As the wooden chariots lumber around the streets being pulled by hundreds and seen by thousands on the beats of the thrilling music, the frenzy of the tug of war reaches to climax in Bhaktapur. It is one of the most gleefully participated festivals by the public in Nepal.
A main wooden chariot, a three-storied with an image of Bhairav, is pulled between the eastern and the western parts of Bhaktapur amid the frantic musical beats to pull the chariots is perhaps the most interesting moment of the weeklong festival of Biska Jatra. The chariot of Goddess Bhadrakali follows the main chariot. A procession of the two chariots and palanquins dedicated to Kumari, Chuma Ganesh, Mahalaxmi, Mahakali, Bramhayani, Maheswori, Barahi, Indrayani are being rolled through or displayed in major parts of the city.
It is an annual event that coincides with Nepal’s new year and is primarily celebrated in Bhaktapur but also in some parts of the valley. Weeks before the celebrations, craftsmen begin to assemble the chariots in the heart of the city- Taumadhi in front of the famous Bhairavanath temple. The eight-night and nine-day celebration begin by placing the idols of Bhairav and Bhadrakali in chariots and ends in Khalna (Lashingkhel) by pulling down Yoh si Dyo or Vishwo dhoja (pole of the earth). The 25-meter pole symbolizes a phallic symbol. To symbolize the legendary tale, two long pieces of cloth are hanged upon the pole to depict the dead snakes. With a belief that anyone who sees the crushed pole would win over the enemies. Believers wish to have a glimpse of the lingo laid down. Locals love to wear their traditional attire during the festival that includes the traditional women’s sari dress of Haaku Patasi.
It coincides with the beginning of Nepal’s official calendar. The festival, probably, is the only festival in Nepal that does not follow the traditional lunar calendar. King Jayajyotir Malla in the early 14th Century of the entire Kathmandu Valley is credited to have initiated the set of celebrations of Biska Jatra in Bhaktapur.
A popular legend goes that there was once a charming but unfortunate princess in a kingdom. Whoever would marry her would be found dead the next morning and nobody could solve the mystery. The entire kingdom was cluelessly sad not to be able to get rid of the curse. Many young men had unfortunately lost their lives trying to be her fortunate husband. To test his luck, a young man decided to give it a try. His family forbade him but an old lady believed to be Goddess Bhadrakali incognito encouraged him and gave her tantric clues to face the challenge. They got married and went to bed. He was alert with his knife. At the stroke of midnight, while she was sleeping, two snakes appeared out of the nostrils of the princess. The alert young man cut them into pieces immediately before they could harm him and slept peacefully as advised by the old lady. The entire kingdom was delighted to find such a defiant and brave prince solving the case. Parades were announced to celebrate the death of the serpents, express the happiness of the town, and thank Goddess Bhadrakali, a manifestation of Parvati for her instrumental role in solving the mystery.
Another myth that is popular in Bhaktapur is that the kingdom used to face numerous attacks from nomadic and neighboring states. A royal tantric teacher Shekharacharya, had the power to change himself into any animal. As per the royal order, he had once transformed himself with his black magical power into a tiger, chased all the enemy, and saved the country. He would not show his black magic but his stubborn wife insisted his husband turn himself into a snake. The magician tantric, only to satisfy his wife, turned himself into a cobra snake. He had told his wife to sprinkle the rice grains he had given to bring him back from a snake to a human. Unfortunately, his wife was so terrified to see his husband turning into a snake that she forgot to sprinkle the rice but ate instead which turned her into a snake as well. Both of them ended their life later. The king announced a set of festivals in memory of the tantric teacher who sacrificed himself in saving the kingdom.
With the active participation of the people, the Biska Jatra festival is vibrant in character and mesmerizing in nature. Series of music, dances, and feasts in the communities are planned to promote cultural heritage and celebrate the festivals. The festival is observed in other parts of the valley like Thimi, Tokha, and Bode with the local flavors.
In the backdrop of the pandemic of Covid 19 and the threat it has produced, it is wiser to celebrate with a physical distance in society and celebrate it adhering to safety guidelines prescribed by the governments and experts.
By : Pramesh Pradhan