Kathmandu’s Khadga Jatras

Photo: Narayan Maharjan

Impersonating warrior deities with khadgas, the special swords of the deities, in their hands, many groups come out of their respective areas of Kathmandu City for the Khadga Jatra on the day of the Bijaya Dashami. Their bodies shake as they walk onto the streets, fueling the common belief that deities themselves enter the persons carrying the swords. They are followed by huge crowds with their worshipped khadgas in their hands and form their respective processions.

The festival is popularly known as Paya among its Newar patrons, the etymology of the name still being debated among historians.

“The word must’ve originated from two Newari words, ‘Pa’ meaning traditional war weapons such as axe or swords and ‘ya’ meaning procession or festival,” says cultural expert Indra Mali.

Paya processions are taken out by different Newar communities in Kathmandu and they cover varied areas during the festival. Te Bahal, Wotu, Ason, Ko Hiti, Maha Boudhha are some areas that organize their Khadga Jatras (processions). In these processions, the elders of the community lead the processions with 20 to 50 people following accordingly. But in the procession brought out by Ason, which takes place a day after Bijaya Dashami, the youngest of the community lead the procession.

During the Dashain festivals, the Newars worship their Ishta Devata, the cherished deity who is called Aagam in the Newar tongue. The Aagam deity is considered very holy and is not unveiled to others except for the family members or the members of their Guthis (guilds). The rituals in Dashain for the Newars entail worshipping Aagam, among other customs.

Khadga, a special kind of sword, also rests beside the Aagam deity and it is only during the Paya or Khadga Jatra, the weapon is taken out in public by the different communities.

The Paya is regarded as a victory procession, celebrating the triumph of good over evil following the legend of the victory of Goddess Durga over Mahishasura, the demon. It is carried out on the day of Bijaya Dashami as it is regarded that it was on the very day that the deities were able to conquer the evil.

To mark the end of evil, the members of the procession slice kuvindo (ash gourd), which is considered as the symbol of evil.

A Paya processions is also taken out from the Taleju Temple on the same day. The priests of Taleju walk in the procession. In the Taleju Paya, none of the members of the procession dresses up as deities but they hold the procession in casual clothing. There is no ritual of slicing of ash gourd, too. Another unique aspect of the Taleju Paya is the inclusion of Hanuman in their procession.

Udhavman Karmacharya, the principal priest at the Taleju Temple, says that the procession of Taleju Paya follows its own unique rituals due its difference in the history and notion of its origin from other payas.

“The Paya of Taleju is assumed to have originated around the 16th Century, during the rule of King Mahindra Malla,” says Karmacharya. According to him, the Taleju Paya is not a victory procession but a procession initiated by King Manindra Malla after he was blessed by Goddess Taleju.

“It’s a celebratory procession and the khadga represents the deity Taleju herself,” he says.

Many cultural experts agree that Kathmandu was a Tantric hub during the medieval periods. The Khadga is also a symbol of Tantric warrior deities. It is said that if the trail along the temples of the Asta Matrikas, the eight forms of Goddess Durga that are established in Kathmandu City is followed, it forms the shape of a khadga.

The Paya is also regarded as an enduring ritual from the medieval period and is close to Tantric sacraments, which is still followed by the people of Kathmandu.

“Only the deities provide energy and power to their worshippers, according to Tantric philosophy. It’s the common people who defeat evil or overcome other obstructions,” says Professor Baldev Juju, a senior scholar.

He says that the tradition of Paya is also based on this philosophy whereby people themselves take to the streets with weapons in their hands, the symbol of conquering the evil.

Mali says that there is an accord while taking out the processions from different areas, though their routes don’t overlap. The Te Bahal Paya takes place during the afternoon and is the first procession among all Payas. It is then followed by the Maha Bouddha Paya, Wotu Paya, Yetkha Paya, Tha Bahil Paya, Taleju Paya and Kilagal Paya respectively. The latter Payas take place at around 9 PM.

These Payas taking place inside Kathmandu City are basically male-dominated. But Mali says that there used to be a procession of only females in a Paya, known as Misa Paya, which literally translates to female Paya in Newari.

“The origin of Misa Paya is recorded at Bulu Gaon in Patan. It used to take place until about eight decades ago but has stopped now,” he says.

The Misa Paya used to consist of only nine females from a certain Guthi.

“They used to be the wives of the members of the Guthi. A member was excluded if she became a widow. Simultaneously, for a male widower member to remain in his position in the Guthi, he had to either remarry or resign his office,” says Mali.

The Misa Paya of Bulu Gaon was similar to that of Kathmandu, with the members of the Paya dressed as deities and carrying khadgas in their hands. But its history cannot be traced as it is already an extinct tradition.Another Misa Paya, which is still practiced, takes place in Kirtipur. But the women don’t wield khadgas. Instead, they hold Jwala Nhyanka, a set of hand mirror and a container for storing vermilion powder by married Newari women.

The Kirtipur Paya was supposedly started after Prithvi Narayan Shah attacked Kirtipur. After the demise of the male members of the community, the females took to the streets and applied vermilion powder on the foreheads of people they met on the way for their procession. This is considered as Lord Bagh Bhairab’s blessing. Though the members of the procession don’t carry any weapons, it is still called Paya.

The Payas or Khadga Jatras may have different meanings in different Newar communities, but it is definitely a celebratory procession. According to agricultural significances, the festival of Dashain is supposed to be the closing time of the year, with crops ripening in the fields.

Professor Juju says that this festival also marks the change in the weather, ending the time of the year when diseases spread the most. Therefore, Payas or Khadga Jatras represent the end of the vulnerability borne of diseases – the real evil in the present context.

Source: ASMITA MANANDHAR, The Week

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