Dasain, the biggest festival in Nepal, is now coming to a close after several weeks of festivities, feasting, animal sacrifices, family gatherings and pujas. After the past 10 days, witnessing the happenings of Dasain, I feel like I have truly gained a more thorough understanding of Nepalese culture and the Hindu religion. Before Dasain began, I was pondering leaving Kathmandu for my 10-day vacation from work, but now I am quite glad that I stuck around the city, for I was able to get a more complete picture of the festival and how it is celebrated. To leave Nepal without understanding Dasain would be like leaving the U.S. without every knowing Thanksgiving.
Like much to do with Nepal’s culture and religion, there are (at least it seems to me) innumerable rituals and prayers that must be done in specific ways, dedicated to certain gods. I often ask my Nepali friends why things are done the way they are and they usually give me long, detailed explanations for even the most minute bits of religious rituals (for example, why something is red, why another thing is yellow, why one god holds a spear, why another god has ten hands, why you wear a red thread here and a white thread there, etc…). From what I gather, in its most simplest form, Dasain is meant to celebrate the victory of the gods over the demons. In particular, Nepalis worship Durga, a goddess with ten hands, during Dasain and offer her all sorts of gifts and hundreds of thousands of animals in the form of animal sacrifices.
Each day of Dasain, which lasts about 15 days, has a special significance and certain rituals or pujas are done on that day. This past Sunday I was invited by my co-worker, Sachin the magazine marketing exec, to celebrate Tika and Jamara with his family who live in a traditional Newari-style house near Patan Durbar Square. I, of course, jumped at the opportunity to celebrate Dasain with a family, because celebrating with a family is the only way to truly get a good glimpse of the festivities. There are ways to observe Dasain outside the home, but most of the action takes place behind closed doors, between family members.
The Tika and Jamara ceremony is reserved for the ninth day of Dasain. After celebrating the puja with the Tamrakars, the “kids” of the family (anyone under age 25) roamed the winding lanes of Patan, taking in the sights and checking out the animal sacrifices in Patan’s Durbar Square. While were we walking, almost every single person we passed also had their own tika and jamara from their family ceremony. For the entire day, almost every person in Kathmandu had a giant tika glob on their forehead and light green barley sprigs tucked behind their ear or woven into their hair. The contrast of the red and green against the carmel Nepali skin tones made the buzzing streets even more ablaze with color than normal.
The tika (red dot) is given by the elder members of the family. The tika paste is made of rice grains, vermillion powder and curd or yogurt. The mixture of the three items makes for a thick red paste that, surprisingly, stays attached to the forehead for most of the day. To get a tika from the family elders is like accepting blessings and wishes for good fortune and health for the coming year. The green sprigs, the jamara, are young barley grasses. On the first day of Dasain, barley seeds are planted in the family’s special puja or prayer room and are grown in sands taken from one of Nepal’s holy rivers for nine days. After nine days the young jamara sprigs are harvested and are said to then hold the blessings of the ten-handed Goddess Durga. They are now ready to be given to the family members along with bright red tikas.
Another co-worker recently wrote about Tika and Jamra festival for the magazine we work for. She wrote that celebrating Dasain without jamara would be like celebrating Christmas without a Christmas tree. I thought this was an apt description of the plant’s significance.
Celebrating Tika and Jamara with the Tamrakars was an excellent experience that allowed me to further understand what Dasain is all about. It was nice to be around such a warm and welcoming family and to take part in their festivities. Here are some photos of the Tika and Jamara ceremony:
Above: The Tamrakar elders sat against the wall with their tika paste (red powder, rice grains and yogurt mixed together) and gave each member of the family tika on the middle of their forehead. The tika is a symbol that the elders give their blessings to the family for the coming year.
Above: Sachin, my co-worker who invited me to his family’s Tika and Jamara puja, gets a tika from his father.
Above: The necessities to complete a successful Tika and Jamara puja. Each elder of the Tamrakar family had a tray of rice grains, pastes, powders, red threads and jamara (barley) sprigs.
Above: Sachin’s cousin with a tika on her forehead. Most of the women were decked out from head to toe in red, from red saris to red necklaces, to celebrate this special day of Dasain.
Above: Sachin’s father and mother. Notice the jamara tucked behind Sachin’s father’s ear. The men usually tucked the barley sprigs behind their ears and the women laced them in their hair bands.
Above: Me getting in on the action, receiving a tika from one of Sachin’s aunts. The whole family got quite a kick out of me being there. Luckily, I wore a red shirt for the occasion, which allowed me to blend in a bit more easily.
Above: After I got my tika, Sachin’s aunt handed me several jamara sprigs and a strand of red thread. She then did a small prayer for me so I would have good fortune and good luck for the coming year.
Above: A few of Sachin’s cousins with their lovely red tikas.
Above: This little guy was the youngest member of the family. He was quite perplexed at my presence, probably thinking I looked rather alien-ish compared to all the other sari-clad women of the family.
Above: Tikas are given by all elder family members, so by the end of the day, those with large families end up having MASSIVE red tikas on their forehead. Here, I get another tika from Granny Tamrakar, the most senior member of the family.
Above: After Granny Tamrakar gave me a tika, I was gifted a 5 rupee note by Sachin’s aunt. Notice the jamara sprigs they put in my hair band.
Above: Sachin’s family lives in an awesome traditional Newari-style, five story house near Patan Durbar Square. Dasain is a time when the entire extended family gets together, many people coming from far-off villages. Here you can get a feeling of how cramped the house was with family members.
Above: Sachin’s cousin gives the youngest member of the family a tika.
Above: After the Tika and Jamara ceremony, all the “kids” of the family jumped on motorbikes and headed to a temple near Godavari, about a 45 minute ride out of the Kathmandu city center. Here I am with Sachin’s cousin, Shreeya, and his younger brother.
Above: Sachin’s cousin gives Shreeya, age 16, a tika. Shreeya says she aspires to be come an international flight attendant, but her mother is pushing for her to become a doctor. She says if air-hostessing doesn’t work out, she’ll try out the world of modeling.
Above: Tikas all around for the youngsters of the family. Each family member gets a tika from their elders, so this means the children got tikas from almost everyone present.
Above: After we all got tikas, we had traditional Newari snacks which we ate out of dried leaf bowls (very eco-friendly!). The snacks included beaten rice (churra), bananas and beans. Above, the Tamrakar men enjoy their breakfast. Sachin, my co-worker, is the one in the white collared shirt and his younger brother is the one in the sports jersey.
Above: After the Tika and Jamara ceremony we walked all around Patan and watched a “mini-drama” at one of the temples where an old man pretends to be a demon and other old men chase him around, eventually relegating him inside an old house. It was quite entertaining, but everyone muttered that it was too short.