The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Saturday, October 12, 2013

The great family festival of Himali Hindu communities

A ten-day celebration of the victory of good over evil
Dasain is the biggest and most important festival of the Himali Hindu community, especially the followers of Shakti/Devi or Shakta cult, to mark the victory of good over evil.
Dasain begins on the first day of the bright fortnight of Ashwin (the month of Hindu calendar). It falls in September/October every year.
This festival is generally celebrated for 15 days, from Aswin Shukla pratipada to Purnima (full moon). The main celebration is for nine days, which are on the 7th day (Fulpati), 8th day (Mahastami), 9th day (Mahanawami) and 10th day (Dasain, Dashami or Vajayadashami), followed by the five-day Dasain celebration up to Purnima. But the 10th day is the most important.
The first day of the Dasain festival is called “Ghatasthapana” that falls on Aswin of the Hindu calendar, corresponding to the first day of the month of the Bhutanese calendar (tshe-chi).
On Ghatasthapana, the Himali Hindus worship diyo (an oil-fed lamp), kalash (auspicious jar with water and flowers) and Lord Ganesh, in accordance with Vedic rituals, and sow maize, wheat, barley seeds in a pot filled with soil, sand and cow dung for germination of the auspicious jamara (golden shoots). The jamara adds a lot of colour to the celebration of Dasain. The celebration of Dasain without these seedlings and red tika would be like celebrating Christmas without pines and poinsettia.
Prayers are also offered to Durga Bhavani, the goddess of power, and to the goddess Mahakali, Mahalaxmi and Mahasaraswati, marking the beginning of the Navaratri (nine nights).
During the Navaratri, thousands of devotees visit shrines of Goddess Durga Devi/Bhavani in the early morning. People also recite sacred verses and hymns dedicated to Durga Devi/Bahavani at temples and shrines, as well as at their homes.
The Fulpati festival is observed on the seventh day. Fulpati consists of the kalash (traditional jar) filled with holy water, banana stalks, jamara, belpatra, pomegranate, jayanti flower, ginger plant and sugarcane, which are tied with a red cloth, and offered to Durga.
The eighth day is known as Maha Astami, and the ninth day of the festival is called Nawami. The Mahanawami festival on the ninth day of Navaratra signifies the reign of good over evil.
The worship of Durga over nine days culminates formally on the day of VijayaDashami (tshe-chi), after the “abhishekh” or sprinkling of holy water on the head to mark the beginning of Dasain.
The golden maize, wheat and barley shoot (jamara) and the auspicious red tika are offered on the forehead by parents to their children, and by elders to their juniors on Dasain festival, with blessings of peace, progress and prosperity. The red tika also symbolises the blood that ties the family together.
On Dasain, people visit relatives to receive tika and jamara from their elders. The tikareceiving function is celebrated for five to seven days until full moon day (tshe-chenga).
This festival is also known for its emphasis on family gatherings, as well as on a renewal of community ties. People return from all parts of the world, as well as different parts of the country, to celebrate together.
Buying and wearing new clothes is an important part of the festival. For many people in the villages, new clothes come only with Dasain.
Bamboo swings are also constructed as a way of celebration. These swings are called ‘ping’ in Lhotshampa, and present the best of local culture, tradition, community spirit and fun. The swings are normally constructed a week before Ghatasthapana, and dismantled only after the festival of Tihar, which comes after Dasain. Different kinds of fairs and celebratory events are also organised during the festival.
This year Dasain falls on October 14, and the auspicious time to apply tika is around 9am.
According to the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, Lord Ram defeated Ravan on the tenth day and restored peace and harmony. It is said that lord Ram was successful in the battle, only when goddess Durga was evoked. The festival is thus named as the ten-day festival, Dasain, among Himali Hindu community.
Buddhists remember this day, as Emperor Ashoka of the Indian subcontinent abandoned violence on this day, and took the path of Buddhism.
The main deity to be worshipped during the entire period of Navaratri is Durga Devi, the universal mother goddess. In other words, she is the one, who presides over the entire ceremonial rituals of Dasain. According to the very old Hindu text, Devi Puran, Durga is said to have assumed nine different forms each day. The age-old Hindu tradition recommends that the nine different forms of the mother goddess be worshipped during this holy period.
The Himali Hindu tradition of Shakti or mother goddess worship has a very ancient origin. According to some scholars, its antiquity goes way back to the Vedic period. When we take a look at the Vedas that go back as far as 6000 years BC, we encounter several interesting hymns dedicated to Devi, the universal mother goddess. Some of her earlier names mentioned in the Vedas are Usha, Vac, Ratri and Aditi. All these names owe their origin to the Vedic concept of the universal mother goddess.
In the Puranic era, Devi appears to have been duly honoured with many symbolic names, such as Chamunda, Durga, Kali, Laxmi, Saraswati and so on. However, she is basically identified with Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva. The Devi Mahatmya of Markandeya Purana, said to be one of the most popular works ever known in the history of Hindu religion, tells us how all the gods in the remote past had to rush to Devi Durga for shelter, when they were defeated by demons in the war. Since it was only Devi, who could destroy the demons and rescue her devotees from miseries, she has always been regarded as Maha Shakti and worshipped accordingly by all Hindus. She is said to have emanated from the fully combined energies of all the gods, including the Hindu triad of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
It is for this festival that the Himali Hindus most liberally spend their hard earned money. The amount spent on special food and new clothes for family members is the most significant part of their Dasain expenditure.

Contributed by

Chhatrapati Phuyel, Dorokha, Bhutan

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