Nepal's Grand Mela to Lord Vishnu

  • By Nikki Thapa
  • August 13, 2023
  • 1444 views
Men near the Kamal Vinayaka Temple pose during their special sadhanas of the annual Shree Madhav Narayan Mela.
  • Know about the devotion and rich tradition of Nepal during the annual Shree Madhav Yatra.

Join us for a month long celebration of Sadhana in Kathmandu valley.

 

Every year during the Nepalese month of magh (January/february), crowds of devotees make their way to the Hanuman Ghat in Bhaktapur, a city in the eastern corner of Kathmandu Valley. They come here to observe a month-long festival to Madhav Narayan, a name for Lord Vishnu. The festival starts on the full moon of the previous month and ends during the full moon of Magh. 

 

This article was first published in Hinduism Today. Authors are Nikki Thapa and Rajeev Gurung.

 

The event emphasizes personal devotion and discipline in the forms of daily fasting, special pujas, pilgrimages to various shrines by foot and by rolling and walking prostrations which are done by the few that have de­dicated themselves to this more intense form of sadhana. The earliest written mention of this festival is dated at 1604ce, when the event was said to have simply been a month of personal worship and fasting. In later years, with the patronage of the royal family, it slowly took on the popularity and grandeur that is seen today. 

 

For the duration of the festival, a small murti of Narayan is brought to the festival’s epicenter, the Hanuman Ghat, located in Bhaktapur, which lies about eight miles east of Kathmandu. In the following days, Narayan is paraded to many of the area’s most ancient and renowned temples, accompanied by a group of men and women who have taken vows, or vratas, to observe special disciplines for the month. These devotees are thus known as vratalus

A woman offers worship at one of the ghat’s Vishnu shrines. Nikki Thapa.

Hanuman Ghat itself, Khorey in the Newari language, is a religious pilgrimage site for the Newars, the natives of Bhaktapur. It is located at Triveni, the holy confluence of the Veera, Bhadra and Tamasa rivers, which merge to form the mighty waters of the Hanumate. Veera is commonly known as the Brahmayeni River, while the Bhadra is the Tabyakhusi. The Tamasa is a river of legend which originates beneath the ghat itself. 

 

Legend says that when Ram, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman were en-route to ­Ram’s kingdom, Ayodhya, after the epic battle in Sri Lanka, they stopped here to bathe at the confluence. They then enjoyed a mix of rice and yogurt, shared on a banana leaf. Hanuman, being the humble servant He is, didn’t want his touch to defile his God’s food, so He pierced the earth underneath him to create a natural spring in which He could wash his hand before every bite from the shared plate. When Ram noticed this humble act, He hugged Hanuman tightly and named the area the Hanuman Ghat. The spring of water Hanuman created is believed to be the Tamasa.

 

Also according to Newar folklore, in the Treta Yuga, after the poet Valmiki composed the Ramayana, he visited many holy sites, including Hanuman Ghat and installed a Sivalingam there for his morning puja. Today it is known as Valmikeshwar Mahadev.

 

Also according to Newar folklore, in the Treta Yuga, after the poet Valmiki composed the Ramayana, he visited many holy sites, including Hanuman Ghat and installed a Sivalingam there for his morning puja. Today it is known as Valmikeshwar Mahadev.

The small silver muti of Narayan. Nikki Thapa.

While the ghat has many shrines, it has no Narayan murti of its own. For the past 300 years, the tradition has been to borrow the Shrestha-Vaidya family’s 12-inch tall silver murti. On the first day of the festival, the assistant pujari brings the Madhav Narayan murti to Hanuman Ghat from Ishwari Prasad Shrestha’s home. A temporary shrine for Narayan is kept at the site for the full month. For each of the festival’s 30 days, the murti is brought to the river for blessings, after which it travels with the vratalus for their day’s disciplines. At day’s end, the Madhav Narayan murti is carried back to the enclosed area near Hanuman Ghat and placed at its makeshift altar. Each evening the male vratalus return to homes in the area, while the women perform a special dhala puja (an offering of water with a conch) at an altar at Hanuman Ghat Ashram. There they stay the night and live here for the entire month, only eating one saltless meal each evening. After the festival, during the full moon, Magh Shukla Purnima, the murti is carried back to its original home. 

 

Nepalese Hindus worship different forms of Sri Narayan and Lakshmi for each month of the year. Madhav Narayan, the Narayan for the month of Magh (January/February), has held a special significance for the people of Bhaktapur district for as long as anyone remembers. Bhaktapur locals observe a fast and venerate Narayan, and others travel from far away to pay homage to the God any day during the festival. 

