Madhav Narayan Bhajan
Madhav Narayan Madhav Narayan, Guli daya dumha re
Bhakta yaata kripa tayaa darshan byumha re
Khwopa Deya hanuman ghatey puja fayaa dimha re
Satya rupi mohani rupi thamha yosyen dumha re
Sankha chakra gada padma, pepaa lhatey jwomha re
Manimaya ratna yagu tisa wasa tyumha re
Dus avatar dhari, swetambarya dhoti re
Ajambari avinashi, chi hey bhagwan vishnu re
Palankarta chi hey prabu, harankarta chi hey re
Mana iccha pureyana loka kalyan yaimha re
We could hear the Madhav Narayan bhajan (song) from 200 meters away coming from the Hanuman Ghat, located at the Triveni, the confluence of the three rivers, Veera, Bhadra, and Tamasa:
Madhav Narayan of Magh holds a special place for the people of Bhaktapur district from the time unknown. This month-long festival starts on the Poush Shukla Purnima and ends on Magh Shukla Purnima i.e from the full moon day of Poush to the full moon day of Magh. Bhaktapur locals observe fast and venerate Narayan while people from far off come to pay homage to the god any day during the festival.
The Hanuman Ghat has no Madhav Naryan idol of their own, the 300 year old tradition is to borrow Shrestha-Vaidya family’s family-god for the festival. So, on the first day of the festival, the assistant pujari brings in Madhav Narayan shrine to Hanuman ghat from the Patron Ishwari Prasad Shrestha’s home. This shrine is kept at the site for a month and is carried back to its original home the very next day of the Magh Shukla Purnima.
Ishwari Prasad Shrestha, the patron of Madhav Narayan idol has a family tradition of sending their family idol to Hanuman ghat during Magh for over 300 years. His grandfather, Dayanath Rajopadhya made this silver Madhav Narayan idol and instituted the custom of taking the family shrine to the Triveni to bathe it and also allow visitors to worship it annually in Magh. The tradition was taken forth by son Kul Prasad Shrestha and grandson Ishwari. He said, “I would be very happy if my son Sujit Shrestha carries this heritage forth.”
It was 6:30 in the morning when we arrived at the site. Around a dozen elderly women wearing Haku Patasi (hand loomed black sari with red border), Chaubandi Cholo (double-breasted winter blouse), red stole and not to forget masks were singing and dancing around a hay bonfire on the northern side of the Hanuman Ghat Complex and locals were making morning puja at shrines.
Men changed into white dhoti for the Dhalan: ritual. The act of water offering to Sun and Narayan from a conch shell to initiate the fasting for the day is called Dhalan: Brata.
Little before sunrise, which is usually around quarter to 7 during the winter in Nepal, everyone gathered at the Hanuman Ghat riverside facing east. The assisting priest placed a foot-tall Silver Madhav Narayan idol immersing its base in the river. All the Vratalus (male fasting devotees) took turns scooping water on the conch shells or cupped hands to offer water to the god.
After offering water, Vratalus lined up on the front row with the pujari (priest) and women behind them or on either side. They all chanted “Madhav Narayan Shloka” in Sanskrit following the lead of the head pujari. The helper pujari offered water from a Kamandalu (a copper pitcher with a snout) to the Sun God, while the rest of the Vratalus held water on conch shells or cupped hands and chanted mantras making Sankalpa (Intent) seek blessings.
Madhav Narayan Sholka
Makarasthey, Rabau Maghey, Govindaachyuta Maadhava, Snaney Daanesu, Tirtheysu, Yathokta Faladovawa: |
Maagh Masey, Kritam Paapam, Kinchit, Viyudaye Rabou, Brahagna Baa, Suraapaanam, Kampatanta, Punimahey|
Jalamurti, Jaleyshaaya, Sarwa Paapam, Haraayachh, Triwidham, Haramey Paapam, Majjaami, Nirmal Jaley|
Dukha Daridra, Naashaaya, Shree Vishnu, Sthoshnaayacha, Praata: Snaanam, Karomeddhya, Maaghey Paapam, Vinaashaaya|
Niddhyeshaa, Puta Shalila, Hari Murti, Snaataatasya, Bimunchati, Jalamurti, Namostute |
They offered conch water to Sun God after they finished chanting, once again bowed to the Madhav Narayan idol, and departed to the Til Madhav Narayan Temple to begin their prostration journey, the spiritual practice of circumambulating the sacred sites and objects around the Bhaktapur Durbar Square.
