This week rang in Dasain, the biggest and most widely celebrated festival in Nepal. When I was living here three years ago I left right before Dasain started, so I am now seeing things with completely new eyes. Most Nepalis have an extended holiday from school and work for Dasain. For example, I have a ten day holiday from work and my neighbor’s children have a two week holiday from school (which has resulted in a constant stream of banter and fighting between the two kids next door). My Nepali friends had told me that everything shuts down for Dasain and that Kathmandu completely clears out because a large percentage of the people who live in Kathmandu are not actually from here, but are from villages outside the Valley. Dasain, like American Christmas and Thanksgiving, is a time to get together with family, feast, pray and give offerings to a huge number of gods who I cannot keep straight. Because Dasain is a time for everyone to be with family, many people leave Kathmandu to return to their home villages. This has resulted in a startlingly quiet Kathmandu which I am enjoying immensely. For example, I went for a long walk around the city yesterday and could actually walk straight the entire time without having to dodge anyone or anything. It was glorious.
Kathmandu is not quite a “ghost town” right now, but compared to its normal, bustling self, the city is totally different. As I mentioned, sidewalks are clear, streets are clear and stores are closed. The shops that remain open are mostly run by Indians or are butcher shops. The butcher shops are busier than normal because Dasain is a time for feasting on meat, lots and lots of meat. When I do see people walking on the streets, they are often leading goats around on string or ropes, as we in the U.S. might lead our dogs around by a leash. The only difference is these goats are doomed for slaughter and will likely be transformed into a delicious, spiced dish later in the day.
Butcher shops are open and brimming with meat, often with ten live goats tied out front for later slaughter. Besides a time for feasting on meat, Dasain is also the main time in Nepal for animal sacrifice. There are literally tens of thousands of animals sacrificed on any given day of Dasain. I was hoping to infiltrate a buffalo sacrifice yesterday, but it is difficult for foreigners to get into these sacred rituals. I did manage to see a duck sacrifice at one temple, though. At the Hindu temples there are goat, buffalo, chicken and goat sacrifies to the gods. There is even one temple in the Terai region in the southern town of Janakpur that completes 20,000 buffalo sacrifices throughout the festival. The grounds of Janakpur are reportedly sticky with blood after Dasain is finished. After the animal is sacrificed (this is done by slitting the throat) the family that bought the animal cleans it, butchers it and then feasts on it, leaving very little of the animal to waste. Although many Nepalese families continue to do animal sacrifices every year during Dasain, there are a number that prefer to “sacrifice” pumpkins or coconuts to the gods, instead of slitting the throat of a goat or buffalo.
Yesterday I celebrated Dasain with the family of a friend and got a great taste of what the celebration is really about. Before I met up with Ravi and Ratika (my hosts for the day) I went on a photography mission around Kathmandu to try to capture the happenings and differences that Dasain has brought to the city. Here’s what I got:
Above: As I mentioned in a previous post, Kathmandu has become speckled with these stages featuring slightly scary statues of the multi-handed goddess Durga, a demon and a lion. Here is one particularly large stage and scene close to my house. The women are giving offerings and money to the gods.
Above: A man tends to another one of the Durga statue scenes near the bridge that connects Kathmandu and Lalitpur.
Above: A close-up of the demon who is trying to slay goddess Durga. Take note of the realistic nipple and armpit hair. Frightening.
Above: This picture is unremarkable except for one thing: there are almost NO cars of motorbikes on it. I have been completely in awe at how quickly Kathmandu cleared out for Dasain. Compared to its normal self, it almost feels like a ghost town. This particular road is usually clogged with all sorts of vehicles.
Above: Sundhara, which is normally one of the busiest bus parks in the city, has transformed into a fowl purchase and slaughter center. Here, a couple on a motorbike picks out a few live ducks to take home.
Above: A man walks around Sundhara trying to sell ducks to customers on motorbikes during Dasain.
Above: Where tuk-tuks usually line the streets, there are now metal and wicker baskets stuffed with chickens for the taking.
Above: A few Dasain customers inspect a live duck at Sundhara bus park on Saturday.
Above: Normally where there are hordes of tuk-tuks and mini-buses, there are now lines of chicken cages. The handy location makes it easy for motorbikers to stop quickly to pick up their fowl.
Above: A cage of doomed chickens. But, they will surely makes some tasty Dasain morsels soon enough.
Above: The Sundhara bus park has turned into a makeshift slaughter house for Dasain. You can stop here, pick out your chicken or duck and also have it slaughtered on location (on the side of the road).
Above: At one of the makeshift slaughter houses on the side of the road, a woman dips a recently killed chicken into a tin of boiling water.
Above: A man then dips the dead, boiled and plucked bird into another vat of hot water.
Above: Where once tuk-tuks packed Sundhara to the gills, there are now tiny makeshift slaughter stations where Dasain customers can have their chickens and geese killed.
Above: Hindu devotees wait in line to enter one of the many Kathmandu temples on the first Saturday of Dasain.
Above: For Dasain people leave offerings of food, rice grains and tikka powder outside their front doors.
Above: Another offering outside someone’s front doorstep for Dasain.
Above: Saturday was the day of Dasain that Nepalis did pujas and gave offerings to their machinery, including their cars and motorbikes. The private cars, taxis, motorcycles, bicycles and rickshaws around town were laden with garlands of marigolds, auspicious scraps of cloth and sprinkled with tikka powder. Here, a woman and her husband give offerings to their motorbike. (Notice the marigold garlands around the handlebars).
Above: A taxi with a garland of marigolds around its license plate. If pujas are done to the vehicles on this particular day, it is said that the vehicle will serve the owner well for another year (and no accidents to boot).
Above: An offering plate that will be given to a vehicle.