Saturday, March 31, 2012

The chariot festival of SETO MACHENDRANATH


The chariot festival of SETO MACHENDRANATH
text: Sabina Tandukar
Images: Janabahaa Heritage Information Centre


A crowd of more than thousand people, dancing euphorically to the tune of classical music, some singing religious hymns, some praying fervently and others looking around in awe; and amidst this crowd is the towering monumental moving temple - a 'Ratha' or a chariot. This mesmerizing scenario is the procession of Seto Machhindranath in Kathmandu valley. Full of life, colour and excitement, this festival enlivens the inner spirit and gives joy to the infinity.

These processions along the routes of the medieval towns were meant to foster the culture of community living besides paying homage to the revered god. A source of religious entertainment for the mortals of Kathmandu valley, these chariot festivals started since the early days of the Malla period.

Myths

The festival is said to have been started by King Pratap Malla. But judging by the available inscriptions in the courtyard of Janabahal, it is clearly older than this time. The deity was perhaps originally from the Hamhal monastery in Ranipokhari and later shifted to Kel Tol. A myth also supports this hypothesis saying that initially Jamal was a different country called Jamadesh and Yakshya Malla was the then ruling King. The Kantipuri was such a divine place, where every morning, people used to bathe in the holy river and visit Swayambhunath; such works of virtue led them to heaven after their death. Once the god of death 'Yamaraj', saw that none of the dead from the Kantipuri went to hell and on looking further he understood that the divine power of Swayambhunath was the cause. So with his fellow men he set himself on visiting Kantipuri and paid homage to the sacred god. While he was returning, King Yakshya Malla, along with his Tantric guru, captured them and asked for immortality. Yamraj himself being a mortal could not give such a blessing and said so, but the King would not let go of him unless he bestowed such power on them. The frightened god then prayed to Arya Awalokiteshwor and requested to free him. The Lord hearing such a prayer appeared instantly before them from the water. With a white colored body and eyes half closed looking downwards, the lord said that wherever the Kalmati and Bagmati meets, a temple needs to be established and whoever pays him a visit shall always be prosperous and live long. He told the King to organize a Ratha Yatra every year for three days starting from 'Chaitra Sukla Astami' so that he could travel to the houses of those people who cannot move, are disabled or stay longer at their houses and bless them with happiness and long life. The Ratha Yatra was to start from a place from where the god originated which happens to be the present Ranipokhari area.


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Janabahal

The temple of Arya Awalokiteshwor is located in Janabahal. It is one of the few monastic courtyards which have a full fledged storied temple standing in the middle of a court with a shrine in the wing at the far end from the entrance. The temple is highly ornamental with gilt-copper roofs, ornamental metal banners, tympanum, and struts illustrating the diverse forms of Awalokiteshwor. While prayer wheels line the pedestal, lions and gryphon's guard the approaching step to the shrine doorway. The courtyard is large, spacious and stone paved with numerous chaityas and stone pillars holding aloft various Buddhist deities. At present the use of full length iron grills all around the temple has ridiculed its beauty and urgently calls for a better alternative to protect the enshrined gods and the historical works of art from possible theft.

Ratha (the chariot>

Ratha or a chariot is a moving temple. The Ratha with 13 stories (including those of the gajura) conforms to the shikhara style forming the Trayodasak Bhuwan; with the first storey being the "Pramodidabha" and the final one being the "Gyanawati". Each step leads up to the path of nirvana. Triangular shape determines stability, showing the right flow of energy; with each vertices of the triangle pointing to the three "Lokas" of this universe: Swarga (heaven), Martya (earth), and Narka (hell). The festival of the most compassionate divinity aims to end the sorrows of all those in these three lokas. While '32 lakchyan yukta' means the one with all the positive energy of this universe, this principle also guides the construction of the Ratha. The principle has that the total length of the Ratha from the bottom to the top of the Gajura must conform to 32 haat, even the horizontal length conforms to this principle. The circular wheels have a diameter of 16 haat (1 haat is approximate the length from the elbow to the middle finger tip).

The four wheels of the Ratha are symbolic representation of the four Bhairabs - namely; Yamantak (black), Pragyantak (white); Padmantak (red); and Bigmantak (blue). The idol of the god is placed in the chariot which is believed to be circumscribed by the 'Das Dig Lokapala' (other gods) during the entire procession.