Til Madhav Narayan temple, dedicated to Vishnu is one of the many oldest temples of Nepal and was built around 1118 AD. The two-storey pagoda-style temple at Taumadhi Square in Bhaktapur is dwarfed by the unmissable five-storey Siddhi Laxmi Temple called Nyatapola temple. The Til Madhav Narayan temple houses a stone statue of Narayan decked in the silver crown and flanked by Saraswati and Laxmi on either side. Both the goddesses are also covered in magnificently carved silver pieces of jewelry, of which photo-making was strictly prohibited.
Right in front of the temple is “Garuda” sitting on top of a tall column guarding the master flanked by two other and equally tall columns with Conch and Discus on right and left respectively. The temple complex also has specific spaces for Shiva Linga, Hanuman, and a Tulasi Math while the temple walls niche many miniature size deities like Ganesh, Radha Krishna, Matsya Narayan, Sita Ram, etc.
Narayan is a ubiquitous term for Vishnu in Nepal. I will not be wrong if I claim it’s a favorite word for Nepali Hindus, we pronounce it “naa-raa-ya-na” or simply “naar-an”. All our Vishnu temples are called Narayan Temples; the “Char Narayan” or the four major Vishnu temples in the Kathmandu Valley are Shesh Narayan, Icchangu Narayan, Bishankhu Narayan, and Changu Narayan. Changu Narayan is believed to be the eldest of the four. All the Kings of Nepal are regarded and worshiped as the incarnations of Narayan. When a Hindu is on a deathbed, he is fed Bagmati river water and they say “Narayana!!”. “Laxmi Narayan” is what people say in response to a sneeze, (maybe) hoping that god’s name would protect them from a mini heart-stoppage when sneezing that could result in death. Even the Sun God is called “Surya Narayan”. Hence, I shall refer to Vishnu as “Narayan” in the rest of my story.
One common thing about Temples in Nepal and uncommon at many Temples in India is, even though a Nepali Temple is dedicated to one specific god, there will always be space or niches for other gods and goddesses except for Brahma. Brahma idol is rare in Nepal, we have a small brahma temple at the Pashupatinath temple complex, and few more statues at Kathmandu temples like in Tripureswor and Ranamukteswor. And one will always find houses for Ganesh and Shivling at every temple because every worship ritual must begin by worshiping Ganesh first. And maybe end with worshiping Shiva because He is the patron deity of Nepal.
Going back to the Til Madhav Narayan Temple, Vratalus queued up age-wise, the eldest first and the youngest later were blessed by the temple pujari turn by turn. Their age spanned from 13 to 73. The pujari poured water from a temple conch as blessings on Vratalus head, the Vratalus then bowed down in reverence to the deity and slowly bent forward to lay down on the floor and start rolling on a white cloth ramp mapped out by the helpers, the rolling prostration is called “Silamantuleu” in the local language. Everyone started rolling down except for the last guy, who made full-body prostrations, called “Mha-du Daneu”.
When starting Silamantuleu devotees must first begin by standing with feet closed and hands folded into namaste. Then, they must bow down naturally with the head down first, kneel and throw the whole body down lying on their back parallel to the floor. They must clasp their hands together interlacing fingers first and slowly roll their bodies following the white loin cloth ramp. They can lift only the heads and necks of the upper body and legs below the knee while performing Silamantuleu throughout the journey.
And for Mha-du Daneu, devotees must first begin by standing with feet closed and hands folded into namaste. Then, they must bow down naturally, with the head down first, and kneel and throw the belly side down parallel to the floor. Hands are stretched out in front close to ears and palms joined in Namaste, forehead touch ground and feet soles face upwards while heels touch each other. They should follow the reverse order as described above when standing up.
The prostration journey was an hour long covering the distance of 1 km, through the Nyatapola temple, the Bhairav temple along the narrow and brick-paved pathways to the Hanuman ghat. Sometimes it was steep uphill, often downhill, and also stairs but Vratalus constantly chanted “Madhav Narayana” and carried on with their prostrations.
There were 10-12 helpers, all women wearing red and often Haku Patasi saree, who swept any pebbles, dust, rubbish or any poking objects out of the way and ran back and forth to pass meters-long cloth ramps to create the prostration path. Binod Prajapati said, “Up until 2016 we made prostrations directly on the streets, seeing that Narayanidevi aunty who lives in Ina Chowk, Bhaktapur gifted 5 10 meters clothes. After her initiative, many others also made similar donations and we are all very thankful to them.”
All the women were between 50 to 80 years of age yet they were so active and devoted in this Seva, they made bonfires at intervals to keep Vratalus warm. Their other painful task was to keep photographers at bay because if any like me wearing shoes accidentally touched these Vratalus they would have to restart their prostration journey from the beginning and also get anointed first. I was “shooed” many times despite being mindful and was screamed at in a language that I don’t understand, and when I apologized in Nepali they would get angry at me the second time for not understanding the language. I would politely say “Jee Masyu” meaning “I don’t know” in Newar.
