Rita Tandukar has always been a bystander in the Kathmandu valley’s big jatras. She used to fly from place to place every year, a resident of the city’s Nayabazaar, to see the vibrant festivals unfold with the same zeal.
Last year, however, her plans to attend the Biska Jatra (Bisket Jatra) were canceled because the jatra could not be held due to the danger of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. She was hoping not to miss it again this year, as things were being scaled down.
The District Administration Office in Bhaktapur held a meeting on April 4, just a week before the jatra was scheduled to begin, and instructed the locals not to organize the annual festival this year as well. Tandukar’s plans for this season are still in limbo, as is the fate of the jatras.
Locals in Kathmandu are not only uncertain about whether they can continue with their festival as scheduled or heed the official request as the new jatra season begins in the country’s culturally rich capital, but they are also angered.
‘An unsatisfactory decision’
The Biska Jatra in Bhaktapur was set to begin on April 10th. Locals in the area, however, are venting their disappointments and disagreements with the decision online following the April 4 order against the proposal. Soon after the decision was announced, an online call for a demonstration was put in motion.
“Directions like these mean that the government authorities are ‘targeting’ the local festivals and the Newa community,” a local says. This is what has angered the nation. The authorities, like other political events, may and should collaborate with the locals to properly manage the festivals and reduce disease fears.”
He advises the locals that they will not remain silent and will not blindly obey the instructions. In reality, the first round of protests was held on Monday, April 5, less than 24 hours after the decision was made.
Hari Ram Khyaju, a resident of Bhaktapur who used to frequent the Nyatapol temple to see the chariot construction progress, says he wants to participate in the festival this year and will help the mass.
“Diseases and viruses have little respect for others. However, various individuals in society hold opposing viewpoints. Experts warn against alcohol and smoking for health reasons, but many people do. No one will be able to stop them if the crowd gathers and begins the celebration.”
It’s the same feeling everywhere.
While the Biska Jatra in Bhaktapur is on hold, similar festivals in Bhaktapur’s Bode and Thimi, as well as Kathmandu’s Tokha, are determined to continue.
The people of Bode have stated that if the government decides to cancel the festivals this year, they will fight back vehemently. “They may not recognize the health risks when political party conferences are to be held. When it comes to the Newa festivals, however, they begin to clash.” “We will not follow such orders,” says Hari Sharan Shrestha, a 70-year-old resident. The festivals are a representation of our culture, and we will ensure that they are conducted in the manner intended.”
“The government was unable to avoid the pandemic last year, even by canceling the jatras, and it would be futile to do so this year as well. During the festival, we will not even observe the lockdown,” adds Kedar Sipahi, another Bode resident.
Both Shrestha and Sipahi have announced that a kshama puja (a ritual held to ask forgiveness) was held on Saturday, April 3, and that the festival will be held from April 10 to 16.
Locals in Mahalaxmi, in the district’s Thimi municipality, are also adamant that Sindur Jatra will be held this year.
Meanwhile, Sanu Karmachari, a local priest in Tokha, on the outskirts of Kathmandu, says his group is determined to hold all festivals this year after being forced to postpone them last year.
“The local guthi and residents have somewhat decided to hold the festival to the locals here, with limited outside involvement, and to follow health precautions,” he says, adding, “But there is no guarantee.” Festivals are often crowded, with people coming from all over the world. We won’t be able to block or track them.”
Locals are preparing for the Paachahre festival, as well as the larger annual Chandeshwori Mela and Biska Jatra, which begins on April 13. Locals say they’ve already brought a lingo (a symbolic pole erected to mark the start of festivals) and are cleaning and preparing the grounds, hoping that the festivals will bring the region to life this year.
Jibro Chhedne Jatra Jibro Chhedne Jatra Jibro Chhedne
Back in Bhaktapur, Buddha Krishna Baga Shrestha is determined to pierce his tongue for the eighth time this year during the annual Jibro Chhedne Jatra (tongue-piercing festival). The festival, like many others, was canceled last year. He does want to do it this year, however. “Last year, when there was a major threat, we stuck to our weapons. This isn’t the year.”
Shrestha, an ambulance driver for the Nepal-Korea Friendship Municipality Hospital in Bhaktapur, claims that by skipping the festival the previous year, the locals saved lives and thought it was necessary. However, he now believes that participating in the festival is for the common good and the health of everyone.
Paachahre has a proposal.
Paachahre is a three-day festival that begins this year on April 10. Two khats (a kind of palanquin) with idols of Lumri Ajima from Wotu and Lumri Ajima from Tebahal are brought together for a ceremonial event at Tundikhel [Shaktipeeth of two Ajimas] on the second day, informs Dachhi Bahadur Maharjan, the Thakuli (eldest person) of Shree Lumdhi Bhadrakali Chhut Guthi.
Three ajima (Kanga Ajima from Yetkha, Lumri Ajima from Wotu, and Lumri Ajima from Tebahal) meet at Ason on the third day. The goddesses are sisters, and they are one of Kathmandu’s eight Ajimas or Ashtamatrikas, who are installed and worshipped for safety and prosperity. Dya Lwakegu Jatra (translation: goddesses clashing festival) at Ason is regarded as their reunion,” he adds.
Every year, thousands of bystanders, including Rita Tuladhar, flock to Paachahre to witness and partake in the festivities. With the possibility of the Covid-19 pandemic looming, some are predicting that the festival will be canceled again this year.
The three khalas (groups) representing the three temples met on Saturday to discuss the matter. Purshottam Maharjan, Chair of Shree Lumdhi Bhadrakali Jatra Byawasthapan Samiti, says, “The three khalas have agreed to conduct the festivities as usual as we used to.”
“We will follow the health protocols as well,” he says, adding, “However, we have not received any official announcement from the authorities to cancel the festivities.”
He goes on to say that jatras cannot be kept with just a few people. “We only need 50 people to hold the khats, so the lockdown would have an impact.” We would promote masks and sanitizers if we organize the festival.”