Festivals of Shrawan
Parmeshwar Pd Devkota
Kathmandu, Aug 10:
The cultural festival of Rakshyabandan, which is observed on the bright full moon day in the fourth month of lunar year called Shrawan in Nepali, has other names also- Janai Purnima or Rshisitarpani.
On this day, three functions are organised hand in hand. The first function is wearing the sacred thread, or janai, after taking a bath early in the morning and visiting a temple.
The second function of the day is that the sisters offer Rakshyabandan, fastening raw sacred thread around the right wrist of their brothers. The brothers, in return, endow cash and kind to the sisters.
The third function of the day is that the students, young or old, visit their teachers with appropriate gifts and dakkshina, a token amount of money, and offer these to their teachers to receive blessings in return.
Rakshyabandan, Janai Purnima and Rshisitarpani have their specific and separate rituals, importance and legends.
Rakshyabandan is observed to be protected from accidents, to skip misfortunes and unwanted events. It is believed that the sacred thread is tied around the right wrist often by a priest reciting mantras at least for three times. The wearer receives three types of fortifications- Narayan Kawacha, shield, Surya Kawacha, and Saraswti Kawacha. Dr Rishi Prasad Sharma says that the Rakshyabandan was first received by Rishi Durbasa, a sage, from Devi, the goddess.
Later it was connected with Lord Bishnu and Bali Raja, the demon king. As the demon king, with the power of self-effort and courage, collected huge amount of wealth and wielded power; he not only ignored the people of the mortal world but also challenged the gods in the heavens.
As king Bali Raja started threatening Indra, the king of the heavens, Lord Bishnu, in disguise as a poor Brahmin, visited Bali Raja. Bali Raja, full of pride and wealth, asked the poor man what he wanted. The poor Brahmin, instead of begging anything in a hurry, put a Rakshyabandan on the wrist of Bali Raja as a condition to give whatever the poor man demands, and asked land for three steps.
The poor Brahmin treaded on land and heaven with his two steps. Then he demanded land for the last step. Desperate and terrified, Bali Raja showed his own head. The poor Brahmin strode on his head and pushed him into the hell for good.
On the same day, Rashyabandan or Rishitarpani or Guru Purnima is also observed. It is considered the best day to share education and knowledge, because in the Vedic Period, the parents used to hand over their sons to Gurus for the sake of being taught -- for education, knowledge and decency -- to their son on this day.
The festival is also called Janai-Purnima. On this day males of some communities change Janai, a sacred thread, made in a ritual of meeting special provisions.
Pandit Narayan Poudel of Kapan says, “A janai has six threads dedicated to the mother, father, Guru and Lords, Brahma, Bishnu and Maheshwor, each. It is believed that the person who wears the sacred thread, his age, knowledge, spirit and strength are increased many folds. The thread saves the wearer from disease, fear and sudden death, because Janai represents power and far-sighted knowledge,” he said.
Gaijatra for consolation
Gaijatra is another unique festival celebrated by erecting a multi-coloured pole at the premises of Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square. The colourful festival helps bring people above the pangs of the untimely death of family members and relatives, because the procession of the festival helps share griefs with other people in the same society.
It was conceived by King Pratap Malla to overcome such pangs of grief. As legends go, a son of King Pratap Malla, (1641-1674) died of smallpox. His queen continued grieving so deeply that she never ate for many days. The King, courtiers and sycophants, tried several tricks to cheer her up but all efforts went in vain. Then the King ordered courtiers to gather the people whose family members had died within the year with smallpox, smearing various colours on the face and in disguise of a cow, or Gai, the reason why the function was later known by the name of Gaijatra.
As many people smearing various colours on the face gathered, the Queen realised that not only her son, but the sons and daughters of many people had also died of diseases. Seeing the procession of a vivid and unique kind, the Queen consoled herself turned happy.
The trend caught the hearts of the Nepali people, it soon began to be observed every year. It has now been a part of Nepali culture.
Later, the trend of mocking at leaders for failing to handle the contemporary social and political issues was added to the festival. Now, Gaijatra publications and lampooning functions in the halls of academies start weeks before the actual day of arrives. Now, the festival has not only won the hearts of Nepali people, but also, become popular nationwide.