So, the thing about the Newars of Bhaktapur, especially elderlies (I am sure it’s the case with every ethnic group anywhere in the world) is that they can only communicate in their local language, Newar. And my Newar language skill is limited to 4 interesting lines/words, Dhewa Maru (I have no money), Jee Masyu (I don’t know), Nyarka (5 rupees), and “Chhu kha baucha/Maicha?” (What’s up boy/girl?)
I worried about their bare bodies turning purple but to my astonishment, none looked annoyed rather motivated with each prostration that required dedication and perseverance. The teenage boys hid behind their clenched palms whenever I approached them. I think they basically shied away from the only female photographer. The diffidence continued for a few more days but by the end of the month-long festival, they were so comfortable with me that they would literally drag me to every shrine of the Hanuman Ghat and ask me to take their photos and immediate Bluetooth transfers so that they can facebook those snaps.
After an hour-long rigorous journey of Mha-du Daneu and Silamantuleu prostrations, the Vratalus either rolled or walked into the river, bowed down to the Madhav Narayan statue, and took the position of Jalashayan, the act of lying underwater to emulate Sri Jalashayi Narayan, at the Hanuman Ghat. In Jalashayan, which symbolizes Vishnu, some lay diagonally on their backs on the ghat immersing two-thirds of their bodies in the river, while others held tight and sat chest deep holding a Namaste posture in meditation. Female devotees who had walked barefoot behind the prostration makers all along the journey also queued up. Women had their saree or petticoat tied up above their chest exposing only their shoulder and neck while wearing hair down.
Sarojan Sharma, the head Pujari chanted the “Struti Mantra” (verses) while touching each Vratalus on the head to wake them up from Jalasayan splashing river water on them. Sarojan said, “The Struti Mantra is a sacred Tantrik Mantra also known as Sushma Mantra which I cannot chant out loud or write on paper. My Guru taught this mantra into my ears.”
Vratalus then took three dips in the river, some swam, while women bent forward from the waist and washed their hair in groups. Every Vartalus offered water to the Sun god first from their cupped palms or conches, second to Madhav Narayan idol and lastly to the Valmikeshwar Mahadev shrine at the bank of Hanuman ghat. Female devotees followed the same rhythm afterward. And the helpers washed the white ramp cloth in the river, and walked to the other side of the bank to dry them for the next day.
Culture Expert Binod Raj Sharma said, “I define Silamantuleu as touching of the shila (stone paved street) by mann (head/heart) as an act of devotion to Narayana. Full prostration is also another act of dedication to the god. Jalashayan is another form of penance to display one’s fidelity to Narayan. Their love, devotion, and affection for Narayan are the sources of their energy and vigor, to perform such arduous acts of devotion during winter. “
Once everyone had worshiped the Madhav Narayan idol, it was carried back to the enclosed space at Hanuman Ghat vicinity that served as a makeshift altar during the festival. All the bathers dried their hair, body, and clothes over a bonfire for another hour. Male Vratalus eventually made their way back to their homes and female Vratalus made puja to Madhav Narayan called “Dhalan: Puja” at the makeshift altar. These women observing fast stay at the Hanuman Ghat Ashram the entire month and eat a saltless meals that too once a day.
Silamantuleu, Mha-du Daneu, Jalashayan, Dhalan: Brata and Dhalan: Puja is a month-long everyday routine for these Vratalus during the festival. And when I asked these Vratalus if they were asking for any wishes in exchange for prostration offerings, many replied that they were doing it as an unconditional Sadhana.
Vishnu Prasad Swongamikha (65) said, “We all know that Brahma created the universe & Shiva is the god of destruction. But Narayan is the one who protects all, he is the preserver. According to a local legend, upon realizing how successfully/tactfully/effectively/magnificently Narayan has preserved the world, Brahma and Shiva themselves come and extol Narayan; Shiva by doing Silamantuleu Brahma by Mha-du Daneu. Thus it is a re-enactment of the same by the devotees.”
Then we came across visitors who were gifting the combination of biscuits and 5 rupee notes or fruits and 5 rupee notes, or yomari 5 rupee notes to all the Vratalus. These acts of gifting were performed to gain merits. Although I was just attending, a couple gave me a “Yomari/money” prasad. I told them I was a visitor just like them but they insisted that I took it. Yomari is a steam-cooked conical rice flour dumpling with molasses fillings. Prem Laxmi Awal (30) with her Husband Milan Awal from Thimi, Bhaktapur visited Madhav Narayan and made “yomari daan” to pray for pregnancy. Another couple from Kathmandu, had come to pray for their daughter’s job, which she lost when Nepal announced the first nationwide lockdown in 2020 in the wake of COVID-19.
