One of the most enthusiastically celebrated festivals, Biska Jatra is currently being observed in Bhaktapur with crowds of cheering onlookers
The only festival that does not follow the lunar based Nepali calendar, Biska jatra marks the ancient solar Nava Barsha (Nepali New Year). Legend has it that this celebration is the ‘The festival after the death of the serpent’ and commences after a special Tantric ritual in the Bhairab Temple in Taumadi Tole in Bhaktapur.
The festival features chariot pulling, erecting a large wooden pole (Yoshin Deo/Lingo), along with the festival of vermillion coloured powder of Sindoor Jatra, and interestingly, a tongue-piercing ceremony as well. It is observed annually for eight nights and nine days on the month of April, starting four days prior to the Nepali New Year.
The first day of this jatra begins with the enshrining of the wrathful God Bhairab and Goddess Bhadrakali in their respective chariots in Tamaudi Square, near Nyatapole Temple. The signature event of the day is a tug of war between eastern (upper) and western (lower) part of the square. Hundreds of men try their best to pull the chariots to their sides. The first day also symbolises Deo kwayo Bijaayegu, which means ‘God comes down to the mass of people from his own sacred home.’
The second and the third day marks the ceremonial rituals performed by the people who take care of the chariots. The locals can also be seen doing puja to the deities.
Two poles are erected in two different areas of Bhaktapur on the fourth day; in the Pottery Square in the morning and in Bhelukhel in the evening. During the procession, songs of joy and excitement are heard among the crowd. Many energetic men try to climb the poles using large ropes to keep the plants at top and it is believed that the ones who are successful in doing so will be able to sire a male child.
Devotees swarm Bhelukhel and Pottery Square for the sacrifice of animals, all offerings made to the chariots of the God and Goddess on the fifth day. The evening is followed by a big feast all over Bhaktapur. A moment of danger and excitement arises when the lingo of Bhelukhel is pulled down afterwards.
Welcoming the advent of Spring and the new year, Sindoor Jatra is celebrated on the sixth day by throwing vermillion powder and playing dhimay music. Besides, tongue piercing jatra is also observed where a volunteer gets his tongue pierced with an iron spike and walks around the town carrying a bamboo rack.
Bisket Jatra is also celebrated in different parts of the city by worshipping their own local statues of gods and goddesses. In Suryamadi Tole, devotees are seen carrying small chariots of gods Bramayeni and Maheshori. People exchange greetings to family and friends, offer delicious food, wear traditional dress, sing and dance on the seventh and eighth day of the jatra.
The pole elongated in the Pottery Square is drawn down on the ninth day by performing many rituals. As the last day of Biska Jatra, chariots of God Bhairab and Goddess Bhadrakali are pulled upwards, as Deo tha bijaayegu which means ‘God now returns back to his own sacred home’. After the puja and worshipping, many people gather together and play various traditional instruments and songs marking the successful end of Biska Jatra.