Panauti Jatra is the nine-day festival. It starts off on the 10th day of the bright fortnight of Jyestha (May-June) and ends on the 3rd day of the dark fortnight in Ashad (June-July). It is a combination of the palanquin and chariot festivals.
Panauti is at about 30 km southeast of Kathmandu. Panauti is one of the oldest city of Nepal founded by Ananda Dev Malla. It is a typical Newari town with beautiful temples; Indreswor Mahadev temple being an example of medieval art and archtitecture. Two holy rivers: one called Roshi another Punyamati flow on both sides of this town. A legend has it that Goddess Parvati became the third river called Padmabati. Thus, the area became the meeting point of the three rivers. Any confluence of three rivers is the holiest place for Hindus. Once every 12 years, a religious festival is held here.
Devotees carry Goddess Brahmayani and God Indreswore Mahadev on two different portable shrines on shoulder poles to Panauti town to celebrate the festival. They pull God Bhairava and Goddess Bhadrakali on chariots. During the Panauti Jatra, Lord Mahadev: one of the Hindu Trinity that does not accept blood enjoys celebrating the festival along with other Tantric deities. On the 10th day of the bright fortnight in the month of Jyestha (May-June), Hindu priests called Achhanju make offerings to the Tantric deities. Then, the concerned temple caretakers bring the deities out of their temples, and set the deities at the open public places. Men, women and children with bronze or wicker basketful of offerings visit all the deities and make offerings to the deities in the morning. From this day on until the 4th day of the festival, everybody becomes busy with the preparation for celebrating the festival.
On the evening of the 4th day of the festival, a festival called Duin-ca–nya-ya-ke-gu’ is held. It is the show of a team of a priest, a woman and a porter crossing the bridge over Punyamati River to make Tantric offerings to Goddess Brahmayani along with Goddess Bhadrakali on the other side of the river. ‘Duin’ is the only woman member on the team. Other team members are men. This part of the festival is named in honor of the woman team member called ‘duin’. Curious onlookers patiently watch the three worshippers crossing the river. A legend has it that once the Punyamati River swelled with floodwater, but the team of the worshippers needed to make offerings to Goddesses Brahmayani and Bhadrakali on the other side of the river. So, they called on the serpent God called Basuki for help. Responding to the call of the tantric worshippers, Serpent God Basuki with his spouse came to them. The serpents lay down over the Punyamati River forming a bridge. The three worshippers moved on the bodies of the serpents to reach the temples of the deities on other side of the river. Obviously, the bodies of the serpents are very slippery. Each team member in turn moved forward inch by inch on the slippery bodies of the serpents.
Every year, the worshippers simply emulate the worshippers once crossing the river on the bodies of two serpents. It is a great show to the onlookers. Currently, they watch the crossing of the river by the team of worshippers on a suspension bridge moving inch by inch. The priest is the first one to cross the river. He makes offerings to the serpent deities. Then, he moves so carefully that everybody watches his motion in complete silence. He takes more than a half hour to cross the bridge of about 20 meters long. Similarly, a porter carrying a load of offerings to the deities on other side of the river moves on the bridge inch by inch. Finally, the woman called ‘duin’ carrying an oil lamp and a load of rice grains carefully steps on the bridge and moves on inch by inch. After her crossing the river, the festival of Duin-chha–nya-ye-ke-gu ends. Thereafter, the team of worshippers prepares everything for holding Tantric worship called ‘ca-puja’ performed at night to the deities at the temple to Goddess Brahmayani across the river. In the town, devotees have brought Goddess Bhadrakali out of the temple and set Her on a chariot parked nearby the temple. They pull Her on the chariot to the temple to Goddess Brahmayani. Devotees pull it through the narrow lanes of Panauti to the bridge over the Punyamati River. From there, two persons carry Goddess Bhadrakali on their arms across the river to the temple to Goddess Brahmayani and set Her next to Goddess Brahmayani. Thereafter, the team of worshippers enters the temple and seals off the entrance to the temple to hold Tantric offerings to the deities until the next morning.
On the 5th day, the people celebrate ‘mu-jatra’ means the main festival. On this day, some devotees make the sacrifices of male goats or ducks to Goddesses Brahmayani and Bhadrakali. Others simply make offerings to the deities. People also revere other deities, too. Although this day is known as ‘mu-jatra’ no activities other than pulling a chariot from the bank of Punyamati River to the bank of Roshamati River near Gainepati are held. It was done in preparation for holding the festival of pulling the chariot and carrying the palanquin the next day.
