Vehicles were replaced by hundreds of people arriving from across the Valley and the air vibrated with the traditional sounds of Newari music.
The chariot festival of the Seto Machindranath deity is one of the major festivals celebrated majestically by the Newar community of Kathmandu Valley.
While the area reverberated with traditional music, people with eyes fixed on the 32 feet tall chariot were excitedly waiting for the procession to begin.
The chariot of Seto Machindranath is considered the tallest among such ceremonial chariots in Kathmandu.
“It is believed that your wishes get fulfilled if you pull the chariot of Seto Machindranath or pay homage during the festival. So, I am here to pull the chariot to get my wishes fulfilled,” said an excited Sanu Babu Maharja, 58, of Tokha. He has been pulling the chariot every year for the last 10 years.
Priests enshrining the idol of the deity Seto Machhindranath in the specially built chariot in front of Teendhara Pathshala at Jamal on Monday. Seto Machhindranath is the deity of plentiful times.(Dipesh Shrestha/Republica)
Like many other people, he was also eagerly waiting for the idol of Seto Machindranath to be carried to Durbar Marga from the temple at Janabahal, as the procession would begin only after the idol is ritually installed in the chariot, which is then pulled around the core area of the old city of Kathmandu, including Ason, Hanuman Dhoka Durbar square and finally Lagan.
As the idol was brought and placed in the chariot, the hundreds gathered strained their necks to catch a glimpse of the deity and started uttering prays. “There is no more auspicious occasion than today to pay homage to the deity. I am here to wish for the betterment of my life,” said Ganga Maharjan from Banasthali, who was busy explaining about the festival to her three children.
“Sometimes, I wish to pull the chariot also. But again, I feel scared when I look at the giant chariot,” she said.
Yupak Bachracharya, 47, of Patan, was there with his son Prayatna. “The festival is not just a tradition. It is in fact about the identity of the Newar community. So, I want my son to observe the festival and appreciate its importance,” he said.
Soon, the procession began. Dozens of people started pulling the chariot- a majority of them youths – followed by the clamor of the devotees.
The procession, which started on Monday evening, will continue for the next three days.
There is a legend that people will ascend to heaven after death if they bathe in the Bagmati river and visit the Swayambhunath temple. Yamraj, the god of death, came to know about this and he decided to visited the holy temple to see things for himself. During the visit, he was captured by King Yakshya Malla´s troops. The king would not let him go. Yamraj then prayed to Seto Machindranath to set him free. The deity heard his prayers and duly set him free. Later, the king organized the chariot procession so that the deity could bless the people and fulfill all their wishes.
Historians say that the procession has been observed since the 17th century. It is observed by people of both the Hindu and Buddhist faiths.