Delayed Machindranath Festival resumes
Despite contradictory government directives about the Machindranath Chariot in Patan due to the COVID-19 crisis, the local community trust in Patan involved in the festival has decided to go ahead with it.
On Saturday, the figure of the rain god was installed in the newly-built chariot in Jawalakhel – three months behind schedule. The trust said the chariot would be pulled on its normal route through Patan’s holy spots starting 17 August.
Coincidentally, that is also the day the government has said regular domestic and international flights will also restart nearly five months after being grounded.
The red god resides in the Machindranath temple in Bungamati, except for six months in a year when it is drawn through the streets of Patan in a chariot. Usually, the god is ceremonially installed on the chariot in mid-May and devotees believe that the chariot pulling will appease the rain gods before the monsoon.
But this year, Nepal is already half-way into the monsoon season and there has been 30% more rainfall than normal, causing floods and landslides that have killed more than 150 people.
Because of the lockdown, the festival could not follow its traditional schedule this year. Once every 12 years, the chariot is also pulled from Bungamati across the Nakhhu rivulet to Patan. This tradition was also disrupted in 2015, when the earthquake struck, damaging the chariot. It was dismantled and rebuilt before carrying on its journey to Patan.
A few thousand people showed up at the chariot in Jawalakhel on Saturday despite fears of the virus, but most of them were wearing masks, including the priests, devotees, members of the Gurju Paltan dressed in their historic black uniform carrying muskets. Volunteers were seen handing out masks to those who did not have one.
The chariot festival is often linked to the fate of the nation, and in fact the years in which the Machindranath chariot has keeled over or caught fire have been closely followed by major political upheavals and natural calamities in Nepal.
Many of the faithful at the chariot this year will be praying for a speedy end to the pandemic, and a return to normalcy for the country.
Makers of Machindranath, Cynthia Choo
Cultural evolution, Kunda Dixit