Bada Dashain, also known as Vijaya Dashami is the greatest festival of Hindus. It is the longest, most auspicious and the most majestic festival for Nepalese.
It is celebrated to mark the victory of virtue over evil by Goddess Durga. She defeated the demon king Mahesasura who announced war against the Gods. He was the most powerful demon king of all time and blessed by Lord Brahma (the Creator) that no man could ever kill him except a woman. With the blessing, Mahesasura was able to overpower God’s kingdom and throw them out of heaven. Goddess Durga in the form of Katyayani was then divined by uniting powers of all the gods of the universe who could kill the demon Mahesaura, son of the demon Ramba born from a buffalo.
The festival is observed among the family members and the members of the society with the feeling of unity. Dashain can’t be celebrated alone. You have to participate in the occasion from family to the social members. Therefore, people away from home come back to their villages, towns or cities to celebrate together at their ancestral homes and take blessings from Durga Bhawani (Goddess Durga) and their elders. Dashain is the festival of family reunion and rejoice. Accordingly, during Dashain, Government organizations, educational institutions and all the public and private sectors are closed down. The festival falls in the month of Ashwin or Kartik (September/October) starting from Shukla Paksha (bright lunar fortnight) and ending on Purnima (the full moon day). During Dashain, devotees throng to Shaktipeethas (the temples believed to be blessed with the powers of the Goddess). These Shaktipeethas are most crowded on the seventh, the eights and the ninth day of Dashain.
During the festival, the story of Goddess Durga, on how she saved the world from the evil Mahesasura is played on radio and television, as well the festival’s significance is printed on newspapers.
According to Hindu Mythology, Goddess Durga is manifested as a powerful woman sitting on a tiger’s back holding magically powerful weapons on her eights hands.
The mythical battle between the goddess and the demon king reveals that the war lasted for nine days. People listen to the war story with delight on media. Many offerings of animals take place in Durga temples to recall her victory of justice over evil. While there are the most number of Hindus residing in Nepal, every nook and corner echoes with the fragrance of Dashain. The environment of Dashain is made musical on media by welcoming the Malashree dhun, devotional music based on classical raga and taal system which people consider conventional.
Dashain is celebrated for fifteen days, among which the most important days are; the first, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth and the fifteenth. The first nine days of the festival time is called Nauratha. Durga’s nine manifested forms viz Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kaalaratri, Mahagauri and Siddhadatri are worshipped respectively on each day starting at Ghatasthapana.
First Day: Ghatasthapana
The first day of Dashain is called Ghatasthapana, the day to sow the seeds of holy jamara (the yellowish seedling grown from barley, wheat and maize seeds) which is given as a blessing to the juniors by the elders along with tika on the tenth day, Vijaya Dashami.
Ghatasthapana is considered auspicious as it marks the first day of Durga’s battle announcement with Mahesasura. On the day, Ghada (Kalasha) with fully filled water and in the water some jau (barley), til (sesame seeds), kush (halfa grass), mango leaves, a piece of cloth is set in the early morning with the worshipping to Durga. To the side of Ghada, different kind of fruits (coconut is the must) and sweets are offered to the goddess. Then, in the evening, after looking upon the moon, people enter the altar of God to plant the jamara seeds. In this process, the seeds of barley, wheat, corn are, either planted mixed together, or separately in the sand-soil-filled ghada. The mouth of the ghada is always covered so that the new seedlings can grow yellow. Jamara grows to the right size on the 10th day if only the vessel is watered correctly every day after morning Durga puja ritual.
Seventh Day: Fulpati; a day to present sacred flowers
Fulpati literally means flowers and leaves. Saptami, the seventh day, known as Fulpati is commemorated in different ways by the general people and the government body. In common, people bring in nine different types of flowers and leaves home into their puja kotha (altar room) to include in the veneration of Saptami puja.
Fulpati is a grand exhibition day for the government bodies which is different than the common reverence. On this day, the Brahmins carry Royal Kalasha, Holy Jamara, Banana Stalks and Sugarcane tied with Red Cloth from Gorkha District to Kathmandu following the Vedic rites to be anointed at Dashain Ghar in Hanumandhoka Durbar. Gorkha is where the Shah Dynasty, the last Royals of Nepal, hailed from. When Nepal was still a Kingdom, Fulpati paraded from Gorkha would first arrive at the king’s palace. But, now the ritual has changed and a parade is organized by the people’s government, including the Brahmins, Nepal Army, Nepal Police, and high ranking officials of Armed Police Force and civil service and the Panche Baja (a set of five traditional Nepali musical instruments that are played during holy ceremonies) processing along with cultural pageantry leave for Hanumandhoka from Jamal (an ancient and the most popular market place, a tourist’s choice in Kathmandu) carrying Fulpati. Hundreds of government officials would gather together in traditional attire to witness the Fulpati parade with the president.
