The story of Dashain - celebrating the victory of good over evil
Dashain is one of the two biggest festivals in Nepal, as more than 80 percent of Nepalis are Hindus. Nepal government provides five days of holidays during Dashain, making Dashain holiday the longest.
Dashain, also known as Vijaya Dashami, is also celebrated in some parts of India. The Lohtshampa of Bhutan and Burmese Gurkhas in Myanmar also celebrate this festival.
Hindus in India celebrate Dashain in slightly different ways and under other names such as Navaratri, Dussehra, or Dashera.
The origins of Dashain
1. From the Puranas
According to Hindu mythology, Dashain is celebrated for commemorating the victory of Durga (Hindu Goddess) over a demon called Mahishasura.
In Sanskrit, "Mahisha" means buffalo, and "asura" means demon. Mahishasura was born to Rambha, the king of Asura (Demon), and a lady buffalo. During that time, the gods and demons were constantly fighting, and as a way to win the battle, Mahisashur began a penance - praying for Brahma (the creator). Seeing this penance, Brahma appeared before Mahishasur, and Mahishasur asked for a boon from Brahma. The boon Mahishasur asked from Brahma was that no god or a man would be able to kill him. Mahishasur was pretty confident that no woman could kill him.
As soon as Brahma granted this boon from Brahma, he started a war against the gods. As the war began, the divine weapons against Mahishasur, including those of Lord Vishnu, and Indra were ineffective. The victorious Mahisashur sat on the throne of the heavens.
The gods consulted among themselves for a way to kill Mahisashur. The gods knew that only a woman could kill Mahisashur but realized that there was no woman in the three worlds (hell, heaven, and earth) powerful enough to kill Mahisasur. So in desperation, three Lords - Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma - created Durga, also known as Mahadevi.
The gods also gave Durga various weapons - Vishnu gave her a Chakra, Shiva gave her a trident, and Indra gave her a thunderbolt. The newly formed Durga sat on a tiger and approached the heavens (now in the hands of Mahishasur), and let out a roar that echoed through the heavens.
Mahishasur asked his soldiers to investigate, and his soldiers told Mahishasur that a woman was challenging him to a battle. Mahishasur, however, sent a marriage proposal to Durga. Furious, Durga replied that she was married to Lord Mahadev, and if Mahishasur did not leave heaven for good, she would kill him.
Mahishasur first sent his army to battle Durga, and they were all defeated. Finally, he entered the battlefield himself and tried to confuse Durga with his shape-shifting power. The battle raged for nine days, and on the tenth day, she beheaded Mahishasur with her chakra. The gods then took their heaven back.
Dashain started from this time as a celebration of the victory of light over darkness.
This story is mentioned in Purana - historical literature often linked with Hinduism. According to Markandeya Purana, the story of Mahishasura was first narrated 1.3 billion years ago.
There is a legend that Mysore (Mahishooru) city in India is named after Goddess Durga from her name Mahishasuramardini (Slayer of Mahishasura). There is the temple of Durga (Chamundeshwari Temple) at the supposedly exact spot where Durga killed Mahishasur.
2. From the Ramayana
There is another story about the origins of Dashain. It comes from Ramayana, one of the largest ancient epics. As per this story, Ravana, the then King of Lanka, kidnapped Sita, the wife of King Ram, and took her to Lanka. A fierce battle between Ram and Ravana started, and finally, Ram was able to kill Ravana after worshipping goddess Durga on the day of Vijaya Dashami.
It is also a story of the victory of good over evil.
Mostly in different parts of India, on Vijaya Dashami, there is a ritual of burning effigies of the demon King Ravan, his brother Kumbhakaran, and his son Meghnath. This festival also marks the victory of light over darkness, symbolizing King Ram's victory over Ravana.
Around 3.5 million Nepali work in foreign countries, and many return to Nepal to celebrate the festival with friends and family. The festival itself falls either in September or October. The whole atmosphere suddenly changes with no schools to attend, no government, and most private offices closed.
Dashain is actually a fifteen-day-long festival that begins from the "bright moon" of the Nepalese month of Aswin and continues till the full moon of the same month. The first nine days are set aside for worshiping goddess Durga. The tenth day is the most important, and this day is known as Vijaya Dashami. The word Vijaya means victory, and Dashami means the tenth day.
On Vijaya Dashami, the elders put tika on the forehead of their younger ones, and the tika continues for five more days.
