Tuesday, 3 October, 2023

No Dashain in Khokana

Aashish Mishra

Dashain is here. Festivities are in the air and there is a jovial atmosphere all around. The pandemic has somewhat dampened the festival this year but people are still celebrating in their homes with their family.
Dashain is so ingrained in our culture that we think all of Nepal celebrates it – and for the most part, they do. The names may be different and the rituals conducted may vary but most groups of Nepal do celebrate Dashain and Dashain-adjacent festivals. But most does not mean all and there is an entire city in Lalitpur that does not observe this grand autumn celebration and that city is Khokana.
Khokana has not celebrated Dashain for centuries but instead celebrates its own unique Sikali Jatra dedicated to goddess Rudrayani. The Jatra begins on the day of Ghatasthapana and ends on Mahanawami, leaving no space to celebrate Dashain for the residents of Khokana.
On the first day i.e. Ghatasthapana, local boys are taken inside the Sikali Temple, which lies 15 minutes outside the city in a large field, to perform a secret Tantric puja. The puja is so secretive that not even birds are allowed to fly over the temple when it is being performed. The boys stay in the temple for four days and only come out on the fifth day after which, the main Jatra is conducted.
The idol of Rudrayani Devi is taken out of its temple in the main square of Khokana and carried to the Sikali Temple in a chariot. On the sixth day, a religious dance is shown wherein 14 people dress up as Rudrayani, Indrayani, Mahalaxmi, Chamunda, Barahi, Kumari, Bhairav, Ganesh, Brahma, Mahadev, Bishnu, Hanuman, Kumar and Shakti Kumar and go around Khokana dancing. The dance is once again performed on the seventh day in Kwelachhi. On the eighth day, the idol of Rudrayani is brought back to its temple from Sikali. People organise feasts to mark the successful completion of the Jatra for the year.
Once the Jatra is over, the Khokana residents rest. They have to gather their strength because the harvest season is just around the corner. They are too tired to go to their relatives’ houses to exchange Dashain greetings and to put on ‘Tika’.
But just because Khokana doesn’t celebrate Dashain today doesn’t mean it never celebrated Dashain. There was a time when the locals of this city enjoyed Dashain (or Mohani as it is called in Nepalbhasa) just like everybody else. In fact, Sikali Jatra used to originally fall on Gai Jatra. So then, what changed?
Well, there are various, often conflicting, legends describing why the people of Khokana stopped celebrating Dashain but one of the more popular myths is that demons started troubling the residents of Kudesh (area of the present-day Sikali Temple). They performed various rituals and called on the gods for help but the demons did not go away. In the end, the people decided to shift the town itself and moved to the present-day Khokana square. While moving, they also brought their tutelary goddess with them and established her in the present-day Rudrayani Temple.
In the new location, a new date had to be fixed to celebrate the Sikali Jatra, a date that came out to be during Dashain. Now, the people had a choice to make, celebrate Dashain or the Jatra. They couldn’t celebrate both because that would be too expensive and tiring. It also would divide time and resources leaving people unable to celebrate either of the two festivals properly. So, they chose the Jatra because Rudrayani Devi was the city’s guardian goddess and her festival was more important to them.
That is why Khokana does not have Dashain.