Shikhali Jatra is celebrated in Khokana, the medieval Newar settlement in Bungamati in the outskirts of Patan District. The Newars of Khokana celebrate Sikhali Jatra dedicated to the goddess Shikali also known as ‘Ajima’, the mother goddess, on the same dates when whole Nepal is celebrating its biggest festival Dashain.
The Jatra (loosely translated into festival or carnival) of Shikhali starts from Ashwin Shukla Pratipada, the first day of dark Lunar fortnight in Ashwin (Sept/Oct) i.e Ghatasthapana.
Eight Kumaras (unmarried young boys) known as Macha: dressed in white clothes from Kirant times go and live with Thakali Aaju, the Guthi Head, the night before Ghatasthapana. (Guthi, is a social system or trust that maintains the socio-economic order). These Macha: fast all day and perform special rituals at the Shikhali temple for the next four days starting on the Ghatasthapana day. They can only eat after their evening ritual. None except these eight Macha:, not even birds and animals, are allowed to enter the Shikhali Temple area on these days.
Macha: go door to door of every Khokana house to collect ritual offerings and objects every morning for the next four days. They bring the collections to Shree Rudrayani Temple on the day one and two of the Jatra before bringing them to Shikhali Temple.
But on the third day of Shikhali Jatra, Macha: visit Thakali Aaju after the collection, take a bath at the River Bagmati in the afternoon, still fasting, find a woundless buffalo from any of the three Guthis of Khokana and sacrifice it at dhokasi, the last door of the village at the Sikhali temple approach while playing the three musical instruments that designate the Guthi the sacrificial animal hailed from. The blood of the sacrificed animal is put into a special vessel, and the intestine of it is blown into a balloon-like garland called Dho:, both are then taken to the Shikhali Temple in the evening while nobody must witness this sacred mission being carried out. Macha: then distributes prasad, the sacred food, to the villagers after midnight that is after their return from their third-day ritual. On this day all members of three Guthis also fast all day.
On the fourth day of the Shikhali Jatra, they make a spicy delicacy of buffalo meat called Choila of the sacrificed animal for prasad, hence the day is also called Choila Bu. On this day, the Macha: like the previous three days make collections and stay at the historic Jitapur Gaa-cha (a public rest house) of Kwelachhi Square where they prepare a feast to eat after their everyday evening ritual at Shikhali Temple. Macha: then return to their homes after the feast. It’s a special day for the Khokana villagers to hold big feasts at their homes to commemorate the Jatra.
On the fifth day of Shikhali Jatra, the Rudrayani idol is taken out of her temple and paraded on a wooden chariot through the streets of Khokana on the way to the Shikhali Temple starting at midday. Newar priests wearing white ritual costumes lead the procession. Rudrayani is enshrined here until the eighth day of the Jatra. She is a female manifestation of Rudra (Lord Shiva).
Yet another buffalo is sacrificed outside Khokana.
On the sixth day of Shikhali Jatra, fourteen members of the Rudrayani Devgan (Squad of Rudrayani) wear Khwapa: (Deity masks) of fourteen different gods and goddesses and multicolour attire to perform dances representing the masks they are wearing, around Shikhali Temple. These dancers are invoked by Tantrik rituals.
On the seventh day of Shikhali Jatra, spectators gather at Kwelachhi Square to witness the same Masked Dancers’ performances.
On the eighth day of Shikhali Jatra, the Rudrayani idol and Khwapa: are sent back to their original places, i.e Rudrayani temple. While villagers again hold big feasts for immediate family and extended relatives. And that concludes the Shikhali Jatra in Khokana.
Thakali Aju of Shikhali Jatra
There are three Jatra Guthis in Khokana viz; Sri Rudrayni Jaa Guthi, Sri Khanda Bhawani Salaa: Guthi and Sri Rudrayani ta: Guthi. And all three Jatra Guthis have Thakali Aaju of their own. The eldest member collectively of all three Guthis is called Thakali, and the eldest of the two Thakali Aajus belonging to Sri Khanda Bhawani Salaa: Guthi or Sri Rudrayani Ta: Guthi is recognized as De Thakali Aaju, head of the Khokana village.
De Thakali Aju’s family are the caretakers of Rudrayani temple. They clean the temple customarily and make rituals there every morning.
It is customary for the De Thakali Aju family to worship Shikhali Temple four days preceding Ghatasthapana until the full moon day of the upcoming bright lunar fortnight. During this period the eight Macha: also live with De Thakali Aju with four priests of Sri Rudrayani Ta: Guthi, while four priests of Sri Khanda Bhawani Salaa: Guthi stay at their own Thakali Aju’s house.
Ritual objects for Jatra are collected from Sri Khanda Bhawani Salaa: Guthi’s Thakali Aju and its members cleanse the Guthi house and prepare Dho:, a buffalo intestine garland for Shikhali Jatra.
Dailal Maharjan is present day De Thakali Aaju. (2020)
Why does Khokana not celebrate Dashain?
Khokana, in ancient times, used to be a Buddhist settlement that practised non-violence and non-killing. Kwandho: Jatra (festival of water vessel), was their fundamental festival that supposedly established during the Lichhavi period 400 to 750 CE.
Then in the 15th century when Amara Malla rebuilt Rudrayani temple, the Newar farmers of Maharjans and Dangols caste migrated to the present day Khokana. That new settlement was named as Jitapur. The Rudrayani temple was established in the hopes to cure an epidemic that broke during medieval times.
In Newari language, ‘si’ means fruit and ‘khali’ means to worship, so the Newar farmers of Khokana celebrated the Shikhali Jatra only with flowers and abir vermillion red powder earlier. Therefore, following the ancient Newa: civilization of non-killing, people of Khokana avoid Dashain that is incomplete without innumerable animal sacrifices to appease Nawa Durga or Nine manifestations of Goddess Durga.
Source: Text & Photos by शिखाली पुजारी मचा ,जितापुर खो:ना