Rato Machhindranath Jatra - "A Red Faced Saviour"
The Newar community from Lalitpur celebrate this one month long chariot festival in the honor of the god of rain and harvest, Rato Machhindranath.
Rato Machhindranath Jatra is a one-month-long chariot festival in Nepal. It is the longest chariot festival that honors God Rato Machhindranath under different Hindu and Buddhist deity names. The Buddhist deity is Avalokitesvara and the Hindu deity is Karunamaya. Celebrated by Newars, they call Rato Machhindranath as Bunga Dhya, also known as Raktalokitesvara Karunamaya.
Rato Machhindranath Jatra was started by King Narendra Dev in 897 AD to commemorate the end of the 12-year-long drought in Nepal.
It begins every year at the end of Baisakh in Bikram Sambat and in the first half of May in the Gregorian calendar. It begins on the 4th day of the waxing moon of Bachhala, which is the seventh month in the lunar calendar. Since the Jatra is celebrated according to the lunar calendar, the date keeps on changing and is declared by priests.
Rato Machhindranath Jatra Celebration
The month-long festival takes 15 initial days for the chariot to be built. A 60-foot-tall chariot is built in Pulchowk and made out of wood, bamboo, and cane in Pulchowk. Then the image of Rato Machhindranath from his temple in Bungamati is brought and placed in the chariot. The chariot is pulled across these stops in Lalitpur and one-stop in Kathmandu.
The remaining 15 days is when the chariot is pulled through the route of Pulchowk- Natole- Gabahal- Mangal Bazaar- Sundhara- Lagankhel- Kumaripati- Jawalakhel. When the chariot pulling ends for the day, three rounds of bullets are fired in the air to declare the end.
And, on the final day of the Jatra, Bhoto Jatra is celebrated where the black vest with jewels on is put on display. This public display is done from the chariot, in the presence of Patan’s Kumari, the living goddess, and the state’s head. This display began as a way to ask for the Bhoto’s owner to claim it with backed-up evidence, but it hasn’t happened till date.
On the final day, the image of Rato Machhindranath is taken back to the temple of Bungamati until the next year’s festival. Then the chariot is dismantled. Devotees visit these places to see the chariot pulling and the Bhoto display, considering it a blessing.
Celebrated by Hindu and Buddhist Newars, this festival is brought to life by a feast at home. So, a big celebration with food is to be expected in the Newari household. It becomes an opportunity to gather and eat delicious food, thanking the god of grain for this blessing. A portion is specifically offered to God and the remaining food is shared by the family.
Baara Barse Jatra
Translated to ‘12 Year Jatra’, once every 12 years the chariot of Rato Machhindranath is made and pulled from Bungamati. Since Bungamati is Rato Machhindranath’s home, in the 12th year, the chariot pulling begins from and ends in Bungamati before being dismantled.
Myths regarding Rato Machhindranath Jatra
It is believed that when King Narendra Dev ruled Nepal, there was a drought that lasted for 12 years. He went to a Tantrik (a priest) of Swayambhu who told him that Guru Gorakhnath was angry and he happened to be meditating on the cushion of 9 serpents. These serpents were responsible for the rainfall.
The Tantrik suggested the king to find Gorakhnath’s teacher, Rato Machhindranath so he could guide Gorakhnath to free the serpents. Rato Machhindranath had reincarnated and been born into the evil descendant of Modern Achham.
Kathmandu's priest Bandhudatta, Bhaktapur's King Narendra Dev and Lalitpur Jyapu Lalitchakra have the greatest contribution to bring Rato Machhindranath in Patan. Karkotak Naagraj, Astamaatrika and Astabhairab also were of great help in the process. Since, it was going to be difficult to bring him back from the evil descendant, Kathmandu’s priest Bandhudatta exercised an occult ceremony (tantra mantra), turned him into a bee and put the bee inside a golden kalash.
Since the Lakheys could crosscheck the kalash on the way, Bandhudatta prepared two kalash and gave the kalash with the bee to Malini, Lalitchakra’s daughter. She then put the kalash on her stomach and wrapped a cloth around it to look like a pregnant woman. The Lakheys did check the kalash in Bandhudatta’s hand but didn’t find anything, so they traveled back to Patan safely and brought Rato Machhindranath back.
And, as soon as Gorakhnath heard of it, he immediately went to meet him. And as the serpents were freed, the rain started falling and the drought calmed down.
Because of this, the locals felt so grateful to Rato Machhindranath that they started to worship him. After that King Narendra Dev turned this into a festival.