40 The Dasakra :
In Wakhan, in the Hindu-Kush, the feast corresponding to the Dasahra is a time of festivity in each household. A bowl of grain, half of which has been roasted, is carried out and sprinkled round the house. Then the goodman starts to begin ploughing his field, but he soon returns, clambers on the house-top, and scatters seed through the central sky-hole, which provides light and ventilation. Then, proceeding to his field, he traces a circular furrow round it, possibly to exclude evil spirits, scatters a little seed and returns home, where he finds the door barred against him, apparently because he is in a state of taboo, this condition being due partly to the fact that he is engaged on a new work of the greatest moment, and partly because his plough disturbs and causes incon- venience to the field spirits. The women do not admit him till after much entreaty. The next morning he rises before daylight and drives an ass into the house, a per- formance which arouses much fun and jollity. The ass is then sprinkled with flour and driven out, possibly some form of fertility magic. Stalks of barley sown near the place where the rites are performed are given to the Raja as an emblem of prosperity, and at the close of these rites the sowing of the spring crops begins. The Raja himself goes through the form of ploughing and sowing, in order, we are told, to take away the sin which the tilling of the land is supposed to convey ; in other words, he, as ruler and priest, is alone able to risk the danger of starting this critical work. On this ceremony Major J. Biddulph, who records it, remarks : " I think there can be no doubt that in this festival we see a relic of the Hindoo Dussehra."^^
The propitiation or repulsion of evil spirits is an important element in the ritual of the Dasahra. An early example is that of the Vedic Mahavrata rite, performed at the winter solstice for the purpose of driving away influences hostile to the return of the sun, when a drum was made by digging
2^ Major J. Biddulph, Trii>es of the Hindoo Koosh (iSSo), p. 105.