Kathmandu Valley was going through a partial lockdown when the Madhav Narayan Festival started, therefore the number of Vratalus, audience, and visitors were reduced to one-fourth because of the covid situation, said Binod Prajapati, our hero character who introduced us to the festival. But the number of devotees rocketed to 300 plus on the last day of the festival.
According to Vishnu Purana, Narayan has 12 names for 12 months of the year following the Nepali Calendar (Bikram Sambat Calendar). Starting on the first-month i,e Baisakh (April/May) He is worshiped as Madhu Sudhan Narayan, as Tri Bikram Narayan in Jestha (May/June), as Baman Narayan in Ashadh (June/July), as Shreedhar Narayan in Shrawan (July/August), as Keshav Narayan in Bhadra (August/September), as Padma Narayan in Ashwin (September/October), as Damodar Narayan in Kartik (October/November), as Laxmi Narayan in Mangsir (November/December), as Gauri Narayan in Poush (December/January), as Madhav Narayan in Magh (January/February), as Govind Narayan in Falgun (February/March) and lastly as Vishnu Narayan in Chaitra (March/April).
Hanuman Ghat is a religious pilgrimage site for Newars, the natives of Bhaktapur, they call it “Khohra” in their language. The ghat is located at Triveni, the holy confluence of the Veera, Bhadra and Tamasa: rivers. The Triveni later forms the Hanumate river, the main tributary of River Bagmati. Veera is the Brahmayeni river, Bhadra is the Tabyakhusi river whereas the Tamasa: is supposedly invisible and originates from the ghat ground itself.
When Ram, Sita, and Laxman with Hanuman were en route to Ayodhya, Ram’s kingdom, after the epic Lanka battle they stopped at this place for a bath at the confluence. After the bath they ate Dahi-Chiura (a mix of bitten rice and yogurt) shared on a banana leaf. Hanuman being a humble servant didn’t want to touch his God’s food with his Jutho hand. (Jutho hand means hand has been polluted by the eater’s saliva). Therefore, Hanuman pierced the earth underneath him and dug water out to wash his hand after every gulp. Ram asked about Hanuman’s interlude. When Hanuman related his discomfort to his God, Ram hugged him tightly and named the ghat as “Hanuman Ghat”. And the dugout water is believed to be the river Tamasa:
Also according to a Newar folklore, in Treta Yuga, Poet Valmiki visited many holy sites after composing the epic Ramayana, and Hanuman Ghat was one of them. He installed Shiva linga on the ghat during his stay for his morning puja which now is called Valmikeshwar Mahadev.
The Ghat also has shrines of Ganesh, Buddha, Valmiki, Kirateshwar, Badrinath, Sitala Mai, Ram Sita, Vir Hanuman, Madhav Narayan, Seshnarayan, Buddha, Ganesh, Uma Maheshwar, Dasavatar, Draupadi & Bhimsen, Asta Matrika (8 Mother Goddess), Nagas, and many Shiva lingas.
Sahasrara Dhara Kalasha Yatra (Desh Parikrama)
Sahasrara Dhara Kalasha literally means, a water pot with thousands of straw outlets carried as a head crown and the yatra carried out is called “Desh Parikrama”. “Desh”, a country, and “Parikrama”, an act of moving circumambulating holy sites/objects as an indication of reverence.
Kalasha, a copper Ghaila (pot) has Madhav Narayan’s embossed plate attached to its neck. Its lower body is perforated and the perforations have a foot-long wheat straws poking out that serve as dhara (water spout). The Kalasha is set on a two legged wooden frame and carried by Vratalus on their heads balanced on a braided straw ring. The water in the vessel is considered as the source of all the holy rivers and oceans of the world.
Sahasrara Dhara Kalasha Yatra starts onwards Aunshi (the new moon day), literally on the 15th day of the festival. The day before the Sahasrara Dhara Kalasha yatra, Vratalus blows conches to call attention to the Kalasha journey routes which are as follows.
- On Aunshi (the new moon day): Til Madhav Narayan, Talakwa’s Jetho Ganesh Shrine, Vamsagopal Narayan Temple and pottery square within Bhaktapur district.
- On Dwitiya (second day of the bright fortnight): Nyatapola Temple, and Bilache area within Bhaktapur district
- On Chaturthi (fourth day of the bright fortnight): Taleju Temple and Bhaktapur Palace Squarewithin Bhaktapur district
- On Panchami (fifth day of the bright fortnight): Wakupati Narayan within Bhaktapur district
- On Ashtami (eighth day of the bright fortnight): Indreshwar Temple in Panauti, Kavre District.
