Rato Matsyendranath—Not Always Standing Up Tall

Chariot of Rato MachhindranathPeople keep a sharp eye on it as the Chariot of Lord Matsyendranath makes its way from Bungamati (where it is constructed) to Jawalakhel. Why such vigilance? Because there is evidence that events of national importance are somehow related to the happenings that occur on its month-long journey (sometimes, longer) through various parts of the valley.In 1680, King Nipendra Malla died the day the Matsyendranath idol lost some paint off its face. In 1817, an earthquake struck when the paint was again affected. King Viswajit Malla, when attending the festival, imagined that the deity had turned its back on him—he was murdered that very night. One king was assisting in pulling the chariot during which time, the axel broke 31 times—he died soon thereafter. To cap it all, in 2000, the spire fell into the crowd and the Royal Massacre followed.

It is not that the chariot is not strongly built. The foundations are as solid as people’s faith on Matsyendranath’s power to bring down refreshing rain on the parched valley during the scorching summer months. The most perfect trees are selected from the Chitwan forest to make the wheels, each of which can weigh two tons. Starting with the adjustment of the wheels and the axel (the only structure where metal is used), the stages of construction goes like this: first the ashi (platform base) is built, and then the four pillars followed by the big platform and the towers. Bamboo is used exclusively to tie up the various parts of the mammoth structure which will finally stand at 48 feet. The Barahi clan is involved in the making of the edifice while the Yawal clan is responsible for the rope work. The Chitrakars do the painting.

Chariot of Rato MachhindranathNow, a bit on its origins: on a visit to Kathmandu Valley once, the sage Goraknath was angered by the disrespect shown to him and he brought about a severe drought on the valley. This he did by sitting on the heads of the nine rain-bringing snake gods, and then, very conveniently going into a long trance. No amount of pleading would make him come out of his state of deep meditation. People began to become desperate because there was no rain at all. A couple of cunning Newar fellows went to Assam and brought Goraknath’s guru, Matsyendranath, to Kathmandu.  At the presence of his guru, Gorakhnath was obliged to stand up respectfully.

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