Hands that pull Lord Machhindranath in a unique festival of Nepal

By Aashish Mishra

Lalitpur, May 23: The old city of Patan is immersed in a festive atmosphere as the season of Machhindranath Jatra in Lalitpur is awaiting its climax when the lord’s vest or bhoto, is shown to the public.

The jatra is the longest festival of Nepal and is marked by pulling the 32-arm high chariot of Lord Machhindranath (or Karunamaya) through the narrow and winding streets of Patan. But while the chariot remains the main attraction, an important part of the festival goes relatively unnoticed – the variety of people who actually pull the chariot from one place to another.
In every leg of the route, beginning from Pulchowk, passing through Gabahal, Sundhara and Lagankhel before it ends at Jawalakhel, hundreds of hands tug on eight long ropes tied to the ‘Dhamaa’ (bow) of the chariot and pull them in tune with the shouting of ‘Hoste…Haise’ to tow the lord to its destination.
“Sometimes the ropes fall short, so the people grab the person ahead and form a human chain to pull the chariot; such is the dedication and enthusiasm,” said Sujan Shrestha, a resident of Gwarko. festival
Shrestha himself pulls the chariot in one leg or the other almost every year.
So, who are these people spinning the wheels of Machhindranath when needed?
“Some of them are devotees and some are thrill seekers,” said an elder Babu Maharjan. “Some people pull the chariot because they want to serve the lord and save the culture while others are occasional pullers who just want a new experience and have fun with their friends.”
He also explained that traditionally, people from the succeeding destinations would come to pull the chariot. “Those who would be celebrating jatra on the next day would come with their banners and musical instruments to tow the chariot to their place and bring in the ‘Bhujya’.”
This is to say that people from Gabahal pull the chariot from Pulchowk, people from Sundhara pull the chariot from Gabahal and so on and so forth. “But these days, anyone who wants pulls the chariot and it is not necessary that he be from the succeeding destination.”
But one thing that has not changed is the gender of the pullers. The chariot is exclusively pulled by men on all days except one. The women tow the chariot at Thali, Lagankhel and pull it for about 100 metres so that a single woman, who had been segregated from the community and had been left out during the division of the jatras, could also celebrate bhujya.
“This day is unique because the chariot is pulled early in the morning, unlike other days when it is pulled in the evening,” Maharjan said, adding, “This is because the women are relatively free in the early hours as compared to the day or evening when they have their hands full with household works.”
Separately, the smaller Minnath chariot that accompanies the larger Machhindranath is pulled quite by young children. Maharjan remarked, “This shows how inclusive our culture is – no one is left out, men, women and even children are included in the festivities.”

(Mishra interns at TRN.) 

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