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“Di:ka Di:ka”

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

Chandra Laxmi with her son Kritak and daughter Kritika in her own house in Bhaktapur on Saturday. Photo by Om Astha Rai

Om Astha Rai

Four-year-old Kritak Prajapati suddenly wakes up in the middle of night and starts crying: “Di:ka…Di:ka.”

Kritak had heard his mother, Chandra Laxmi Prajapati, saying the words when last week’s deadly earthquake damaged part of their house in Suryamadhi, Bhaktapur.

As soon as she felt the tremor, Chandra Laxmi knelt down, pressed the floor with her thumbnails and yelled “Di:ka…Di:ka”.  She did not stop until the tremor died down and they got a chance to run to safety.

Chandra Laxmi, 30, also ducked and covered Kritak with her arm while kneeling down and crying out a Newari word that she learnt from her mother years ago.

After the earthquake, Kritak is so traumatised that he cannot sleep well, suddenly wakes up in the night and shouts what he heard his mother shouting.

The Newari word ‘Di:ka’ means ‘halt’ and Chandra Laxmi was asking the earth to stop shaking during the 25 April earthquake, which has killed more than 6,800 and wounded nearly 15,000 people so far in central Nepal.

“I don’t know if it’s true,” she says. “My mother taught me to do when I was a little girl.”

In a narrow alley of Bhaktapur, where Chandra Laxmi’s house stands, more than 90 per cent brick and mud buildings either went down or cracked. At least 20 bodies have been recovered from the debris scattered everywhere along this alley.

“Houses were collapsing everywhere,” she says. “Had I tried to run out with my children, we all might have died.”

Chandra Laxmi says all women in her neighborhood shouted “Di:ka…Di:ka” during the earthquake. Some were lucky and survived like her. Some were buried under collapsed buildings.

Tejeswor Babu Gwong, a noted scholar of Newari literature, says the culture of trying to survive an earthquake by shouting “Di:ka…Di:ka” is widespread and age-old in the local Newar community.

“It’s particularly women who shout “Di:ka…Di:ka” during the earthquake,” he says. “We believe the earth to be our mother and women, by the virtue of being mother, can communicate to the mother earth during the catastrophe.”

Gwong says women urge the earth to be calm, stop shaking and protect all her children by shouting “Di:ka…Di:ka”.  “You may call it superstition,” he says. “But there is a very thin line between culture and superstition.”

The younger generation of women in the Newar community does not believe that invoking the words could save them from a quake. But for the old and illiterate women, the chant was a way to be safe in the recent tremor.

Ajeyndra Laghu, a physics teacher living in Byase of Bhaktapur, says this is a debatable way to deal with tremors. “It definitely saved some women’s lives but might have killed many more,” he says.

Laghu, however, argues that kneeling down and chanting could be a primordial form of the internationally-recognised ‘duck and cover’ method. “If there is no safe place to run to, kneeling down could be a life-saving method,” he says. “When you kneel down, chance of you falling to the ground would be reduced.”

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2 Responses to ““Di:ka Di:ka””

  1. Daniel on Says:

    In mina dika,lau laba nika ram pam po,hey ram pam po!

  2. Hemant Dubey on Says:

    1/n Knowing &understanding faith is essential before we want to seek benefit out of faith in earthquake!

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