The thread that binds us together
by RISHI AMATYA
Dasain is truly a time to rejoice and socialise, to make merry and enjoy the company of loved ones. It's also the time to remind ourselves what we are celebrating and why this is The Festival of Festivals.
It's a lot of fun whether it is part of your cultural traditions or not, and even if you don't celebrate it, Dasain hard to avoid.
In recent years, what Dasain symbolises has become especially important: the defeat of forces of evil by those of good. This year, too, the festive season is loaded with significance and hope.
The story we keep hearing about Dasain is that Vishnu-incarnate Rama defeat the demon king by invoking the cosmic powers by worshipping Devi. The nine days it took Rama to 'gather and store' the divine energies by invoking the goddess are on the days called Navaratri, which lead to the victory on the tenth day that we celebrate as Bijaya Dashmi. We receive tika to symbolically mark that victory.
But Dasain is not as standardised as school textbooks would have us believe. Other than Durga, many others manifestations of Devi, holder of all cosmic energy, are worshipped through Dasain. They include Taleju Bhawani, patron deity of the Mallas, the gentler manifestation Bhadrakali, and more wrathful forms like the Naxal Bhagwati, Maitidevi, Dakshin Kali, Rakta Kali, Guheswori, and Kalikastan.
Few people believe these events actually occurred. So why is Dasain is so important to so many? One reason is that we are drawn to the esoteric, and Dasain has that in spades: the entire universe is the interplay between two forms of divine energy, masculine and feminine. (This has echos in pairings like yin and yang, heaven and earth, Shiva and Shakti and so on.) Harmony in the universe is thought to be maintained by these eternally opposing yet balancing forces. Behind the gorging and gambling lies an elaborate system of symbols.
Satya Mohan Joshi, scholar and cultural expert, says that Dasain has evolved over time. Ritual sacrifice is a good example of this, showing the influence of tantric traditions in Kathmandu Valley.
People have other explanations too, about why Dasain is so popular and sometimes celebrated by people and communities who are not of Hindu heritage. Some argue that this started because anyone who wanted to get ahead, or curry favour with their overlords had to celebrate Dasain or receive tika from higher-ups to show commitment to a mainstream Nepali identity.
But we all know what Dasain is really for:
The next most important day is Phulpati, the seventh day. On this day, traditionally, puja from the Gorkha Darbar is transported to Kathmandu on foot. As it enters the Valley, it is welcomed with a booming cannon salute from the army, and then displayed at the Basantapur Dabali. It's anyone's guess what will happen this year.
Ritual sacrifices start on day eight, Maha Asthami or Kalratri. On the tenth day we get tika and jamara, symbolising boons, from elders.
1 Baptise your goat. Call it Johnny.
2 Ride on Johnny and act like Don Quixote. Charge at any windmills you see.
3 Murmur Harry Potter incantations while putting on tika.
4 Claim you have hidden magical powers. Act distraught when people tell you it's impossible to make a kucho fly by tying strings to it.
5 Make up your own chants while performing a puja. Act offended when asked what they mean.
6 When your elders put tika on your forehead, re- enact the famous MaHa scene and shout, "tero tika tai laga!"
7 Plant weed instead of jamara. Insist you got confused with Shivaratri. Coax your uncle into buying some.
8 Insist on getting dakshina first, then tika. When you receive the dakshina, run. Fast.
9 Go around the neighbourhood singing bhailo tunes.
10 'Sprinkle' holy water to everyone. Do it with a garden hose. Insist you thought it was Holi.
11 Confuse Dasain with Doomsday. Act really panicked when you see a flying kite. Run around screaming, "The sky is falling, the sky is falling."
12 Put a heap of rato tika on your nose. Act like a clown.
13 Wear torn and ragged clothes to puja ceremonies. Say this look is in.
14 Receive tika with your helmet and face-mask on. Ask others how they like your Darth Vader look.
15 Organise a karaoke night. Have everyone sing bhajans.