Bhaktapur, April 14:

This year witnessed the lowest-ever turnout of people in the over 1,400 years old tradition of raising and pulling down the Linga (a wooden pole), which is a part of Bisket Jatra, at Bhelukhel in Bhaktapur. Apparent reasons for the low turnout are the current political unrest in the capital and a declining interest of people in the age-old tradition.

Hirakaji Shrestha (80), a resident of Panauti, who has been attending the Jatra more or less regularly since he was 20, said, “One used to hardly get space to stand here on Jatra days in the past years.” Unlike in the past years when approximately 1,00,000 people used to take part in the event, Shrestha said only around 5,000 people showed up today to witness the spectacular scene of the approximately 30m tall pole being pulled down. The pole was raised yesterday. Local resident Pratap Kasaju said the people have developed an indifferent attitude towards the Jatra. “People these days prefer to be observers than to be part of it.” He added the youth nowadays do not show interest in taking part in the festival.

A significant number of youths was seen at the scene, but most of them were just observers rather than a part of the Jatra. A modest bunch of people was battling to offer puja to the Linga, which is considered an embodiment of Lord Shiva while most youths were watching it from the pavilion. “This is a place where we get to meet our friends,” said an undergraduate Kalpana Shrestha, a resident of Shipadole. She said she had come to the Jatra with her friends after six years. She said she was less concerned about the religious or historical significance of the festival.

The pulling of the chariot of Bhairab from Nyatpole to Bhelukhel marks the beginning of Jatra four days before the advent of Nepali New Year. The upper tole (settlement) and lower tole vie to pull the chariot, in the belief that a win brings good luck to the victorious settlement the entire year. However, the tradition sometimes takes a nasty turn as the competing toles often clash with each other.

Legend has it that the Linga is raised to mark the day when a visitor slaughtered two man-eating serpents that used to swallow a person every day in the area. Overwhelmed people hung the slain serpents on a high pole, which in course of time became a tradition. “The name Bisket Jatra is thus derived from Bishakan (serpents) Jatra over the time,” said Dil Bahadur Matangi “Deupaala” (chief priest). According to Matangi, the tradition is losing its charm as fewer people seem to be showing interest in taking part in the festival.