The needle shaped Babiyo grass (Eulaliopsis binata) was in full growth by the time Dashain festival arrived. People in the village used to be in a fervent rush to cut and collect the grass but it was not meant to feed the cattle nor was it to be used to make the thatch roof of the house. The exceptionally strong grass would be made into massive rope for the swing locally called Linge Ping.
The young and adults alike most enthusiastically participated in the Ping making project, creating an environment of joy and festivity in the whole village. For a child, the very word Linge Ping meant the time of great merriment, gathering, laughter and joy.
The heavy Babiyo ropes were carefully fastened to the large branch of an old banyan tree that has stood there for generations. Great thought was given to make sure that it was not creaking and moving; otherwise it could develop wears and tears with the weight and pressure of the swing being played. Sometimes two persons would play the swing at the same time, exerting extra tensile pressure to the rope. The Linge Ping stood in its place on the day of Fulpati or even earlier stirring a festive joy in the whole village.
The very timing of the year makes the Dashain festival specially memorable. Rainy days are over as the monsoon has already withdrawn. Sarad Ritu (autumn season) makes the best time of the year in Nepal with bright sun shining and flowers of myriad colours blossoming. The rainy days are gone and the chilly winter is still far away. The fragrance of the flowers is wafting in cool breeze and cloudless day offers the best view of the Himalayan mountains. With rice paddies nearing the harvesting season, mustard fields in full bloom paint a yellowish landscape. This is the natural beauty and pleasant climate that set the tone and background of the Dashain festival during our childhood days. And installing of the Ping in the middle of the village heralded the memorable time of merryment.
The roads, trails and climbing steps were swept clean and the pits and puddles created during rainy summer days were filled with freshly dug earth. Everybody repeated the words Dashain Aayo, or the great festival is coming, and they said that clean paths are a must to welcome the festival. Same thing was said about the Laxmi Puja in the Tihar festival. They said that the goddess of wealth Laxmi walks on the cleanest road and enters the home of the worshipper which is brightly lit. Dashain roads had to be exclusively clean and those who littered the path or failed to turn up for repairs, maintenance and cleaning works were said to remain in poverty and backwardness.
Chiura was the famous food item of the festival, eaten with mutton and curd. This cuisine was prepared from boiled paddy grains beaten in traditional wooden mills. In those days, chiura was home made and not bought in the market like today. Almost every household did its own chiura milling. Livestock rearing was the main occupation of the day dairy food including curd was in abundance to be relished with chiura. Persons of the family assigned to take care of the cattle, had to do extra works of collecting fodder before the festival so that they could have free time during the festival. It was common to see green fodder heaped up in households for the festival.
Our sisters went to collect Kamero (white clay) in Kuwapani Khola in order to white wash the houses for the festival. Mining this special clay was full of danger as deep pits had to be dug before obtaining the white clay. If you were not careful enough, collapsing of the soil mound during the deep digging could prove fatal. The Kamero clay had to be cleaned, beaten and processed before keeping soaked in water for certain hours. Then it would be ready for painting the house with Babiyo brush. But this white paint would last only until the next rain washed it away. For the next Dashain festival, the same process had to be carried out once again.
The borderline to the white wash had to be painted with red soil which had to be mined from the Ratmate hill, half an hours’s walk from the village. Young women in the neighbourhood were responsible for this job. They did it in groups and enjoyed it. The constant chatting and laughter made their heavy burden lighter. The thought of upcoming festival made them forget about all the toughness of the work.
For painting the window shills and frames of the house for the Dashain festival, natural enamel was prepared by boiling the tender leaves of Ureli plants and bark of the grown up Sal tree (Shorea robusta). Sisters in their group set out with their baskets on their back and sickle and axe in their hands for this mission. While collecting the Ureli leaves was relatively easier, the task to cut off and transport the Sal Ko Bokra was quite tough and painstaking. The bark had to be taken off from an old Sal tree for the best quality of the black paint.
After taking the bark and Ureli leaves home, the wild stuffs had to be boiled in large cauldron for hours. And the sisters did the painting works mostly without the help of the male members of the family. It was assumed that males were less skilled in artistic works than the female ones. In those days, the village did not have piped water supply and the work of fetching water was the domain of women and girls. In our case, fetching water from the nearest water source at Dharapani would take about half an hour if one did not have to wait in line for filling. Our sisters did it for us.
The great joy of the Dashain could be enjoyed only after painstaking preparations. The father of the family travelled all the way to Kathmandu on foot a month ago to make purchase of clothes, cuminseed, black pepper, salt and kerosene. As there was no production in own farm, garlic and onion also had to be bought and brought from the capital.
A family that was not raising its own goat would have financially straining time during the festival and one had to find a money lender in order to make this arrangement. Family budget would have to go through loans and deep deficits to buy new clothes. Our family would raise its own goat for the festival almost every year which provided a budgetary leverage. If one had to celebrate the festival on credit, and if the Dashain debt kept accumulating year after year, there was no coming out from the vicious cycle of destitution. Dashain or Dasha (ill fate) is the question people asked and contemplated about the financial troubles brought by this festival.
Dashain for we young people was a time for ecstasy and joy no matter what it meant for parents. For them, it was a matter of financial nervousness and over burden of domestic chores. Elderly people in the village said they no longer can enjoy the festival as they did during their childhood. For them, it was a repeated occasion of worries. The festival is truly meant for children who are free from a sense of burden, responsibility and budget management worries. Parents must make sure they are up to the social standards and they manage the vital ingredients of the festival such as new clothes and festive cuisines, especially meat.
It was dutiful for a man to visit his guru (one who taught the Gayatri mantra) with the gift of bananas on the day of Dashain Tika. There are relatives who must be offered Dakshina (cash gift) along with the Tika. The visitors should also be served the food like meat, chiura, curd, pickle and Selroti. Visiting guests must be treated well even if it meant the family members have to consume thriftily. Living a family life is not easy for its guardians. Children do not know, and do not care to know, what it takes to make arrangements for the festival. They can enjoy without worrying; that is the best phase of one’s life.
Under the colossal banyan tree, where the Linge Ping of the village was set up, Dashain gatherings extended for days. The Ping Khelne gathering started from the day of Fulpati, the seventh day of worshipping the power goddess Durga. As the moonlit night set in, people assembled in this place after the dinner.
They came with Madal and jhurma and set the mirthful stage for singing and dancing. As people played the swing turn by turn, the dance and music continued under the beat of melodious Madal. The musical sessions sometimes continued the whole night till the day of Kojagrat Purnima. These gatherings identified the people of the village with best singing voice, best dancing moves and best Madal playing skills.
The jamara seeds sown on the day of Ghatasthapana and well concealed from sunlight, sprouted fully as yellow flowers by the day of Bijaya Dashami. The tender sprouts from corn and barley seeds are to be put on the head as holy decoration along with the red Tika prepared from rice grains, curd and vermillion powder on the forehead. Bijaya Dashami, the tenth day of the festival is the main attraction on which people receive Tika and blessings from the senior-most relatives. The blessings include wishes for good health, long life, prosperity, success and victory over enemies. This is the main reason for people to come home from far off places.
This is the day of annual reunion when mothers and grandmothers get into tears if their children and grandchildren fail to turn up for the cherished moment.