Nepal’s most fantastic festival, Bada Dashain, will eventually get over after celebrating two weeks during October 2021. Derived from Bada (Hindi for ‘big’), suggesting some other ‘smaller’ Dashain. Are they still there?
Formerly, Nepal celebrated four Dashain every year. It is customary to celebrate Chaite Dashain, the eighth day of the waxing moon (Shukla Paksha), during Chaitra (March/April). There are fewer people at the festival as compared to Bada Dashain. Two other Navaratras do not exist anymore, and people don’t even know their whearsabout.
Several strict priests adhere to tantra currently, but ‘once upon a time stories’ dominate the lives of ordinary people.
In medieval Nepal, the cultural experts point out that people also celebrated Navaratras in the Shukla Pakshas in Ashadh (June/July) and Magh (January/February) as Summer and Winter Navaratras. Despite the same deities worshipped on each Dashain each year, both have their significance. However, there were different rituals and traditions before.
Evidence points to its existence in the National Archives. “It is usually on Dashains that we find documentation relating to summers, winters, springs, and autumns. They suggest the common people celebrated Dashain as well.”
How do the four Dashain differ in any way?
Dashain may not differ significantly, but differences can be seen in their rituals and processes.
It was a caste-based and class-based society in the Middle Ages. The festivals were celebrated differently by different classes and castes of people. According to experts, Summer Navaratra was observed strictly according to Brahman religious customs, including how sacrifices got performed and how Puja was conducted.
Alongside, the Autumn Navaratra likewise followed community beliefs. Winter Navaratra followed Vaishya community beliefs, while Spring Navaratra followed Shudra community beliefs.
Offering sacrifices was a common practice throughout the Navaratras. On the other hand, people didn’t use a sword in the summer Navaratra, whereas the Autumn one became the ‘Bada’ Dashain as a consequence.
Some claim that to make sacrifices up until the reign of former king Birendra, Brahman priests had to use swords during Autumn Navaratra. Chhetri calendar shows how Brahmans celebrated Autumn Navaratra historically.
Sacrifices of Satviks and Tamasis
The tradition of offering sacrifices in all four Dashains, according to Madhav Prasad Bhattarai, former chair of the Nepal Panchanga Nirnayak Samiti and Dharma Sabha Nepal chair, goes back centuries.
When various goods are available for sacrifice during the Autumn, he considers Autumn Dashain the ‘Bada Dashain’ (the greatest), and all other Dashains have become insignificant.
Historically, he says, sacrifices have been made in the Satvik and Tamasi ways. The Satviks did not all eat meat, and many people made vows to appease the gods and goddesses. Satvik sacrifice has continued to be practiced in modern times.
From the literature of the Satvik tradition, ivy gourds represent a buffalo, and sheep. These fruits and vegetables were not available, which led to a discussion on substitutes for the Dashain rituals.
Chhaite Dashain, the next most prominent event in the Nepalese calendar
Known as the Small Dashain, Chaite Dashain occurs at the end of the Hindu calendar year. The festival is also one of the essential Hindus for its religious and cultural significance. The festival involves two celebrations.
Dashami is the second day of Ram Navami, while Ram Navami is the first day. Chaite Dashain and Chaitra Navratri mark the beginning of the Nepalese and Indian New Year.
This festival, although only celebrated for two days, has the same importance as Vijaya Dashami. As a festival dedicated to good triumphing over evil, Chaite Dashain holds a special meaning for many people.
‘Chaite Dashain’ – the history of the little Dashain
Humans view Ram’s victory over Ravan as a symbol of their victory. Over their sense organs, five, which pertain to knowledge, and action.
After worshipping Durga Bhawani, Ram Chandra killed Ravan nine days later. Regarded as worship days, the nine and the tenth day marks the day of victory.
In this period, people celebrate the big Dashain (Bada Dashain). As summer started, people started suffering from health issues because of the heavy food during this festival. Hence, the festival celebrates in the same manner as the Summer festivities in the Autumn.
A two-day festival celebrates the Ram Navami on the first day. On this day, people fast without eating anything for the whole day. Devotees visit Ram Sita Mandirs to pay offerings and worship the Lord Ram.
Mostly pilgrims from anywhere in the country as well as from India visit the Janaki Temple. They indulge in various delicacies and dishes on this day. A multitude of temples dedicated to Goddess Durga see enormous crowd in the country.
It is essential to appease Goddess Durga to offer animals as sacrifices in this festival and Bada Dashain. It is, therefore, an ancient tradition to perform sacrifices in honour of Mother Goddesses, manifestations of Goddess Durga.
A large sacrifice takes place near the Hanuman Dhoka Palace and the Bhaktapur Durbar Square.
Dashain, the festival of goddess Durga
One common feature of all four Dashain is the worship of Navadurga. The deities, however, have different names according to their locations.
When the Navaratra begins on the first day of the Navaratra (Ghatasthapana), people sow barley seeds (maize or wheat).
The waxing or Shukla paksha of the moon corresponds to the day in astrology, while the waning or Krishna moon corresponds to the night. All Dashain festivals fall on a waxing moon. The only nightly Puja performed is that of Kaalaratri (on the seventh day of Navaratra). The goddess then described as an embodiment of light and a leader of the nightly auctions.
The ultimate significance of the Dashain festival
All of our nation’s festivals are rich in religious, cultural, and traditional significance. It is a country where people from diverse backgrounds celebrate their festivals and have their rites. Likewise, Chaite Dashain is a significant festival religiously and culturally for Hindus as well. So, we Nepalese might think we are only bound to celebrate one Dashain festival, which falls in October, but that is not the case. Having two of them, both of equal significance is a blessing. Despite not being noticed as much, the presence still holds among the few.
All our nation’s festivals are rich in religious, cultural, and traditional significance. It is a country where people from diverse backgrounds celebrate their festivals and have their rites. Likewise, Chaite Dashain is a significant festival religiously and culturally for Hindus as well. So, we Nepalese may think we only celebrate one Dashain festival, which falls in October, but we actually celebrate three festivals of this nature all at the same time. Despite the modest celebration, the rest are not much recognized.