 

Day 1, Arriving at the Ghat

Throughout the festival, I must start at dawn to drive the 25 miles with Rajeev Gurung (my co-author) and reach the site before 7am. Many people are baffled when I tell them that such a short trip takes a full two and a half hours; but Kathmandu’s narrow, winding roads are always under construction, and like many other developing countries we lack the concept of sticking to our side of the road. Drivers and riders adopt a serpentine wiggle as they weave their way along the roads and around the slower vehicles ahead of them.

 

Rajeev is the best friend of one of my younger brothers. We have known each other for over 25 years, so he is like a sibling to me. He speaks perfect Nepali, Hindi, English, French and Newari, the local language of Bhaktapur. We both love learning about people, culture and traditions, so this mela offered us a perfect opportunity to combine our skill sets. 

 

Binod Prajapati, one of the vratalus, tells us Kathmandu Valley was under a partial Covid-19 lockdown when the Madhav Narayan Festival started, therefore the number of vratalus, audience and visitors were reduced to one-fourth. Kathmandu’s District Administration Authority had imposed an odd/even rule for traffic movement based on vehicle registration numbers, so we could only attend the festival on alternate days. 

 

Arriving in Bhaktapur for our first full day, we hear the Madhav Narayan bhajan resounding from Hanuman Ghat as we approach: “Madhav Narayan! Madhav Narayan! Guli daya dumha re. Bhakta yaata kripa tayaa darshan byumha re…”

 

We reach the ghat at 6:30am. This ancient, stair-stepped complex leading to the river’s gentle edge is replete with historic shrines. Among the many Gods and holy figures enshrined here are Ganesh, Valmiki, Kirateshwar, Badrinath, Sitala Mai, Ram Sita, Hanuman, Madhav Narayan, Sesh­narayan, Buddha, Uma Maheshwar, Dasavatar, Draupadi and Bhimsen, Ashta Matrika (the eight Mother Goddesses), Nagas, and many Sivalingams. Each image is embellished with bright yellow sandalwood and glowing red vermillion from countless daily worshipers. 

 

At this early hour, we find a group of elderly women wearing Haku Patasi—their traditional hand-loomed black saris with red borders and scarfs—singing and dancing around a bonfire of hay at the northern side of the complex. Other locals are worshiping at the many shrines. Around 7:00, during the brisk sunrise, the rest of the crowd begin gathering at the river’s western edge. The local assisting priest initiates the morning devotions by dipping the base of the one-foot-tall silver Madhav Narayan murti into the river. This marks the beginning of the day’s ritual fasting for all those participating. The male vratalus in their white dhotis line up along the steps, each offering a conch of river water to the rising Sun and to the murti of Narayan.

 

After offering water, they line up on the front row with the priest, the women on the steps around them. Led by the pujari, everyone chants the Madhav Narayan Shloka. The assistant pujari then offers water from a copper pot to the Sun God, while the vratalus hold water in conch shells or cupped hands and chant mantras for the ritual’s sankalpa (statement of intent) to begin the day’s events. 

 

Bowing to Madhav Narayan, they depart for the Til Madhav Narayan Temple, where they will begin their prostration journey. For this spiritual practice the male vratalus do rolling and walking prostrations as they circumambulate the sacred temples and shrines throughout Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square. 

 

The Til Madhav Narayan Temple at Taumadhi Square in Bhaktapur, built around 1118ce, is one of the oldest standing temples in Nepal. This two-story pagoda-style temple houses a stone statue of Narayan bedecked in a silver crown and flanked by Saraswati and Lakshmi on either side. Both the Goddesses are also covered in magnificently carved silver jewelry. Photos here are strictly prohibited. 

 

Directly in front of the temple is an image of Garuda perched on top of a tall column. Flanking him on either side are two other columns which support a conch and discus or chakram. The temple complex also has shrines for a Sivalingam, Hanuman and a Tulasi plant. Its walls have niches where one will find many miniature-sized Deities like Ganesha, Radha, Krishna, Matsya Narayan, Sita Ram and others. Houses for Ganesha and the Sivalingam are found at every temple here, because our worship always begins with Ganesha worship and often ends with worship of Siva, the patron Deity of Nepal.

