June 23, 2021

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writing, mostly, on contemporary issues of human rights, politics & social justice

Dashain in Terai: Jhijhiya

Dashain fever has gripped Nepalis and women from the southern parts of the country in particular are busy singing folk songs and dancing during this greatest festival of Hindus. 

With the start of Dashain festival, women from Mithila region—mostly the geographical areas stretching from Rautahat to Morang in Tarai—celebrate their tradition and heritage of folk dance called “Jhijhiya Naach”. This starts on Ghatasthapana, the first day of Dashain and concludes on Vijaya Dashami, the tenth day of the festival.

Here's the link of my article originally published in Republica.

Jhijhiya is more popular among young girls. The celebration of the folk dance is based on the belief that evil spirits including witches are active during Dashain.

Hence, to protect the family members, especially children, from those evils, women in this region dance and pray to Goddess Durga.

People get ready for Dashain from a month in advance, and they plan it in accordance with their budget. They have to factor in delicious food, new clothes and travelling for family gatherings. Likewise, Tarai women performing Jhijhiya also get pots, oil-fed lamps and lids made in advance; and the pots are painted with different colors before the event kicks off.


Women carry on their heads special clay pots with several holes, and oil-fed lamps (diyos) are kept inside the pots covered with a lid also made of clay. Lights from diyos inside the pots through the holes reflect on beautiful faces of women performing Jhijhiya in the evening. During their dance, the performers sing songs, the lyrics of which scold the witches to get away from their families.

A group of five to 25 women gather at one place in villages and dance. They sing and dance and clap in chorus. The audience, the spectators, surrounds the performing women.

Cultural experts believe that Mithila folks practice this tradition to bring light to their society in order to ward off darkness. This message is reflected in the way they perform Jhijhiya—with sparkling lights during the evening.

As in other parts of the country, people from the southern plains celebrate Dashain, in similar ways. They buy new clothes; and they prepare a variety of food. The entire family comes together for the celebrations. On the occasion, they keep premises of their houses and streets clean with a belief that deities visit their communities.

They worship Goddess Durga from Ghatasthapana to Vijaya Dashami in their homes. To symbolize Durga, they have a pitcher (called kalash) filled with water and covered with red clothes. At its neck are mango leaves; a coconut is placed at the top; while its foundation is a mixture of sand, barely (jau), teel and rice. On the tenth day, they offer the jamara, the plant grown from the kalash to Goddess Durga and conclude the 10-day-long worship. People from the Tarai region have recently started receiving tika from their elders. Jhijhiya, the rich heritage of Mithila culture, is also meant to celebrate this festive national spirit.

Jhijhiya has changed with times. But it is also being felt that there has not been enough effort to preserve such a rich heritage. Perhaps this is also because of modernization and migration of rural people to urban areas. Building on local scholarship on the festival, including how and why it is celebrated, is a must in order to save it from oblivion.