Nepal’s indigenous peoples continue their collective acts of remembrance and revival despite being overlooked by the state and media. There is often an exoticised gaze held on indigenous festivals and traditions, but we must not forget their historical, cultural, and political significance. Participating in this year’s Chasok Tangnam or Udhauli gave me an opportunity to understand my heritage, as well as the precarity and potential of such hard-won cultural spaces.
The traffic in Kathmandu was heavy and loud. The air was infused with dust and smoke. Motley assortments of shops were open and busy. Vendors and pedestrians filled the sidewalk. Cocooned by the warmth of the winter sun, everyone appeared enmeshed in their daily lives. People had places to reach, work to do, food to put on the table. There was nothing special about the day or so it seemed.
And yet, as we traversed the valley to reach the forested area of Hattiban, the environment could not have been more different. It was a burst of colours tangled with varied sounds, smells, and flavours. Like many other members of Kirat communities, my mother and I were there to celebrate Chasok Tangnam, also known as Chaasot, Chaasuwa, Sakela, Udhauli, among others.
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Under the one roof of Manghim (the house of worship) in Hattiban, there were four different shrines for Yakkha, Sunuwar, Rai and Limbu where respective communities came together to perform rituals to commemorate their relations with land, nature, ancestors, deities, and one another.
In Yakthungpan (Limbu language), ‘cha’ means grain and ‘sok’ means to offer. Thus, Chasok is a ritual that is performed to offer a new harvest to Goddess Yuma Sammang, other deities and ancestors. It also entails asking forgiveness from nature for destroying non-human beings during the process of agriculture.
Sita Mademba argues in her research paper ‘Reimagining Chasok: Resistance against the State’ that Chasok has become a symbol of resistance and collective identity among Limbu communities. She further observes that the annual Chasok is now a ‘great Tangnam’ (a great festival) as it has transformed from a household ritual into a community festival celebrated in public spaces, both within and outside Nepal. And the celebrations continued this year on 8 December – the day of the full moon in the month of Senchengla.