Whether it is about Jatras in Kathmandu, Chhat in Madesh or nationwide festivals like Dashain and Tihar, Nepal offers a wide range of celebrations. Festivals are the intrinsic part of Nepalese culture. Festivals reflect so much devotion, compassion, and unity among the observers. Among many festivals celebrated throughout the country, the Bisket Jatra is a very popular festival celebrated in Nepal. The Bisket Jatra is a major festival of Newar community residing in Bhaktapur district which is 18 kilometers away from Kathmandu.
Bisket Jatra is the most important festival in Bhaktapur and is observed for eight nights and nine days. The name Bisket was derived from two Newari words: Bi and Syaku which means snake laughter. This festival is celebrated on every first day of Baisakh month of Nepali calendar. The devotees set up the pole and pull it down on the following day which indicated the destruction of evil at the beginning of the year. Likewise, the collision of two chariots (raths) representing Bhairab (male) and Bhadrakali (female) indicates fertility. The Bisket Jatra is also very popular for a tongue-piercing ritual which is described on the latter part of this article.
TIME AND DURATION OF BISKET JATRA
There is not any exact date when the Bisket Jatra falls. People celebrate the Bisket Jatra to welcome the spring and Nepali New Year. It is celebrated for nine days and is the only festival that does not follow the lunar calendar. The festival is started four days before Nepali New Year, 1st Baisakh and continues to next nine days. Thus, it falls between the end of a year and the starting of another new year.
MYTHS BEHIND THE BISKET JATRA
There are several beliefs behind the celebration of Bisket Jatra. You can hear some stories from the local people themselves about how the celebration of the Jatra came alive. Among various myths, here are some most common stories the Newars themselves believe to be the reason behind the celebration of the Jatra:
The princess and her curse (The Bhadrakali’s advice)
King Jagajyoti Malla, the king of Bhaktapur, was fascinated by the myths and stories and thus integrated the Bisket Jatra as an annual event. Once there was a beautiful princess who was intended to remain without a husband because of a curse. Every man she marries dies on the first night of their marriage. Some young men died because of marrying the princess.
The whole palace was hopeless about the situation, and then there was another young boy who was ready to marry the princess without knowing what her curse was. An old lady offered some advice to the young man which he needed to follow to ensure his safety. Taking her advice in mind, then the boy married the princess despite his mother’s restriction.
The wedding night, as they lay in bed, the princess fell asleep and started snoring softly. The young man, however, did not let himself fall asleep as per the advice of the old lady. He was clear that whatever happens he must not close his eyes. He was staring at the sleeping beauty, the princess and suddenly, he saw two serpents crawling out of the nose of the princess. He was horrified for a moment. However, coming back to his sense, he quickly lifted his sword and without delay cut those serpents into pieces making the princess free from her curse. People believe that the old lady who advised the young boy to remain awake during the night was Bhadrakali.
King Jagajyoti loved the myth and wished it to be remembered forever. So, he started an event called Bisakyu Jatra what we now call Bisket Jatra.
The Pythons and the Rice Grains
According to this myth, during the ruling of Shivadev kings, the Kirants attacked the kingdom. They looted and beat the local people. The king consulted a tantric named Shekheracharya, to handle the condition. The tantrik chased the Kirants by transforming himself into a lion.
One day, the tantrik’s wife made a wish to see an azingar (python) form of the tantric and requested him to transform into it. The tantrik, to fulfill his wife’s wish, decided to transform into a python. Before the transformation, he handed over some rice grains to his wife and told her to spread those rice grains over the snake, and it will help him to gain his human life back.
When the tantrik transformed him into a python, the wife instead of spreading the rice grains over him, she ran away in fear and ate those grains herself. This transformed the wife too into the python. Since there was no hope to regain their human life back, they both committed suicide. Then the king started erecting a lingo in memory of the couple.
THE LINGO: MAJOR ATTRACTION OF THE JATRA
The pole about 50 feet tall also called as lingo is erected by the devotees. The lingo is a major attraction of the Jatra because of its large height. The lingo is erected on the last day of the year which is 31st Chaitra and is pulled down on the evening of the following day indicating the arrival of New Year. The erection of the lingo is, however, a challenging task to accomplish since there are chances of accidents. It is not surprising to listen to someone getting injured during the event. In previous days, people used to ask the army for help but nowadays with the increased population they erect the lingo themselves.
The lingo has two poles which are wrapped by the red banners which indicated the two deadly serpents in the myth When people kill the two arms in the lingo, they believe that no disaster will occur in their community due to snakebite in the upcoming year. People worship the lingo and the snake idols and offer them with puja, various sweets, and foods. There are some moths which explain that the people worship the lingo and the snake for their respect towards reptiles. It is because the reptiles are connected to rain and agriculture.
CELEBRATING BISKET JATRA IN NINE CONSECUTIVE DAYS
Day 1: The first day is observed in Taumadi, near Nytapole (5 storied temples) where respective chariots for God Bhairav and Goddess Bhadrakali are brought. In the evening, the chariots are pulled as a tug of war between the local people of Thane (upper town) and Kone (lower town) of Bhaktapur and pull it on their direction. People believe that on this day “God comes down to the mass of people from his own sacred home.”
Day 2 and 3: In these days a particular group of people takes care if the chariots. People visit the chariots and offer puja to the chariots.
Day 4: It is the last day if the year. People erect two poles in the morning (11 AM to 1 PM) and perform the rituals. The observers erect another pole with two arms at Bhelukhel (6 PM to 12 PM). The huge crowd sing song and any one of them put a plant on the top of the pole by climbing. They believe that whoever can put the plant on the top will be rewarded with a boy child.
Day 5: It is the Nepali New Year day. The crowd gathers at the Bhaktapur Durbar Square. People worship several other gods and goddess such as Lord Ganesh, Mahalaxmi, Barahi, Mahakali and others. In the evening, the lingo in Bhelukhel is pulled down.
Day 6: People in Thimi celebrate this day with great enthusiasm. They welcome the Spring by throwing vermilion powder to each other and call it “Sindur Jatra”. Later this day they observe “Tongue piercing ceremony” in which a volunteer from Shrestha family pierce tongue with an iron spike and walk around the town with a bamboo rack around his shoulder. Newars in Thimi believe that this activity help to ensure his place in heaven. Similarly, another Jatra (God and Goddess getting together from different directions) is celebrated. Small chariots of Lord Ganesh, Bhairabs, Bhrama, Maheshwari are brought together.
Day 7: People spend this day by worshipping the gods and goddess in different areas. They gather up with family, friend, and relatives and organize voj (feast).
Day 8: This is the second last day of the festival. Along with offering puja, sweets, and foods to their god, the day is filled with traditional music and dance.
Day 9: The pole erected in the Durbar Square is pulled down. The bringing down of the pole symbolizes the destruction of the evil. The chariot of Bhiairab and Bhadrakali are pulled in an upward direction indicating “God now return to his own sacred home.”
The festival perfectly reflects the local beliefs, cultural, dresses, and music. The best part of the festival is anybody can be a part of the festival and experience the wonderful festival. If you are interested in being a part of it, visit Nepal in mid- April. You will experience a wide variety of local music, foods, drinks and street programs to enjoy. So, why not join us in a traditional, colorful and exciting way of welcoming Nepali New Year?