Newari culture is a unique culture with its own unique customs and traditions. We already have talked about Newari cultures a lot before. In this article, we will be talking about one of such Newari cultures, or to be more specific, a Jatra of the Newars. That is the Rato MachindraNath Jatra. A lot of you who live in the Kathmandu Valley must have been to this Jatra and a lot of you might not have seen this in person. Regardless of if you have seen this Jatra in person or not all of you know how big this Jatra is. You can very well say that this is among the members of the Holy Trinity of the Jatras in the Kathmandu Valley. The other members of this trinity are Indra Jatra of Kathmandu and Biska Jatra of Bhaktapur. The following are 5 things about Rato MachhindraNath Jatra most of us don’t know about.
1: When this Jatra Started
Now it should be clear that this is an ancient Jatra and getting an exact date would be next to impossible. That works similarly for customs or religions that exceed 800 years. So for any customs that exceed more than 800 years into the past, all we can do is estimate the approximate age. This is not the case for the international community but it is the case for Nepal. Add the fact that this is the only year 1140 of the Newari year Nepal Sambat and it gets even harder. Regardless of the reason, the historic estimation is that the Rato MachindraNath Jatra started around 1600 years ago. To put that into perspective, that is just about 500 years after the estimated origin of this by the Lichhavi king Veer Deva in 299AD.
Let this sink in for a while, this Jatra is almost as old as the city itself. In the span of History before the 10th century, 200 years is not really long time. Also, this Jatra is older than the Nepal Sambat itself. This just shows how old Newari Culture is. It should be noted that there are many other Jatras that are even older than this.
2: Why the Jatra of Rato MachindraNath Started (Myths)
There are quite a few legends of where this Jatra originated from but one of the most widely accepted legends among the Lalitpur Basi is this one.
According to this and every Legend, the Rato MachindraNath also locally known as BungaDya does not originate from Nepal but from India. Where that place depends on the myth but in this myth, Rato MachindraNath is from a place called yaksha Desh in India which is supposed to be somewhere in Modern-day Assam.
It is said that back in that time there was a massive drought that lasted for 12 years. In that time gods were apparently not immortals anymore and could be killed but not die naturally and had human-like curiosities. There was a sage named Gokarnanath who was the devotee of the MachindraNath who decided to receive a blessing after meditating on 9 rain serpents. This was done in order to get the attention of his guru but coincidentally he was also making them unable to give rain to the valley as well.
Now the myth goes on to say that the three heads of the Kathmandu valley of that time, Lalitpur Jyapu from Lalitpur, Narendra Dev from Bhaktapur, and Bandana Bajracharya realized this. They then joined forces and went on to call this god. In the way, a Karkot Naga also joined them to protect them against the unknowns. There a lot of rituals were performed to entice the god and plead the god to come and save them from this drought. The god then transformed into a black bee and flew into the body of Bandhu Dutt and then was transported into Nepal. On the banks of Nakhu River, the god was released from the vessel. Then the god granted the sage his wish and released the rain serpents, thereby making it rain again.
3 : Special things about Rato MachindraNath Jatra
It is safe to say that this Jatra is pretty unique on its own. There are virtually no Jatras quite like this. Along with its myth and long history there are quite a few unusual and special things that happen in this Jatra.
Rato MachindraNath has one of the biggest if not the biggest chariot in the entire world. It is at least 60feet long. That is around 4 floors of pure chariot. The interior is made out of string bamboos and it is decorated by green pine foliage for aesthetics and to signify the greenery brought out by the god. Along with that it has a long single curved tree called “Dha:ma” as a base for the ropes.
Rato MachindraNath Jatra is the longest Jatras of Newari people. The Jatra lasts at least three weeks and nothing goes wrong. If there is even a bit of delay, you can very well expect this Jatra to last a month. This is more common than you would think. Most of this is because there are multiple stops and after each stop, a date or a ”Sait” needs to be fixed as per the lunar calendar for each session. Considering that there are quite a few stops, it is inevitable that some delay will occur.