The sixth day is the full moon day. This day is also known as Panauti Punhi. This day is the most auspicious day for taking a dip in the water of the confluence of the Punyamati River and Roshamati River. So, this day is also known as Panauti-snan means bathing in Panauti. Believers take a holy dip in the water of the confluence of two rivers on this day to cure any disease.
On the early morning of the full moon day, the major Jatra starts off. First, devotees take Goddess Brahmayani out of the temple and set Her on a portable shrine. Then, they carry the deity on the portable shrine on the shoulder poles along the bank of Roshamati River then through the Sorakhutay to the main Bazaar and to the main square. God Indreswore Mahadev takes a ride on another portable shrine from the temple to the main square following the same route as that of Goddess Brahmayani.
It is fun to watch God Indreswore Mahadev riding on the portable shrine. The shrine carriers try every trick to make the fall of the priest from the God Indreswore Mahadev’s shrine on the way to the main square. The priest would need to pay one tola (11.664 gm) of gold to the shrine carriers if he were to fall from the shrine. However, the carriers rarely succeed in making the priest fall from the shrine. The priest plays a hand drum with one hand and holds the shrine firmly with the other hand. He sticks to the shrine so firmly, no matter how wildly the carriers shake it he won’t fall down.
Devotees carry Goddess Bhadrakali from the temple to Goddess Brahmayani to the Gainepati. The deity had spent the whole night with Goddess Brahmayani. A chariot had been waiting for Her. The devotees set Goddess Bhadrakali on it. Then, they pull the deity on the chariot through the same route Goddess Brahmayani has traveled on her portable shrine. Goddess Bhadrakali makes a loop at one lane symbolizing her attempt to trick God Unmant Bhairava into not following Her. However, God Unmant Bhairava manages to catch Her at the open space popularly known as police pati at the eastern end of the main square. At this place, God Bhairava’s chariot collides with that of Goddess Bhadrakali from the rear. Then, it retracts. Then, Goddess Bhadrakali’s chariot makes a head-on collision with that of God Unmant Bhairava. It is the divine sexual play. This action is repeated three times. Each time, the chariots collide; devotees throw vermillion at each other expressing their joy at the happy union of the divine couple.
Then, the turn of God Indreswore Mahadev is to make head-on collision with Goddess Bhadrakali. Devotees carry God Indreswore Mahadev on a palanquin back and forth a number of times before it finally collide with the chariot carrying Goddess Bhadrakali. Then, the priest distributes ‘prasad’ means a blessed food or simply a blessed piece of flower or a blessed paste of vermillion or all these blessed items together to devotees. After that the palanquin makes the last collision with the chariot before it is finally pulled off. This is the symbol of God Indreswore Mahadev copulating with Goddess Bhadrakali. When the palanquin and the chariot collide, the chariot of God Unmant Bhairava remains in contact with that of Goddess Bhadrakali. God Unmant Bhairava is believed to be the tantric incarnation of God Indreswore Mahadev. Goddess Brahmayani presides over all these unique and exciting festivities.
After the meeting of God Unmant Bhairav, Goddess Bhadrakali and God Indreswore Mahadev at the main square, God Indreswore Mahadev travels on the arms of devtoees from the palanquin to the temple. God Unmant Bhairava and Goddess Bhadrakali travel to the eastern end of the town on their respective chariot. From there God Unmant Bhairava travels to the temple. Goddess Bhadrakali returns back to her abode at the city entrance. All these activities complete by mid-day. At night, devotees carry the portable shrine of the presiding Goddess Brahmayani on shoulder poles from the main square to her abode near Sorakhutay pati. Every household sends a person to carry a torch to light her way to the temple. A number of traditional musical bands and a procession of devotees follow Goddess Brahmayani to her abode.
On the 8th day of the festival means the second day of the dark fortnight of Ashad, devotees hold the last goodbye offerings called ‘Dyo sagan bi-ye-gu’ to all deities. They go to make offerings to the deities brought out from the respective temple and placed at different public places for the festival.
On the 9th day of the festival, all the deities return to their respective shrine. On this day, too, some men, women and children make offerings to all the deities before they return back to their respective temple. They had come out of their shrines on the first day of the festival. Thus ends the nine-day and eight-night festival in Panauti.