There are three branches of Hinduism: Shaivism which puts Shiva as the greatest creator of the world, Vaishnavism believing in the supremacy of Lord Vishnu, and Shaktism which believes in the power of deities and goddesses, “devi”. Shaktism believes that the power of both Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu connects to the power of femininity or “devi”. Following this belief, women were regarded and worshiped as “devis” in Hindu culture.
Gradually, kings and royal members started worshiping “devis” as an emblem of power and divinity, a positive force that triumphs over evil. This tradition, that first started in various parts of India, was later seen in Nepal in the medieval period during the Malla era. The practice started first as Saptamavika (worshiping seven goddesses together), Asthamavika (eight goddesses), Nawadurga (nine goddesses) and eventually worshiping ten goddesses came to be known as Dashamavika. This is the origin of the celebration of “Dashain” as we know it today.
The tradition of wearing rice tika (Akshyata) started in the indigenous communities of Nepal, especially Magars. It was later adopted by the Chettris of the hilly regions and gradually became a widespread practice in other regions during Dashain.
There are some ecological sides to Dashain as well. Due to the climate and geography of the hilly region, the body requires more protein, and thus to meet this requirement people living here consume more meat. Brahmins, who originally had a vegetarian diet, started to adapt to this eating habit as they migrated to hilly regions.
Dashain is changing
Over the years, many traditional practices are changing. Dashain is no exception. People are focusing more on science and technology. Consumerism is increasing which has steered the method of Dashain celebration in a new direction. The capitalist nature of markets has steered us towards consumerism. The structure of the market, social structure, economy, and politics all play a role in changing the way Dashain was celebrated back in the past and the way it is celebrated now. Methods of entertainment have also changed. Our society used to be based on kinship, where family relations bound the people. In more nuclearized families, there is no ideal form of society.
Major gap in the celebration of Dashain lies in the economy and its impact. Even thirty years back, landlords that had it all, lavishly celebrated Dashain while the poor labored for extra hours for one filling meal with their family. The difference now is that the market now has been structured in a way that goods are available in a diverse range for people of diverse economic backgrounds, which was not the case thirty years ago. The gap has always been there. It is just that now its nature has changed.
As the media and the market are becoming more globalized, the need to ‘show off’ and engage in lavish activities as a means of celebration is increasing. It is yet to be seen how it will further contribute to changing Dashain.
In recent times, our mode of economy has also affected festivals like Dashain. Our economy is basically sustained by external factors such as remittance. Remittances affect Dashain. The production in Nepal is decreasing but the demand is rapidly increasing while the number of people celebrating Dashain in Nepal is still the same. So, even for the celebration of Dashain, we are being dependent on imported goods for our national production is not enough to meet the rising demands of the people. With the culture of consumerism rising, more materialistic goods are being imported. Sadly, consumerism has not done us good. It has somehow promoted criminal activities like theft and robbery to some extent. In sociological terms, we can say that ‘show off’ culture or chori lyau (manage resources for Dashain even through theft) mentality influence people to commit crimes just for a lavish festival celebration. Unemployment, consumerism, and show off culture make matters worse.
People say Dashain is the biggest celebration. I largely agree. It is the biggest celebration rather than the biggest festival. But festivals and celebrations usually go hand in hand. After all, a festival is meant to be celebrated. The means of celebration has seen a great shift. The difference in the method of celebration has been caused by the shift in society, a less kinship-based society, and social media. Nowadays, as the media and the market are becoming more globalized, the need to ‘show off’ and engage in lavish activities as a means of celebration is increasing. It is yet to be seen how it will further contribute to changing Dashain in the days to come.
Ram Bahadur Karki is Assistant Campus Chief at Ratna Rajya Laxmi Campus. The article is based on a conversation with Nepal Live Today’s Sharana Sherpa.