Celebrating Dashain in Queens

Mrs. Youdhen applying a tika on a child at the Adhikaar-sponsored celebration of Dashain in Queens. (Photo by Anuz Thapa for Voices of NY)

Mrs. Youdhen applying a tika on a child at the Adhikaar-sponsored celebration of Dashain in Queens. (Photo by Anuz Thapa for Voices of NY)

Mrs. Youdhen, 71, was busy for almost four hours blessing younger attendees at the Dashain festival being celebrated at Public School 12 at Woodside, Queens. More than 350 people gathered there on October 25. The event was hosted by Adhikaar, a nonprofit organization working with New York’s Nepalese community.

Dashain, the major festival celebrated by Hindus in Nepal, runs for a full fifteen days and falls either in September or October, depending on the lunar calendar.

Dashain symbolizes the victory of good over evil. According to Hindu mythology, the festival marks the victory of the Goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura.

Nepalese Hindus, like other Hindus, worship the Goddess Durga during this festival, also known as Navratri. Bijaya Dashami, the tenth day of the festival, is the most significant day when seniors in the family bless their juniors. This is marked by the eldest member in the family putting a “tika,” a blessing for good fortune, progress and prosperity, on the forehead of younger ones. The tika is made from a paste of vermilion powder, yogurt and rice.

Seniors also offer younger people yellow-green “jamara,” believed to hold the blessings of the Goddess Durga, which the recipients clip to their hair or ear.

Jamara is the grass grown from barley seeds. The practice is that these seeds are planted at home in the prayer-room on the first day of Dashain, which by the tenth day of the festival grows to 5 or 6 inches long.

Dancing at the Dashain celebration (Photo by Anuz Thapa for Voices of NY)

Dancing at the Dashain celebration (Photo by Anuz Thapa for Voices of NY)

The activity of visiting relatives to seek blessings from elders continues till the festival concludes on the fifteenth day, which always fall on the day of the full moon.

Mrs. Youdhen, a Tibetan Buddhist, was herself celebrating this festival for the first time in her life. “I am very happy to celebrate this festival here,” she said in the Tibetan language,  which her 51-year-old son helped to translate into Nepali.

“She is the senior-most member associated with Adhikaar family so we took blessings from her today,” said Luna Ranjit, the executive director at Adhikaar.

Mrs. Youden migrated to the U.S. in 2013 and has been living with her husband, two daughters, a son and two granddaughters in Elmhurst, Queens. “Dashain is not a Tibetan festival but I respect all the religions, and I feel blessed to be part of it,” she said. She has been taking English classes at Adhikaar for more than a year.

Though it’s a Hindu festival, people of other religions are welcome, and some Buddhists in Nepal celebrate Dashain.

Adhikaar has been organizing this event during Dashain since 2008. This is the first time they held this program outside their office, which is located in Woodside. “When we started celebrating Dashain, the attendance was only 150 but last year it surpassed 300 which made us realize the need of a bigger venue this year,” said Ranjit. An estimated 20,000 Nepalese reside in Queens, a home to diverse communities from all over the world.

Adhikaar advocates on behalf of immigrants to ensure that their employment rights are respected. They also conduct free English language classes. Recently, they have been active in assisting Nepalese immigrants in filing applications for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Prasha Tuladhar, 26, a resident in Elmhurst, Queens, attended the festival with her husband and a two-year-old daughter. “I believe this kind of event really makes you miss your home less. This is very important for the people who live abroad,” said Tuladhar, who has been living in the U.S. since 2006.

Devanki Pandey with one of her sons (Photo by Anuz Thapa for Voices of NY)

Devanki Pandey with one of her sons (Photo by Anuz Thapa for Voices of NY)

Devaki Pandey, 31, from Woodside, Queens echoed Tuladhar’s views. “People may not have their immediate families and relatives here. This is an opportunity to celebrate with everyone from your own community because your community is your family,” said Pandey, who came to the U.S. with her two sons two years ago.

Some of the participants were astonished to see the huge number of Nepalese participating. Yogmananda Bajracharaya, who came to the United States for the first time two months ago, was one of them. Bajracharya, 70, said “I am surprised to see so many attendees coming together in a Dashain celebration in one place, even in America.” Being Buddhist himself he was happy to see some Buddhist participants in the festival. “I see both Hindus and Buddhists here which makes me happy,” he said.

Goat meat dishes were a main attraction at the food tables, and attendees could be seen dancing to Nepalese music on the other side of the room. “Dancing has always been an integral part of our Adhikaar ‘culture’  so we incorporated the foot-tapping numbers on this day as well,” said Narbada Chhetri, the director of organizing and advocacy at Adhikaar.

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