Rain has stopped, the sky is clear, the sun shines bright and there is a spring in the air. Oh yes, Dashain is here! Schools and offices are closed, people are travelling to be with their families, it is the time for feasts and merry and there is peace and calm all around. Oh yes, Dashain is here!
Two weeks of autumn festivities, Dashain is the largest and one of the most awaited festivals for many in the country. Celebrated for nine main days in the bright lunar fortnight of Ashwin in honour of Lord Ram who observed the Navaratri (nine nights) fast in Treta Yuga and defeated Ravan on the 10th day of Dashami, people buy new clothes, exchange greetings and wishes and seek blessings from their elders in Dashain. In Nepal, this festival is also associated with the Navadurga. Navadurga, as the name suggests, are the nine forms of Goddess Durga who are worshipped in the first nine days of Dashain.
The first day, which is the day of Ghatasthapana, is dedicated to Goddess Shailaputri. Her name ‘Shaila’ means mountains and ‘Putri’ means daughter; hence, she is regarded as the daughter of the Himalayas. In Hindu belief, Himavat, the embodiment of the Himalayas, had three daughters – Ganga, Ragini and Parvati, who Shailaputri is a form of. So Dashain starts with the worship of Goddess Parvati, wife of the god of gods Mahadev.
The second day is the day of Goddess Brahmacharini who is held in high regard by devotees for her ascetic conduct. Worshipping Brahmacharini is believed to increase discipline and virtue. Chandraghanta, the third form of Durga, gets her name from the moon-bell (Chandra-Ghanta) she used to defeat forces of evil.
Kushmanda is the fourth form of Goddess Durga and she is worshipped on the fourth day of Dashain for creating the entire world with her divine smile. Wax Gourd is Goddess Kushmanda’s favourite vegetable which is why it is offered to her on this day along with milk and curd.
The fifth day belongs to Goddess Skandamata – mother of Lord Kartikeya or Skanda. She is also sometimes referred to as Padmasani since she is depicted as seated on a lotus flower. Any person who worships Skandamata with a pure heart also gets the blessings of Lord Skanda who is also shown sitting on her lap. Skandamata is a motherly goddess who cares for her followers as her own children and awards them salvation, power, prosperity and wealth.
On the sixth day, people flock to the temples of Katyayani. According to the Vaman Puran, Katyayani was created from the combined wrath of all the gods whose anger at the demon Mahisasur took the form of energy rays that crystallised in the hermitage of Katyayana Rishi. That is why the goddess is known as Katyayani or the daughter of Katyayana. Devotion to Goddess Katyayani is believed to grant the devotee all four virtues – Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. On the seventh day, or rather night, the ferocious goddess Kaalratri is worshipped. She is considered the fiercest form of Durga who destroys demons, spirits, ghosts and all negative energies. She is depicted riding a donkey.
The eighth form of Durga is Mahagauri. The fair, radiant form of Parvati, Mahagauri is considered as fair as the moon and wears clothes and mounts a bull that are as white as her complexion. Goddess Mahagauri fulfils all the desires of her devotees and relieves them from all their sufferings.
On the ninth and the last day of Navaratri, humans, demons and gods worship Siddhiratri. She is the complete manifestation of Mahashakti and is one with Lord Shiva. Siddhiratri represents the very source of life who looks after the well-being of all those who pray to her.
The Navadurgas are taken as the nine mothers of the people of Earth who care for them and protect them from the forces of evil. They are worshipped under various names and in various forms in Shaktipeeths (seat of the goddesses) around the country with the most notable ones being Guheshwori, Bhadrakali, Dakshinkali, Shobha Bhagwati, Manmaiju, Naxal Bhagwati, Taleju Bhawani, Vatsala Devi, Gokarneshwor Bhagwati, Janaleshwor Bhagwati, Kankeshwori, Naradevi, Maitidevi, Sankata and Raktakali among many others in Kathmandu Valley.
Significant among them is Shobha Bhagwati where the images of all nine forms of Durga can be found carved on the boundary wall of the temple. Similarly, the temple of Taleju Bhawani only opens once a year on the ninth day of Dashain (Nawami) and has been an integral part of people’s lives and culture since the Malla era.
Outside Kathmandu, some of the most important temples visited during Dashain are Palanchowk Bhagwati in Kavre, Kalichowk Bhagwati in Dolakha, Bindhyabasini in Kaski, Gorakhkali and Manakamana in Gorkha, Bhutan Devi in Makwanpur, Chhinnamasta in Saptari, Gadhimai in Bara, Rajdevi in Dhanusha, Dantakali in Dharan, Pathibhara in Taplejung, Tansen Bhagwati in Palpa, Bageshwori in Nepalgunj, Shaileshwori in Doti and Tripurasundari in Dolpa, among countless others.
Cultural scholars and experts believe that the worship of Durga in Dashain shows Nepali society’s reverence for Matrishakti (motherly power) and the importance placed on the concept of Devi (a supernatural extension of the female form) for the defeat of evil and triumph of good.