My paternal grandfather was a very down-to-earth person to the degree that he went around the homestead barefoot, talked very less to the point of being taciturn, and minded his own business to the extent of being solitary. Unlettered, but a man of infinite wisdom. Of small stature but having a stately bearing. Nonetheless, temporal and celestial matters received his attention in equal measure.
In his youth, he had journeyed down to the North-eastern plains of India and got himself a government job. Half a year in the job, in a vivid dream, he saw his widowed father: all dressed in white, greyed hair and beard, and a sickly countenance. Such was his devotion to his father that he quit the job without a second thought and returned home for good.
Year after year, season after season, day after day, he worked the fields, tended to his livestock, and silently endured the vagaries of nature. Not even once he lamented the government job he quit in a blink nor grieved for the creature comforts it could have afforded him and his large family. He was at peace with his wife, his deities, his rustic existence, and quietly proud of his “lowly” peasant life.
At age ten I was a dangerous little man, for I was endowed with a devilishly curious mind and a commensurately creative bent. Armed with bundles of tangled copper wires, parts salvaged from all kinds of electronics, nuts and bolts, and other junk, I was on a dogged pursuit of making electricity from fire, more precisely, from embers. The devil should know, from where I got this sinister idea.
Many times, my grandfather had seen me put my quixotic idea into action behind the cowshed. The incendiary accouterments I had made me look like a potential arsonist to him. For me, he was a potential saboteur of my grand secret mission. Each day, we were playing hide and seek. Each time he found me engaged in the wizardry of electricity-making, he would banish me to the edge of our village where the banshees lived but to no avail. I would return more determined, more motivated than ever for creating trouble.
That year, until Dashain arrived, our relationship remained rocky. Even then, it was purely diurnal. At night, peace would be restored between me and him. We shared a bed of rock, so to speak. Instead of something cushy and comfortable, he preferred a woolen rug on top of a hay mattress. He liked it hard. Perhaps, it was a cure for his slowly curving back. And I did not mind it either.
Right after the rains end in late September, nature triumphantly returns to its resplendent glory: Life-giving water is plentiful, serpentine brooks and streams sing a mellifluous murmur, verdant woodlands come alive with tweeting little birds, and idle clouds sail across in the blue skies. Planting season has just ended, mother earth is bountiful, and village folk go about their daily lives with a buoyed spirit. A mildly intoxicating fragrance impregnates the whole atmosphere. This pervasive aroma is the harbinger of grand festivities in the hills of Western Nepal.
Pupils whose places of learning had closed for the holidays or who somehow managed to break free from their drab school life would first appear in the village. Second, came the lahures and their families who had been grinding away the whole year in Jalandhar, Haryana, Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Dimapur, Shillong and cities in India. Last arrived the bureaucrats (a sizable number) and their city-born bratty kids, and fair-complexioned fragile wives.
On the ridge of a hillock, along the tortuous and treacherous foot trails, you could see a motley procession of homebound souls, decked in bright colors, lugging heavy bags but determinedly pushing towards their homes. This influx of out-migrants would last for about a month. The old folks likened this annual homecoming to the fowls returning to their roosts in the twilight hours.
It was customary for these returnee members of the community to pay a visit to the elderlies, hand them sweetmeats, nuts, tobacco, clothes, etc. and listen to their past exploits, stories and imbibe some practical wisdom. In return, the repatriates would share with them the trials and tribulations of their journey back home, stories of faraway lands, foreign people, interesting happenings, and tidbits about the changing world.
Every family would paint their house ochre and milky white, and remove the weeds around the house and front yard. Even this sleepy settlement of around ten score mortals would turn into a hubbub of lively activities. Not even affected a tiny bit by the excitement in the air, my grandfather went about quietly preparing for Dashain. Being the patriarch of the family, he oversaw and participated in hay collection for the cattle, beautification of the old house and homestead, and restocking provisions.
Maha Navami would be the day everyone would be waiting for. Anointed with aromatic oils and dressed in all sorts of fineries, the old and young would journey to the Kot Ghar on the hilltop. Around eight in the morning, rhythmic beating of drums would start to sound from all directions and eventually merge with the music coming from the Kot Ghar.
Senility had set in. So my grandfather started a little bit early. Along the stretch of around three kilometers to the Kot Ghar, he trundled slowly, stopping at every bend and at every encounter with a friend or relative his age to make a small chat. They reminisced about the good old days, the times of their youths, and the ominous times that surrounded them.
Also read: Dashain: Then and now
At the Kot ghar, the prized spot under the awning would be waiting for him from where he would have an unobstructed view (darshan) of the Khadga and Chattra (local deities) and the gory spectacle. He was rather not fond of animal sacrifice so he continued to chat with his friends even after the animal sacrifices started.
Those special spots were off-limits for us kids. We found our own vantage points. The ensemble of musicians played a hypnotic rhythm occasionally punctuated by the sky-rending roar of the dhankuri baja (a really long pipe). This ancient music was perhaps the enabler to all the bloodshed that ensued later. Hundreds of animals, big and small would be killed at the maulo (sacred altar). At around three in the afternoon, I and my grandfather would return home at a leisurely pace.
On the auspicious day of Vijaya Dashami, my grandfather would be sitting on an ornate rug, putting tika and jamara, blessing the receiver with Om Jayanti Mangala Kali Bhadrakali Kapalini mantra, some other benedictions, and giving away sweets, fruits, and paper bills according to the status and gender of the receiver. I would receive the tika as soon as it began so that I could break my fast and go devour the delicacies. After that, I would sit beside him all day long.
Tika ceremony would continue late into the evening till everybody who had arrived from far and wide had received his blessings, and only he would break his fast. With this, the greatest festival of the year climaxed. The next day itself, family members who had gathered for the celebration would start to disperse in all four directions.
I cherish the fond memories of the many magical, mystical, and majestic childhood Dashains that I was a part of and in which my paternal grandfather played the central role. After he passed away thirteen years ago, I have not been to the Kot Ghar even once and Dashain has not been the same for me ever since.
The author comes from Gulmi, and is a community development professional based in Kathmandu