Rato Machhindranath, the Hindu and Buddhist deity, is worshipped as the God of Rain. The deity’s chariot is pulled every year attracting a huge gathering of onlookers. The chariot pulling, dropping of the coconut, exhibition of the vest, all add to this festival. It is perhaps the longest festival observed in the country.
The chariot is right now resting near Lagankhel (on the crossroads towards Mangalbazaar). “The chariot will be pulled on July 26. It is an auspicious day for chariot pulling as per the astrologers,” Baikuntha Acharya, Acting Branch Officer, Guthi Sansthan Branch Office, Lalitpur says. If everything goes well, then the Bhoto Jatra (vest exhibition) will take place on July 29, as per Acharya.
The April 25, 2015 earthquake shook life as we knew it. The trauma from the earthquake still haunts the citizens. The earthquake affected Rato Machhindranath festival last year, which was celebrating its 12-year festival. The chariot pulling came to a halt then. The temple at Patan has not been damaged much though a few cracks are visible. But the temple at Bungamati collapsed. It has not been built till now. “A temporary temple has been constructed to keep the deity,” informs Acharya. “Though efforts are on for the temple’s reconstruction we haven’t got any official information from the government. It takes time,” adds Acharya.
Though the Guthi Sansthan Branch Office, Lalitpur, has been looking after the festival, the building where its office is situated is in a dilapidated condition. There are wooden planks supporting the building. “We have difficulty here as the building has cracks and is supported by wooden planks,” informs Acharya. Despite such a condition of their office building, the staff here are busy working.
Many of us must have seen a small chariot near Machhindranath’s chariot. This is the chariot of Minnath — another deity. This deity is considered as Padmanityeshwor — a form of Shiva — a Hindu deity. We may have heard of the mythical relation between Minnath and Machhindranath as maternal uncle and nephew. However, Rabin Shakya, a priest at Minnath temples explains, “There is no such relation between these two deities. Machhindranath is the guest here who was brought to the country from Kamaru Kamakhya, India.”
According to Shakya, Minnath’s chariot-pulling has been organised for 2,000 years in the country.
“Minnath is considered as the one who gives life and death. He is both who provides life and takes life,” Shakya adds.
To pay homage to Minnath, people who come to this longest festival light butter lamps around the chariot. “It is believed that anyone who lights the lamps will live a long and prosperous life,” informs Shakya.
The chariot of Minnath is smaller than that of Machhindranath. As every thing in Machhindranath’s chariot has to be of the number 32 (rotation of the wheels, the length and breadth of the chariot, the length of wood attached to the chariot among others), Minnath’s has to have all those sizes in the number 28. “The festival was run with the number 32, considered auspicious and a marker of 32 characteristics in the Hindu mythology. As Machhindranath is considered as a deity having 32 qualities and the higher deity, Minnath’s chariot was made in 28. I feel that to make the festival different, there might have been a difference in sizes,” informs Shakya.
A temple of Minnath is situated in Patan. “On the day of Gaijatra, people light butter lamps at the temple of Minnath believing that dead souls will get salvation from the human world,” informs Shakya.
Many of us have seen the priests doing rituals near the deities with others there to assist them in their work — either to bring the necessary materials for the deity or to give prasad to the visitors. These priests aren’t the same every year. “We get our turns. This turn usually comes every 10 years,” Shakya informs.
And while they get their turn to perform the rituals (in the role of the priest), one needs to follow a lot of rules such as of eating only once a day, cooking in pure ghee, not eating the food if stone or a trace of hair is found in it, can’t blow on the fire while cooking, and taking a bath thrice a day, Shakya informs.
Once when there was a drought in the country, Machhindranath was brought from India so that people could get relief from the drought. The festival has been celebrated since then in the country. “There are thousands of people visiting the deity every day,” informs Rameshwor Maharjan, one of the mechanics who works in the making of the chariot.
Thousands of people gather during the coconut throwing ceremony. “To prevent possible fights, the security forces help in the festival,” adds Maharjan.
Thousands of people visit the deity and also place offerings of money. There is no calculation of how much money is offered (collected) and where it is spent. “The money goes to the priests and his people than to the Guthi Sansthan Branch Office which looks after the festival. We provide financial assistance for the festival but the income from the deity goes to the priests,” shares Acharya.
“We spend the money in organising the jatra, making a fiesta and in celebrations as they too are a part of the festival. We aren’t given money by the Sansthan to organise all those,” claims Dharma Dutta Bajracharya, an assistant priest of Rato Machhindranath.
Be it the locals or those visiting the festival from different places, the enthusiasm for the festival hasn’t decreased.
Archana Aryal, a 36-year-old resident of Lokanthali was there to worship the deity. “Our parents and grandparents used to bring us here during our childhood days. This is how I started coming to this festival. As we have faith in gods and goddesses, I am here to pay homage to the deity,” Aryal shares.
A version of this article appears in print on June 05, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.