 

Beginning the Journey

Arriving at the Til Madhav Narayan Temple, the vratalus queue up by age, from 73 to 13, to be blessed individually by the temple pujari. After sacred water from a temple conch is poured over his head, each vratalu bows down in reverence of the Deity and prostrates fully upon a white cloth that has been positioned upon the ground by other devotees. From here they begin their day’s austere journey in the name of the Divine. 

 

The vratalus roll their bodies on the white fabric for over half a mile, chanting ­­“Madhav Narayana” as they make their way from shrine to shrine over the course of an hour. The cloth guides them along the old city streets, on a path carefully mapped out by those helping in the event. Every day in the month of Magh, the vratalus perform the same morning routine, commencing with these prostrations—and each day the cloth maps out a different route through the area. The rolling prostration is called silamantuleu in Newari. Everyone starts rolling except for the last vratalu, who instead makes walking full-body prostrations—mha-du daneu.

 

When doing silamantuleu, devotees must clasp their hands together, fingers interlaced, and slowly roll their bodies along the ground. They can lift only the head, neck and knees while performing the journey. 

 

For mha-du daneu, devotees begin by standing with feet together and hands folded in namaste. Then, they bow down, with the head lowering first. They kneel and flop the belly down to the ground. Their hands are stretched out in front, palms still joined in namaste as their forehead touches the ground. The soles of their feet face upwards and their heels are touching. Performing these steps in reverse order, they rise to stand where their fingers had been outstretched, thus progressing along their journey one body length at a time. 

 

Culture expert Binod Raj Sharma tells us, “I define silamantuleu as touching of the stone street with the head and heart, as an act of devotion to Narayana. The full prostration is also an act of dedication to God. Jalashayan, lying in the cold river, 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 vigour, to perform such arduous acts of devotion during winter.”

 

Travelling like this, the vratalus make their hour-long pilgrimage through the grounds of the five-story Nyatapola temple to Siddhi Lakshmi and the Bhairav temple complexes, then along the narrow brick pathways to finally reach the Hanuman Ghat. Sometimes they must roll up or down steep inclines and even stairs, but the vratalus devotedly carry on with their discipline. 

 

Vishnu Prasad Swongamikha, 65, says, “Brahma created the universe and Siva is the God of destruction. But Narayan is the one who protects all. He is the preserver. According to a local legend, upon seeing how magnificently Narayan was preserving the world, Brahma and Siva themselves honored Narayan by performing mha-du daneu and silamantuleu, respectively. This festival’s devotions are a re-enactment of that story.”

 

About a dozen women, 50 to 80 years of age, accompany the vratalus, devotedly helping along the way. Wearing red or black-and-red saris, these women sweep away pebbles, dust and rubbish from the path. They also run back and forth to pick up and then lay the pieces of meter-wide cloth for the vratalus. Binod Prajapati tells us, “Up until 2016 we did the prostrations directly on the streets, but then Narayanidevi, an elderly woman who lives in Ina Chowk, Bhaktapur, gifted five ten-meter-long cloths. After her initiative, many others made similar donations. We are all very thankful to them.”

 

The women make small fires along the way to keep vratalus warm as they roll along the stone streets in our cold Nepalese climate. I worry at first about the vratalus’ bare bodies turning purple in the cold, but to my astonishment they all look vital and motivated, building in dedication and perseverance with each prostration. 

 

The women also have the task of keeping photographers (like me!) at bay. If an overzealous cameraman wearing shoes accidentally touches one of the vratalus, they must restart their prostration journey from the beginning, following another blessing. I am shooed away many times despite trying to be mindful while photographing, and am even yelled at in Newari. I apologetically respond, “Jee Masyu” (I don’t know)-one of the four Newari phrases I can speak. 

 

The teenage boys, apparently shy of a female photographer, initially hide behind their palms whenever I approach them; but by the end of the month-long festival, they are so comfortable with me that they literally drag me to every shrine of the Ghat and ask me to take their photos for immediate posting on social media. 

 

After their rigorous hour-long journey of prostrations, the vratalus reach the Hanuman Ghat and either roll or walk into the freezing river. After bowing down to the Madhav Narayan statue, they lie on the steps partially submerged in the water, emulating Vishnu sleeping. Some lie at an angle, backs on the ghat, immersing one third of their bodies, while others sit in the river holding a namaste posture in meditation. Women who have walked barefoot behind the vratalus also queue up. They have tied up their sari, exposing their shoulders and neck, and wear their hair down.

