One of the most beautiful aspects of living in a Nepali, rural community is the unique opportunity to not just witness but participate in the festival season celebrations of Dashain and Tihar. Dashain is the largest and most celebrated festival of the year for the Nepali Hindu community. Dashain serves as a homecoming for many in Nepal and the sense of family, belonging, and good-natured revelry is felt and shared by all.
The community of Takure opened their hearts and homes to us, a collection of 36 volunteers, mostly strangers to them, from all over the world during this most special and revered time of year. During the festival, we were repeatedly invited into the homes of different local families for traditional meals and blessings. These invitations are just another example of extraordinary Nepali hospitality as we were welcomed into the intimate setting of family celebrations.
Dashain is a 10-day celebration symbolizing the triumph of good over evil. The Goddess Durga and her many manifestations are worshipped for her defeat of the demon Mahishasura. The demon was terrorizing the world of the Gods and Goddesses and no one was able to eliminate Mahishasura until Durga entered a 9-day battle with the demon finally defeating Mahishasura on the 10th day.
There are different celebrations and rituals for the various days of Dashain beginning with the planting of barley seeds, called “jamara", inside each family home and kept out of the sunlight.
Another highlight of the festival period is the 8th day, Maha Asthami, when there are many animal sacrifices made to appease the Goddess Kali, one of Durga’s manifestations. Water buffalo, goats, and chickens are sacrificed at temples in every community and for many this is the one time of year that they will eat meat.
One of the most fun activities is the building of a traditional swing, called a Ping. Each community takes great pride in building the best and tallest swing out of local bamboo and rope. Pings can reach heights of 20 feet or more and are enjoyed by children and adults of all ages.
The 10th day, Vijaya Dashami, informally referred to as Tika Day, is the highlight of Dashain. On this day everyone dons their best dress and spirit. The women are often dressed in ornate red saris with red bangles adorning their arms and gold jewelry. Our volunteers, in small groups dressed to impress, spread out into this community in awe of the generosity and openness of the people here. We were offered the ritual of tika with Jamara, marigolds, and fruit upon the arrival at each home. It is a beyond beautiful experience to share such a sacred holiday with these families. The people of Takure are so generous with their homes, their food, and most touching – their spirit. It was remarked by a volunteer that these families were doing the equivalent of letting strangers into their homes for Christmas dinner. The magic of the season and generosity of this community was not lost on a single person. We were all touched by the celebrations, the love, the laughter, and the genuine sense of community shared by all.