10-16 July 2015 #766

Rain god in limbo

The chariot is still in Chyasikot, where it stopped on 25 April, it should be rebuilt in time and complete its journey
Sonia Awale

Photo: Gopen Rai

The chariot of Machhindranath was on its way from Bungamati to Patan on a more-important-than-usual 12-yearly commemoration of the annual festival when the earthquake struck. The chariot had arrived in the township of Chyasikot with its colourful pendants flying in the breeze, and excited youth pulling it with fervor.

But at 11:56 AM on 25 April, everything came to halt. Houses started swaying and temples came tumbling down. The tall wooden chariot itself swayed from side to side, although it did not topple. In Bungamati itself, the temple of Machhindranath where the deity is usually housed, collapsed. But the god survived because it was in the chariot.

Tradition demands that every 12 years the chariot has to be rebuilt from the scratch by the Barahis and Yewals belonging to the community of Newari carpenters with their chariot-making skills passed down from generation to generation. This year, they used special types of timber, reed and ropes since nails are not allowed to be used on the holy chariot. Unlike the journey in other years, the festival route this time was different: every 12 years the chariot is pulled from Bungamati to Patan and Jawalakhel, and back to Bungamati.

If there hadn’t been an earthquake, the festival should by now have been in full swing with the Bhoto Jatra in Jawalakhel attended by the President. But this year, the chariot is still in Chyasikot, exactly where it stopped on 25 April. It needed repairs even before the earthquake, but now has additional structural damage. It has to be completely rebuilt before it can complete its journey. However, no one seems to know when that will be.

“The chariot should be pulled and must complete its journey, it must be concluded,” said Dil Kumar Barahi of the Barahi Society. Popular myths of doom and destruction have always surrounded Machhindranath if the journey is disrupted for any reason. In 2000, the chariot of the red rain god toppled over and the Bhoto Jatra festival that the King would have attended had to be postponed. The very next year was the royal massacre in which King Birendra and many other members of the royal family were killed.

Myth or no myth, the show must go on, and the chariot has to be pulled to its destination. The Guthi Sansthan which is responsible for the construction of the chariot had decided to rebuild it after an inspection, but it has yet to send out a formal letter to the carpenters. This hasn’t only left the makers of Machhindranath uncertain about the future of the 12-year festival, but also disrupted their everyday life.

“We are carpenters, we’ll rebuild it but when the organisation that has to speak up is quiet, there isn’t much we can do,” said Barahi. “But the bigger issue is we have other jobs we have to complete to earn a living. Rebuilding the chariot will take two months.”

Also waiting for Machhindranath to arrive in Jawalakhel is the chariot of the consort goddess, Minnath, which is itself parked at Gabahal in Patan.

Ashok Raj Shakya, the priest of Minnath, says that there is nothing to do but wait until the Guthi Sansthan decides on rebuilding Machhindranath so that the festival can go ahead. Despite this, there are still devotees who come to worship at the chariot. Says Shakya: It is unfortunate that the earthquake happened in a year when Minnath invites Rato Machhindranath as a guest.”

Read also:

Makers of Machhindranath, Cynthia Choo

As remote as Kathmandu

After the aftershocks

Picture perfect

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