The morning of October 20 this year, on a Sunday, many people of Kathmandu Valley, both men and women, young and old, Hindus and Buddhists, woke up to a new day feeling strong and refreshed. They surely also must also have felt a deep sense of peace and spiritual harmony as well. They deserved to be so rejuvenated. After all, it’s not every day that you walk along with a hundred thousand or so people some 70 km, and visit 131 temples, all in a matter of two days. Yes, that’s what they did on the famous Dipankha Yatra that began on Friday, October 18 and ended on Saturday, October 19. Particularly unique among the many other unique festivals of Nepal, this Yatra, while primarily a Buddhist festival, can as well be said to be a Hindu festival too, since as many Hindus take part in it as do Buddhists. In fact, because of the great social and religious harmony it encourages, the Dipankha Yatra is one of the very important cultural festivals of Nepal.
It’s also a religious journey that some say is the largest walkathon in the world. “We started off at 3:00 a.m. from Nagbahal in Patan, reached Bouddha at 12:00 p.m., and spent the night there,” related one young participant. And, where did they sleep? What did they eat? “All along the way, people offered us food, and at night, we were all given free lodging in homes, temples, and hotels,” he said, adding, “You see, they accumulate merit by doing so. That’s dharma.”
According to him, the next day, they again started off at 3:00 a.m. and like the day before, nine Gurjus (priests of the Newar community) led the huge procession. “We concluded the Yatra after reaching Mahalaxmisthan Temple in Lagankhel at around 10:00 a.m. I think we walked for some 30 hours all together and covered 70 kilometers.” And, aside from the fact that the whole thing must have been quite an experience, any particular part of the Yatra that he would like to mention specifically? “Well, yes, it was really something to be visiting so many temples (131), many of which I had never visited before.” Quite a religious journey, don’t you think?
Indeed, the Dipankha Yatra is one of the most unique festivals of Nepal. The very fact that this one took place after eight years, and the earlier one, on October 17, 2005, was held after a period of 38 years before that, says a lot about the uniqueness of this festival. Why the long gaps? Well, the Yatra can be held only during the period of Panch Yog, that is, when five auspicious astronomical and astrological occasions occur at the same time, these occasions being Suryamas Sankranti (first day of solar calendar), Chandramas Purnima (full moon), Chandra Grahan (lunar eclipse) and Rewati Nachyatra and Harshan Yog (two astrological events). How old is the Dipankha Yatra? Pretty ancient stuff actually, having been first celebrated some 900 years ago, and this too makes it special. Carrying on a 900-year-old tradition requires some dedication, wouldn’t you say? And, that almost 100,000 enthusiastic people participated this year makes it likely that it will continue to be celebrated with enthusiasm for another 1000 years. It’s believed that every footstep you take in the 70 km journey is equal to offering one tola of gold to the gods! Nice huh?
Now let’s talk a little about the legend behind the Dipankha Yatra. It’s a beautiful story. There was once a bull calf whose horns were blue. The Newars called it Neel Thusa (blue-horned oxen), and it was believed to be a reincarnation of Lord Sakyamuni, thus it was not surprising that it was compassionate, friendly, and very helpful to other suffering creatures. The bull was especially reverent towards Lord Buddha and paid his respects every day at different shrines. One day, he became late in paying his respects at Dipankar Buddha’s shrine because he was held up on a charitable mission. It was already dawn when he reached the site, so he hid himself in a nearby location, where he turned into a stone image that shone a bright light all around. People visiting the monastery saw this marvelous sight, and what’s more, there was a mandala there as well. As it happened, it was the auspicious day of the full moon of the month of Aswin (Sept-Oct) with a lunar eclipse as well. The day also happened to be the day of Harsha Yog. Well, it all clicked together, and henceforth, people started celebrating Dipanka Yatra on the auspicious day of Panchyog.
Reading all this might have you ruing the fact that you missed it this time around. No doubt you’ll still be mesmerized by other similarly exotic festivals of Nepal when in Kathmandu, but still, the Dipankha Yatra is a bit out of the ordinary, to say the least. What a fantastic opportunity to live firsthand a 900-year-old culture, the chance to visit so many temples, and the prospects of interacting with so many locals. It would all have been a great experience, no doubt about it. Now, what to do? Want to wait another eight or ten years for the next Dipankha Yatra to occur again? Or maybe another 38 years or so? That’s likely as well.