What Makes the Dashain Festival in Nepal Special?
Dashain, also known as Vijaya Dashami, is the greatest and most widely celebrated Hindu festival in Nepal. It typically falls in September or October (depending on the lunar Bikram Sambat calendar) and lasts 15 days. Dashain is much more than a festival.
It brings Nepalis in Nepal and abroad together and provides a sense of unity. For this reason, the importance of Dashain has gone up at a time when disunity and fractured relations have become much more common. In addition to Nepal, Hindus in India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh celebrate Dashain.
Importance of Dashain in Nepalese Culture
Dashain celebrates the victory of good over evil. It brings people together as they enjoy the niceties of life.
As the people visit the temples and perform rituals, they acknowledge a higher benevolent god that looks over the mortals to foster a liveable society. The festival also provides Nepalis time to think over the spiritual side of life.
Dashain concludes with the elders putting a tika on the forehead of the younger counterparts. This very act reminds the young people to respect their elders. It also teaches the newer generation to continue the Dashain traditions.
Dashain transcends or mitigates the social, economic, and caste boundaries. People from all walks of life come together to celebrate. It promotes social harmony and unity within communities.
Dashain also offers an opportunity for cultural exchange as visitors can witness and participate in the festivities, gaining a deeper understanding of Nepalese culture.
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Religious History of Dashain Festival
We cannot be sure of the exact reason for celebrating the Dashain festival. There are various legends associated with the Dashain Festival. Here are two of the most prominent ones.
1. Goddess Durga
The oldest legend concerning Dashain relates to Durga, a mythical character mentioned in Vedas, including Rigveda. Etymologically, Dur means “remote/difficult” ga means “pass-through” and together, Durga means “the inaccessible” or “the invincible”.
Durga is also mentioned in two popular Hindu scriptures - Mahabharat and Ramayan. However, the names appear to have different contexts. Interestingly, though Dashain is mostly about Durga, other deities, particularly Laxmi, are also involved. Durga is invoked with 108 names. Manuscripts dating back to the 14th century have guidelines on how to perform Durga puja.
Durga is a warrior goddess who rides a tiger and remains armed with the weapons of male gods. She has many hands and holds weapons like a bow, arrow, sword, conch, chakra, javelin, trident, shield and noose. These Durga depictions were quite common in the 4th century. Interestingly, Durga or Durga-like goddesses have also featured in Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.
Dashain is celebrated to mark the goddess Durga’s victory over the demon Mahishasura, the son of Mahisi (Buffalo) and a descendant of sage Kashyap. The battle between Durga and Mahishasura lasted for ten days. Since Durga killed Mahishasura, Durga is also called Mahishasuramardini, meaning "The Killer of Mahishasura".
2. King Rama
Another significant story associated with Dashain is the Ramayana. Ramayana states that in Treta Yug, Rama (also regarded as the avatar of lord Vhisnu) killed Ravana, who had abducted his wife, Sita. Rama is supposed to have invoked the blessings of Durga during this war and defeated Ravana on Dashami. Even today, Hindus erect and burn the effigies of Ravana and other demons to mark this holy day.
Important Days during Dashain Festival in Nepal
Dashain is celebrated for fifteen days and the tenth is the most important. Here are the most significant days.
Ghatasthapana: the first day
Dashain begins with Ghatasthapana, which means placing a Kalasha (a traditional pot) that symbolizes the goddess Durga. This is the day when the Jamara (seedlings) are planted inside a room. The seeds used are barley, maize, paddy, etc. The Jamara is worshipped for nine days and used for worship on the tenth day.
Phulpati: the seventh day
Phulpati is made of two words - Phul means flower, and Pati means plants. On this day, devotees worship Durga by offering nine types of flowers and plants. Such a worship is supposed to take care of the health and prosperity of devotees. Nationally, at the Dashainghar in Hanuman Dhoka, Kathmandu, Fulpati from Nuwakot is transferred. The Nepali army forms a special parade in front of VIP delegates.
Maha Asthami: eighth day
This is the eighth day of Dashain, where devotees try to appease the bloodthirsty Kali by offering her animal sacrifices of buffaloes, goats, hens, and ducks. The animal sacrifice is also carried out on Kathmandu Durbar Square and Nepal's presidential palace premises. Later in the day, there is a huge feast. The ethnic Newars observe “Khadka Puja” by worshiping their weapons on this day.
