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Gurkhas celebrate Dashain in Helmand

The festival of Dashain is the longest, most auspicious and joyous time of the year for Gurkhas of the Hindu faith. The fifteen days of celebration…

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The festival of Dashain is the longest, most auspicious and joyous time of the year for Gurkhas of the Hindu faith. The fifteen days of celebration occur during the bright lunar fortnight in late September and early October, ending on the day of the full moon.

In preparation for Dashain, every home in Nepal is ceremonially cleaned, decorated and painted for the visit of Durga - the Goddess of Power.

In the Brigade of Gurkhas the festival is celebrated annually with ritual sacrifices, fastings, blessings and major social events. Whether 2 RGR is on camp, on exercise or on operations the festival is celebrated in one form or another.

As the Rear Party in Brunei, where 2 RGR is based, started to celebrate the festival, the Gurkhas out in Patrol Base Chilli kept morale high by having their own party. The patrol base has no running or heated water, no air-conditioning, no plumbing, and only the most austere amenities, but this did not dampen the party spirit.

Major Jamie Murray, Officer Commanding of B Company, 2 RGR, said the point of the ceremony is to honour the Hindu gods. He said:

What the Gurkhas do in this instance is pay their respects to Goddess Durga and therefore hope that the battalion is blessed as a result.

As part of the festival the Gurkha Major leads selected men, known as pujaries, in a fast and a period of deep praying in the battalion temple.

In Helmand province the Gurkhas have improvised their own temples, be they tents or a few posters on a wall. The hand-picked pujaries give themselves to the gods and prepare for the important day of ritual blessings.

Rifleman Yadesh Rai was chosen as a pujarie and had the privilege of conducting the rituals. Yadesh, as is custom, was presented with gifts from his chain of command, money was placed in his turban, and red tika was rubbed onto his face as a mark of respect for his efforts. He said:

This is the greatest honour that can be bestowed on me and I’m even more honoured in that the circumstances are different.

Second-in-Command of B Company, Captain Gajendra Diwan, said:

As we come to the end of our tour in Afghanistan, with the blessings of Goddess Durga, we are confident that we will go home safely.

Major Murray said celebrating Dashain is a real morale-boost for the Gurkhas of 2 RGR. He explained:

It’s hugely important. The men are full of spirits and full of beans. If you considered it on our Christian calendar to be Christmas, this is Christmas Day. The men’s religious needs are satisfied… it means a great, great deal to them.

In barracks, British soldiers normally cover the duties of the Gurkhas during Dashain who then reciprocate the favour at Christmas time.

After a second year in a row celebrating Dashain away from their families, having spent last year on the chilly hills of Salisbury Plain during pre-deployment training, 2 RGR are looking forward to holding next year’s festivities back in Brunei.

Published 3 October 2011