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CJ-led Government-31

Issue 42, October 20, 2013

Siddhi B Ranjitkar


Dasami is the greatest festival of Nepalis. Every community celebrates it following the tradition. It is a fifteen-day festival for all other communities but the Nevah community starts it two months ahead of it. The Nevah community has the tradition of first making offerings to Lord Ganesh, and then the ancestors before holding any major religious or social event. So, for the Nevah community members, Dasami starts off on the fourth day of the lunar bright fortnight (Bhadra sukla pachaya) of Bhadra (August/September), as they make the offerings to Lord Ganesh on this day as the first offerings of celebrating the Dasami festival, then they make offerings to the ancestors for 15 days on any one day of the lunar dark fortnight (Aswin Krishna pachaya) of Aswin (September/October). The real Dasami starts off on the first day of the lunar bright fortnight (Aswin sukla pachaya) of Aswin and ends on the full moon day.


On the fourth night also called ‘ca-tha’ of the lunar bright fortnight of Bhadra (August/September), the Nevahs make especial offerings to Lord Ganesh as the first offerings of the Dasami festival. Some people erroneously think that they make offerings to the moon not Lord Ganesh. Some others hide from the moon on this day believing that if they see the crescent moon on this night; they might be charged with stealing something. The myth about this belief is that Lord Ganesh has put a spell on the moon that if anybody sees the moon on this night, s/he might be charged with stealing. Lord Ganesh did so to the moon for laughing at the Lord Ganesh’s unusual physical feature.


On this day, Lord Ganesh rides on a lion. The eighteen-limbed Goddess Durga Bhavani lends Ganesh her steed lion for a day otherwise Ganesh’s steed is a rat. We make offerings to the colored portrait of Ganesh printed on a paper on this night. We make offerings of nine different roasted beans, a single cucumber, and other fruits. We do so on the rooftop, as we need to see the moon on this night before making offerings to Lord Ganesh.


After completing the offerings to Lord Ganesh called ‘ca-tha’ on this night, we cover all the items of the offerings made to Ganesh by a large brass container to protect those items from birds and rodents. We need to keep the lord on the rooftop overnight. Thereafter, we have a festival feast on this night. We don’t wash the dishes on this night. On the eighth day of the Dasami festival also, we don’t wash the evening dishes.


On the first day of the lunar dark fortnight (Aswin Krishna pachaya) of Aswin (September/October), making offerings to ancestors, starts off, and ends on the no moon day. During the fifteen days, families chose any one-day of the fortnight for making offerings called ‘sradha’. A patriarch of a family or an extended family performs ‘sradha’ following the instructions of a priest. On this occasion, some ‘sradha’ performers don’t limit the offerings to their ancestors; they make offerings to any other souls of the people they chose. Thus, the members of the Nevah community feed the ancestors elaborate festival dishes before they enjoy the feasts of the Dasami festival.


Immediately after the end of the period of the ancestor worship, the fifteen-day Dasami festival starts off on the first day of the lunar bright fortnight (Aswin sukla pachaya) of Aswin (September/October).


The first day of the Dasami festival is the day for sowing the seeds of buckwheat for growing seedlings in the prayer room. The seedlings are for offering to the almighty goddess Durga Bhavani also called Taleju Bhavani on the ninth day. These seedlings are called ‘nalava svon.’ Making offerings of the seedlings earns merits to the devotees.


On the morning of the first day of the Dasami festival, one of the family members goes to a river or any other water sources, and collects some sand. Another family member goes to buy earthen pots. A woman prepares one tray of offerings for making offerings to Goddess Durga Bhavani in the prayer room, and another for making offerings to the Lord Ganesh at the neighborhood, as the Nevahs have the tradition of making offerings first to Lord Ganesh before making offerings to any other deity. They believe that other deities would not accept the offerings made without making the first offerings to Lord Ganesh.


Thereafter, the patriarch of a family performs the sowing of the seeds of buckwheat. This process is called ‘nalava svon ta-ya-gu.’ Other communities call it ‘jamara rakha-ne’. The patriarch sets the large earthen pot on the specially cleaned-up area in the prayer room. Then he spreads some sands in it, and he also puts sand on clay bowls. He sprinkles the buckwheat seeds on those sands, and then he offers holy water to the seeds, and he invokes the goddess Durga Bhavani in the pot. No feasting, and nothing are held on this morning; people go to their usual business. The Dasami festival has set in.


One of the women folks of the family offers holy water to the seeds and the goddess Durga Bhavani in the prayer room every morning. She offers oil lamp to the goddess in the evening every day.


