Behold black night at the Dashain festival
Travel affords that rare opportunity to truly step outside of one's comfort zone. For most Americans, then, a trip to Nepal for the Dashain festival is one of the best opportunities to experience something wholly foreign to our Western experiences. The festival, which takes place in October and ends just before the last full moon of that month, revolves around rituals, feasting and the gods, but it's in their large-scale animal sacrifices that you may find yourself grappling with an astonishing spectacle previously unknown to you.
Not your average fall feast
The announcement in the news sounded enough like Thanksgiving: the Nepalese government requested explicit flight plans from domestic airlines so as to better accommodate the huge influx of travelers heading home for the festivities. Yet, where airlines get clogged for a couple of days in the U.S., airports in Nepal are overrun for a full week.
That's because Dashain is Nepal's biggest festival of the year, a 15-day celebration of the gods' triumph over evil. Homes are cleansed and decorated brightly, extended families gather and feasts are prepared, not unlike Western holidays. But Dashain builds up to its great feasts, which take place in the latter half of the festival, with multiple days of rituals and prayer. Fast-growing yellow grass seeds are planted on the first day to be used as personal adornment in the array of processionals starting on the tenth day. On Fulpati, the seventh day, a jar of flowers is carried from faraway Gorkha to be presented at Tundikhel parade ground in Kathmandu in offering to the king.
A bloody affair
All of these rituals are build-up to the end of the eighth day, aptly named Black Night. In the preceding days, farmers flood marketplaces with their livestock in hopes of selling animals for the coming event. At midnight, hundreds of animal sacrifices take place across the country in palaces and temples, including 108 goats and 8 buffalo in Tundikhel alone. These sacrifices are made in honor of the goddess Durga Puja, the bloodthirsty conqueror of the evil demon Mahisasura. Sacrifices continue through the night and resume again during the next day.
For a country used to pre-packaged meats, this might be hard to stomach, but the Nepalese go a step further by sprinkling goat's blood on cars for good luck and filling courtyards ankle-deep with blood. Sacrifices are complete by the end of the ninth day, however, and that's when the feasting, familial celebrations and processionals begin - a worthy reward for any iron-willed Westerner.