There is the religious belief that bringing Fulpati home means bringing Nava Durga (Nine different manifestations of Goddesses Durga) home. The deities, this way bless the devotees with good health, wealth and prosperity.
Therefore bringing Fulpati home brings goodness in the lives of people.
Eighth Day: Maha Ashtami
The eighth day of Dashain is called Maha Asthami. It is the day to establish the tools and weapons at home to the altar for worshipping. Once the tools are established in the altar, they can’t be taken out for usage until the tenth day. These weapons are settled and offered with the reverence. This event takes place to evoke how with the prayers of Gods and humans, Goddess Durga had decided to defeat the demon Mahesasura. While preparing for the war, goddess Durga was given the divine powers of Gods and their weapons. All the weapons were worshipped and hosted to Durga.
On the same day, Ashtami, eight aspects of Durga emerged who played significant roles in the war. When the eight forces of Durga emerged, she was named Kali, the one who would slaughter the evils. On the eighth day, Kali killed the three devils; Chanda, Munda, and Raktabija. Therefore, in Maha Ashtami, weapons are set before goddess Durga in the altar and worshipped. The weapons are offered to evoke her to save humans from the evil powers prevailing in the world or around.
Since the massive bloodshed took place during the war people sacrifice various animals like goats and buffaloes in the temples of Goddess Durga to appease her.
Ninth Day: Maha Navami
Maha Navami is celebrated on the ninth day of Dashain. It is the last day of worship to the Goddess. According to mythology, it was the ninth day when Durga vanquished the demon with her power and wisdom, therefore, it is also the day of slaughter and rejoices among the people. Slaughtering animals and enjoying meat takes place heavily in Maha Navami. Every Hindu family enjoys meat as prasad (sacred food) on the day. Meat varieties as mutton sekuwa (mutton roast), mutton curry, kabab (spiced boneless roast), meat khaja set (meat with additional food items), daal bhat masu (lentil curry, rice, meat) and many more.
The Nepal Army also slaughter buffaloes for the official worship and pray to Durga for the undefeatable courage.
Tenth Day: Vijaya Dashami
This is the day to receive the blessing from the elderly members. On the day, family members and relatives exchange good wishes, cards and gifts. The juniors receive Tika (a paste made of rice grains, yoghurt and vermilion) and Jamara (yellow seedlings which were sown in Ghatasthapana) from the elders. Boys tuck Jamara behind their ears and ladies pin the bunch in their hair. During the time of Dashain, a plentiful of flower varieties bloom, but only Jamara is used to bless the Tika receivers with prosperity as the year of good harvest and collection.
The tenth day is a very busy and tiring day as people need to visit each other’s home to receive blessings. Women are tirelessly cooking, while other family members play card games and children eagerly await their turn to take a big swing on linge ping (bamboo Swing).
Fifteenth Day: Kojagrat Purnima
Kojagrat literally means ‘who is awake?’
People worship Goddess Laxmi on this day and stay awake the whole night lighting their homes. Not everyone celebrates Kojagrat Purnima as an important day. This is the last day of Dashain, the full moon day and technically the fifteenth day. In case, for any genuine reason, people had not been able to participate on the tenth day, Dashain day, these people get an extra privilege to receive Tika from the elders on this day too.
In the preparation of Dashain, every nook and corner of the house is cleaned. Most houses get painted too. Everybody comes together to see and watch how houses of each other have been cleaned from the entrance of the house itself. There is the belief that goddess Durga enters the clean house only to bless with good fortune.
Several various happy and engaging events take place during Dashain. A lot of movements can be seen in the shops with the people seeking for new clothes, foodstuffs, gifts, and luxuries. A great deal of family feasting takes place during these ten days of Dashain. Thousands of animals like he-goats, sheep from the mountains, buffaloes, and even ducks and chicken are prepared for great slaughter.
Various games are played during Dashain. First of all, playing of cards is very popular among men. Second, kite flying takes place for children and seniors who enjoy the event. Third, linge ping is organized for everyone to leave the ground and swing in the sky at Dashain. Dashain is for everyone.
Therefore, from the poor to the rich enjoy the festive mood of Dashain as holidays are provided and offices are closed at least for ten days to enjoy the festival.