- On Dashami (tenth day of the bright fortnight): Pashupatinath to Tamrakeshwar Mahadev in Kathmandu district.
- On Dwadashi (twelfth day of the bright fortnight): Changu Narayan Temple in the outskirts of Bhaktapur district.
- On Trayodashi (thirteenth day of the bright fortnight) Chandeswori temple within Bhaktapur district.
- On Chaturdashi (fourteenth day of the bright fortnight): Kamal Vinayak and Dattatreya Temples within Bhaktapur district.
After the prostrations, Jalashayan ritual and Dhalan: Puja in the morning of Aunshi, all the Vratalus prepared their Kalasha, filled it with water from the confluence and walked to Til Madhav Narayan Temple to commence their Sahasrara Dhara Kalasha yatra. All the Vratalus participating in the yatra must observe Niraahar Brata (no food, no water) until the Kalasha Yatra for the day is done. If anyone (un)intentionally breaks their fast will immediately be dismissed from the Kalasha yatra for the day.
On the site, the Pujari Sarojan chanted “Kalasha Mantra” while consecrating the Vratalus by pouring conch water on their heads. He then helped load Kalasha on Vratalus’ crown. The Vratalus awarded the pujari with dakchina (money offerings) for his service and walked towards Krishna Laxmi Prajapati, the 79-year-old Nakin, the female group leader. She and her fellow devotees were standing on the temple platform to consecrate the Kalasha Yatris (the travelers) before they embarked on their journey. They made ritual offerings of vermillion powder, flowers, garlands, and water to every Kalasha and prayed for their successful trip.
Vratalus exited Madhav Narayan Temple from the southern exit and journeyed to Nyatapola temple, Talakwa’s Jetho Ganesh Shrine, Vamsagopal Temple, local Shiva shrine, Pottery Square, and the Hanuman ghat. They made a mini stop near Vamsagopal temple where many locals came to worship the god and offer food/money gifts to Vartalus. After the puja there, Vartalus would twirl around to sprinkle the holy water through stalks on spectators and also bend over on sides to pour Kalasha water on their cupped hands.
Sarojan helped unload the Kalasha off Vratalus, blessed them with conch water and once again Vratalus made him a dakchina offering
Helper Pujari wore the Madhav Narayan Statue as a necklace suspended on saffron stole from the neck. He held the statue at the base firmly with both hands and led the Kalasha Yatra. People along the way offered money to God in exchange for flowers and prasad. Those who took off their shoes could touch the god otherwise prayed from a distance.
Rajeev Gurung and I couldn’t or let’s say didn’t travel to Hanuman Ghat every day during of festival, because, The District Administration Authorities of Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur had imposed the Odd/Even rule for traffic movement, i.e the vehicles with odd-registration numbers operated on odd days and even on even days according to the Nepali Calendar. The rule applied to both public and private vehicles and our drive to Hanuman Ghat was 1.5 hours long one way.
So on our first visit, we planned our trips choosing the important days like Aunshi, the first day of Kalasha Yatra; Saptami, the trident-shaped flame offerings day; Bhishma Ashtami, prostration, and Kalasha Yatra in Panauti, Kavre district; Shalya Dashami, Kalasha Yatra at Pashupatinath temple, the patron deity of Nepal; Bhima Dwadashi, Kalasha Yatra to Changunarayan, the eldest Narayan temple; and Chaturdashi, Kalasha Yatra at all the main sites of Bhaktapur district; Purnima, the last day of the festival when the huge crowd came to Hanuman ghat to say their final prayers to Madhav Narayan and finally Pratipada the Madhav Narayan’s send off.
When Madhav Narayan Festival Coincided with Barah Barse Panauti Makar Mela
On Saptami, the seventh day of the bright fortnight, all Vratalus and helpers went to Panauti in Kavre District covering the distance of 19 km by foot and with no shoes.
But before embarking on the journey they all lined up at Hanuman Ghat. Besides Vratalus, there were 40 more Bhaktapur locals waiting in line behind the main characters with their Trishul-Batti. Trishul-Batti is made by wrapping ghee-coated cotton fiber around a tulsi stem to make a trident which poke stands on the diced gourd, this ensemble was placed on a tapari (leaf plate). All devotees lit their Trishul-Batti, touched it on one’s head while the Pujari read the mantras, then let the lamp flow at the confluence.
After the flame offering, they made their prostrations starting at Valmikeshwar Temple followed by Jalashayana. While women conducted their Dhalan: Puja men dismantled the Kalasha to pack them for the Panauti journey. They made stacks of 3 Kalashas, carefully placing one on top of the other. The wooden frames were packed separately. While they were packing, we continued with our round of interviews. By this time everyone knew the duo happily greeted us by uttering “Madhav Narayana”.
