet even with the lack of communal tikka-giving (like in past years) at least our neighborhood was ready to celebrate!

Pre-"taas" dinner at S-di's and M-dai's

Pre-"taas" dinner at S-di's and M-dai's

On Friday night we had an evening of “taas” or card playing and gambling, which is a common feature of the Dashain and Tihar holidays. Even though I grew up in a card playing household, I am forever forgetting the rules to Nepali games like “kitty”

Preparing to play, although, wait a second, this isn't call break...

Preparing to play, although, wait a second, this isn't call break...

and “marriage” (or until I get a refresher before the game) but at least I can hold my own in “call break” which is similar to one of my favorite American card games “spades.” The card game playing usually includes gambling, although my call break group just played for fun. I can’t say the same for P’s marriage game or the kitty game going on in the other card circle that evening.

Picnic outside

Picnic outside, this was only a small portion of the food!

Even though Dashami–the tikka day–is today (Monday), we decided to take advantage of the weekend (and sunshine!) and have a big party on Saturday.

The day started pretty early with lots of cooking and preparations at S-di and M-dai’s house. By mid-afternoon there were bowls upon bowls of food set up picnic style outside—spiced meat kabobs grilled on the barbeque; mattar paneer; different chanas and aloo curries and yogurt salads; fermented pickles made from tomatoes, radishes and cucumbers; roasted chicken, goat and pork—certainly enough to feed the entire neighborhood twice over (well… come to think of it, we did all go back for lunch on Sunday, and brought tupperware boxes of food home!)

M-dai plays his drum in beat with the singing...

M-dai plays his drum in beat with the singing...

The girls dressed in kurtas and saris, we had a campfire going against the encroaching autumn chill, and we danced to Nepali and Bollywood songs by the firelight until nearly midnight. And then, of course, came singing and M-dai playing his drum.

It wasn’t necessarily “traditional” but I think it is important to mark these holidays and not let them pass unnoticed. If P (and friends) can’t be at home (in Nepal) for the festive atmosphere with family then its important for us to recreate that atmosphere here!

Ladies, dressed and ready, although the chilly weather necessitated a sweater over my new sari :(

Ladies, dressed and ready, although the chilly weather necessitated a sweater over my new sari :(

The holiday was also nice because P’s brother U came for the weekend as well as my youngest sister M, so that she could experience Dashain for the first time.

Hurray for sharing different cultural experiences!

So Happy Dashain and Happy Dashami to everyone!

And a quick update: There was no goat sacrificing this year, although the conversation briefly resurfaced during the week. Ultimately time and cost were prohibitive, but there’s always next year. On Sunday P’s dad called and let us know that they spent the better part of the day preparing their goat (I guess the shortage wasn’t so bad?), so at least there was some goat action somewhere in the family :)

To see Happy Dashain Part I click HERE

American Kantipur 2: Money and Dashain

Over the past week or so, while talking to family back in Nepal and wishing “Happy Dashain” we kept hearing about the Nepali currency shortage. As part of the holiday, many families (such as P and U) send money home, and families are unable to retrieve the electronic cash transfers due to lack of bank notes. So when I read the news this morning, I thought I’d share:

(you can read the article in its original format on the BBC)

NEPAL ACTS ON CURRENCY SHORTAGE

The authorities in Nepal say they will introduce measures to alleviate a shortage of bank notes in the country.

Lining up for cash

Nepalis have been queuing at ATMs in hope of getting cash.

As a result of the shortage, banks have limited how much cash they dispense and some businesses have been unable to pay employees and suppliers.

The finance ministry says it will introduce old but flawed bank notes that were printed but never circulated.

The crisis threatens to disrupt the country as it celebrates its biggest annual festival, Dashain.

Increased demand for rupees during the religious festival has exacerbated the shortage.

Long queues were seen at ATMs across the capital.

The BBC’s Joanna Jolly in Kathmandu says that although credit cards are readily available, most Nepalis rely on cash for everyday purchases.

Bank governors blame the crisis on a late consignment of new bank notes from France.

The French company contracted to print Nepalese rupee notes is two months late in delivering most of them, the Associated Press news agency reports.

The government has also said that it plans to airlift some of the late consignment to Nepal.

The finance ministry has formed a committee to investigate why the shortage happened, our correspondent says.

Many commentators suggest poor financial management since the end of Nepal’s 10-year civil conflict has contributed to the shortfall.

Dashain is a 15-day Hindu festival marking the triumph of good over evil. During the annual festival Nepalis return to their home villages with gifts and foods for relatives.

Happy Dashain Part I

P: “Dashain started on Saturday.”

Red tikka paste and jamara (barley grass) pictured in a Dashain e-card

Red tikka paste and jamara (barley grass) pictured in a Dashain e-card

Non-Nepali friend: “Oh, is that the Diwali festival? With all the lights?”