Maha Navani: ninth day
Maha Navani is the last day of Navaratri, celebrated with extensive animal sacrifice. The Nepal Armed Forces perform animal sacrifices and fire a 21-gun salute. This is also the day when artisans, traders, and mechanics offer animal sacrifices while worshipping their tools, equipment, and vehicles. It is the only day the Taleju Temple in Hanuman Dhoka is open for public worship.
Bijaya Dashami: the tenth day
This is the biggest day of the Dashain festival, which cumulates with putting tika (a mixture of vermillion, curd, rice) on the foreheads of youngers. The Jamara shown in Fulpati is also placed on the heads of the tika receivers. Further, the elders give small amounts of money as Dakshina to the youngsters after putting on the tika and blessing them. The tika is offered for five more days (until the full moon day).
Kojagrat Purnima: the fifteenth (last) day
Kojagrat means “who is awake”. On this day, followers worship Goddess Laxmi (goddess of wealth and prosperity). Hindus believe that on this night, Laxmi descends to earth to shower wealth to those awake during the night.
How do People Celebrate the Dashain Festival in Nepal?
Dashain celebrations involve various customs and traditions. Here are ten ways people celebrate Dashain in Nepal.
1. Family Reunions
During Dashain, family members come together, often traveling long distances to celebrate with their loved ones. It's a time for family bonding and togetherness. This is particularly important as many Nepalis are outside the country for employment.
2. Flying Kites
Kite flying is a popular tradition during Dashain. People of all ages fly colorful kites, and competitions are held among kite flyers. Hindus believe that the flying kites send a message to the rain god to stop sending more rain.
3. Swings (Ping)
Swing sets are erected in many public places, and people, especially children, enjoy swinging on them. It's a symbol of fun and festivity. You can see traditional temporary swings made from bamboo and ropes. In cities, there are modern swings different from traditional ones.
4. New Clothes and Gifts
People wear new clothes during Dashain and exchange gifts among family and friends. This symbolizes the renewal of relationships. The children mostly enjoy their new clothes. We believe that this tradition of wearing new clothes began when the clothes were not very affordable.
5. Tika and Jamara
Elders bless the young ones by applying Tika (a mixture of yogurt, rice, and vermillion) and placing Jamara (barley grass) on their foreheads. This symbolizes protection and good fortune.
6. Animal Sacrifice
Sacrificing animals like goats, buffaloes, or chickens to honor the goddess Durga is quite common. The meat is then shared among family and friends. Vegetarians cut vegetables as a symbol of offering to Durga.
7. Card Games and Gambling
Though illegal, people do gamble in Dashain. It's a time when people enjoy friendly competitions and games. You can observe several types of gambling, like cards, kauda, and Langur Burja during Dashain.
8. Visiting Temples and Shrines
Many people visit temples and shrines to seek blessings and offer their prayers to the goddess Durga. Nepal has thousands of temples in each and every corner of the country, especially in the Kathmandu Valley.
9. Music and Dance
Festive music and traditional dances are performed in various communities. It's a time for cultural expression and entertainment. You can hear special celebratory tunes throughout Nepal during Dashain.
No festival is complete without good food. Dashain is a time of indulgence in delicious Nepali cuisine. Families prepare elaborate feasts with dishes like sel roti, mutton curry, and sweets.
Popular Holiday Destinations during Dashain Festival
Let's have a look at some popular destinations where you can travel and enjoy the biggest festival of Nepal - Dashain.
1. Kathmandu Valley World Heritage Sites
If you are visiting Nepal during Dashain then Kathmandu Valley is a must-go destination. You will experience the rich tapestry of Nepal's history and culture as you immerse yourself in timeless treasures such as the Monkey Temple (Swayambhunath), sacred Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu Durbar Square, Boudhanath Stupa, Patan Durbar Square, Bhaktapur Durbar Square, and Changunarayan Temple.
What makes it even more special is experiencing the Dashain festivities up close. You'll witness captivating rituals and indulge in delicious traditional meals.
It's a unique opportunity to enjoy the vibrant culture of the Kathmandu Valley during this auspicious festival. Since you will be traveling for 5 days, you will come across everything about Dashain and understand why Dashain is the biggest festival in Nepal.