 

Sarojan Sharma, the head pujari, then “awakens” the vratalus from their “slumber,” blessing each with the Struti Mantra while touching him on the head and splashing river water on him. Sarojan tells us, “The Struti Mantra is a sacred tantric mantra also known as Sushma Mantra, which I cannot chant out loud or write on paper. My guru taught this mantra by chanting it into my right ear.” 

 

The male vratalus then take three dips in the river while the women bend forward from the waist and wash their hair in groups. Both groups then offer water with their conches or hands—first to the Sun, second to the Madhav Narayan murti and lastly to the Valmikeshwar Mahadev Lingam shrine on the bank. Other devotees then wash the white cloth in the river and place it on the opposite bank to dry for the next day. 

 

With their prostrations done for the day, I take the opportunity to ask these vratalus if they are participating in this month of disiplines to fulfil any sort of wish or desire. Many reply that they are doing it as an unconditional sadhana.

 

Though this main event is over for the day, the town maintains a lively atmosphere, with so many people visiting from far and wide to participate. Some visitors are gifting a combination of biscuits, fruits and other small offerings, each with a five-rupee note, to all who had taken vratas for the festival. These small acts of giving are performed as a form of devotion. One couple gave me some yomari prasad. I tell them I am a visitor just like them, but they insist. Yomari is a steamed rice-flour dumpling with a molasses filling.

 

Thirty-year-old Prem Laxmi Awal, visiting Madhav Narayan with her husband Milan from Thimi, Bhaktapur, had made these edible gifts for others as a gesture to pray for a pregnancy. A couple from Kathmandu have come to pray for their daughter’s job, which she lost when Nepal announced a nationwide lockdown in 2020. 

 

Over the next 14 days, these prostrations will be the main event, along with the special dhala puja performed each day at the Hanuman Ghat Ashram by the women vratalus. These disciplines continue during the second half of the festival, augmented by special pilgrimages on foot to other holy places in the area. Because of the restrictions for being able to visit only every other day, Rajeev and I must choose which of these pilgrimages will be the most important to observe. 

 

Sahasrara Dhara Kalasha Yatra

Sahasrara dhara kalasha literally means “a water pot with thousands of straws.” For the second half of the month-long festival, the vratalus carry these special pots on their heads. (See them being blessed in photo above.) The pilgrimage (yatra) they perform is called Desh Parikrama—meaning to circumambulate holy areas. Each kalasha (copper pot) has an embossed image of Madhav Narayan on its neck. The body of the pot is perforated with many tiny holes, each with a foot-long wheat straw inserted into it to act as a water spout. This design symbolizes the 1008-petaled lotus, the chakra at the top of the head. The kalasha is set on a two-legged wooden frame and balanced on the head with a braided straw ring. The water in the vessel is regarded as the source of all the holy rivers and oceans of the world. When the vratalus stop at certain holy locations, they twirl around to shed water from the straws as a blessing. The sahasrara dhara kalasha yatra starts on new-moon day. 

Crowds assemble at the ghat.

Day 15, Nyatapola Temple

Chanting the Kalasha Mantra, pujari Sarojan consecrates the vratalus by pouring conch water on their heads. He then helps load the kalasha on each vratalu’s head. The vratalus give dakshina to the pujari and then approach Krishna Laxmi Prajapati, the 79-year-old Nakin, or female group leader. The Nakin has many responsibilities during this month-long festival. She must light the Akhanda Mata, “undying light,” on the morning of the first festival day and make sure the lamp is kept oiled and protected so that it burns throughout the festival. She starts each day of the festival by purifying and cleaning the space for the dhala puja and by performing puja to Ganesha and Kumar. She is a guide to the young, fasting devotees and leads them in all the rituals. Each day of pilgrimage, she and her fellow devotees stand at the temple platform to consecrate the kalasha yatris before they embark on their journey. 

 

On this day the vratalus journey to the Nyatapola Temple, Talakwa’s Jetho Ganesha Shrine, Vamsagopal Temple, a local Siva shrine, the Pottery Square and then return to the Hanuman Ghat. All throughout, the assistant pujari wears the Madhav Narayan murti suspended from his neck on a saffron stole. Holding the base of the murti firmly with both hands, he leads the kalasha yatra. People along the way offer money to God in exchange for flowers and prasad. Those who remove their shoes can touch the God, but otherwise pray from a distance.

 

Day 22, Trishul Batti

Vratulis perform rolling prostrations through the streets.  

