Saturday, November 17, 2012

How to Celebrate Dashai

My first morning in Dang, I came downstairs to the grandmother distilling rice liquor (raksi) over a wood stove outside. For each batch, the grandmother would first fill a clay pot, then cover it with leaves and set it aside in the family puja (worship) room. These, Kopi (my host) told me, were for the deuta, or deity. This alcohol was not tasted, to see if it was good or not. These would later be used in puja.

The grandmother made new batches about every three days. “You’re making rasksi again?” I asked at one point. Where did they put in all? One night, when the electricity was out, the grandmother began preparing the still on the inside kitchen; passing me on her way in, she gleefully exclaimed to me in Tharu, “mahi phe raksi banaitum! [I’m making raksi again!]” She also told me that I should drink some—everyone drank raksi, ate dhikiri, and pork meat, at Dashai. How else was I going to celebrate?

Once Dashai started, numerous guests began to drop by. Sabita—Kopi's wife, and the daughter in law—kept a variety of curried vegetables and meats on hand, ready to be served up in small, separate bowls formed from leafs. She had made a special trip to the forest a few days before to pick these. Once the guests left, these bowls were thrown behind the house to decompose. Alcohol was served in brass bowls, or in leaf bowls, depending on how many people dropped by at one time.

One morning, a group of schoolgirls came by, singing a ditty. I was out back finishing my bath when they came to our door, so I did not see what Sabita gave them. What did they want? They were begging raksi, Sabita told me. Did you give them raksi?! I asked, horrified. She laughed—yes, of course! They were collecting it in an empty 2-litre soda bottle; they would later sell it to make money. Sabita and her friend had done that during Dashai when they were young. Later, a group of boys—between the ages of eight and twelve—came by, singing the same ditty. Kopi—Sabita’s husband—brought out leaf bowls of raksi, which the eldest two drank. The boys then moved on to the next house. The grandmother wasn’t joking when she said that everyone drank raksi at Dashai.

Another item the grandmother made was called jar. As far as I understood, these were fermented rice cakes, first dried out then mixed with water; the extract was then drunk. The affect was some kind of drug; the grandmother described these to me as ausadi or medicine. She decided to dry these fermented rice cakes in window in my room, on the lid of a bucket. Thankfully, I was away in another village for the night; they stank so badly. When I came back, they had bite marks in them; the grandmother was upset that the mice had gotten to them. My sympathies went out to the mice—how their stomachs must feel after eating that stuff!

One evening, I went with Sabita to her maiti ghar (parent’s house). There in the front yard, among the bison, a man was sleeping. Turns out, he had been eating jar; Sabita’s dad mentioned that his companion was sleeping inside. The guy woke up and started stumbling around. Binaram—Sabita’s youngest brother—was home and in the yard at that time; he took the guy back to his sleeping place and had him sit down again. The guy started caressing the new bison calf—which the calf seemed to like, he laid down real quiet and put his head closer to the guy—and sweet-talking to it, telling it what a beautiful bison it was. Binaram went inside and woke up the other guy, and pulled him outside. As I was sitting right next to the house door, he commented to me on his way out that people who ate jar were like this. Eventually, he got them out of the yard; they stumbled off down the road.

On the evening of Dhikiri Puja day, I went with Kopi down to the village shrine for a community ritual. The head of each house brought barley sprouts, sage leaves and a clay pot of raksi as an offering to the village deities, and received white tikka from the guruwa—the Tharu traditional healer and priest. After these formalities, the men all sat around drinking the alcohol offered to the deities. Later that evening, presiding as priest in his own house, Kopi offered the household deities their favorite foods: raksi (distilled from rice), dhikiri (steamed rice dough), roti (flat bread made from rice flour and deep fried in oil) as well as several cups of uncooked, husked rice. Apparently, Tharu deities are fond of rice.

That night, I went with Sabita to watch the sakya/paiya naach in their own village. Unmarried girls dance and sing portions of the love story between Krishna and Radha—two Hindu deities—each night for about a month before Dashai, accompanied by men on madals (two-headed drums). These performances take place in the front yard of the matawa, the village leader. The night before I had gone to the neighboring village to see the performance, where drinking had been prevalent. While it wasn’t as ubiquitous tonight, there was one guy stumbling around the middle of the dance circle without a madal; when he got a madal, he kept yelling “shabas! (good work!—what you tell a little girl or boy when they’ve obeyed)” between the girls’ sung phrases. Shyam—another one of Sabita’s brothers—and a couple of other men ended up pulling him off to the side and out of the matawa’s yard to the road, disappearing in to the dark.

In the morning, my curried vegetables reeked of raksi; the taste filled my mouth. I asked the grandmother what she had cooked the vegetables in. She looked at me like I was crazy, and simply replied, “pani! (water!)”