I, by birth, am a Nepalese but; my childhood was spent in different parts of Asia and stayed in the UK for most of my 20’s. It has been a while since I moved back to Nepal and since the festive season is here I really wanted to get into the celebration. I searched about it on the internet and also asked my family. I was amazed at the history of this festival. You can find many different facts and rituals regarding the 15 days long festival. But to give you an idea it is renowned as victory of good over evil: the victory of goddess Durga over demon Mahisasur.
Now, giving you a whole description of dashain would be too long so on this blog I want to just highlight Ghatasthapana which is the first day of Dashain. This has more than moral value for us: Nepalese. It is a reason for getting together and having a good time.
Although the festival is celebrated throughout the country the rituals differ in each home. I don’t have the research on all of them and quite frankly it would be too boring. But I will tell you about the general practice in Ghatasthapana.
Before pooja (worship), the worship room is cleaned. A kalash, pot with wide open mouth, is decorated with flowers, leaves, sandalwood paste, holy grass (duyo), turmeric powder, betel nuts and coins. Red, yellow and white strips are tied in the neck of the Kalash.
With this preparation, an elder of the family or a priest initiates the pooja i.e. worship, requesting goddess Durga to protect the family from evil effects and to reside in the Kalash for the Dashain festival. This is the moment, when Children are beaming with happiness as they don’t have to go to school and can have all the time to spend with friends and family.
Ghatasthapana rituals and worship items have their own significance. Every item carries spiritual values with it.
Cow dung: The cow dung is used for wiping the worship room before starting the pooja as the cow dung is considered pure in Hindu Vedic custom. One would think “Seriously, cow dung!” but it is considered very pure and sacred in Nepal.
Sand or Soil: represents the Earth – mother of all beings. The barley, wheat, maize, sesame seeds sown on Ghatasthapana day grow 3 to 5 inches by the day of Tika: the day for getting tika from elders with well wishes. The kalash is placed at the center of the sand block, made for sowing the seeds.
Grains: are symbol of earthly prosperity and joy. Sowing seven or five types of seeds is believed auspicious. It is believed, if the seeds sprout and grow well, brings peace, prosperity and joy in the family.
Fruits and Foods offered to the goddess Durga represent self-sacrifice. Later these fruits and foods are offered to family members and neighbours as Prasad. Prasad represents blessings & lights from goddess Durga to their devotees.
Strips of Clothes tied in the neck of Kalash represents different values depending on the colours. The red strip is symbol of power, the yellow strip is that of knowledge and the white strip that of purity.
Saubhagya Set: Is a set of cosmetic accessories of a married Hindu woman. Ladies offer this to the goddess Durga to bring longevity to all the male members of their family.
Akshata: is the mixture of rice grains with vermillion powder in curd. The red vermillion stands for human emotions. The Akshata, the mixture, when put on our forehead symbolizes good wishes from elders and great respect to the mother Earth.
Diyo: The Diyo represents the soul in a human being, offered to the absolute, in this festival to the goddess Durga. It is also believed that the burning diyo reduce the negative energies in our environment.
Who knew that the few minutes of praying to the gods would have so much significance? From the ingredients used to each step of the pooja has a story to tell. I am not a big fan of cultural methods of praying to the gods but when you know the story behind it, it does gives you a food for thought.