By Adele McCann
Photo Courtesy of Adele McCann
Vancouver is an amazing city in many ways, but one of my very favourite ways is in its diversity. It is a hub for different festivals, languages, cultural practices and of course food. Before coming here I had never tried hotpot or Korean barbeque. The only sushi I had eaten was from a plastic container at the supermarket. We are so fortunate in Vancouver to be surrounded by people with practices that originate from all over the world, I believe it is a huge part of what make this city so inviting.
I was invited to the Nepalese Dashain festival. My friends are Nepali and their family was kind enough to extend an invitation to me to join them. Dashain is the national festival of Nepal and it celebrates the victory of good over evil. It typically lasts fifteen days (which allows for an incredible amount of celebration) and falls in September or October. Each day has a different celebration or distinct ritual and each are performed in sequence for a particular reason.
I asked Aastha, one of my friends, to tell me a little about the mythology behind the celebration. The Hindu God Vishnu has many disguises, one of which is Rama. Vishnu’s wife Parvati also had disguises, including Sita. Rama battled and won Sits from the hands of the evil figure Ravana. Aastha explained, “That is why Dashain in the Hindu religion, and Nepali/North Indian culture is a celebration that represents the win of Good over Evil.” Rama and Sita were engaged in a number of battles during a period of fourteen-year exile and people celebrate their victories and pray to the deities that assisted in those battles. Fourteen days are dedicated to celebrate the years of exile that Rama and Sita had to endure and the final day marks their arrival on the moon. “However, the most important cultural idea of Dashain is the idea of families coming together, and celebrating their togetherness, their safety, and celebrating all of the Good in the world.” (- Aastha). Traditionally you take time during Dashain to visit with all of your family members, with the youngest family members traveling to their elders. Typically the eldest daughter of the family sets up the rituals.
One of the main themes of Dashain is the conquering of light over darkness. In the middle of fall, with the Vancouver rain setting in and the last of the summer dwindling away it is wonderful to be welcomed into a family and to share in their food and games and traditions. I knew relatively little about what would proceed when I walked in the front door but I had come armed with sweets and chocolate and flowers. Gifts are a big part of Dashain, particularly for those younger than you. This is a good celebration to be the youngest child at.
We started with the Teeka ritual. In the fourteen day period, the days from ten to fourteen are marked as the “four days of Teeka” and are called “Dasami”. Teeka is the form of blessing that is collected from your elder family members. “Dashain Teeka is a very auspicious home-made mixture of rice, yogurt and vermilion ( red colored powder).“ (- Aastha). The red is an important factor in the ritual as it represents “the blood, that ties the families together”. (- Aastha).
To receive the blessing we sat on a red mat, elders sitting opposite their youngers. It went in turns with the oldest male first sitting opposite his wife. Then she joins him and they sit opposite their children and this moves down through each group of people. From your elders you receive gifts, prasad (blessings), food, fruits and “Dakchina” – which is a blessing in the form of money. The blessings bestow prosperity and abundance on youngers in the upcoming year.
After the ritual we gathered together to eat dinner, sitting on the floor, as is traditional. They served some traditional dishes, which I got to try, kasi ko masu – a lamb dish with gravy, chiura – dried rice, chicken in gravy, sardines, chaana – a chickpea dish, dhal, and black bean curry amongst others. It was delicious beyond description.
The family with whom I celebrated was so welcoming and took great joy in explaining everything to me. I was offered a kurta to wear and adorned with flowers and tika. I felt like a princess in beautiful pinks and yellows. I am so thankful to them for their hospitality and for the amazing food that they shared. Aastha summed up the celebration perfectly, “all in all, Dashain is a celebration celebrated by the Nepali community to come together to show their love towards their relatives and for the elder relatives to give younger relatives teachings and blessings of Good over Evil.”
We rounded off the night, playing card games and sharing stories. Snacks were passed around and teams swapped quickly, depending on who was winning. Sitting cross-legged amongst friends and family, learning new things that I had never heard before, I felt very fortunate to be part of this city that not only encompasses so many different kinds of culture but invites you to participate in it.