The red god rises again in Patan

All photos: BIKRAM RAI

The rain god Machindranath’s chariot procession that was stopped following a clash between locals and police on Thursday resumed on Sunday, but with restriciton on gatherings of people and enforcement of separataion of pullers and devotees.

The local administration, Guthi Sansthan trust and local groups involved in the festival decided over the weekend to re-commence the centuries old jatra with safety measures. On Friday, Chyama Puja rituals were conducted amidst a curfew imposed to ensure that there was no more violence.

The chariot pullers were wearing face shields, gloves and masks, maintaining distance on the ropes and devotees were not allowed to gather to watch. The festival, which was suppsoed to take place in May had to be postponed repeatedly because of the Covid-19 lockdown.

The procession site starting from Pulchok where the chariot had stopped on Thursday was heavily patrolled by Armed Police Force in riot gear. A total of 438 people had gathered for the procession: 160 of them to pull the chariot, 124 volunteers, 28 musicians and 122 officials from the Jyapu Samaj.

However, unlike previous years, as per the undertanding, the chariot took a shortcut to the office of Lalitpur Metropolitan City bypassing its usual stops at Gabahal, Mangalbazar, Sundhara and Lagankhel on its way to Jawalakhel.

The Machindranath chariot’s circumambulation of Patan, and its travel to and from Bungamati every 12 years is a major part of the city’s cultural calendar. 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 god before the monsoon. This year, the festival has been delayed by five months due to the coronavirus crisis.

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.

As if answering those prayers, Nepal has now started to register more recoveries than new cases for the second day in a row. On Sunday, a total of 1,814 people recovered from Covid-19 against 980 new cases across the country. There were 354 new cases in Kathmandu Valley of which 32 were in Lalitpur district, significantly lower than the 458 on Sunday. The recovery rate has also increased from 55% in August to 62.6%.