Major Hindu festival like Dasain and Tihar are celebrated in the lower reaches of Manang district. But since upper Manang is largely Buddhist, and in some parts Bon Po, the Nyeshang valley has its own unique set of customs and festivals. Older Manangis vividly remember how villagers used to gather once every three year in the fall to celebrate Badhe, a Nyeshyang oral tradition and intricate performing art. Basically a play, where mother earth is the stage, with courtyards and terraced field forming the backdrop Badhe is full of sound, color and intense drama, which tell a story of two warring brothers. The main objective of Badhe is to free the village of evil spirits, demons, enemies, diseases and natural calamities, to ensure peace, security and prosperity in the village.
Badhe is celebrated once in three years and is held on a rotational basis in Manang, Nar, and in Sampa village of Mustang. The ceremony generally falls on the 1st day (approximately 8th November) of the tenth month of the Tibetan calendar.
A decade ago, the Badhe tradition started to decline, as Manangis migrated to Kathmandu and took with them economic and cultural resources. In 2004, the costumes and finery were brought out from gompas and households, and the people of Nyeshang came from far and wide to revive an ancient tradition.
No historical manuscripts highlighting the origin of Badhe exist. According to local belief, however, the festival started in the village of Ngawal, then shifted to Braga and finally to Manang where it established its roots for many year.
For seven days and seven nights, the performers, local villagers are outdoors. Apart from the roles of king and priest character roles inherited by generations of the same family various other roles can be enacted by any villager. Badhe has interesting ties with the cultural practices found in the middle hills and the high Himalayan regions. It is similar to the ‘dohari’ songs, a popular folk tradition in the mid hill communities of Nepal. Villagers dressed as warriors, on the other hand, display war techniques similar to that of the ancient Tibetan kings and their armies. They are dressed in gold and don exotic bird feather on their forehead. It is a rhythmic festival full of sound, colour and intense drama leading to a peaceful climax. There are two different groups. The narration begins with two brothers visiting a temple. The elder brother is offended when he finds that his younger sibling has visited the temple before him. The fight or rather the play of Badhe begins. In a poetic war, the two brothers who are camped on opposite sides berate each other through songs. Through song and satire, they fight out their battle. To boost the morale of their, both sides also display their war skill through role-play.
Carried away in their various roles, sometimes the villagers do start a brawl that is soon controlled by the younger soldiers who stand between the supporters of the two brothers. But actual violence does not occur. When things start getting out of hand, villagers step in to bring things back to normal. Spectators from surrounding villagers flock to Manang for the festival. They are all welcome. Nyeshang households disperse roasted millet and wheat powder rolls from their rooftops. The spectators then sleep under the skies while the actors retire in there camps. The last day of the festival is the grand carnival day. All women folk who would be busy preparing meals and taking care of the guest also join in the merriment.
Earlier 12 virgins used to be sacrificed to the gods at the beginning of the Badhe festival. Owing to Buddhist beliefs, the practice was stopped and goats were offered instead. Later, only the tips of the ears of goats were offered. Now that Nyeshang community follows the peaceful middle path of the Buddha, Badhe festival in future will not encourage animal sacrifice.
-Manang Youth Society