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Friday 6 Oct
Kathmandu, Nepal

Goat sacrifices, festivals and living godesses

It's festival time in Nepal so it's a great time to be here. The 'Durga Festival' is celebrated over 10 days, in honour of Durga's victory over the bull demon, Mahishasur. Durga is the incarnation of the Hindu top goddess and Shiva's consort. Basically the festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil, and is the major festival of the year.

On the 8th day devout Hindus fast and sacrifice animals up to the gods. We were totally ignorant of this until we were invited to a small ceremony in Bardia. We were planning to catch an early bus to Kathmandu, but thought we'd take a look first. The ceremony started with a parade led by the army, and we tagged along behind with the rest of the villagers. Outside the very modest Durga temple everyone formed a circle and waited patiently in the sweltering heat whilst various rituals were performed inside.

By this time we were attracting quite a lot of attention, and were ushered to the front, seated and brought a couple of glasses of water. There were about 200 people at the ceremony. Only the village elders and spiritual leaders had seats at the front so we felt very honoured.

After the rituals inside the temple were complete a goat was led out in to the centre of the circle, sprinkled with holy water, flowers and fed it's last meal. The goat was then held in a kneeling position by one man whilst another held a knife (like a cutlass) above his head and dramatically brought it down beheading the goat in one smooth swoop. The head was then put on a stand and the body carried off. We were told it is only the blood that is offered up to the gods, the meat is then distributed between the families of the village.

Having ringside seats I thought the sacrifice might be quite gruesome, but the goat was surprisingly calm throughout the whole ordeal. We'd missed our bus but it's not often you get to be honoured guests at a goat sacrificing ceremony.

We finally caught the bus to Kathmandu three hours late. Of course it broke down soon after we set off, the driver eventually fixed the fuel line with soap (?!), but only after a 2 hour wait. It is without doubt the most uncomfortable journey we've ever made. The seats were broken and the bus was packed to capacity with people and goats. We must have stopped every 20 minutes to pick up more passengers, both human and animal. People crammed the aisles, there were at least 20 people on the roof, and I counted a total of 18 goats being stuffed into the luggage compartments below. We finally arrived in Kathmandu a gruelling 20 hours later absolutely shattered.

After travelling in remote villages in Northern India and Western Nepal where every meal is dal and rice, Kathmandu is a godsend. It's full of bakeries, coffee shops and western restaurants, and we've been gorging ourselves on steak, pastries and chocolate whilst enjoying the Durga celebrations.

Yesterday was the climax of the festival when Hindu's gather in Durbar Square (the spiritual and cultural centre of Kathmandu) to receive their Tikas - a big red dot, of curd and rice stuck to their foreheads by respected elders to ensure health and happiness. People also fly kites, swing on huge bamboo swings, spray temples and vehicles with the blood of sacrificed animals for good luck, and line up to be blessed by the resident Living Goddess.

Hundreds of people wait patiently to be blessed by a nine year old girl who is thought to be the living and most peaceful reincarnation of Shiva's wife, Parvati. As non Hindus we weren't allowed in to see her, but were told by a guy in the queue that 'Kumaris' are initiated at 4 years old. They have to meet 32 requirements including eyelashes of a cow, spirit of a lion etc. To pass the initiation this 4 year old little girl then has to hold her nerve whilst goats, buffaloes and sheep are sacrificed around her, and then sleep overnight in a room with the severed heads. She remains a 'goddess' until she menstruates when she is demoted to mere mortal status again.

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