From Eastern Nepal, a Dance and a Prayer

Greeting Sakela celebrants at Queensbridge Park (Photo by Ngima Pakhrin for Voices of NY)

Clapping hands in time to the traditional dance. (Photo by Ngima Pakhrin for Voice of NY)

Two women observing other celebrants (Photo by Ngima Pakhrin for Voices of NY)

Youths in colorful Kirat attire (Photo by Ngima Pakhrin for Voices of NY)

Kirat Rai celebrants dancing around a tree. (Photo by Ngima Pakhrin for Voices of NY)

Playing traditional musical instruments. (Photo by Ngima Pakhrin for Voices of NY)

Kirat Rai dancers celebrating the planting season. (Photo by Ngima Pakhrin for Voices of NY)

The Kirat Rai people are an ethnic group indigenous to eastern Nepal, where twice yearly they conduct a celebration know as Sakela, which offers a prayer to Mother Earth for healthy crops and protection from natural disasters. Every spring, the beginning of the planing season is celebrated for 15 days spanning April and May, while the harvest season is marked in November and December.

The Kirat holy book divides the year into two phases: Ubhauli (going up) and Udhauli (going down), with the names taken from the migration pattern of birds – up to cooler hilly regions in the spring and summer, downward to warmer climes in the winter. The main features of the twice-yearly Sakela is a dance, known as Sakela Silli, performed by large groups of Kirat Rai of all ages and genders wearing traditional attire. Two people lead the dancers, whose moves imitate different activities of humans and animals to symbolize the beginning of Kirat civilization from the hunting to the farming stage.

Sakela dances have been organized by the Kirat Rai Society of America in New York since 2003. This year, Kirat Rai celebrants gathered in Queensbridge Park in Long Island City to mark the occasion. Nepali photographer Ngima Pakhrin was there.

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