“Madhav Narayana” was our salutation that replaced “Namaste” for a change, whoever we met the greetings was “Madhav Narayana”.
According to Binod Raj Sharma, “Trishul batti is for the protection of the devotees against all evils. Trisul represents Shiva, and this Trishul batti is an assimilation of Mahadev and Narayana. During the month of Magh, people worship Madhav Narayan with great zeal but in the evening they recite the story of Sri Swasthani Parameswari (Goddess Swasthani), which is mostly about Shiva. This is also a confluence of Shiva and Narayan. Swasthani’s Story mentions an episode where Shiva; after the death of his beloved wife Sati Devi, walks naked aimlessly like a mad man. Upon seeing his erect phallus, the wives of Sapta Rishi (the Seven Sages) were fascinated/enticed/captivated/carried away and started pursuing Mahadev physically. To save the day, Narayan took the form of Mohini and hugged Mahadev’s phallus to pacify him.“
When Vratalus departed for Panauti carrying Kharpan laden with Kalash items, we wished everyone a safe journey. They went off on their barefooted journey to Panauti while we drove back to Rajeev’s workplace slash home.
After every visit, we would come back to Rajeev’s house near Boudhanath Stupa, and share notes and photos, assign each other writing tasks. My job was to compose the story of the day and he had to transcribe the interviews, Newar to the English language. He in fact is a linguist, and speaks perfect Nepali, Newar, Hindi, English, and French. We both love learning about people, culture, and traditions, are mutual-minded and have known each other for more than 25 years. I always tell him that he is my third brother. I have two baby brothers and Rajeev is best friends with the elder one and that’s how I know him.
Vratalus stayed overnight in Panauti and we drove to the site the very day. Panauti is 40 km away from my house, we had to start at dawn to reach Panauti before 7. Heading Southeast of Kathmandu Valley through the Araniko Highway to Kavre district. I know I baffle people in the West when I mention a 2.5 hrs ride to cover mere 40kms, but Kathmandu’s narrow roads are ever twirling, always under construction, and like any other developing countries, we lack the sense of sticking to your side of the road. My joke is, that drivers and riders on the road suddenly become snakes, and instead of driving they wiggle like the reptile to go every which way but the right way.
We witnessed huge crowds at the Indreshwar temple complex and Panauti Triveni ghatnot particularly for Madhav Narayan but for the “Baarah Barse Panauti Mela” (lit. Panauti Mela of Twelve Years). The Hindu fair held every 12 years in Panauti is religiously equivalent to the Kumbh Mela of Prayag, India. The Mela is a month-long fair in Magh and starts when the Sun shifts from Sagittarius to Capricorn (Makar in Nepali) according to the Vedic astrology, hence calling it “Makar Mela”.
According to a legend, Indra, the king of Heaven suffered a skin ailment, he descended down upon earth and chose Panauti’s Triveni, the confluence of Rudrawati, Lilawati, and Punyamati rivers for meditation. He bathed there every morning and meditated for 12 years seeking a cure for his ailment. Shiva, gratified with his devotion, poured curing nectar into the Rudrawati river and got Indra rid of his disease. Hence the bathing tradition in Panauti Mela continued with belief that the river will wash off any skin ailments and sins committed.
We met everyone at Ghat by 7:30, after Surya Narayan puja and Sankalpa made we walked with them to the Indreshwar Mahadev Temple from where they made their daily regimen of prostration finishing at the Panauti Triveni Ghat covering the distance of 400m. The Indreshwar Mahadev temple built in 1924 AD is one of the oldest and largest surviving wooden temples in Nepal. According to the Gopalraj Vanshavali chronicle, the temple was constructed by Princess Birmadevi of Panauti kingdom and took nine decades for the completion alone and the golden gajur (pinnacle) was a gift from King Jayasingh Ramvardhan in 1383 AD. The temple complex has Unmatta Bhairav Temple, 10 feet tall standing statue of Vishnu, and many mini houses for Surya Narayan, Shiva Parvati, Saraswati, etc.
While women carried on with their Dhalan: Puja, we hiked up Gorakhnath hill to meet Binod and boys and to pay homage to sage Gorakhnath. Devotees then carried on with their Kalasha Yatra around old Panauti town and eventually walked back to Hanuman ghat. After unloading Kalasha for the day, they broke their fast.
Kalash Yatra to Pashupatinath on Shalya Dashami
On Shalya Dashami, the tenth day of the bright fortnight, devotees started their Kalasha yatra from Arya ghat at the Pashupatinath temple. Following the ritual pattern, they filled Kalasha with Bagmati river, Pujari anointed all Vratalus, mounted Kalasha, and women made puja. The helper Pujari carrying the idol walked into temple inner vicinity through the eastern entrance, followed by Kalasha Yatri, women, helper women. We waited for them at the main entrance of the temple to go to Tamrakeshwar Mahadev temple on the other side of Gaushala town. We didn’t go inside the Pashupati because the temple was temporarily closed for visitors in the wake of the Omicron Variant plus photography inside the temple is strictly prohibited.
