Recollecting festival memories in the time of pandemic

Published On: November 7, 2020 09:31 AM NPT By: Usha Pokharel

Dashain is over, and Tihar is approaching. But the prospect of celebrating with friends and family has become a dream. It’s time to remember the good old days and feel good about it.

Dashain is gone, and Tihar is knocking on our door, but I am not really in a mood to celebrate it.  The Coronavirus infections and death numbers in Nepal are spiking again.  Despite looking forward to it, there is still confusion regarding its celebration. Do we observe Tihar and Bhai Tika as usual, or skip it this year?  Just the thought of so many people not being able to celebrate Tihar makes my heart very heavy. 

This year I do not want to light my house with rows of colorful lights.  Still, I feel the need to go through the ritual and perform a quiet Laxmi puja for my peace of mind.  COVID-19 pandemic marred the enthusiasm to celebrate Tihar and Bhai Tika. 

 Tihar is one of the festivals for all Hindus, after Dashain, but there are restrictions placed by COVID-19. The infections are increasing by the day, and so are number of people dying.  Under such circumstances, the celebration does not feel right to me. I even called our relatives and friends to wish them a Happy Vijaya Dashami.  I also requested them to celebrate Dashain within their family and not venture to go outside their home and stay safe.

Lack of enthusiasm will disappoint children.  Then again, I am sure they will understand that many people have lost their loved ones, their brothers, and sisters. Also, every day more people are dying, and the infection rate is still increasing in our country.  Under such circumstances, I think the parents need to follow their conscience, and their feelings, before deciding either way.  For me, there is too much pain within the community to celebrate Tihar.  People are troubled, because of the fear of infection from COVID-19, along with the social distancing for safekeeping.

Corona changed everything

Tihar is a special time for most people in Nepal.  Every year in the past, during Tihar, Kathmandu became magical, with so many lights sparkling outside people’s houses.   I wonder if it is going to be the same this year.  In the past, people used to take a spin in their vehicles to look at the lights. Will this ritual remain the same?  I sure hope it does not, and people do not give in to their urge to do that and stay safe at home.  This year, like Dashain, Tihar is also the time to rely on social media.  This year social media is going to bring people together like Dashain.

Talking to the screen has its limitations. Talking to a screen with the person on the other side is not the same thing as being face-to-face, having a lively and sometimes animated conversation. You don’t get the feel!  But, sadly, this year, because of the COVID pandemic, that is the only way to reconnect. To send and receive blessings from your brothers and sisters.  Sometimes the use of technology is frustrating.  This Tihar, just like Dashain, plenty of brothers and sisters, will be frustrated with their internet providers. There will be plenty of “poor connections” and “Your video will resume automatically when the connection improves” messages on Skype.

Most of you will yell at your service provider, provided they have a support mechanism. They will politely assure you of restoring your service soon. So, you wait, staring at the screen. Soon enough, upon restoration of your internet, you try again, but unfortunately, the other person is offline now. So, you email the person and wait for them to come online. This wait feels like ages. After a couple of ‘hellos’, ‘kebhayos’, and ‘are you there?’ you will eventually finish your conversation and give and take your blessings to your brothers abroad. I have become very nostalgic about past Dashain and Tihar celebrations.

Festivities always have that effect on me.  To me, festivals are occasions to reconnect with relations, brothers, and sisters after a while and wish them well and get their blessing in return. It is not like the past when time stood still, and everyone gathered to celebrate the festivities together at home. It’s not the same this year. Instead of feeling sad, this is the time to recollect past Dashain and Tihar celebrations. For me, Dashain and Tihar were always mystic, something very special.

My memories

I remember Dashain and Tihar in four time periods.  First being the ones spent in my mama Ghar in Majhgaon, Assam, that is the early sixties.  Receiving Dashain tika and blessings from the elders and putting tika to lots of cousin brothers and playing Tass during Tihar. Playing bhailo with lots of dancing and singing during Tihar. Second, being the ones spent in Kolkata during the mid-sixties. The third the one spent in Banares, during the seventies, and finally, the fourth spent in Nepal.   Of all these periods, the ones spent during the sixties and seventies in Kolkata were the best.

