Once too often
Mayhem ensued at Ratnapark on Sunday when the chariot of Seto Machhindranath (the Fish God) toppled over, injuring 12 people in the crowd that had assembled to witness the annual procession around the Kathmandu Valley. On April 24, 2007, the procession of Rato Machhindranath had to be stopped at Sundhara, Patan when the chariot tilted right, this time injuring eight. Such incidents have been repeated in the past, most inauspiciously in 2001 when, devotees believe, the toppling of Seto Machhindranath acted as a harbinger to the royal massacre later in the year.
Various measures have been taken to forestall such eventualities. Guthis of Kathmandu and Lalitpur have set up basket funds for crowd control and other precautionary measures. Local volunteers have been deployed to ensure smooth flow of processions. But the Sunday mishap has exposed gaping holes in management and planning. The skeletal pillars of the chariots have caved in many times. Apparently, astrologers, not engineers and architects, decide if the chariots are ready to hit the road. Next time the people in the vicinity might not be as lucky as those at Ratnapark, many of whom would have been killed if a minibus had not cushioned the chariot’s fall. That would be a huge tragedy and a big blot on the hallowed tradition.