When you start hearing Malshree dhun (music), you will know that Dashain is very near. Actually, Malshree dhun was created by Newars (the locals in Kathmandu Valley), but it now forms a part of Dashain culture.
By September, the monsoon will be over, the crops ripen in the fields, and the rainfall washes away dirt in the air and on earth, ushering in a wonderful season. The children, as well as grown-ups, fly kites, and it is symbolically interpreted as sending a message to the rain god not to send any more rain.
Dashain is a time for good food and good clothes too. Children in villages, mainly those living under the poverty line, get new clothes during Dashain, making them very happy and content.
Most villages and cities also set up bamboo swings. Most cities also run special fairs that add a different dimension to this festival. Traditionally, people often gamble during Dashain, mainly using cards.
Though Dashain lasts for fifteen days, the six days have more significance than others. These are
- Day 1: Ghatasthapana
Dashain starts from Ghatasthapana - the day Jamara is sown. Jamara consists of barley seeds that are sown on a leaf plate. A Ghada/Kalash (holy water pot) with sacred water is placed alongside the Jamara. The Jamara is placed in a room where sunlight does not reach.
The room containing Jamara and Ghada is considered sacred and is worshipped during the festival period. Traditionally, the males were only allowed to worship. By the ninth day, the barley seeds germinate and reach a height of five or six inches, but as the Jamara is grown in the dark, the seedlings look yellowish. This grass is called Jamara and is used for tika.
- Day 7: Phulpati (the seventh day of Dashain)
Phulpati is also a national event. Prithivi Narayan Shah, the then King of Gorkha, unified several small Kingdoms in today's Nepal and created Nepal. So, as a tradition, the Brahmins from Gorkha bring Royal Kalash (a type of pot) filled with holy water, Banana stalks, and Jamara to Kathmandu. On this day, in Kathmandu at Tundikhel, Nepal Army holds a Phulpati parade that includes gun firing. The Phulpati is then sent to the residence of the President.
- Day 8: Maha Asthami
This is the eighth day of Dashain. In fact, Asthami means eight in Sanskrit. It is a day to appease Kali (Durga) with animal sacrifice. The animal blood is offered to the goddess, and the meat is then cooked as a "prasad" (holy food).
- Day 9: Navami
Navami marks the end of Navaratri. The Nepal government offers animal sacrifices at Hanuman Dhoka Royal Palace. On this day, the god of creativity, Vishwa Karma, is worshipped in the form of vehicles, equipment, and tools in the belief that this worship will prevent accidents in the future. It is the only day Taleju Temple at Hanuman Dhoka is open to the public.
- Day 10: Bijaya Dashami Vijaya Dashami
It is the most important day of Dashain. On this day, a mixture of yogurt, vermilion, and rice is prepared and it is called Tika., At an auspicious time, elders put tika on the forehead of the younger ones. Elders also place Jamara sown at Ghatasthapana on the heads of younger ones. They also give blessings and small amounts of money (Dakshina) to the younger ones. The tika continues for five days until Kojagrat Purnima.
- Day 15: Kojagrat Purnima
It is the last day of Dashain and falls on the full moon day. This day Hindus worship Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. "Kojagrat" literally means "who is awake." Hindus believe Laxmi descends to earth on this night and blesses those awake throughout the night with wealth and prosperity. People often play cards to remain awake.
Special facts about Dashain
- While putting tika on the forehead of youngers, elders are supposed to chant different mantras based on gender. The mantra for women deals with feminine strength, while the mantra for males blesses them with nine heroic qualities.
- In Newar culture, young boys who have not undergone the Bratabandha ritual are worshipped at Lord Ganesha’s manifestations, and young girls that have not undergone the ritual of Gufa and Bel Bibaha are worshiped as Kumari (goddess).
- Dashain used to be celebrated four times a year in the past, but since it was not financially feasible, Dashain was reduced to once a year. In addition, Dashain used to be celebrated in Chaitra (March-April). However, during this season, due to the heat, food could not be kept hygenic for several days, and many people fell sick due to food. So, Chaitra Dashain was moved to Asoj (September-October).
Dashain is a fabulous time to be in Nepal. The temperatures are just right, with no rain and no cloudy skies, and the views are stunning. The monsoon rain retreats a few weeks before Dashain, and in doing this, it washes away the dirt from the air and mud from the paths.
Dashain for the year 2022 starts on 26th September and ends on 9th October. So, the time is right to plan for a Dashain trek in the Himalayas. Just call/Viber/WhatsApp us at +977-9840055491 or email [email protected].