Two of the fourteen Rudrayani Devgan masked dancers of Shikali Jatra, Khokana. by Priti Thapa
The Newar community in the Khokana refrains from observing Dashain, a practice that might puzzle the rest of the nation, but there are reasons rooted deeply in their history and tradition. One surmise suggests that Dashain only found its way into the Kathmandu Valley in the 18th century through King Prithivi Narayan Shah after he conquered the Valley as a part of unifying the country into one journey on the Indra Jatra day. However, Khokaman had been honoring their own tradition, Shikhali Jatra, since the reign of King Amar Malla in the 15th century, and they chose to uphold this legacy.
The eight-day-long Shikhali Jatra shares its commencement with Dashain, beginning on the Ghatasthapana day that falls on Ashwin Shukla Pratipada, the first day of the dark Lunar fortnight in Ashwin (Sept/Oct). While Hindus across the nation sow jamara seeds on this day, Khokana’s eight chosen Kumaras (virgin boys) known as Macha: fast all day and perform special rituals at the Shikhali temple for the next four days.
Dashain is celebrated in honor of Goddess Durga and Shikali Jatra is in honor of Goddess Shikali, who is one of the many manifestations of Durga. Goddess Durga fought Mahisasura (buffaloe-headed demon) for nine days and on the tenth day she slayed the demon. The nine days of battle became what we celebrate today as Nauratha or Navaratri and the tenth day as Vijaya Dashami, the day of victory. Interestingly, Khokana also sacrifices three he-buffaloes symbolizing a demon on the third day of the to Shikali. These buffaloes come from three Guthis: Sri Rudrayni Jaa Guthi, Sri Khanda Bhawani Salaa: Guthi, and Sri Rudrayani ta: Guthi, each with its own Thakali Aaju. Guithi is a social system of the Newars of Kathmandu Valley.
Also Read: Shikhali Jatra by Nikki Thapa
The mask dance of Shikali Jatra draws a vast congregation of devotees from Khokana and spectators from nearby regions, making it a prominent festival in the area. The festivities on the sixth day kick off with a Hom Puja, a fire ritual at the Shikali temple, presided over by the Thakali Aajus, the Jatra priests. Following this sacred ceremony, the fourteen Rudrayani Devgan mask dancers take the stage.
The origin of the hom puja can be traced back to the Shree Swasthani Brata Katha, the only religious text that originated in Nepal. A story involving father Daksha Prajapati and daughter Sati Devi, the consort of Shiva. Sati Devi immolated herself in the hom puja fire because she felt insulted when her father didn’t invite Shiva and her to a significant puja. In a fit of rage, Shiva beheaded Daksha Prajapati, later resurrecting him with a goat’s head. Hence numerous goat heads are offered to the Shikali Goddess during this auspicious occasion.
The Shikali Jatra dance takes center stage during the festival. Amongst the loud music; the beating of Dhimay drums, clamoring of Jhyali (cymbals), and blowing of reed instruments, the fourteen masked dancers of Shikhali Jatra with the support of assistants leap in the air. It is believed that the Shikali dancers retrace the paths taken by gods and goddesses in human form, leaping and journeying around the temple, mirroring the divine beings they represent.
The vibrant of the Rudrayani Devgan (14 Squad of Rudrayani), each dons a Khwapa: or a Deity mask representing one of the fourteen gods and goddesses. Bedecked in multicolored attire and layers of ornaments on necks, arms, and legs, they perform intricate dances embodying the spirits of the deities they portray. As they wear these masks, it is believed that the divine essence possesses them, guiding their every movement.