Nepal Festivals • Bada Dashain
Saturday, October 1st, marked the beginning of Bada Dashain, Nepal’s most important Hindu festival. Lasting a total of 15 days, it is also known as Dashara, Navaratri & Durga Puja.
01 October, Saturday: Ghatasthapana (Navaratri Arambha, Beginning of the Nine Nights)
A special shrine is constructed within the family’s puja room. This is known as the dashain ghar. A ghata, or purna-kalasha (also one of the eight auspicious symbols -- asthamangala in Sanskrit, or tashi targye in Tibetan) is set up. The goddess is invited to become present in the pot, which is worshipped over the next nine days. Sand and cow dung are placed on the shoulder of the pot, and barley seeds are sewn there and at the base of the pot. The jamara, or barley shoots, are the distinctive prasad, or communion, that will be distributed with tika on the morning of Vijaya Dashami.
08 October, Saturday: Phulpati
The festival begins in earnest on the 7th day (Saptami), known as Phulpati. Flowers and leaves (phul & pati) of nine plants (navapatrika), representing nine forms of the Goddess, are placed in the dashain ghar. In the days of the monarchy, the royal dashain ghar was set up in the Gorkha Durbar, where the Shah dynasty originated. On the 7th day the king’s phulpati was carried into Kathmandu. To show confidence in the Goddess’s protection, the phulpati bearer was required to swim across the Budi Gandhaki river at Jiwanpur in Dhading, rather than using boat or bridge. The arrival of the phulpati was greeted with great fanfare, welcomed by the rajguru (royal preceptor), and accompanied by a contingent of the Royal Nepal Army to Nasal Chowk in Hanuman Dhoka. The durbar there was the true palace of the kings of Kathmandu, where the Shahs, like their Malla predecessors, were consecrated. On the Tundikhel, in central Kathmandu, the Nepal Army holds a feu de joie, or military display -- now in the presence of the president, rather than the king.
09 October, Sunday: Maha-asthami
On Maha-asthami animal sacrifice is offered to the goddess Durga, In private homes many will sacrifice a goat and/or duck, providing meat for the remainder of the festival. As a non-violent alternative, duck eggs or pumpkins serve as ritual substitutes. Only male animals may be sacrificed. On this evening Newars share in a ritual family feast known as the Sikaabhu. Male members of the family sit in order of seniority. Specific parts of the animals that have been sacrificed are distributed to the senior members of the clan.
10 October, Monday: Maha-nawami
Starting early in the morning, at the Kot (military enclosure) near Hanuman Dhoka palace the Nepal Army offers 108 buffaloes & goats, as this is the day on which weapons are blessed, and Durga honored as patron of the military. The night of Maha-nawami marks the culmination of the worship of the Goddess. Though many Indians and plains-dwelling Nepalis celebrate Vishwakarma Puja earlier in the season, Maha-nawami is the traditional date on which artisans, craftsmen and mechanics in Kathmandu and surrounding areas honor the god of creation & architect of the Gods – Vishwakarma.
11 October, Tuesday: Vijaya Dashami
Vijaya Dashami celebrates the victory of good over evil, as symbolized by the goddess Durga’s destruction of Mahishasura, the buffalo demon, whom the assembly of gods were unable to defeat. Durga, whose name means “Invincible”, arose from the power, or shakti, within all the gods. This is symbolized by her many arms, which carry the weapons other gods granted to her. She carries the conch and discus of Vishnu, the trident (trisul) of Shiva, and so on, indicating that she is the essence of all divinity.
On the final day of the festival the Goddess is propitiated, then dismissed, from the dashain ghar in a visarjana (sending away) rite. Extended family members gather to receive the prasad of Durga. A tika made with rice grains is placed on the forehead, and shoots of jamara are distributed. Newars distribute strips of red and white cloth, also offered to the Goddess, to bind around their necks. The jamara can be tied to this. Otherwise, men wear them over the right ear; women traditionally bind them to the chignon at the back of the neck. For a three-day period family members call on one another at home to receive tika and celebrate with feasting.
15 October, Saturday: Kojagrat Vrata
The full moon day known as Kojagrat Purnima marks the end of the Dashain festival. “Ko-jagrat” literally means “Who is watchful?” or “Who is awake?”. It is believed that Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, roams the earth this night and rewards those who keep vigil for her. For Bengalis this is the main annual worship of Laxmi, rather than Laxmi Puja proper, which is part of the Tihar, or Diwali festival. Several practices that originated in Bengal spread to Nepal by the late medieval and early modern period.