The festival of Deshain (pronounced: De-sigh) is one of the most important for Nepali people. It happens around September/ October and is a time when families and communities gather together to worship, celebrate and eat.
I would compare it to the scale of Thanksgiving in the US, Christmas in the UK or Chinese New Year. It’s a big deal.
The actual festival has specific events of specific days and whilst some are flexible, the final day (in this case, the Friday: Tika day) is set in stone as the main event.
Here’s what we experienced:
This turned out to be quite a loose arrangement as we discovered the temple visit was pushed back to Wednesday. With the exception of Friday when there was a schedule, the balance of the week was a little ‘loosey goosey’. A touch irritating since we had come back from hiking specifically for the whole festival with the alternative being an additional day trekking. Gggrrrrrr
In the end, we spent the day relaxing, reading and generally waiting for instruction. Trey was asked to attend a couple of goat sacrifices with the nearby family which consisted of beheading the goat. It’s clearly a mans world here and ladies we’re not expected to join. Thankfully.
Bishnu had come down with a fever since the start of the holidays so after a trip to the doctor in Besisahar, he rested in his room. Such a hard working guy who’s body just needed a rest from working on average 18 hr days.
Some of his extended family visited us later in the afternoon and bought some of their goat meat for us to eat. One of the nephews butchered it on the porch on a wooden block. The term butchering is loosely used here as the carcass was hacked to pieces, bone, meat, and tendon all together. At one point they severed the lower intestine and poop trickled out.
That’s how they roll here.
Wednesday/ Goat Day:
As mentioned earlier, this turned out to be Temple day with Goma and her Mother dressing in their finery to worship at a small hillside temple. We were invited to join and witness the ceremony (water sprinkling, flower placing, bell ringing, incense burning, money giving). We used the balance of the day to walk to Khudi to pick up some groceries for the family (Sprite and Fanta, sugar and chicken).
The family goat kept his head that day but the extended family bought over more of their goat meat to eat. They told us it was a festival of meat: they’re not wrong.
Bishnu still sick.
Thursday/ rest day:
In the morning, T and I took a walk to town again to stretch the legs and kill some time. Once back, T went with some local kids to the local festival swing* and became a local celebrity. We learnt that our goat would be spared until next week (am guessing it’s because Bishnu is still feverish?). Lucky goat. Maybe they’ll forget about him. I secretly hope so.
* Swings are a big deal at festival time. They construct 20 mtr high bamboo structures and rig up swings for people to …swing on. The one near us was in a large tree lovingly called The People Tree
More meat was bought over by the extended family. This is most definitely a festival of meat.
Friday/ Tika day- the biggest day:
This felt like the most structured day of the festival and I compare it to touring the relatives on Christmas Day. Every one gets dressed in their finery ( I wore one of Goma’s saris and one of the daughters helps me to dress, and Trey wore a Nepalise hat). As a family we walk to their elders to pay respects and to receive a tika which is a red marking onto the forehead. In festival time the red paint is mixed with rice to add texture (and potentially a snack for later?). It’s also customary to receive flowers, herbs, and maize leaves in the hair, or behind the ear if your hair is short. Women receive cash (yay). We are also given food (shocker).
As Bishnu has a large extended family, we walk to all his relatives (all within a quarter mile radius) and join in the ceremony. It’s a lovely family occasion and everyone welcomes us blessing us with ‘good health’, ‘good work’ and ‘good environment’.
By the end of the morning we have a small red rice field balanced on our forehead.
The rest of the afternoon is pretty relaxed. Bishnu was still sick so rested at the house whilst Goma’s and the girls visit another village. T and I stay home and relax.
Over the course of the afternoon more distant relatives visit and Bishnu applies tikas and gives blessings. We ended the day with more meat.
The next day, Saturday 20th, would see us travelling to Pokhara for our yoga retreat so we pack and get ready for our next location.