June 9, the auspicious celebration of Bhoto Jatra was observed in Jawalakhel at the end of the month long Rato Machhindranath procession
‘Bhoto Jatra’, is an ethnic and folk ritual where the black jewel studded bhoto (vest) is displayed as a way to appease the serpent king, ‘Nagraj’ or ‘Karkotak’, who is idolized for harvest and prosperity.
Celebrated locally among Newari communities in Kathmandu annually, the vest is exhibited on a chariot on the last day of the month long chariot procession, which starts from Pulchowk, then Gabahal, Sundhara and then ends in Jawalakhel. The chariot of Rato Machhindranath is delicately crafted with a 60 feet tall spire above the chariot connected to it from all four ends, fabricated with bamboo poles. It also consists of enormous wheels and various carvings, which bear different meanings related to the legend of the ‘Bhoto Jatra’.
The legend has it that the serpent king’s wife suffered from an eye affliction. So, in order to cure his wife, the king visits a Newari farmer-cum-healer. The farmer cures her ailment through some secret medicines. The serpent king becomes ecstatic and grants him various riches and gold. Among them was a vest or bhoto encrusted with gleaming diamonds and gold. The farmer wore that bhoto everywhere he went but one day a jealous ghost stole it. Later, on the day when everyone from the valley was busy for the festival of Rato Machhindranath, the farmer saw the ghost wearing his precious bhoto. The farmer and the ghost started fighting for it when the king who happened to be passing by in his chariot saw them arguing and took matters in his own hand. Neither of them could not provide concrete proof of their ownership of the bhoto. Hence, the king bestowed the bhoto upon the priests of Rato Machhindranath who display the bhoto saying, ”Who does this ‘Bhoto’ belong to?” till date.
This started the tradition of ‘Bhoto Jatra’ which is celebrated every year. People from various Newari communities donning their cultural dresses playing traditional instruments and dancing to its beat come celebrate this procession. The Living Goddess Kumari of Patan, government officials and a lot of curious onlookers and foreigners gather around Jawalakhel to gaze at this marvelous event.
After the Jatra the bhoto is stored alongside the statue of Rato Machhindranath. The statue of Rato Machhindranath is later taken to the temple of Rato Machhindranath at Bungmati on a palanquin. It will be placed there for three months until it will be taken back to its temple in Patan.
Photo courtesy: Prajay Kansakar