This year the Madhav Narayan Mela coincides with the Barah Barse Panauti Makar Mela, also known as the Makar Mela. This large festival, a smaller-scale version of India’s Kumbha Mela, happens every twelve years. Over the next few days these festivals will overlap. All vratalus and helpers travel on foot, without shoes, to Panauti in Kavre District, a distance of almost twelve miles. As always, they all line up at Hanuman Ghat for the usual morning blessing and rolling prostrations before embarking on the journey. This time, however, the vratalus are met by about 40 other devotees from Bhaktapur, each carrying a Trishul batti. Trishul-Batti is made by wrapping ghee-coated cotton fiber around a tulsi stem to make a trident that stands on a diced gourd, all held in a plate made of leaves. The devotees light their Trishul batti while the pujari chants the mantras, then set the lamps afloat in the river. Cultural expert Binod Raj Sharma tells us, “Trishul batti is for the protection of the devotees against all evils. Trisul represents Siva, and this Trishul batti is a joining of Mahadev and Narayana.” 

 

After finishing the day’s prostrations the vratalus depart for Panauti carrying baskets laden with their Kalash items.

 

Day 23, Ghats of Panauti

This next day, we witness huge crowds at the Indreshwar Temple complex and the ghats of Panauti. Most have come for the Makar Mela, which started when the Sun shifted from Sagittarius to Capricorn. We meet everyone from Bhaktapur at Panauti’s Triveni Ghat by 7:30am. After blessings, we walk with the vratalus to the Indreshwar Mahadev Temple, where they start their daily regimen of prostrations. They finish at the ghats, having covered a distance of about 1/4 mile. 

 

The Indreshwar Mahadev Temple, built in 1224ce, is one of the oldest and largest surviving wooden temples in Nepal. According to the14th-century manuscript Gopal Raj Vanshavali, the temple was constructed by Princess Birmadevi of Panauti kingdom and took nine decades for its completion. The golden pinnacle was a gift from King Jayasingh Ramvardhan in 1383ce. 

 

Day 25, Pashupatinath Yatra

On the tenth day after the new moon, devotees have travelled to Kathmandu to start their kalasha yatra from Arya Ghat at the Pashupatinath Temple. After filling their kalashas with the river water from the Bagmati, the vratalus ascend to the temple through the eastern entrance before pilgrimaging across the Gaushala district to the Tamreshwar Mahadev Temple. 

 

After paying respect to Tamreshwar Mahadev, Rajeev distributes biscuits and 10-rupee notes as offerings to all the vratalus and helpers, who then commence their 8.7-mile foot yatra to Hanuman Ghat, where they break their fast.

 

Day 27, Changu Narayan Yatra

On the twelfth day after the new moon, we drive to Changunarayan town, to the north of Bhaktapur. The vratalus have trekked here and have already arrived at the Sankha Pond, located in a champak forest. These trees produce intoxicatingly aromatic flowers in warmer months of the year (you may be familiar with champak incense). Together we all make a short journey through the jungle hills to the Changu Narayan Temple complex. This visit symbolizes the never-ending bond between the two Narayans, Changu and Madhav

 

Changu Narayan Temple, located atop Dolagiri hill, is the oldest of the area’s four main Narayan temples. This two-story temple stands on a high plinth of stone and is embossed with detailed metal and wood carvings. It represents a historically important advent in the Nepali temple architecture. In the temple complex are centuries-old scriptures and stone statues of Vishnu in the forms of Sridhara Vishnu, Vaikuntha Vishnu, Vishwarup, Vishnu Vikrant and Narsimha. The complex also houses a temple for Chinnamasta Devi and for Chanda Narayan, a 7th-century stone sculpture of Vishnu riding on Garuda, and a Kileshwar, a temple dedicated to Siva.

 

Day 29, Kamal Vinayaka

On the midday of Chaturdashi, the fourteenth day after the new moon, we rush to Kamal Vinayak Temple, also known as the Lotus Ganesha Temple, at the eastern end of Bhaktapur district. This Ganesha temple has a fairly big pond. When we arrive, the vratalus are blowing conches behind a large crowd of photographers and visitors. Helper women are singing Madhav Narayan Bhajan, and others are dancing. For the first time there are musicians, boys in their mid-teens playing dhimey drums and clashing cymbals, to lead the kalasha procession. I follow the procession around bus stands, hay bonfires, the Dattatreya Temple (a famous Siva Temple of Bhaktapur), and finally back to Hanuman Ghat to conclude the day’s foot pilgrimage. Today’s procession has the largest number of people so far.

