Ghatasthapana is the first day of Nepal’s largest and most intensely celebrated annual festival, known as Dashain.
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As the commencement of a 15-day Dashain Festival period, Ghatasthapana is one of the most important days on the Nepali calendar. It comes each year in late September to early October, the date varying on the Gregorian Calendar. The Dashain period runs from the “no moon” of the Hindu month of Ashvin and culminates on the full moon of the same month. It celebrates Hindu beliefs concerning the victory of various gods over evil demon spirits, with Durga “the mother goddess” being especially worshiped at this time.
Nepali Hindus will go to local temples for special ceremonies at this time, but the greater part of the observances occur within private homes. First, the room in which worship of Durga is to take place is thoroughly cleaned. Then, a large clay pot called a “kalash” is filled with holy water and its outer surface covered with cow dung, which is treated as sacred and pure in traditional Hinduism. Next, the pot is adorned with colourful flowers, grasses, leafy plants, and natural pigments like turmeric and sandalwood paste. Cloth strips are then wrapped around the kalash, the colours being red, yellow, and white. Red stands for power, yellow for knowledge, and white for purity.
The kalash is placed in a sand-soil mixture, which is planted with sesame seeds, barley, wheat, and corn. The pot is then put in a shady area and the seeds allowed to grow for the next 10 days. These grains are thought to represent prosperity and to bring prosperity to the worshiping family once they finally grow. During the 10 days the seeds are growing, it is thought that Durga comes to live inside the kalash, which brings protection to the family.
Finally, on Ghatasthapana, red vermillion paste is placed on the foreheads of family members by their elders. This act stands for the elders wishing blessings on their family. Special chants called “mantras” will also be sung during the Ghastasthapana rituals.
Ghatasthapana and Dashain Festival fall in mid-tourist season and cause many shops and businesses to close down, though by no means all of them. Still, most tourists find it best any of the three following activities during this time of year in Nepal:
- Go sightseeing in Kathmandu or another major city. In Kathmandu, Thamel is the main “tourist neighbourhood” with abundant shopping and dining opportunities. Asan is another neighbourhood not to miss. It has a bazaar and many historically important buildings. There are many temples to visit, but Boudhanath and Swayambhunath are two of the most popular. Finally, the palace across from Durbar Square is a must-see.
- Go trekking in the little village of Nagarkot just east of Kathmandu. It offers what is probably the best view of the Himalayas in the whole Kathmandu Valley. You can see Mount Everest in the distance and the sun rising over terraced hillsides in the foreground.
- Stay over at any of Nepal’s numerous luxury hotels and resorts. We will note but two of the best: Hotel Yak and Yeti in Kathmandu, built on the site of an old palace, having all the amenities, and with the “legendary” Chimney Restaurant on-site; and Temple Tree Resort and Spa in Pokhara next to Phewa Lake. Pokhara, Nepal’s second-largest city, is surrounded by the towering Annapurna Range and filled with souvenir shops and authentic Nepali restaurants.