Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Monday, October 2, 2006

The earth goddess Durga was the emcee for the Dasain festival, a harvest festival between the new and full Asoj moon. During this fortnight, good conquered evil, kites were flown, alcohol was imbibed, families congregated, fields were harvested, gods were appeased, and there was blood on the streets in the city of Kathmandu.

In the beginning, as the dark side of the moon showed itself, barley seeds were planted in a vessel representing the womb of Durga. As the celebrations progressed, the barley germinated, turned green, and growed towards the sun.

Children played in the streets and on rooftops, beginning a two week vacation full of kite flying and swinging. Each village built a swing of rope and bamboo, so that work and the earthly duties can be forgotton, at least for a moment. Everyone, including the elders were expected to swing at least once.

As I sat on the rooftop garden of Himalaya's Guesthouse, I watched as hundreds of kites flew over the city of Kathmanu. Young adults also flew kites from the rooftops, drinking beer, gambling, and playing AC/DC or Avril Lavigne on their tape decks: a time of freedom symbolized in the kites and swings.

I stayed in Kathmandu until the climax of the festival--the tenth day--when good conquors evil. On that day, Ram, an incarnation of Vishnu, defeats the demon Ravana with the help of goddess Durga. Parades of people, mostly spontaneous celebrations, filled the streets periodically and people received tikkas from their elders.

"I'm so happy," said a dancing man as I walked with one parade of people with a float of Durga and several caravans of people with painted faces.

The prior day--Navami, the 9th--bulls, goats, sheep, chickens, and green beings--the germinated barley sprouts, fruits, and nuts--were sacrificed to appease the gods and goddesses. I watched as a chicken and a goat were beheaded in front of the wrathful deity Bhairab, a messy affair complete with writhing and spurting blood onto the feet of the deity. Around the corner, a young boy gave me a tikka, smearing it onto my forehead, between my eyes. The blood from the animals were smeared on vehicles of all kinds--airplanes, cars, motorcycles--in order to ensure that more blood would not be spilt in an accident.

Often, I sat under the Boddhi tree in Durbar Square, the seat of most of the action. From there, where the feet of God are located, I could watch the world of festivities going by and sit with tour guides and sadhus.

Two days before, the king had come to Durbar Square, to the ancient palace of the kings, as part of the rites of Dasain. Soldiers and musicians marked his arrival, though he arrived quickly in a black vehicle. Leaving just as quickly, the ceremony was one more of obligation than pomp, seeing that the king was essentially powerless, unpopular, and under the barrel of a gun.

Most of Dasain, however, was a quiet family affair. Families visited temples together, praying to the goddess, and enjoyed the two weeks as a group, flying kites and such. Many shops were closed as people in the recently-sprawled Kathmandu returned to their roots in the countryside.

New traditions were also beginning, as coconut juice was replacing blood for sprinkling their motorcycles. They now believe that the coconut can represent a head and the juice inside can represent blood. What's important is the symbolism and meaning behind it.

In the end, people continued to swing and fly their kites, and elders drank and gambled. I did notice, however, that the drinking and gambling part of the ceremonies continued after Dasain was officially over.
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