More than 300 pieces of wood are joined together to form this Ratha. The 100 pieces of the total goes to the wheels each confirming to the exact 25 pieces. Woods of different species (around 8 types) are used, each making a vital part of the Ratha. Na-shin (a type of wood) forms the wheels as it has good compressive strength and the woods with higher flexibility form the towering portion of the Ratha. No iron nails are to be used so woods are joined together using lap or tongue and groove joints and tied together using 'beda' (local vine).

The Ratha is not the product of an isolated effort of a single group of people but rather various groups of people specializing in various activities come together to construct it. Since the earliest, two groups of Newar Jyapus, each from the Thane and Kwane have been constructing the Ratha. This time the troop lead by the Maharjan brothers - Prakash Maharjan and Pradeep Maharjan successfully completed the construction of the Ratha. A ritually important flower "la swan" is required which is especially grown by the Munikars. These activities bring unity and harmony among the caste groups of the valley.


The Route


View Janma Dyo (Seto Matsyendranath chariot) route in a larger map


On the day of Chaitra Sukla Astami, the priests, who are Shakyas, take the image of the chief deity, Padmapani Avalokiteshwor, out for a procession to Jamal beside Ranipokhari where the large wheeled chariot is waiting to receive it. The two leaders from Thane and Kwane lead the Ratha. The procession starts with the people of various castes playing their musical instrument and dancing to the tunes.

This colorful procession is so exhilarating that any observer is bound to feel energized, the towering chariot making its way down the alleys of the town, the enthusiastic youths pulling chariot with the rope, the peoples singing the hymns and praying, the lights, the smell of the incense sticks all create an aura magnanimous and full of divine power difficult to discern. All groups of people unify and come forward in the procession and pray for their long life and prosperity.

The very first day of this divine procession covers the Jamal, Ratnapark, Bhotahity and Ason area. On the second day, the procession starts from Ason to Balkumari, Kel Tol, Indra Chowk, Makhan and rests in the Hanuman Dhoka. Here the living goddess Kumari also comes out to pay her visit. On the final day, the Ratha moves through Hanuman Dhoka, Maru, Chikan Mangal, Jaisidewal, Jya Baha and finally reaches Lagan Tol. After circumambulating a special tree for three times the procession completes.

The religion says that the festival must complete before the Purnima or the full moon day of the month. On the fourth day, after a special puja, the image of the god is carried back to the temple and restored there.

The whole procession with its starting, finishing and stopping points enroute, interestingly shows the hierarchy of open spaces and the path-space configurations, giving a new socio-cultural meaning to existing religious sites, squares and streets. Everyday the procession pierces through the dense settlement of the city and at the end of the day stops at the Chowks or the Durbar squares that are the points of religious or political importance. These places act as the congregational points where locals come forward to perform religious activities.

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Present scenario

Even to this day the Jatra holds the same value and importance to the city dwellers. Guthi sansthan is the government organization that works for the construction of the Ratha and continuum of this festival. This year a whole new set of Ratha was prepared using only about 20% of the old resources. However due to lack of time only one type of wood (Agrakh) was incorporated in its construction and few iron straps were seen in the junction and wheels to ensure its strength.

The culture of a nation is one of its most valuable assets. However, some additions to the new urban fabric has torn apart such values and beliefs. One such addition is the construction of the overhead bridge in the Ratnapark - Baghbazaar junction which lies in the route of this chariot festival. The clear height of the bridge is far less than the height of the Ratha. Last year, the Ratha toppled over at this point because of this obstruction and level differences created in its path as the towering Ratha had to struggle through the narrow space leftover by the bridge. Such unplanned development works should be checked by the concerned authority and greater public awareness is needed regarding such public activities.

Conclusion

Festivals and Jatras make the heart of the Newari culture. The Jatra of Seto Machhindranath in Kathmandu, Rato Machhindranath in Patan, and Bisket Jatra in Bhaktapur are famous and unique in their own style as the architecture of these towns itself.

These cultural activities give us our identity and are the part of our glorious past. We must consciously work for its continuity, making it a living heritage of the city.

Acknowledgement

Purna Ratna Bajracharya
Padma Sundar Maharjan
Guthi Sansthan

References

• Kathmandu Valley, The Preservation of Physical Environment and Cultural Heritage. A protective inventory prepared by HMG of Nepal in collaboration with the UN and UNESCO, the Austrian Federal Government and the JDR 3rd fund.
• Tiwari, S.R: The Urban Spaces of Kathmandu Valley Towns: a historical perspective
• Shakya, Gyanendra: Nepalese manuscripts on architecture: published in Vaastu vol. 5, pg: 53
• Bajracharya, Kamalananda; Janabahadyo Ya Bakha: Aaju publications


Related topic:
Rato Matsyendranath rath jaatra



Wednesday, March 28, 2012

M5.0 Earthquake at Nepal-India border


Kathmandu, March 28: USGS reported moderate earthquake hit Nepal-India border. Earthquake measuring M5.0 (ML5.2 as reported by National Seismological Center, Nepal) was epicentered at about 63km South East of Biratnagar and 63km NNE from Katihar, Bihar (India) at 23:40 UTC on March 27 (or 5:25am local time on March 28).

