January 30, 2012

Photo Journey of Tika Time and Nepal's Festivals

Contemplating my hoped-for return visit to Nepal this spring for Nimesh's wedding, I was looking over the photos I took during my dozen visits to Nepal between 2001 and 2008. I was struck by how many of them involved the giving and receiving of tika.

Tika is a paste made of vermilion-colored powder, rice, and yogurt, applied to the forehead. Getting a tika -- from an older person in your family, or from relatives, or from anyone -- is a blessing and expression of love. Tika-giving is a centerpiece of most of the festivals that enrich the Nepali culture. 

Here's a photo log of some of the tika-giving occasions.

This is the longest (15 days!) and most important festival of Nepal. It's our Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas combined. If possible, Nepalis around the world try to get home. When they can't, Nepalis celebrate Dashain wherever they are, but they long to be at home. Nimesh, my Nepali housemate, hasn't been able to return home to Kathmandu for Dashain for eight years. I suspect he envies my having been in Nepal for three Dashains during that time.

Dashain falls between late September and mid October, after the monsoon season. All government institutions, schools, and many businesses close during Dashain. But if you're planning a trip to Nepal during Dashain, don't worry: tourist businesses remain open. It's a particularly good time of the year for tourists and trekkers, since the clouds that often hide the mountains aren't as prevalent, and the fields and forests are lush after summer's monsoon rains.

Dashain celebrates a great victory of  the gods over evil demons. The goddess Durga slays the demon Mahisasur, who had terrorized the earth in the guise of a brutal water buffalo. The first nine days of Dashain commemorate their fierce battle. On the tenth day -- when Mahisaur is slain in the story -- thousands of sheep, goats, ducks, chickens and water buffalo are slaughtered in Nepal. The last five days of Dashain feature celebrations of Durga's victory.

The tika ritual is the centerpiece of those celebratory days. I first visited Nepal in March, 2001. When I returned six months later, I completed  (barely!) the arduous climb up to Ramnesh's mountain village, Warchok. My days there were memorable, especially because they included my first Dashain tika. Here's Ramesh about to get his tika from his mother:

Later, I celebrated several Dashains at Ramesh's house in Pokhara. Here's my "adopted" grandson Rahel receiving his tika from his dad. The corn husk behind the ear (second picture) is often part of the ritual:

Ramesh gives me my tika:

When I haven't been in Nepal for Dashain, I'd often join my Nepali friends here in Washington. In this picture, I'm getting tika from my good friend Debi at his apartment at 1500 Massachesetts Avenue, where many Nepalis reside:

This event celebrates the first feeding of rice to a child. An astrologer picks the day, typically when the baby is about six months old. Luckily, I was in Nepal for Rahel's Pasni. Here we are in the Pokhara house, getting ready for the big event:

Here's Rahel, ready to go -- eye make-up and all -- with our good friend Santosh:

Rahel is propped up by Laxmi, his mother. Her sister Saraswathi delivers that first taste of rice:

I was also privileged to be part of a Pasni celebration in Germantown, Maryland. Here, I'm offering rice to Aastha, the daughter of my friends Puru and Sara:

Second Birthday Celebrations
While Nepalis don't mark birthdays the way we do, a child's second birthday includes a celebration, with tika. Here I am with Rahel:

Here's the family later that same day, at the temple on the island in Pokhara's Fewa Lake:

Back in Germantown, Maryland, Puru and Sara mark their daughter Aastha's second birthday, complete with tika:

I'm becoming an old hand at receiving tika, here from little Aastha's grandmother:

Bhai Tika
Tihar, the festival of lights, is the second biggest festival after Dashain, and occurs in late October or early November. For five days, people worship Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. On the last day of Tihar, Nepal's Newari community observes the lovely Bhai Tika -- "brother's day," when sisters give their brothers tika, wishing them long, healthy lives, and thanking them for their protection. Here are several Bhai Tika pictures, taken on the roof of the Pokhara home, featuring Ramesh's nephew and niece:

I'm not sure how I got into the Bhai Tika act, or how I got all this loot:

Let's conclude with this roof-top gathering of my extended family:

If you're interested in hearing a Dashain festival song as accompaniment to a nice photo montage, check out this video:

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