So how does the 60 foot tall Chariot move? Is it pulled by animals like elephants or a massive team of bison? No! It is pulled by humans, lots and lots of humans. The rope itself is around 20 feet long so you can guess how many people are needed to even move this chariot of God. A little hint is there are more than 30 people on the main rope and many more pulling the human chain formed around the main rope.
4: Bhoto Jatra
If you have heard of Rato MachindraNath Jatra you must have heard of Bhoto Jatra as well which is a part of the main Jatra. It is one of those few Jatras where the head of the country comes and is an integral part of the Jatra. Back when Monarchy was still there in Nepal, this was attended by the king but now it is done by the President of the country. This Jatra as the name suggests surrounds a Bhoto which in English is an undergarment resembling a Vest.
Why this even exists is a story and a legend in itself.
The Legend of Bhoto Jatra
According to the myth, a long time ago a Jyapu lost his vest. That would not be a big deal if it was not a gift from the Serpent God KarKota Naga himself. Here the myth varies.
One myth says that the Jyapu was gifted because he cured the ill wife of the Serpent God through his knowledge of herbs. Another myth says that the Jyapu was scared when the god showed up in the search of the herbs. The Jyapu being scared gives his own body dirt (khiti) and that was just what was needed to heal the wife. Regardless of the myth, the wife of God is healed.
On a day when the Jyapu was in Jawalakhel to watch the Jatra, the Jyapu found out that his vest was missing and saw someone wearing that vest. A fight ensued and the result was undetermined. It was then stated by the ruler of that time that the bhoto will remain with the BungaDya (Rato MachindraNath till someone comes with a proof that the vest is indeed his. Each year the vest is shown to ask the mass asking if the vest is of someone from within the mass or not.
On this day the living goddess “Kumari ” of Patan also comes to see who claims the bhoto as she is a goddess in herself.
Note* Almost all Jyapus were the farmers during ancient so the word Jyapu here means Farmer
5: The route of the Rato MachindraNath Jatra procession
This is something that a lot of you might know about but even so, there are a lot who don’t know the exact route. Hence we are here to give you the exact route so that you don’t miss it when you go and watch the Jatra.
The Jatra starts in Pulchowk after the Puja is done. The Chariot passes through Gabahal which is the first stop. The next stop is the Mangalbazar which is also the Durbar square. Following this, it is then stopped at “Lu-hiti Nuga” also known as the Sundhara of Lalitpur. The next stop is ChakriBahil and the final stop is Lagankhel where the Rato MachindraNath is kept for quite a while as the Nariwal Khawsaune event is also held. Here the main delay happens as the pujaris need to see the date “Sait” for this event as well. There have even been several occasions where this has taken a month as well. After that, the chariot is taken to Jawalakhel where it ends with the Bhoto Jatra.
In the area between Iti and Thati (around Thaina) the chariot is pulled exclusively by women. This is mainly to demonstrate that women too have the strength to pull this massive chariot and are looked upon by the god. This event is called Yakaa Misaya Bhujya. In English, this translates to the Bhujya of only females. Bhujya is the event that happens before the chariot is pulled.
Also in the 12year Jatra (Barha Barse Jatra ), the chariot is built-in Bungamati. The route goes from Bungamati to Bhaisapati to Nakhu to Bhanimandal to Jhamsikhel to Pulchowk from where the usual route is followed. Also, the chariot was pulled at midnight from Jhamsikhel to Pulchowk without making any noticeable sound. Once the usual route is finished, the chariot is then taken back to Bungamati and worshipped for 6 months before being disassembled.
Note* whoever catches the Nariwal in lagankhel is said to have a child who will start some form of big change.
Did this make you curious about Newari Cultures? If so why don’t you check out our list of “10 Newari Culture that I bet you didn’t know about”. If you are a foodie, you can also check out our list of “Top 10 Newari Food you Must try “