P: “No, Diwali is a different festival called Tihar in Nepal. Dashain is before Tihar and it’s kind of like a Nepali Thanksgiving. It is supposed to be religious, but now it seems to be more about families getting together, communities reconnecting, and eating lots of food. But our Thanksgiving lasts for 10-15 days.”

R-dai gives me tikka during my first Dashain

R-dai gives me tikka during my first Dashain

Every year I learn something new about these important Nepali festivals. I guess it is the same way a little kid learns about their own culture, they go through the same act year after year, but sometimes they learn different pieces of it, or  they understand more of it, or a different part of the ritual is revealed to them. I’m just learning the different pieces of this adopted culture as an adult. I don’t claim to be an expert, its definitely a process…

In college the South Asian community—largely Nepali, but also Indian, Sri Lankan, Pakistani and Bangladeshi—organized the Diwali festival for the entire campus each year. They used to deck the campus chapel out in hundreds of tea lights, and spend the weekend cooking large aluminum trays full of  food. The students dressed in South Asian attire and spent an hour or so explaining different aspects of the festival to the audience, demonstrating mantras, singing songs and performing dances. The evening ended with a distribution of tikkas and dinner. What I learned later on was that there were several festivals happening within a few months of each other, but I’m sure it was easier for the students to roll all the various holidays into one big party, and choose one of the more widely known festivals to celebrate. It was probably complicated enough to explain one festival anyway.

P and I get tikka the second year

P and I receiving tikka from R-dai and M-dai the second year

After college, P and I lived in central New York for a while, but I wasn’t around a lot since my job required me to travel. There was an older Nepali community, and they got together to celebrate Dashain and Tihar, but I didn’t really know what was going on, and wasn’t really around for them.

As you can probably tell as a common theme in these posts, once we moved to New England, I really started to learn more about specific Nepali cultural nuances.

Showing off our tikkas after S-di's Dashain gathering

Showing off our tikkas after M-dai and S-di's Dashain gathering

However our first year after the move I was still pretty clueless. In fact, in my mind I was  still blurring a lot of the holidays together… Dashain, Tihar, Diwali… they all seemed the same to me.

That year S-di and M-dai were hosting a big neighborhood party involving lots of cooking, dressing up in Nepali clothing, a tikka ceremony, and the inevitable singing and dancing that was to follow. During the tikka ceremony, M-dai and R-dai, the two eldest male Nepalis, settled themselves on the floor and called each person up, one by one, to give a series of blessings in Nepali while sticking the red tikka powder/yogurt/rice mixture to our foreheads. When it was P and my turn, R-dai did my blessing and said something like, “We hope you and P have a long happy life together. We hope that you foster strong and important connections between the US and Nepal. We hope that you learn the Nepali language fast and well.”

The second year, I was excited about Dashain. I really enjoyed the tikka ceremony, including everyone’s individualized blessings the year before, and I liked getting the big group together. It definitely had a Thanksgiving-esque quality to it—close friends, lots of food, holiday togetherness, fun.

S's Dad plants the jamara in the aluminum pans and starts the puja

S's Dad plants the jamara seeds in the aluminum pans and starts the puja

Yet as I said earlier, there is always more to learn. All I had previously  known about was the final Dashain day of tikka, I didn’t really know what happened during the the rest of the time. So when we were heading to S and R’s house on Friday they mentioned that there would be a “quick Dashain activity on Saturday morning” since it was the first day of the festival. I started asking them my laundry list of questions, “Do we need to bring anything for this? Do we need to dress up? Is there anything I should know?” It was quick, I was assured, don’t worry about it.

So after our Friday night momo party (mmmmm), we woke up relatively early on Saturday to the sound of S’s mom, S’s elder sister, and R cooking breakfast (sukuti or dried meat, spiced potatoes, a soybean mixture, and chiura or beaten rice). S’s dad was preparing the puja, including planting the jamara (barley grass seeds).

Offering eggs as prashad to the gods

Offering eggs, bananas and apples as prashad to the gods

This was new… I had seen pictures from back in Nepal of people getting tikka for Dashain and having pieces of grass tucked behind their ears, but I didn’t know part of the ceremony was to grow the barley. Apparently on the first day of Dashain, the family plants the jamara, and within the 10 days of the festival the jamara grows. On the last day you cut the jamara and use the grass as a blessing. Since Dashain is both a religious festival, but also a festival that marks the end of the rice harvest, I’m sure that this part of the ritual has some sort of harvesting significance.

Dashain breakfast

Dashain breakfast

S’s dad made the puja and gave us all small tikkas, we had breakfast (which included beer… S’s brother-in-law says that it is traditional to drink alcohol as part of the celebration), and thus kicked-off the Dashain season of 2009—or should I say 2066, according to the Nepali calendar.

I’ll post more on Dashain in about 10 days.