Saturday, October 30, 2010


Durga Puja - household ceremony worshipping the Goddess Durga
Dashain is the biggest holiday in Nepal. It began on October 8th and lasted for 15 days. During Dashain children fly kites and play on giant constructed wooden swings called ping, while adults play games of chance and celebrate with family members. The eighth, ninth, and tenth days of Dashain are the most important - during these days family members come together to receive blessings from their elders. There are many animal sacrifices during these days, mostly of goats.

For the first few days of Dashain I was in Kathmandu with the other ETAs completing our training. We also had some time to throw a kickin' party for the Fulbrighters and Friends. There were margaritas. I made queso.

Then for the most important days of Dashain we returned to our villages to celebrate with families. Back in 2008 my Dashain revolved almost entirely around kite-fighting, but this year the weather was rainy and I only got to fly a few kites. I didn't see a single kite fight. This family was all business: they told me that they had to prepare for the arrival of 70 guests. I mostly went on errands with my brother.

The eldest son has the responsibility of "cutting" the goats, performing the sacrifice, but my brother's uncle's family has no male sons and so the responsibility fell to him. We went out to a market to pick out a kashi, which technically means castrated goat but in this case meant a male goat for sacrifice.

The process of picking out a goat for Dashain sacrifice reminded me a lot of driving out to a Christmas tree lot to pick out a tree. You have to get there early or all the good ones will be taken.

People judge goats by weight, size, color, liveliness, horns, testicles - every inch of the goat is prodded, pulled, inspected. Whenever they would cup a goat I would advise the goat to cough, but nobody else really seemed to think that was funny.

On the way out I was interviewed by a reporter from a Nepali news station about whether or not I believed the practice of goat sacrifice was cruel. I tried to muddle through an explanation of factory farming in the US and how these sacrifices seemed much more open and celebratory of the life of the animal, but it was sort of half-Nepali half-English and the interviewer looked confused. I don't think my interview aired.

This is much safer than it looks.
We carefully drove the goat down into the valley and arrived at the uncle's house.

Preparing the fire for the goat

Blessing of the khukuri, the famous Nepali knife that is used for the ceremony. First a small vegetable is cut at the sacrificial altar.

The goat is blessed, sprinkled with tikka and burning brands and water, and given lots of treats.

The head is separated in one strike or else it is considered extremely unlucky. I was never allowed to help out with holding the goat, but they told me to take videos of the sacrifices.
After the goat is decapitated, the head is given some final sips of water to ease the journey of the goat's soul. Blood is drained from the neck to be used for a special food, boiling water is poured on the body to remove the fur, and the goat is shaved and coated with a cleaning agent made of ash and yellow powder. The head is placed in the fire and then divided. Almost all of the goat becomes some sort of food or another.

They would not let me participate in any part of the sacrifice, but they certainly let me help clean out the intestines and stomach of the goat down at the well. I would say that this particular part of the process would do more for the cause of vegetarianism than anything I've described so far, including the beheading. But after I had seen the whole process from purchase to plate and I had tried a bit of spiced succulent roasted goat, sekuti, I felt pretty good about my omnivorous instincts. The whole process seemed pretty humane and open and respectful. The people I talked to, however, people who had been performing these sacrifices, told me "these are the bad customs of the Nepali people."

Final product of the goat sacrifice.
 I saw a total of six sacrifices during Dashain. Three were of goats, and three were of coconuts. The coconuts met their fates during a puja intended to offer protection to the three family motorcycles:

 On the biggest day of Dashain, Dashami, I was woken up at 5 and we drove for about an hour and a half to go worship at the temple of Dakshinkali.

Host Mother Sarita, Host Brother Sabin, and Myself at Dakshinkali.

I wasn't really allowed inside to the altar, but it was pretty interesting watching people purchasing offerings of fruit and seeds and flowers, goats and chickens carted around for sacrifices, sadhu holy men and musicians and food vendors and beggars.

That afternoon many family members came by to be blessed by their elder relatives. I was included within the family hierarchy, and I gave tikka to my younger brothers.

Host Father Uddhab (right) and his brothers.

Tikka is placed on the forehead while blessings of prosperity and prayers are uttered. The ritually-grown jammara is placed behind the ears and on the top of the head. 

My blessing, translated into English, was "May you teach well, study well, earn a PHD and come back to Nepal."

During the last few days of Dashain all of the ETAs took a trip to Pokhara. We stayed there for four nights, in a wonderful hotel. We rented scooters and saw Devi Falls:

Named, according to one of a number of conflicting account, for Mrs. Davis, a Swiss tourist who tragically drowned there in the 1970s. Devi is a Nepalism for "Davis," being the Nepali word for God.
This was my fourth stay in Pokhara, but just like the other times I did not do very much except relax and eat lots of foods that were not rice and lentils. We rented boats and saw the celebrations at the island temple on the last day of Dashain. Various other Fulbrighters arrived and we ate and celebrated and had a great time.

Peace Pagoda above Phewa Tal.

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