Bruised blue clouds have mounted the sky, intermingling with the lush green hills on the horizon. Big drops of rain are violently hitting the earth, taking down the dust, and driving it back to its source. The birds left its melodious song for the rain to take over with its own and hid in a dry shelter. The messengers of the rain – the frogs, that have been happily croaking long before the rain, now increase their volume and add the beat of the monsoon’s melody. The sky groans with sharp and dull thunders, their echo lingering long in the air. Somewhere from the terraced paddy fields, one can hear laughter and songs. Plucked in the knee-deep mud, men and women are working hard for what means everything to them – a fertile year and sacks full of rice.
Relying predominantly on agriculture, planting rice in Nepal is a very big deal. Whether the planting season will be successful or not depends heavily on the monsoon. The monsoon is the single most anticipated thing in the Asian sub-continent. Its importance is deeply engraved not only in the subcontinent’s culture, art and folklore, but also present in the collective consciousness of its people. Planting in Nepal is never just plucking rice seedlings into the soil. Planting means being with your family and working together. Planting means cooking for everyone and eating and drinking together on the fields. Planting means chanting and singing, awakening the soil and reminding it to be fertile.
Unsurprisingly, there is a day in the year that marks the occasion. Asar 15th, today, is the national planting day in Nepal. This day is considered to be the climax of the planting season. Rather than being serious, Nepalese farmers and everybody interested to join, joyfully and full of determination fill their crops with rice while splashing mud at each other. The soil depends on the monsoon rains, but it is fertilized with positive energy. Good rice grows out of laughter and joy. The festival over the years has become popular nationwide. Both Nepalese and foreigners can join in and try out their agriculture skills while at the same time become a part of a joyful celebration.
Like many others, I decided to try my luck in planting rice. With the tummy full of beaten rice and yoghurt and a good glass of homemade liquor contributing to my cheerful mood, I manage to pull off a wide smile, despite my clumsiness on the field. Slow and obviously unskilled, I already think that instead of helping, I am probably hindering the work of the farmers. Right before I give up, I hear the voice of one of the women around me: “It really doesn’t matter” – the woman says giggling with the other women farmers, keeping their backs bent and eyes on the rice. “You left your smile on the field. The soil remembers everything.”
I am wishing the farmers and everyone in Nepal a very happy Planting Festival. May your soil be blessed and the year fertile! May every smile left on the field be equal to countless sacks of rice.
**The author is a graduate of social and cultural anthropology from the University of Vienna. Having lived a big part of her life abroad, she has developed a great interest in different cultures. Her passion brought her to Nepal for the third time, where she currently lives and does research.**