Applying tilak or tika, tucking barley grain sprouts behind the ears, taking blessings from the elders, enjoying scrumptious food, and more! If you still haven’t guessed, it is "Dashain,” celebrated by Nepalis and Gorkhalis. Slurrp caught up with some interesting people and learned how they celebrate this much-awaited festival.
Festival season is here, and all Indians are celebrating to the fullest. While a majority of the people are engaged in Navratri celebrations, people belonging to Nepali and Gorkhali communities eagerly wait for Dashain celebrations, which begin on Dussehra. Just as Vijayadashmi is celebrated in India, Dashain is celebrated to commemorate the victory of the goddess Durga over Mahishasura. As per Hindu mythology, the battle went on for 10 days, and on the tenth day, Durga slayed the demon. Dashain is celebrated to symbolize the battle of good against evil.
Dashain is a prominent festival in Nepal and is also celebrated with great pomp and fervour by Nepalis and Gorkhalis residing in India. During this festival, the eldest member of the family applies tilak to the family members, tucks barley grain sprouts behind their ears, and gives them blessings. Especially for Dashain, people residing in different parts of the country or abroad visit their homeland just so that they don’t miss their tika and their moment of togetherness.
Just like any other festival, the Dashain celebration calls for amazing food. And why not? An important ritual of the Dashain celebration by many Nepalis and Gorkhali communities calls for the sacrificing of animals. Thus, the festive feast includes many non-vegetarian dishes like mutton curry, Bhutan-a dish made with goat tripe, sukuti, goat pakku, rakti, and so many more. Dashain celebrations are incomplete without some classic vegetarian dishes like til ki chutney, aloo-gobhi, aloo-dum, and more.
Slurrp recently interacted with Chef Sachiko Seth, who co-runs The Blue Poppy Thakali in Kolkata and has expertise in Nepalese cuisine too. Chef Sachiko told Slurrp, “Dashain is special for me because it is not a celebration I have celebrated since childhood. I had Nepali friends who would be very excited as they would get new clothes and money from their uncles or aunts. The chef added that they started their Dashain celebrations after they opened their restaurant, and their team couldn’t travel back home for their annual celebration.
“So, every Dashain, either my mom or our kitchen manager, Ganesh Dai, puts tika on our foreheads, and we cook mutton curry, aloo dum, aloo ko achaar, and more. Aloo dum, because it’s a mandatory dish for every "Kalimbungey' (a native of Kalimpong). The red-hued spiced potatoes just take us back to our childhood and are a must on every celebratory table. The next most special dish during Dashain celebrations is mutton curry because ‘khasi’ is an integral part, as on Navami it is the day of sacrifice to the goddess,” says Chef Sachiko.
“My fondest food memory of Dashain would be that we all sit together and eat. My team and my family, when both my worlds merge. Mutton curry, aloo-dum, and rice tasted the best at that time”, added the chef.
Purnima Thapa, a home chef in Bhilai-Chhattisgarh, also interacted with Slurrp and shared how Dashain is special to her and her family. “Dashain is not just a festival; it's a time of togetherness, reflection, and celebration of our culture and traditions. In our family, Dashain is time for a grand reunion. My children and other family members visit us, and we celebrate the festival together. We start with cleaning and decorating our home, and yes, one of the most significant aspects of Dashain for us is the food.”
Purnima told Slurrp that they make sel roti, a ring-shaped doughnut-like rice-based delicacy made up of rice flour, sugar, milk, and spices. It is a symbol of festivity and happiness and is loved by elders and children alike. "Then we have Khasi ko masu or goat curry, made with marinated meat and a mixture of aromatic spices. It's a dish that has been passed down through generations, and every family has a secret recipe for preparing this delicious curry.”
“Bara, a savoury lentil pancake often served with curd and a range of chutneys along with different curries and rice dishes, is a common sight during Dashain celebrations. Dishes are aloo-dum and til ki chutney are loved by people of all age groups”. Talking about her fondest memory of Dashain, Purnima said that she loved helping her grandmother and mother in the kitchen. “The laughter, stories, and love that we share while cooking and feasting are what make Dashain so special,” she happily expressed.
A journalist by profession and food enthusiast by heart, Aarti Thapa runs a restaurant in Gurgaon called “Boju’s Kitchen.” Aarti, while talking to Slurrp, said, "Dashain is an extremely special day for all of us back home as we seek blessings from all our elders. Family members make sure they take the time to visit and take blessings in the form of tika from all our elders. The tika consists of grains of raw rice mixed with curd and sindoor and is stuck on our foreheads, which is extremely sacred to us".
She added, “Some of the special dishes include sel roti and aloo dum, spicy aloo with Kalonjee seeds. Then, there is mutton or chicken curry with steamed rice and moola ko achaar, which is a radish pickle. These are just some staple food items that you will see in every household in Darjeeling. My fondest food memory has to be aloo dum with bhujia sprinkled on top, paired with chilled beer”. Have you ever been to a Dashain celebration? Do let us know!