People start buying roosters, male ducks, and goats. Nepalis have the tradition of making sacrifices of animals to Goddess Durga Bhavani, other deities, and their instruments of work and vehicles during the Dasami festival once a year. They also buy new clothing for children and for them, too, as they need to wear a new fresh clothes during the Dasami festival. Some people buy even jewelry for their women.


From the first day of Dasami, a nine-day festival called ‘navaratri’ starts. ‘Navaratri’ means nine nights. It is called so because every morning before dawn, we visit one goddess after another at her field shrine, and then in the night to her town temple in succession for nine nights. We have nine field shrines of nine goddesses set on the periphery of our towns to protect the town from the evil spirits.


Six days of the Dasami pass without any significant events except for going to the shrine of one deity or another every early morning and night.


The seventh day is called ‘phulpati’ means a ‘flower day’. The day is for collecting different plants such as fresh ginger plant, sugarcane plant, and flowers for offering to the goddess Durga Bhavani next day. However, we also bring in the buffalo meat for making offering to the deity and for our consumption, too on this day. So, a portion of the buffalo meat goes into the prayer room, sits at the goddess Durga Bhavani invoked in the ‘navala svon’ pot for two days. The meat stays there until the tenth day morning.


The real festive mood starts on the eight day of Dasami. We sacrifice a male goat to the deity called ‘Bhin dyo’ in the morning. We have a festive lunch on the goat meat. Others slaughter a castrated goat, and eat ‘masu bhat’ means meat and rice: a very delicious dish. In the evening, we eat a special festive dinner called ‘ kuchi bhoya’ on the banana leaves.


Goddess Durga Bhavani also called Taleju Bhavani comes down from her majestic temple to a ‘dasami ghar’ on the eighth day. She stays there for a day on the ninth day, and goes back to the temple on the tenth day. On the night between the eighth day and the ninth day, tantric priests called ‘aa-ca-ju’ perform tantric offerings to Taleju Bhavani along with ‘The Living Goddess Kumari’. The State Living Goddess Kumari: the living manifestation of goddess Taleju Bhavani sits next to the idol of Taleju Bhavani. ‘Aa-ca-ju’ makes tantric offerings to both the deities together.


On the ninth day, the door of the ‘dasami ghar’ opens to the common folks. The Living Goddess Kumari has returned to her abode called ‘kumari chhen’. Common folks visit the ‘dasami ghar’ seeking the blessing from the Taleju Bhavani for the whole day.


On this day, every household of the Nevah community performs ‘kumari puja’ to the young girls. Mothers decorate their young daughters as ‘The Living Goddess Kumaris’. Then, the mothers make offerings to the young goddess or goddesses of each family.


Artisans, craftsmen, drivers and other professionals make offerings to the instruments, machines, equipment and vehicles; and soldiers make offerings to their weapons on the morning of the ninth day. Fifty-four male buffalos are sacrificed at the Layakuli (durbar square) with a twenty-one-gun salute.


We have the tradition of sacrificing a male duck to the eighteen-limbed Durga Bhavani in our prayer room on the morning of the ninth day. The patriarch sets the different items of offerings at the paper portrait of the goddess resting on the clay pot that has been growing the buckwheat seedlings since the first day of Dasami. He lights an oil lamp on a stone stand with oil in it. Then, he covers it with a small clay bowl to collect the soot for 24 hours. Finally, he makes the offerings of a male duck to the paper portrait of the goddess.


We eat the morning festive dishes on the pieces of banana leaves. All the family members sit following the family protocol. One woman serves different dishes and drinks to the members of the family.


In the late afternoon, some people go to watch the race of a single buffalo from the temple of the Navadurga to the field shrine of Goddess Brahmayani. The poor buffalo fed with home-brewed liquor is harassed by youths chasing it from one side to another until it reaches the destination.


Newly made fourteen masks of the Navadurga troupe is kept on display at the neighborhood called ‘yaa-chhe’ in Bhaktapur on the night of the ninth day. These masks have no divine spirits, yet but we already feel they have. People with musical bands visit the area to see the fresh masks made by the special caste of the Nevah community. Then, at night, the members of the Navadurga troupe come with a musical band, and collect the masks, and take them to the field shrines of Goddess Brahmayani.


During the night, tantric priests called ‘aa-ca-ju’ perform tantric rituals to the masks and invoke the divine spirit to each of the mask, and thus give lives to the masks of the Navadurga troupe. The priests also make the sacrifice of the buffalo tantrically. Each member of the Navadurga troupe gets the blood of the buffalo at his mouth. Someone has made us believe that the demon called Mahisasur has gone hiding in the body of a buffalo.