After paying respect to Tamrakeshwar Mahadev, Rajeev distributed biscuits and 10 rupee notes as darshan-veti (offerings) to all the Vratalus and helpers. Then they went on their 14 km foot yatra to Hanuman ghat and broke fast there.
Kalash Yatra in Changu on Bhima Dwadasi
On Bhima Dwadasi, the twelfth day of the bright fortnight, we met Vratalus directly at the Changunarayan town, they were already at the Sankha Pond amidst Champak tree forest filling their Kalasha and making rituals. It was a short journey through the jungle, where they paid homage to Sankha, Chakra, and Ganesh and entered the Changunarayan temple complex through the western gate. There the Nakni of Hanuman Ghat and Changunarayan exchanged Kisli, and the exchange symbolized the neverending bond between the two Narayans, Changu and Madhav.
Changu Narayan Temple located on the outskirts of Bhaktapur, on top of Dolagiri hill is the eldest of “Char Narayan”. The two-storey temple stands on a high plinth of stone and the splendid metal embossed works and wood carvings are a milestone in Nepali temple architecture. The Temple complex has centuries-old scriptures and stone statues of Vishnu like Sridhara Vishnu, Vaikuntha Vishnu, Vishwarup, Vishnu Vikrant, and Narsimha. The complex also houses a temple for Chhinnamasta Devi, who beheaded herself to offer her blood to feed the hungry Dakini and Varnini; Chanda Narayan, a 7th-century stone sculpture of Vishnu riding on Garuda and a Kileshwar, a temple dedicated to Shiva.
Once the parikrama of the Changu town was done and all the Changu villagers had made darshan of the idol parked outside Champakpur Ganesh temple at the temple base, my mother and aunt distributed biscuits and 10 rupees notes to all the Vratalus. My mother loves making pilgrimages to holy sites and this was her second visit to the Changu Narayan temple after 20 years. They both were heartily blessed by Vratalus and returned with bags full of prasad too. Actually, Rajeev and I always returned with tons of prasad and love from Hanuman Ghat. My aunt said, “we are so lucky that we got a “Paisa-Tika” blessing from these women”. “Paisa-Tika” is a coin-size red tika blessing given especially during Madhav Narayan or Swasthani puja in Nepal.
Kalash Yatra from Kamal Vinayaka to Hanuman Ghat on Chaturdashi
On the midday of Chaturdashi (the fourteenth day of the bright fortnight), we rushed to Kamal Vinayak temple (Lotus Ganesh Temple) at the eastern end of the Bhaktapur district. This Ganesh temple has a fairly big pond, Kamal Pokhari (lotus pond) and we circled the pond from the right side to meet everyone. Vartalus were blowing conches behind a big crowd of photographers and visitors. Helper women were singing Madhav Narayan Bhajan and others were dancing. For the first time, there were band players, boys in their mid-teens played Dhimey drums and clashed cymbals leading the Kalasha procession. I chased the procession through bus stands, hay bonfires, Dattatreya temple (the famous Shiva Temple of Bhaktapur), and finally to Hanuman Ghat. The procession this day had the largest number of people so far.
At Hanuman Ghat, when everyone settled, we gifted Vratalus with photo prints. They were pretty excited because they had no such expectations. They said many photographers came to Hanuman Ghat over the years but this gesture was their first experience ever. Many offered to reimburse us for the photo prints that we politely declined saying this was our Sewa for welcoming us into their realm. We were so humbled to see everyone ecstatic. Once again we had our bags full of prasad of biscuits, peas, and yomaris.
The eight Chtirakar relatives came to Hanuman ghat later in the afternoon to paint the clay pots of different sizes in preparation for the last day puja. The Chirtrakar (lit. artists) family has been offering this painting Seva for three generations, said Rajesh Chitrakar. He recounted the memories of accompanying his father to Hanuman Ghat for the first time when he was 6 years old. His father introduced him to colors, and the pots and taught him to paint religious motifs on them, and since then he had always made time for the seva.
Those clay pots were made and donated by potter Jagannath Prajapati. Continuing his father’s tradition Jagannath and his brother Vishwanath Prajapati have been offering this seva for more than 20 years now. His father was an ardent devotee of Madhav Narayan and underwent Silamantuleu & Jalashayan rituals every year for 20 years and also crafted each pot required for the puja. Jagannath donated 60 pots of different sizes in total this year.
