Story by MC1 Kurt Wesseling
PATROL BASE CHILLI, Helmand province, Afghanistan (September 24, 2011) —The soldiers of “B” Company, 2 Royal Gurkha Rifles enthusiastically celebrated the Hindu festival of Dashain at this spartan patrol base near the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. Dashain is known as the largest and most important religious festival of the year in Nepal, homeland of the Gurkhas.
Major Jamie Murray, Officer Commanding of B Company, said the point of the ceremony is to honor the Hindu gods–particularly Durga Mata, the goddess of war.
“What the Gurkhas do in this instance is pay their respects to that goddess and therefore bless and hope that the battalion is blessed as a result,” he explained.
In Nepal, thousands of buffaloes, goats, ducks and other animals are ritually sacrificed annually in a ceremony called “Maar” which can be translated as ‘kill’ or ‘sacrifice.’ Traditionally, the sacrifice of a male buffalo is of particular importance. According to the Gurkha website, ayo-gorkhali.org,
“Tradition dictates that the buffalo’s head must be cut off cleanly with a single blow in order to secure the regiment good fortune for the coming year. When the Maar ceremony was common practice…a successful kukri (the Gurkhas large curved knife) or khonra (curved sword) wielder would be honoured with a white pheta or turban to signify his achievement, but if the sacrifice was a failure then it was believed to be a very bad omen for the coming year and the unsuccessful swordsman would be chased and splattered with blood from the sacrifice in an attempt to appease the gods.”
Since no buffalo were available for sacrifice, the Gurkhas of B Company substituted five goats that they purchased from local Afghan farmers. One of the goats did indeed lose its head after a single stroke from Rifleman Yadesh’s sharp kukri as the assembled soldiers applauded and cheered approvingly. According to Major Murray, for the Gurkhas, the goat’s quick decapitation means a bright future lies ahead.
“If there is a clean chop as you saw today, that is very good luck and very auspicious for the battalion for the next year to come.”
Rifleman Yadesh spent the ten days prior to Maar praying, meditating and fasting in order to prepare himself for the act of sacrifice.
As the sacrificial ceremony concluded, some of the blood from the animals was sprinkled on a representative sampling of the Gurkha’s machine guns, pistols, knives, and other weaponry. The soldiers then lined up to liberally apply a blood-red paste to a smiling Rifleman Yadesh’s face congratulating him for a job well done. Later that night the Gurkhas and a few invited guests enjoyed a curried goat dinner.
PB Chilli has no running or heated water, no air conditioning, no plumbing, and only the most austere amenities yet the Ghurkas seem to thrive here.
Major Murray says celebrating Dashain is a real morale booster for the Gurkhas of 2 RGR.
“It’s hugely important. You’ve seen already today how 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.”
The goats offered no comment.
More photos here.