 

At Hanuman Ghat, when everyone has settled down to relax a bit, we gift the vratalus with photo prints of the month’s events. They tell us many photographers have come to Hanuman Ghat over the years, but none before had ever gifted photographs. Their gratitude humbles us. Once again we end up with our bags full of prasadam in the form of biscuits, peas and plenty of sweet yomaris.

 

That afternoon eight Chitrakars (a family name literally meaning “artists”) come to Hanuman ghat to paint the many clay pots that will be used in the final day’s puja. The Chitrakar family have been offering this painting seva for three generations, according to Rajesh Chitrakar. He recounts his memories of accompanying his father to Hanuman Ghat for the first time when he was six years old. His father introduced him to the colors and the pots, and taught him to paint religious motifs on them. Since then he has always made time for this seva. 

 

The 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 religious service for more than 20 years. Their father, an ardent devotee of Madhav Narayan, had participated as a vratalu for 20 years, while also making each pot required for the puja. This year Jagannath has donated 60 pots in total, of varying sizes.

 

Day 30, Sangey Puja

Sangey is the closing puja performed on the last day of the festival. On this day the crowd is massive. It seems as though every Bhaktapur local has come to Hanuman Ghat. The morning lighting is beautiful, and my camera frame is filled with some 20 prostrators standing against the backdrop of 200 or more women, mostly clad in red, and hundreds more spectators.

 

As a last prostration tribute to Madhav Narayan for this year, the vratalus trace the earthen path that circles Hanuman Ghat. The atmosphere comes alive with the massive crowd chanting “Madhav Narayan! Madhav Narayan!” in one voice, all combined with the mystical drone of the many conches. As the vratalus finish the prostrations and lie partially in the river, the feeling is serene. The event is so enthralling that I almost forget to take photos. 

Each woman performs a smaller puja during the final days event. 

All the women are wearing red, the married ones in their bright red bridal dresses. They sit in rows around the Madhav Narayan altar and set up their puja plates. On the right side of the altar is a beautifully decorated hawan kunda, sacred fire pit. The painted pots from the day are staged all around, decorated with ritual items like flowers and ribbons. Each pot is full of sacred water and herbs. They are said to become imbued with divine radiations from the fire ritual. When the sacred flame is lit, the assisting pujari reads verses from the Kushkandika Yagya Vidhi, as the head pujari Sarojan and head priestess Saroja Sharma perform the grand puja to the Madhav Narayan. Each woman performs a personal puja, following Sarojan’s example. 

 

During the puja, the vratalus run back and forth, collecting puja items as needed and handling the incoming offerings from devotees. Meanwhile, the kitchen team are cooking sattvik foods such as kheer, spinach, fried potatos and peas for the upcoming feast, which will feed the hundreds of devotees. In the middle of puja, the pujari Sarojan sings the glories of Narayana and Magh month. He narrates Ram lila from Ramayana and Krishna lila from Vishnu Purana. 

 

Following the puja is an energetic kalasha yatra, tracing the same route as in the morning. Afterwards, all the small painted pots are gifted to vratalus as a blessing, while the Indra Kalasha (the largest pot) is offered to a bronze statue of the 17th-century king Bhupatindra Malla, which kneels on the column in front of Taleju Temple at his Bhaktapur Palace Square. Uddhav Khaitu, 73, the Naya (male group leader), carries the pot to the King with his entourage of vratalus. The Naya stands right beneath the King’s statue, and devotees come up one by one for final blessings. This ends the month-long festival. 

 

Narayan Returns Home

Although the Madhav Narayan festival officially ends with the full moon, the vratalus must perform one last ritual, Gau daan, which literally translates as “cow donation.” Today this has come to refer to one of the most divine donations anyone can make in their lifetime: giving offerings to the priests who have helped you through your spiritual disciplines. In Nepal this must take place following the month’s fasting and rituals. 

 

After bathing, the vratalus sit in a line along the Hanuman Ghat. They have their ritual items: an offering tray of flour and rice topped with money, flowers, ginger, spinach and biscuits. Both pujaris conduct the ritual, chanting the vratalus’ names and family lineage names. They offer oil lamps and sprinkle river water over the vratalus’ heads, repeating prayers to all Gods. The vratalus then give their offerings to the priests, honoring and thanking them for their divine invocations throughout the 30 days. Lastly, amid mild fanfare, everyone parades to Ishwari Shrestha’s house to return his family’s Narayan murti to him. Madhav Narayan!

 

This article was first published in Hinduism Today and here eSamskriti has obtained permission from Hinduism Today to share.

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