All our family members go to the field shrine of Brahmayani on the morning of the tenth day. Some of us scoop the water by our hands from the stream flowing nearby the shrine, and wash our faces. Then we move on to the shrine of Brahmayani. We see all the freshly made masks of the Navadurga placed in-line in the shrine. We throw rice, flowers and coins at the masks as offerings to the deities, as the masks are off-limits. We take a round of the shrine keeping the deities on our right side. We see the white skirts of the members of the Navadurga troupe spotted with the blood of the buffalo sacrificed on the night.


We make the final offerings to the eighteen-limbed Durga Bhavani on the tenth day of the Dasami festival. All the family members assemble in the prayer room after visiting the shrine of Brahmayani. The patriarch makes the final offerings to the Goddess Durga Bhavani on the paper portrait. He takes out one bowl of buckwheat seedlings after another and offers them to the goddess and other deities at home, and allocates some to the deities at the neighborhood. Then, he applies the amber power mixed with oil with his thumb of the right hand on the forehead of each of us. This is called ‘sinha’ (tika) and then he draws a vertical line of the soot from the ‘sinha’ to the upward direction by a piece of bamboo needle. We believe that the soot has the divine spirit; the ‘sinha’ is the blessing of the goddess. Thereafter, the patriarch offers one instrument of occupation after another to each of us.


Then, we all sit in a circle in the prayer room. No outsider is allowed. We have the ‘sam-ha-ya’: the blessed food, and drink. Sam-ha-ya comprises flattened and puffed rice, roasted black beans, pieces of ginger, roasted meat. Then, some other items are added as required and as wished for. This is the festive breakfast. We have both the home-brewed and home-distilled drinks.


Thereafter, every family member gets busy with doing something. Some women members cook rice for the morning meal. Others bring out the buffalo meat from the prayer room, and the goat meat, rooster meat and duck meat to the rooftop for drying on the sun. They slice the meat into long ones, and hang them on a bamboo pole or a rope kept horizontally. They cover the hanging meat slices with a screen to protect them from the crows. The drying of the meat goes for at least three four dates. Then, the dried meat is stored for the future use.


The patriarch gets busy with the offerings of the blessing of Goddess Durga Bhavani to all the visitors. Someone serves a peg or two of hard drinks to each one of the people coming to receive blessings. Everyone has been eating so much of meat during the last three days of the Dasami festival; anyone hardly wishes to have a piece of meat.


The Nevah warriors hold a victory parade on the night of the tenth day of the Dasami festival. Dressed in the ancient military uniforms, holding sabers by the right hands and shields by the left hands, the warriors march on the lanes of ancient towns throughout Nepal. This parade is called ‘khadga yatra’. This is the annual show of the victory over the demons that have terrorized the people, and even the deities.


On the evening of the tenth day, the Navadurga troupe goes to Goddess Taleju Bhavani to seek her blessings at Layakuli (durbar square) in Bhaktapur. The Navadurga troupe starts off at the field shrine of Brahmayani early evening but reaches Layakuli late night, as many devotees on the way stop the troupe to make offerings to the Navadurga deities in masks.


Almost at the midnight, Goddess Taleju Bhavani goes round the ancient town area of Bhaktapur. A white horse leads the goddess while the Navadurga troupe follows her. This is called ‘paa-yeo-hnya-kegu. Thereafter, Goddess Taleju Bhavani returns back to her temple.


We continue to have festival feasts. One family or another invites married daughters and sisters and their families to the festival feast called ‘na-kha tya.’ Such festival feasts go on for several days until every family completes inviting its married daughters and sisters to a festival feast even after the Dasami festival.


The Dasami festival ends on the full moon day called ‘katin punhi.’ On the morning of this day, one of the family members takes the sand and the leftover buckwheat seedlings to a nearby stream and disposes them there.


On this day, Buddhist monks end their three-month long retreat. Some of our extended family members clean up the Buddhist shrine called ‘cai-tya’ at the neighborhood. They paint it white with a quicklime solution. They make offerings to four Buddha facing in the four directions.


Other communities make offerings to Goddess of Wealth called Maha-laxmi. They keep vigil the whole night with lamps on anticipating the goddess to come on in. The belief is that the goddess will not enter the home that has no lights on.


Thus, we celebrate the Dasami festival in honor of the victory of good over evil. This year the Dasami started on October 5, and ended on October 18, 2013.


October 17, 2013.

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