Click here for more on recent earthquakes in Nepal.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Petroleum products got dearer again

Kathmandu, March 27, Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) hiked prices of petroleum products today. Price of petrol, diesel and kerosene is increased by Rs. 4 per liter. Effective from March 27 (Tuesday), price of petrol is set at Rs. 120/liter, kerosene and diesel at Rs. 89 per liter. Price of liquid propane gas (LP) remains unchanged.

Click here to view trend of petroleum products prices in Nepal.




Thursday, March 22, 2012

Koreans bring light and warmth to Nepali village

Koreans help bathe Nepali village in light


The Nepal Solar Volunteer Corps celebrate their work in the remote Nepali village of Thingan.
(Nepal Solar Volunteer Corps)


Koreans have brought warmth and light to a remote Nepali village by installing solar power, as well as the country’s first ondol heating system.

The mountain community of Thingan used to plunge into darkness at sundown. But now village residents are enjoying brighter, warmer nights thanks to photovoltaic technology installed as part of the 10 million-rupee ($125,200) project.

A 26-person expedition, including professors and students from three Korean universities, visited the village in Nepal’s Makawanpur region to install a solar power lighting system.

The 5 kilowatt photovoltaic system included solar panels, inverters and charge controllers as well as 20 km of wiring for transmission lines and homes throughout the village.

Four LED lamps were installed in each home, with each household set to pay a small monthly user fee for the electricity. Hi-tech photo sensor switches were also installed on street lights to automatically turn them on at dusk and off when the sun rises.

The Korean team designed and funded the project, while villagers constructed a building to house the batteries that will store the energy harnessed from the sun. The structure includes additional rooms to be rented to locals for poultry farming.

The green technology was provided by Korean universities and the government through Korea’s National Research Foundation. Korean companies also supplemented volunteers’ personal donations, and Samsung donated 290 hi-tech LED lights.

The volunteers also installed Korean-style ondol in some homes ― the first time the under floor heating technology has been used in Nepal.

Read more at The Korea Herald >>





Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mangal News: Street that never goes dark anymore

Amid almost all negative news we hear, read or see everday, one good news to Kathmanduits. Although, the infamous load shedding (long hour power outages) is to stay with us for some more time, there are some area and streets that never go dark anymore. Whole of Patan Durbar Square area is illuminated with solar lamp posts and monuments illuminations. Besides, Yalamandu Post just mapped here about 2km 3km of such road in Lalitpur, starting from the UNESCO World Heritage site - Patan Durbar Square, and is pretty sure that the length of such road will increase.
Yes, the street mentioned here are lit by solar powered street lamps. More details to come ...

View Street that never goes dark in a larger map
Yalamandu Post tries to dedicate Tuesday (or Mangalbar) to post about some "Mangal News" (or good news) and things happening around



Minor earthquake jolts Kalikot - Western Nepal


Kathmandu, March 20: A minor earthquake hit Kalikot district in Western Nepal at 2:21am. National Seismological Center reports the M4.7 earthquake occurred at 20:36 UTC on March 19 (or 2:21am local time on March 20) with epicenter at Karkigaon-Jajarkot.

Click here for more on recent earthquakes in Nepal.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

AFC Challenge Cup 2012 Schedule | Scoreboard

AFC Challenge Cup 2012
Complete Schedule and scoreboard

LIVE Viewing:
Click on the Match for LIVE streaming of AFC Cup 2012 games where available.


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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Trend: Gold price plunges in Kathmandu market | Bullion Nepal


Kathmandu March 1, Owing to price drop in international market, price of hallmark gold in Kathmandu market also dropped by nearly Rs. 1,500 per 10 grams (or Rs. 1,700 per tola) over night to Rs. 45,955 per 10 grams (Rs. 53,600 per tola). The glittering metal was traded at Rs. 47,410 per 10 grams (or Rs. 55,300) on the previous day.

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Past 30 days Gold | Silver Price Trends in Kathmandu, Nepal:
Price in Tola Click here for more on Gold, Silver and Kathmandu market trend details.


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