Cerebrating the longest festival in Nepal
Macchindranath Festival is the grand festival celebrated by both Hindu and Buddhist Newari community. It is celebrated in the ancient city of Patan in which the chariots are towed around the city to commemorate the contribution of Lord Macchindranath as well as other deities, King and tantric priest for rescuing the valley from decade long drought.
Lord Macchindranth is the another incarnation of Lord Shiva who is consider as a god of rain and good harvest where as Buddhist consider it as Avolokiteshwor. He is also famous by the name Bungadeo and Karunamaya. Lord Chakuwa Deo is believed to be the either son or daughter of Macchindranath. Therefore, the gender of Macchindranath and Chakuwa is reagarded as both male and female depending upon the situation.
This festival is the longest celebrating festival as it lasts almost a month and the chariot of Macchindranath is the tallest one in whole Nepal. Alongside the chariot of Macchindranath, there is a seperate chariot for Chakuwa Deo (Minnath) which is smaller than the former and usually pulled by kids. The festival begins before the onset of monsoon so that the valley get bestowed with monsoon during paddy plantation as the Newari cuisine and drinks largely depends upon rice products.
In the bygone days, Kathmandu Valley suffered from drought during the regime of Licchavi king named Narendra Dev, the grandson of Amshuverma. The kingdom was facing the shortage of food supplies as there was very less production due to the drought. Later, King consulted the priest and came to know that Gorakhnath, a sage and devotee of Lord Macchindranath was the reason behind the drought in the valley. Actually Gorakhnath had come to know that his spiritual guide Lord Machhindra Nath was then living in the Kopotak Mountain, engaged in meditation and as such he was not ordinarily accessible to anybody. Being anxious to meet his spiritual leader, he deliberately held 9 serpents of valley into captivity through his tantric power, that are responsible for the rain in the valley. He went on meditating on a cushion of those 9 serpents, thus, causing no rainfall in the valley. And he knew that Lord Machhindra Nath would surely come to valley to rescue his people from their distress.
After a thorough search, it came to light that Machindranath was reborn as 108th son of King Sashi of Yakshya Desh in Assam, India. Soon after the finding, King Narendra Dev commissioned a high priest named Gubaju Bandhudata Acharya and a farmer (Jyapu) to follow him to Assam. On the way, they were joined by the King of Serpet called Karkotaka Naga, who would protect them against the supernatural impediments. At a location near Assam, Bandhudutt performed intricate rituals and recited powerful mantras to entice Machindranath to wake from his meditation. Despite all the attempts by the lord’s mother to keep him, Machindranath heeded to the mantras (sacred spell) and transformed himself into a black bee to fly into the golden vessel of Bandhudatta Acharya. With invoked aid of four Bhairabs, all demons and their king capitulated and allowed the party to leave for Kathmandu valley.
Near Nakkhu River, under a ceremony, the bee was released. As expected, Gorakhnath came to pay homage to his spiritual guide Macchindranath, releasing the 8 serpents which were in the captivity. Thus, the released serpents quickly sent torrents of rain over the parched land. Bhairab arrived at the scene disguising as a dog and immediately screamed “Bu”, which means Home in Newari. A town was commissioned immediately and the Golden vessel enshrined inside the new Temple of Rato Machindranath.
The Chariot of Macchindranath and Chakuwa Deo :
The chariot of Macchindranath is the tallest chariot in Nepal standing at the height of approximately 48 ft and has 4 big wheels of each approximately 7ft tall where as the chariot of Chakuwa Deo (Minnath) is approx. 32ft.
The tall spire of the chariot of Macchindranath is a stunningly constructed using bamboos hugely binded with canes rests on the wooden chariot defyig the law of stability. The shaft represents Karkotaka (the king of serpents) and the 4 wheels represent the 4 Bhairavas namely:- Harisiddhi (front right), Luptasamhar Lubhu Bhairav (right back), Tyanka (Tika) Bhairav (left front) and Kundi Bhairav (left abck), who have escorted the dispatched party to bring the vessel containing the Lord Macchindranath, back to valley against the intervention of demons on the way. The chariot is decorated with foliage and flowers and hung with banners of cloth and gilded metal, it is crowned with a bouquet of national flags. The eight long ropes are used to pull the chariot of Machhindranath and these ropes represent 8 serpents namely:- Basuki Naag, Ananta Naag, Sumurti Naag, Debasu Naag, Nanda Naag, Padam Naag, Chhatra Naag and Ista Naag, and spirits of these serpents are believed to enter the ropes.
The Chariot Procession:
This longest chariot festival of Kathmandu Valley begins with the holy bathing of idol of lord Rato Macchindranathin Lagankhel, Patan on the 1st day of wanning moon on Chaitra (March-April). At the same time, the constructional work of chariot will run at Phulchowk, Patan. It is believed that all the chariot makers should practice strict abstinence during the entire period of the chariot construction, and foods like meat, egg, and garlic are strictly forbidden during this period believing that no injuries will happen to those who wholeheartedly follow the abstinence rule.
After the 15 days of holy bathing ceremony, the idol of Red Macchindranath is temporarilly enshrined inside the chamber of Chariot and pulled for procession. When the chariot procession starts thousands of people assemble to observe and worship the fair.
The chariot will be destined to Gabahal for next stop. The procession routes through Mangal Bazar to Patan Sundhara for 2nd halt. Then, the 3rd halt will be at Lagankhel through Mikhabahal. Then, it rest there for 2-3 days.
After reaching at Lagankhel, one coconut ball is dropped from the top of the chariot. It is beleived that the one who became able to catch that coconut will be blessed with a baby boy and will have an auspicious year ahead. That is why many people try to catch that coconut. The coconut receiver again offers the coconut to the chariot with some donation. The chariot will be pulled by woman when it reaches at Thali for few meters.
Finally, the chariot procession reaches at Jawlakhel. Then, 4 days after reaching Jawlakhel, the Lalitpur Guthis Sasthan announce the auspicious time for showing “Bhoto”, jewel-studded vest which is called Bhoto Jatra.