Chariot Festival of Machchhindranath known as Rato Machchhindranath Rath Jatra in Kathmandu valley is a huge cultural celebration. Machchhindranath is considered as the incarnation of lord Shiva by Hindus and Buddhists take him to be the incarnation of Avalokitesvara. The Chariot festival of the god Machchhindranath is observed every year in Kathmandu and Lalitpur. Seto Machchhindranath Chariot Festival is observed in Kathmandu while Rato Machchhindranath Chariot Festival is observed in Lalitpur.
Today on this article, we are going to concentrate on the Chariot festival of Rato Machchhindranath and Bhoto Jatra which is the current happening in Nepalnow. Rato Machchhindranath Chariot Festival and Bhoto Jatra, one of the important local festivals in Kathmandu valley, has been observed at Patan in Lalitpur today. The festival was observed amongst thousands of devotees attending the Jatra.
Rato Machchhindranath Chariot Festival – AKA Rath Jatra
There are several chariot festivals in Kathmandu valley and Rato Machchhindranath Chariot Festival is one of the important one amongst them. The festival is organized in the city of Patan where god Red Machchhindranath has his temple in the south of Patan Durbar Square. The festival begins just before the monsoon season every year. A massive chariot of Machchhindranath is built at Pulchowk. After the chariot construction is finished, local people from Patan pull the chariot along the local streets for several days. People go to the chariot with devotion; worship and receive blessings from the god. Local people regard the festival as an important cultural and religious celebration which has been observed for centuries.
Legend and Significance of Festival
The Chariot Festival of Rato Machchhindranath starts just before the monsoon season hits the country. It is believed that the god Machchhindranath helps bring rain to the country so that people can plant and grow good food crops and live happily.
As a legend tells us that once in the ancient time the great Hatha Yogi Guru Gorakhnath was travelling around Patan and became angry with people of Patan as they did not give him any alms. So, he captivated all the serpents and sat on them on meditation for a long time. Captivating of the serpents caused a long drought and famine in Patan. The king of Patan went to Bengal to call Machchhindranath, Guru of Gorakhnath, in the hope that he would help them free the serpents. Machchhindranath agreed to the king and came to Patan with him. Upon hearing that his Guru Machchhindranath was in Patan, Gorakhnath went to meet his guru releasing all the serpents from captivity. Once the serpents were released, Patan received rain again and people became happy.
This is one of the many legends about how Machhindranath arrived in Patan. Another legend talks about Machchhindranath being born in Bungmati, south of Patan where a temple of Machchhindranath is situated. Once in every twelve years the main chariot of Machchhindranath is taken to Bungmati. It is also believed that Machchhindranath lived in the belly of a fish for a long time after he was swallowed by it. He overheard the secret of Yoga when Lord Shiva was teaching his consort Parvati and started practicing yoga by himself in the belly of the fish. He came out the fish belly as a master yogi after twelve years. That is why he is also called the Mastyendranath, the Lord of Fishes. Local Newar people call him Bunga Dyah.
The Bhoto Jatra is a very important part of the Chariot festival. This bhoto jatra day is based on an interesting mythical story. Bhoto is traditional clothing for men’s upper body and Jatra means festival and the story of Bhoto Jatra is based on the same clothing. As the story goes, there was a serpent king, Karkotak, living in a lake in the southern part of Kathmandu valley in the ancient time. One day the serpent queen got problem in her eyes so Karkotak was in search of the proper treatment of his wife’s eyes. He had heard about a Jyapu Vaidhya, a traditional herbal doctor, of Bhaktapur and went meet him. The serpent king told the Jyapu Vaidya about the problem and requested him to go along with him to his place and treat his wife. Jyapu Vaidya was happy to go with Karkotak and they went to the lake. The Vaidya prepared a special herbal paste and applied in the eyes of the serpent queen and lo! the problem disappeared. Karkotak was happy with the Vaidya and gifted him with a black bhoto with diamonds and pearls attached on it. Vaidya was so glad and proud of having the inexpensive bhoto that he would wear it on special occasions.
There was a ghost who saw the Jyapu Vaidya wearing the bhoto; he liked it and started making plan to steal it from the vaidya. One day Jyapu Vaidya was working on field keeping the bhoto on the edge of the field. The ghost reached there and grabbed the bhoto and ran away. The Vaidya could not find him. There was a festival of god Rato Machchhindranath’s Chariot pulling organized in Patan area and people and ghosts would come to witness the festival. The Jyapu Vaidya also went to the festival hoping to find the ghost who had stolen his bhoto. There the ghost was at the festival wearing his bhoto! The Vaidya grabbed his arm and asked him to return his bhoto back but the ghost refused it saying that it belonged to him. So there was a long dispute about the ownership of the bhoto. The king of the Patan Kingdom, Gunakamadev, was also present at the festival. The Jyapu Vaidya and the ghost both were taken to the king for the decision. Gunakamadev asked both of them to provide with the evidence to prove their claim of the bhoto belonging to them. He said whoever will bring the evidence, the bhoto will be given to him. The king, then, handed the bhoto to the priest of Rato Machchhindranath to keep and show it to people from all four corners of chariot to ask them who the bhoto belonged to. The ghost and the Jyapu Vaidya both failed to bring any evidence so the bhoto is still with the priest of Rato Machchhindranath and it is shown to people every year on the last day of the Rato Machchhindranath Chariot festival.
This cultural celebration of Patan attracts thousands of people to observe the festival. Having a deep root back into the past with some interesting mythical stories, the Chariot Festival and Bhoto Jatra have an immense cultural significance. Local people take the festival to be their important cultural heritage and they have dedicated their life to preserve this important cultural tradition. It is said that Nepal has as many festivals as the days in a year! So every day is a celebration here. At Earthbound Expeditions, we offer many tours and treks combining with Nepal festivals.
Please contact us if you want to do a festival tour or trek in Nepal Himalayas and beyond.