Gathamuga: Chareh falls on Dillaagaa Chareh, the thirteenth day of the waxing moon of the 9th month Dilla or a Newar Calendar (Nepal Sambat calendar). Non-Newars popularly call it “Gathey Mangal” which is the aberration of Gathamuga:.
According to Lunar Calendar, Gathamuga falls on Shrawan Krishna Paksha, the fourteenth day of the waxing moon fortnight of the Shrawan, the fourth month of the Bikram Sambat calendar.
People believe that this celebration dates back to the Licchavi era (c. 450–c. 750 ce) or even as back as the Gopala era, the first dynasty of Nepal.
Gathamuga: when broken down as “Ga” a house, “tha” a pillar “muga” means strong in the Newar language and is celebrated on Chareh.
A month-long rice planting season prior to this festival gave the Newars little to no chance to clean house. So they clean and sanitize their houses very early morning of Gathamuga:. This process supposedly keeps unwelcomed spirits, insects, and diseases out of the house.
Then they perform worshippings to their favorite deity Kumar Kartikeya who is also the firstborn of the god Shiva. The fire ritual is one of the most important factors on this day. A straw bunch is fire lit to smoke purify every corner of a house and then discarded at a nearby crossroads.
Gathamuga: is observed only by the Newars, the locals of Kathmandu Valley. Reed effigies tied by straw ropes called Gathaamuga Khyaa (the evil spirits, demons, or ghosts) are erected at various road intersections. These effigies are later dragged down to a nearby river and cremated by the end of the day.
The Newars also place Bau paa (बौ पाः) at the intersections as an offering to the Gathaamuga Khyaa and then worship their main house door. Offering a special flower called Gathamwo Swaa (a dandelion family flower that supposedly wards of evils) to the door lintels and hammer three-legged wrought iron nails on it. All the family members enter the house after door worshipping rituals locking the door behind them. It is customary that the door remained locked for everyone until the next morning.
Bau Paa (बौ पाः) is a collection of implements like piece of meat,three legged wrought iron nails, loin cloth, hair of every member of family, incense, fire light etc in a terracotta pot.
From this day onwards the cultural musical instruments that had been resting since Kumara Sasthi is taken out and played throughout Gunla, the 10th month of the Newari Calendar.
Gathamuga: Chareh Folklore
According to folklores, Newars celebrate Gathamuga: Chareh mainly to ward off the spirits and ghosts from the town.
In ancient times, 24 hours a day was merely enough for the Newars of Kathmandu Valley to cultivate their lands. So, to aid their needs, they would evoke ghosts and spirits in order to possess themselves. These demon-possessed people would then work fast and strongly to finish all the agricultural tasks on time, especially during Sinhaa Jyaa, the rice planting season.
Although these evoked ghosts and spirits were a great help in agriculture, the Newars couldn’t afford to cater to their insatiable hunger forever. Thus, immediately after the mammoth paddy planting season was over people would get rid of those ghosts and spirits on this day. The ghosts and spirits after cleaning the whole house and lighting lamps would leave the house while cursing the owners.
People, both Newars and non-Newars wear wrought iron rings on their fingers and girls apply Laichaa Chigu, henna on palms to keep evil eyes at bay.
It is also believed that people practicing witchcraft and black magic officially end their lessons on this day and try to invite the spirits and ghosts warded off by people.
The Legend of Ghantakarna
Once there was a hideous demon called Ghantakarna. Ghanta is a bell, karna is ear; so literally, he who wears bells on his ear. He loathed gods so much that he hung those 50 kgs heavy bells on his either ears to refrain from hearing Gods’ names, devotional songs, and chanting.
This man-eating monster painted in red, black, and blue terrorized villagers of the Kathmandu valley especially women, children, and those who wore jewelry. Disrupt any religious activities. He would ask people for taxes and eat people if they didn’t pay any. The petrified villagers seldom went out of their houses.
One day, a large number of frogs continuously croaked into Ghantakarna’s ear. This immensely infuriated demon tries catching those frogs. But the frogs jumped into a swamp and when Ghantakarna followed, where he was drowned and killed instead.
In another story, a tantric in the guise of a frog went to Ghantakarna’s place. Ghantakarna upon seeing the frog asked it to lead him to a nearby human settlement as all the horrified villagers had locked themselves at their houses for quite a while. The tantric frog then tricked the demon to walk into the swampy area where he was stuck all night. All the villagers came out of their houses the next morning and pelted stones at the demon until he died.
This story of frog(s) saving the whole village from the demon is enacted as a part of the celebration during this festival.
The children collect money from the passerby to erect Ghantakarna’s effigy. Young girls tie hand-made dolls to it to keep the haunting spirit away. This effigy is then set on fire at a near riverbank in the hopes that people do not have to fear this tyrant demon again.