Asar: The festival that connects Nepal to its soil and roots

Modernisation may now have been the image of the Kathmandu valley, but it still has the same agricultural roots as before. Rural Nepal, however, is still largely agricultural. That agricultural population across the country is not only busy planting rice but even celebrating one of their biggest annual festivals today. Whereas the communities were already commemorating Asar 15 (the 15th day in the third month in the Nepali calendar) as an occasion to be happy for their farming job, the government has begun marking it as the Ropain Diwas or Dhan Diwas (National Rice Plantation Day or National Paddy Day) recently.

The day also marks the tentative start of the planting season, which is one of the most important agricultural practices in the country. The farmers plant saplings in the field, play in the mud, play musical instruments, sing folk songs (commonly known as Asare geets) and enjoy themselves. The festival has become popular amongst foreign tourists in Nepal, giving a prospect to agro-tourism. Another popular tradition is that they eat dahi-chiura (a mixture of curd and beaten rice).

Monsoons in Nepal are particularly soothing. For centuries, Asar 15 has been celebrated as an agricultural festival for all communities. It is a celebration of a tradition that started with human civilisation to connect the farming community to their soils. Also a celebration of mutual commitment and cultural demonstrations, it also has some historical significance and is important in almost all parts of the country with cultural and economic benefits.

A group playing Panche Baja during the Ropai festival on the occasion of Asar 15
A group playing Panche Baja during the Ropai festival on the occasion of Asar 15
The default plantation date
As mentioned, Asar 15 is the most important time for agriculture. But, why?

Sagar Kafle, an agricultural expert and assistant professor at Purwanchal Campus in Dharan under the Tribhuvan University Institute of Engineering, says the day is important because it is a representation of the time best for rice plantation given the rainfall pattern in our country.

But, those who practice irrigation are not affected, he says. For example, Surya Bogati, a local farmer in Chitwan, says, “It is a traditional norm but not a compulsion. Many prepone or postpone their plantation based on the field and rainfall. It is highly dependent on the weather, or rainfall, of that year.” Bogati, who owns land in Khairhani municipality-13 of Chitwan, says he is preparing his land for the plantation on July 6, seven days later than Asar 15, this year.

Kalpana Sapkota, another local farmer from Dhading, also seconds Bogati. “I have already planted a batch on Saturday, and another batch will be planted today [to mark the festival]. It all depends on the rainfall we get.”

Women busy in the rice plantation in their field at Netrawati Dabjong rural municipality-4 of the Dhading around Asar 15. Photo Courtesy: Sujita Sapkota
Women busy in the rice plantation in their field at Netrawati Dabjong rural municipality-4 of the Dhading around Asar 15. Photo Courtesy: Sujita Sapkota
Explaining further, Sandesh Poudel, an agricultural engineer based in Chitwan, says along with the rainfall, the practice of rotational crops also makes a difference when farmers start planting again. “Only after clearing the previous crop, they will start the new process. And, this can happen after Asar 15 too. Many farmers in Chitwan have already planted on their farms, while others are preparing their plantations for the season.”

So, if the plantation depends on the farmers, what if they miss the opportunity this time?

Sapkota, who works on her land in Netrawati Dabjong rural municipality-4 of the Dhading district, remembers how in a recent year there was no rainfall in Asar (mid-June to mid-July) and the rainfall and subsequent plantation only started next month. The year held grave consequences, she says. “That year, the harvest decreased by more than half in comparison. And those who depended on natural rainfall and solely on agricultural income got hit hard.” So, although a few days before or after Asar 15 do not make that much of a difference, according to her, lack of rainfall and delay can be crucial.

Hence, Asar 15 has been set as a date to celebrate the entire planting season, according to farmers and experts. Because plantation in Nepal largely depends on rainfall, no one can be certain when most farmers plant rice every year, hence the date has been fixed as a default.

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