Read the full details here: Kathmandu Valley World Heritage Sites Tour - 5 days
2. Everest Base Camp
During Dashain, the Everest Base Camp Trek presents an enticing opportunity. Picture yourself traversing the magnificent Himalayas during this auspicious time of the year with pleasant weather. The mountains stand tall and majestic, mirroring the elevated spirits of trekkers who are buoyed by the festive ambiance.
En route, Sherpa villages burst with vibrancy as colorful decorations adorn every corner and lively celebrations fill the air. Trekkers are warmly welcomed into their embrace, treated to delectable traditional delicacies, and immersed in local customs.
It's not simply a trek; it is a transformative cultural expedition. Every step towards Everest Base Camp etches indelible memories while embracing Dashain amidst the breathtaking splendor of the Himalayas.
Read the full details here: Everest Base Camp Trek - 14 days
3. Annapurna Base Camp
Since its autumn season during the Dashain festival, one must not forget the breathtaking trek to Annapurna Base Camp.
During your trip, you will have the opportunity to explore diverse landscapes and experience the vibrant traditions of the highland culture. Be prepared for varying weather conditions as you soak in beautiful views of the Annapurna range, Macchapuchhre, Hiunchuli, and Dhaulagiri.
When you reach the base camp, get ready to witness an amazing gift from Mother Nature herself: a stunning sunrise over the magnificent Annapurna range that will leave you in awe. It's not just a trek; it's an unparalleled Dashain experience!
Read the full details here: Annapurna Base Camp Trek - 11 days
4. Ghorepani Poon Hill
Another reason to travel to Nepal during Dashain is the magical Ghorepani Poon Hill in the heart of Nepal. As the festival's fervor fills the air, trekkers ascend through lush rhododendron forests and traditional villages. The colorful Dashain celebrations of local communities along the route offer a unique cultural experience.
At sunrise, Poon Hill unveils its breathtaking panorama of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountain ranges. This trek combines the beauty of nature with the richness of tradition, making it a memorable way to celebrate Dashain in the Himalayas.
Read the full details here: Ghorepani Poon Hill Trek - 5 days
5. Ruby Valley
The Ruby Valley Trek during Dashain is a hidden gem in Nepal, located in the Ganesh Himal region. Amidst the festive season's joy, trekkers can explore the unspoiled beauty of this valley, characterized by lush forests, terraced fields, and quaint villages.
During Dashain, the local communities come alive with colorful celebrations, allowing trekkers to immerse themselves in the unique cultural traditions of the region. As you ascend through the valleys, you'll be rewarded with breathtaking vistas of snow-capped peaks, pristine rivers, and cascading waterfalls.
The trek leads to stunning viewpoints where you can soak in the mesmerizing landscapes that resemble the radiant beauty of rubies. It is not only a journey into nature's wonders but also a chance to celebrate Dashain in a serene and off-the-beaten-path location.
Read the full details here: Ruby Valley Trek - 7 days
Travel with DWT during Dashain Festival
Dashain is among Nepal's most important festivals, and celebrating it while exploring the stunning landscapes of Nepal creates lasting memories. For this reason, Discovery World Trekking conducts trekking during Dashain as well. Moreover, Dashain coincides with the autumn season, offering clear skies, breathtaking mountain views, and pleasant weather.
If you trek during Dashain, you will have the chance to immerse yourself in the rich cultural tapestry of Nepal. The experienced local guides at DWT understand the importance of Dashain and can arrange for you to participate in traditional rituals, such as receiving tika and Jamara blessings from local families.
In big cities, the streets are illuminated with vibrant decorations and lights. Whether you choose to trek in the Annapurna or Everest region or explore the cultural heritage of the Kathmandu Valley, DWT ensures a well-organized and comfortable journey.
Whether trekking to iconic destinations like Everest Base Camp or Annapurna Circuit or exploring cultural sites in Kathmandu, DWT ensures that your Dashain trek experience is full of memorable moments and deep cultural immersion. You will have the opportunity to celebrate Dashain while creating unforgettable memories amidst Nepal's diverse landscapes and culture.
If you want to see the stunning Nepali landscape while also enjoying the Dashain festival, you can book a trek with us. We will make sure your Dashain trek will be fabulous.