After worshiping, drinking, eating and dancing, the gods have been listening to our prayers.
Last week we celebrated the biggest festival of the Tharu people called Maghe Sankranti or Maghi. This festival starts (according to the Nepali calender) on the 1st of the month of Maghi (15th of Januari) and last for 5 days. Tharus (ethnic group living in south Nepal) celebrate Maghi as the New Year and of course part of the festival is worshiping, drinking, eating and dancing.
It is cold and foggy that sunday evening before the 1st of Maghi, but the festival spirit is in the air tonight. We can already hear the sounds of music coming from the nearby Shiva temple. With a torch in our hand, we (Budhi, our guest Lida and I) walk up to the temple. A group of 30 people is sitting around a big fire and some young children are dancing on modern Nepali music. Lida loves to dance and invites the Nepali women to dance with her. Soon everybody is dancing and enjoying themselves. This is the way to keep yourself warm.
Hopefully this is one of the last cold nights because during the Maghi festival people celebrate the end of winter and te beginning of spring and a new harvest season. They also worship the god of the sun and it is believed that on this day the sun leaves its southernmost position and begin its northward journey.
Most of the people will sit next to the fire untill early morning. The women will go home around 4 AM to make special Tharu food and around 6 AM they will wash themselves with cold pumpwater or they take a holy bath in the river. After that they will go to the temple to worship and give sacrifices to the gods. When I visit the little temple in the morning, the statue is already sparged with flowers, red rice and fruit. In meanwhile a little bit further away in the nearby bigger village hundreds of people from the meadow area have been gathering and since early in the morning they stand in row for the famous temple of Thakurdwara.
During the Maghi festival the women cook a lot of food. The day before the start of Maghi goats, chicken and especially for the Tharu people pigs, have been killed. Budhi and I visit our Tharu family and friends. The food is served on a plate made of leaves. We enjoy spicy farm chicken, Dhikri (steamed bread made from rice flower), sweat potatoes and spinach. And of course the local brewed rice beer can not be missed during this occassion.
For 5 days is the annual fair in the village. A lot of traders come to sell clothes and toys. Men and boys are gambling and from the bandstand sounds loud dance music. Near the temple women and men have been gathering to sing traditional songs. Indian men come to the market to seduce us to buy sweat cakes and cookies and of course to push the carousel by hand. The fair is a fusion of smells, colours and sounds. It attracts a lot of people from the surrounding villages. As a tall foreign women I am still a curiosity.
Maghi is also the beginning of a new holy season and sacred rituals. Marriage rituals are very popular this month. So more celebrations are waiting for us.
The last day of the festival when I wake up, I see finally after many mornings of foggy weather the sun shining through the banana trees behind our home. The gods have been listening to our prayers.
(Written by Sonja owner of Bardia Homestay)