Madhav Narayan’s Sangey
Sangey is the closing puja performed on the last day of the festival.
That day the crowd was massive; it seemed like every Bhaktapur local had come to Hanuman Ghat to participate in the Sangey Puja. The morning was perfectly lit. There were 20 prostrators standing against the backdrop of 200 or more women, mostly clad in red, and hundreds more spectators, filling up my camera frames beautifully.
As a last prostration tribute to Madhav Narayan for this year, Vratalus traced the path that circled Hanuman Ghat. The atmosphere came alive with the humongous crowd chanting “Madhav Narayan” in one voice combined with an amazing conch-blowing sound. The Jalashayan afterward looked equally picturesque when everyone participated in mass bathing. The visuals were so appealing that I almost forgot to photograph the event.
Married women changed into their bridal dress and unmarrieds simply word red, they all sat in rows around the Madhav Narayan makeshift altar and set their puja plates. The seating arrangements looked mismanaged yet all red was visually pleasing. On the right side of the altar was a beautifully decorated Hawan Kunda. The painted pots from the day before were also staged in front of the Hawan Kunda, decorated with ritual items like flowers, ribbons, and kislis. Meanwhile, we photographed every possible ritual item; Sukunda, puja plates, flowers, water pitchers, panchasutra, pancharangi oil wicks, and garlands, including devotees.
Hawan started, the assistant pujari read verses from the book, “Kushkandika Yagya Vidhi”, while Sarojan and pujarini (the head priestess) Saroja Sharma made puja to the Madhav Narayan, all women made rituals following their lead. But first Saroja gave paisa-tika to all the fellow devotees, Rajeev and I got the tika too.
The Vratalus didn’t have to sit for the puja, they were helping devotees instead, like when pujari asked devotees to offer garland/flowers/coconut/ to God, these Vratralus would collect the items for devotees and bring them to Saroja. I also hung out at Bhandara, the kitchen team, and the volunteers were cooking satvik food; kheer, spinach, fried potato, and peas, and the feast was for 300 plus attendees.
There was a Kalasha Yatra at the end of the puja tracing the same route as the morning. All the small-sized painted pots were given to Vratalus as a blessing gift and the Indra Kalasha (the biggest pot) was offered to a bronze statue of King Bhupatindra Malla of the 17th century kneeling on the column in front of Taleju temple at his Bhaktapur Palace Square. 73 year old Uddhav Khaitu, the Naya (male group leader), carried the pot to the King, his entourage were all the Vratalus and female devotees. The Naya stood right beneath the King facing the golden door to his Palace while devotees made last rituals to the pot and the month-long Festival.
Madhav Narayan returned to His Home
Although the Madhav Narayan festival officially wound up on Magh Shukla Purnima, Vratalus had yet to make one last ritual called “Gaudaan”. “Gau” means cow and “Daan” means to donate, which is one of the very divine donations anyone can make in their lifetime, and in Nepal, all the fastings require a “Gaudaan” closure.
So Vratalus after bathing sat lined up along the Hanuman ghat, they had their ritual items; taparis containing rice flour, bitten rice, and wheat flour, topped with money, flowers, ginger, spinach, and biscuits. Both the pujaris conducted the ritual in between Vratalus had to chant their names, their gotra names, offer oil wick lamps, sprinkle river water on the head, and say prayers to all gods. They gave tika to both the pujaris and offered the food items and monetary gifts as an imaginary “gau daan”.
Lastly, amidst the mild fanfare, we paraded to Ishwari Shrestha’s house to return his family deity to him.
Shree Madhav Narayan Puja Essentials
- 2 Puja plates
- Ghanti (Bells), Sukunda (Traditional oil lamp with Ganesh figure), Sankha (Conch Shell)
- Flowers like lotus, blue lotus, daman, jaiko, beli, dubo, flower garland, kisali (purna patro).
- Keshari (yellow powder), Abir (red vermillion powder)
- Pancharangi Oil wick, pancharangi dhago (5-colour oil wick and thread), Janai
- Saubhagya Samagri (Collection of bangles, Tika, bead necklace, Sindoor, Kohl, comb and mirror)
- Betel leaves and dry fruits
- Nawa Brihi
- Jau (oats/barley)
- Black Sesame seeds
- Lawa (puffed rice)
- Ghee, honey and camphor
- Akshata (rice grains)
- Rice on 3 tapari (leaf plates)
- Bitten rice
- Wheat Flour
- Book clothes
- Raw coconut (Jata Nariwal)
- Dried whole Coconut
- Pitambar cloth
- Brahman Bastra
Co-written by Rajeev Gurung was first published in Hinduism Today, July/August/September 2022 Issue