By Manisha P
(Photo credit: Tejaswee Shrestha)
“What is that on your forehead?”
“Um..it’s a part of what we do to celebrate Dashain”
Of the many questions people ask me, that used to be one of my least favorite. It involved informing people a lot about my culture, even the parts that I was not even fully aware about. I don’t know why we put so much tika (forehead mark) to cover half the forehead. I don’t know why wheat grass is used. I don’t know why money is given as part of the tradition. I definitely don’t know why we eat goat (absolutely don’t like it).
What I do know about Dashain is that it is a traditional holiday in Nepal (and by far, the most popular and the most-celebrated) where people get tika and blessings from anybody (and everybody) older than them. This includes neighbors, best friend’s relatives and so on. The tradition has religious ties to it. The Goddess of Power (Durga) is worshiped. I normally don’t take part in that. I was always interested to collect money (dakshina) and get blessings. Most blessings are around:
“Prosperous life. Good health. Good marriage (or, get married soon if you’re over 25 – hasn’t quite worked yet in my case). Get to the top in career. Be a good person. Be kind to others. Stay as awesome as you are.”
It surely is an ego-boosting day. The day is full of laughter and fun. Family come together from far distances. Families eat together….eat a lot. Most people like to play cards. It’s a tradition of bringing everyone together. I love that part of it.
Dashain feels different in Nepal. I celebrated it there about three years ago, when I was there for work. Almost everyone celebrate Dashain, no matter their income level. So, almost everyone has a tika on their forehead. Kids are the happiest. It’s fun getting together with cousins and friends and counting money together. They also get a month-long break from school. I mean, it’s like a Nepali Christmas.
Dashain outside of Nepal is a bit different. If you step outside with so much tika on your forehead, you end up having to explain the what’s and the why’s. Many people either stay in or wipe that thing off before leaving the house.
About three years ago, I started to not care. I was not worried about being “different” or having to answer questions. Heck, I walked into Wal-Mart with the tika on because I had to stop at the nearest store to grab a few liter bottles of Sprite (kind of needed it to digest that goat meat). I was okay with being starred at. I was okay for being asked why my forehead was so “bloody”. I realized that curiosity is natural as people encounter new things. My fellow Americans don’t know about Dashain. They don’t know why we’re walking around with our forehead painted red. Of course, they want to ask questions and learn.
Now, I absolutely enjoy talking about it. I am different and I am perfectly fine cherishing that. I also love it when my friends show interest to learn more about my culture and religion. Over the past few years, I have taken so much pride in being Nepali and being bi-cultural. Now, I enjoy giving a longer response to being asked “What is that on your forehead?”
*What is your favorite part about Dashain? What do you tell people when they ask you about the holiday?
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