Rato Matsyendranath—Watch with Care

This festival, which begins on the first full moon of Baisakh (April/May) every year, may be the longest and most important festival of Patan, however, with several important events (all of a calamitous nature) having been recorded at one time or another during this month-long event, it has become a festival that people keep a sharp eye on as it begins its procession through the ‘City of the Arts’.

The Rato Matsyendranath festival begins with the construction of a giant wooden chariot at Pulchowk. In fact, it’s done right by the side on the main road and if you’re interested, you can go watch how it’s made. It could be a learning experience and bring to mind construction of the ‘Trojan Horse’ in Troy. The size, especially, is pretty impressive, with wheels that are really large, to say the least, and a spire that rises up to 10 meters. The huge wheels, the strong base, the four pillars, the large platform, and the tall tower are made of the sturdiest of woods; the only place where metal is used is on the axels.

The mammoth structure will finally stand at around 14.56 m, its various parts tied strongly with durable bamboo ropes. It is clear that building such an edifice requires a high degree of expertise and long years of experience; this is ensured by the fact that only those of the Barahi clan, a clan that has been doing so for ages, are given the responsibility. Similarly, another clan, the equally expert Yawals, do the rope work, which, again they have been doing right from the very beginning.

Now, coming to the said ‘calamitous events’ befalling the country during the festival: Some 333 years ago, in 1680, observers noticed that the Matsyendranath idol had lost some paint off its face. That very same night, the then ruler of Patan, King Nipendra Malla, who, for all purposes, had been fit and fine, breathed his last. In the later years, another of the valley kings, King Viswajit Malla, related to a confidant about how he had imagined that Matsyendranath had turned his back on him. He was worried about what it might foretell. He was right to be worried—he was murdered on the same night.

Yet another king, known for his high-spiritedness, is said to have once participated in pulling the chariot through the streets. Unfortunately, during this particular procession, the chariot’s axel broke 31 times. Well, it was certainly a bad omen, the worst in fact, because the king died soon after. Some 196 years ago, in 1817, observers noticed the same thing that happened in 1680: the idol seemed to have lost paint off its face once again, a rare occurrence. That was the day a great earthquake struck the valley, destroying many houses and killing many people. Most recently, in the new millennium, that is, in 2000, the 10 meter spire fell into the crowd. This was not expected, after all, great care had been taken to tie up the various parts with the sturdiest of materials. Well, whatever the reason, it was another bad omen, and the people of the valley wondered what would happen next.  Well, what followed grabbed headlines all over the globe—“Royal Massacre in Nepal.”

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