When I close my eyes, I go back 55 years, celebrating Dashain and Tihar at my mama Ghar in Majhgaon, Assam, during the early sixties. Those were fun days with no worries and no complications. For the girls, the fun part was getting Dakshina after tika and putting tika on the brothers’ forehead, and getting money from them.  It was fun going around for blessings, and of course, getting Dakshina during Dashain, and playing bhailo during Tihar. Regardless of whose house it was.  We spent the money from Bhai tika and bhailo on playing cards.  Of course, we did not know how to play cards, and each year our brothers taught us to play ‘jootpatti’, and each year we forgot again.  Soon we moved to Kolkata, and in Dashain, there was Durga Puja, and Tihar, was Kali puja and Bhai tika or Bhai phota as the Bengalis called it.

This year it is time for me to remember the fun times during Dashain and Tihar. It was fun for children during Durga Puja shopping for new dresses.  Excitement and anticipation increased the day Ma Durga arrived and sat on the pedestal in the pandal, all covered up.  Along with this brings back the memory of mesmerizing sounds of Shaakh, (Shankha), along with the sound of dhaak, (the large drum), men hang around their shoulders, and play with two thin sticks, to infuse the frenzied rhythm, for the devotees of Maa Durga. Memories of Durga Puja do not assume the festive aura without visualizing the maddening beats of the dhaak. These enchanting beats are enough to conjure up the sights, sounds, and smells of Durga Puja. On Saptami, it is time to uncover Maa Durga’s face.  After the pran pratistha ceremony, the idol became a deity. Along with this comes the memory of enormous images of Kaali during Kali puja during Tihar.

Durga puja and Kaali puja is not complete without dhunachi, a devotional folk dance. I still remember the exhilarating atmosphere with a couple of dhaaks, plenty of dance, red burning charcoal, the effervescence of dhoop, and lots of dancers accompanying the expert dancers. The dance starts with individuals picking up clay pots shaped like large wine glasses, filled with burning coconut coir fibrous husks along with incense in their hands. They then dance in front of the deity to the beat of resounding dhaak beats. Thus, the drummers create beats and rhythm unique to Bengal. All this created a trance-like atmosphere, leading the dancers to sometimes slow and sometimes fast movements. Together they created the magic of puja festivities.

Compared to all this grandeur, Dashain and Tihar in Varanasi and Nepal feel very tepid.  Then again, that is life.  Everything is grand when we are small.  With age, everything changes.  We change, and so do our perceptions.  Every year I sit and remember the grandeur of the festivities in Kolkata and consider myself fortunate to have witnessed it.  Now, Dashain is over, and Tihar is approaching, the prospect of celebrating with friends and family has become a dream.  I think instead of feeling dismal and sad.  It’s time to remember the good old days and feel good about it.

Remember the time

Yes, this year, it is time to recollect your memories of your past Dashain and Tihar.  Think of the importance of past Dashain and Tihar, and share it with the younger generation in your family. Often retelling past incidents and fun times bring tears to our eyes. Sharing of memories brings joy and makes relations with your children stronger. Age brings wisdom, which we often cannot understand.  This is where the value of Dashain and Tihar comes; in building good relationships, caring, and providing security to them. This year’s Dashain creates the atmosphere to do just that.

Finally, visiting your memories is like being in an imaginary world.  Please remember you are the asset of your family, the pillars of continuity and experience.  Talking about the past is a whole new ball game. It is natural for you, after so many years, to bask in the memory of the magic of both Dashain and Tihar for old time’s sake. Please remember to include your family in your wonderful experience. You deserve to bask in the glow of your past. With a heavy heart, I request you to restrain your celebrations, keeping in mind the mood of the country. I wish you all a very prosperous Tihar. Stay inside and stay safe this Tihar. It is time to acknowledge the situation of the country. Have fun and fly a kite with your children.  That will encourage your children. Don’t you think so?




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