Kathmandu

A month-long fast, especially in Shaalinadi, Sankhu — to fulfil one’s wishes — is one of the charm of Shree Swasthani Bratakatha festival. Hindu devotees from across the nation flock to this religious site in Sankhu, an ancient Newar settlement in north-eastern part of the Capital. People visit this place in one of the day(s) of the month-long celebration. A few stay here an entire month, following the rituals of the fast — this year there are 24 men and 204 women.

Hailing from different parts of the country, they reside in rented shelters in Sankhu bazaar, while spend the days on Shaalinadi’s banks — a river that has legends associated with the story of Swasthani.

The rituals — taking bath in Shaalinadi, worshipping Lord Madhav Narayan, and Goddess Swasthani, listening to stories of Swasthani, and fasting — are the same every year. It is a problem when something is different though, as this time devotees faced difficulty finding temporary accommodation here. The April 25 earthquake had a catastrophic impact in various places of the nation, Sankhu was one of them. Along with loss of lives, numerous houses were destroyed, making many homeless. This had an impact on this year’s devotees of this festival.

“The devotees faced difficulties in finding rooms in the locality as many houses were destroyed by the earthquake,” Jeeban Man Singh, Senior Vice-President at Shree Madhav Narayan Swasthani Brata Tatha Shaalinadi Sudhar Samiti said.

That is why the Samiti — that looks after the overall management of the festival — took initiative to find rooms for the devotees. In previous years, people used to find rooms on their own.

“We have been able to manage some 50-60 rooms in the bazaar to accommodate around 100 devotees,” Singh further informed. However, those who didn’t get in contact with the Samiti had a hard time finding rooms, the rent price was expensive too. So, some devotees paid exuberant price.

One of them was a friend of Pooja Aryal from Gagalphedi. Aryal and her three family members rented a room paying Rs 2,400 for a month. But her friend paid “Rs 14,000 for a room — the owner charged her the price of two months” as per Aryal.

Agreeing to Aryal, Singh added, “Some tenants, who searched rooms on their own have been overcharged by the owners, but we usually don’t know how much they are paying.”

Despite people taking advantage of the situation, there are those who offered rooms for free. One of the fortunate is Anjala Shrestha from Sukedhara. Shrestha is in Shaalinadi to fast for the sixth time, but she hasn’t paid the rent to date. “I came here to book a room during September 2015 — it is the same house where I stayed last year,” informed Shrestha adding, “I don’t have to pay the rent.” The owner didn’t charge her a penny in the previous years as some owners believe that “letting the devotees stay in their houses will earn them gooddeed”. But Shrestha plans to hand over Rs 1,000 to the owner on completion of her fast, like she did in the previous year.

Beside accommodation problem, fervour and festivity of the mela is alive with thousands of visitors visiting Shaalinadi every day. “The earthquake has not affected the number of devotees coming here,” claimed Singh.

The festival that began on January 23 ends on February 22.