Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Happy 2070 In Bhaktapur!

Guest Writer: Morwenna Murray, along with Amanda's comments and pictures after

Last Saturday was Nepali New Years' Eve and it was celebrated in style in the beautiful, ancient city of Bhaktapur. This small town is 14km from Kathmandu and the narrow cobbled streets and breathtaking temples makes you feel like you have just stepped back into the Medieval era. 

If you come to Nepal around this time of year you don't have to actually make an effort to plan to see something special. You can just listen for the drums and other instruments and follow the sounds.

Bisket Jatra is the nine-day festival celebrating the new year, starting usually four days before new years day, then carrying on for four days after it. Part of the festival involves a huge 10 metre tall rickety, wooden charriot, carrying images of the god Bhairab. On the first day of the festival locals gather around the imposing chariot in Taumadhi square and a tug of war ensues between the east and west sides of Bhaktapur.  

One of the most striking features of the chariot are the eyes painted on the great wooden wheels, which eerily seem to watch you. While I was admiring the chariot in the aftermath of the celebrations, many local children were using the structure as a kind of huge climbing frame. It was very peaceful and relaxing to watch the children playing on this holy chariot, partaking in a ceremony that probably hasn't changed for hundreds of years in this ancient town.

Four days later, after New Years' Day, a pole is pulled down, again in a huge tug-of-war. As the pole falls to the ground, the new years celebration, Bisket Jatra, has officially come to its end.

Celebrating the start of spring and the Nepali new year according to the Vikram calendar in the beautiful Bhaktapur Durbar square is an unforgettable experience. However this new years was tinged with sadness due to the death of two revelers who were crushed under the chariot. Reportedly the tragedy occurred when celebrators jumped off the chariot whilst worshipers were pulling the huge wooden structure through town. You can read more about this by following the link below.

The crowd was incredible during the festival.

This is how they do the pulling during the festival.

More from Amanda: Throughout this time you will come upon what seems to be spontaneous celebrations. Not only is this chariot pulled through the streets in an act of tug of war, but there is a ceremony involving this pole, as mentioned above. Each night the festival moves to another place within the city. As Kalpana and I came from a trip to the Dhulikel Hospital, we followed the music to Pottery Square to find more interesting things to see.

This pole, representing Lord Bhirub, would soon fall to the ground in the last night's festivities. As you can see, this man wasn't the first to worship this pole.

Local clubs parade through Bhaktapur playing music on any day, but during festivals like this one it becomes an even more common scene. Often they are dressed in their club's uniforms or native Nepali dress. This is the Newari traditional attire, easily recognizable by the red stripe.

Right there at Pottery Square was this little group performing Vajan, the Hindu prayers chanted in song. It is beautiful even when a person doesn't understand the language.

Just like Visa/Mastercards' slogan of a few years ago, "Ganesh is everywhere I want to be." Here he is at Pottery Square in Bhaktapur. The pole, pictured above, was planted directly outside this temple. If you like Ganesh you will really love Bhaktapur because you can hardly go outside without coming across him. Always amazing, Ganesh! 

Earlier this week I was riding through Bhaktapur with my Nepali son, Kamal, and who did I see coming toward me, but Ganesh! What is really interesting to me is the way the energy around these processions become filled with excitement and lightness whenever Ganesh is around. It's just magical.

So, there I was in total amazement as to how this was happening, like a very lucky/blessed moment for me. Kamal automatically knew to stop and suggested that I go take a look. He and Sanjaya, his brother, are always, always so kind to me. It was Sanjaya who took me to Indra Jatra a few months ago to see the Royal Kumari. As we stood on the tiny, crowded balcony Sanjaya literally stood there for an hour or more with hardly a glance. He never complained or tried to hurry me. These two Nepali young men with the thangka school in Changu Narayan have been the kindest of all the people I've met in Nepal. It seems no matter what I do for them they always out-do me by showing me more kindness. Seriously, if I invite them to dinner they will cook and even clean the kitchen!

I heard myself ask if I could touch and heard, 'Why not?' so I got a tika from Ganesh, a lovely blessing. That is one of the things I enjoy about Hinduism, that with only a few exceptions, anyone can participate in it. I am not Hindu and describe my relationship with the gods as only a fan, not a devotee. I am very aware of the difference and try to always be respectful to the gods, as well as the actual devotees. Please do not abuse our privilege of sharing in these festivities. I have heard tourists of other faiths actually go into the forbidden temples as if they are Hindu. Please do not do this-even if you are dark-skinned and could pass for Asian. 

Safety tips for festivals: Last year only one person died during this New Years' Festival, Bisket Jatra, in Bhaktapur. This year at least two died and more were injured. If you want to enjoy this, or any other festival here in Nepal, stay safe. If you get injured you will need to take full responsibility for yourself, so be careful. Like any crowd anywhere, do not take your valuables with you. It is also a good idea to scout around beforehand to find a good location to safely view the festivities. Rooftop restaurants at many guest houses are often the best places. Just check to see if they expect to be within view of the action. It's also best to ask multiple people due to the Nepali habit of telling you what you want to hear. If you think I am exaggerating just randomly tell a Nepali that you would like to see some rain. Ask them if they think it will rain soon. No matter how blue the sky looks you will more likely than not hear rain in the weather report from the person. 

 My thanks to Morwenna Murray for sharing her take on this festival.

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