Folk Tales From Handigaun

May 8, 2016 , by Pragya Thapaliya, Leave your thoughts
Being someone who was born and raised in Handigaun, every time someone asks me where in Kathmandu I am from, I usually succeed in predicting the reactions that follow my answer. The piece of information is usually succeeded by a few chuckles and “Kahi nabhako Jatra Handigaun ma” or “Eh, tya handi banaucha ho?” (Do they make pots in Hadigaun?). When I was young, I used to believe they actually made handi (black pots) in the area, due to which the place acquired its name. One day, my father shared that, due to the presence of the Satyanarayan, a Hari temple, the village was named Hari Gram, the village where Hari resides. Mispronounced through generations, the village got its current name – Handigaun.

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Where the history begins

Handigaun is believed to be one of the oldest urban settlements in Nepal. Its origin has been officially traced back to 150 BCE. The settlement has historical connections starting from Kirat days which ranges to the Malla period, but it managed to best flourish during the Lichchavi reign. Handigaun, referred as Haripur in the medieval era has remained the capital from the commencement of the Lichchavi reign to the onset of the Malla period.

Although there have been controversies about the location of Lichchavi palaces like Mangriha and Kailashkut, built by the Kings Mandev and Amshuverma respectively, a lot of historians still believe that both the models of Lichchavi days were located in Handigaun. It is believed that Kailashkut was somewhere in between the south of Gahana Pokhari and to the west of Maligaun. The traces left behind by the Lichchavis still remain today in the form of magnificent stone idols and temples.

Handigaun is primarily inhabited by the early settlers of the Kathmandu valley, the Jyapu community. Maharjans, Prajapatis and the Dangols were the three major denizen clans. The community was mostly Saiva. The rise of the Lichchavis to power resulted in the amalgamation of Saivism and Vaishnavism in the area. Temples like SatyaNarayan and Saraswoti in the East, BhatBhateni in the West, Krishna Mandir and Bhooteshwor Mahadev towards the North are indications of how the ancient city has been influenced by Kirat, Lichchavi and Malla rule. The rituals of Handigaun are also influenced by Shakta practices.

Handigaun – Where the Gods roam freely

Handigaun is famous for the Jatras, the movement of Gods around certain area in a Khat or a Chariot. The word Jatra has been derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Yatra’ meaning travel. The agrarian society of the Jyapus influences a lot of Jatras that take place in the area of Handigaun. Ropain Jatra, Hile Jatra and the Indra Jatra are a few of them. The ones that are unique to Handigaun are SatyaNarayan Jatra, the Jatra of Tundaldevi and BhatBhateni, and DhanGanesh Jatra. The general myths associated with them are mostly reflections of the need of the agro-essentials like rain and the belief that they can be acquired by pleasing the deities. But the most popular ones have unique folklores associated with them.

Gahana Khojne Jatra

“There are many myths revolving around this Jatra that intersect giving rise to many blurred lines. The most well-known of them all is probably the tale of the lost jewelry of Tundaldevi. The four goddesses and sisters- Tundaldevi, MahaLakshmi, Nuwakoti Devi and Mana Maiju happened to swim in a lake which is referred to as the current day Gahana Pokhari. Meanwhile, Tundaldevi loses her ornaments. As the evening drew closer, Nuwakoti Devi who had come from Nuwakot and Mana Maiju from Balaju had to make their way back home. As the grief-stricken eldest sister, Tundaldevi searches for her jewels, the younger sister MahaLakshmi from Naxal gives her company. When the Jatra is carried out the Khat of Tundaldevi enters the pond in the search of the jewels, but the Khat of MahaLakshmi, commonly referred as “ManeKhat” which has been believed to be named after the Lichchavi King Mandev, goes to Handigaun dabali. After the jewelry has been found by Tundaldevi, the ManeKhat bow’s to the greater Khat three times and is returned to Naxal. In some myths it is believed that MahaLakshmi was well aware of the location of the ornaments, however shows indifference to her sister’s search. The bowing act post the successful search is a reflection of her remorse and acceptance of her mistake towards her sister.

A lesser known legend says that Brahmin Sudev and his wife Sudevi, devotees of Lord Vishnu were blessed with a son who had god-like qualities. The child was called Villi-Chakreshwor, which shows Kirat connections. One day, a Brahmin Suddhadev, who was about to go on a 12-years long pilgrimage came into their house and left his walking stick in their care. He had stored the life’s savings and gold jewels in the stick. Years later, when the Brahmin couple went through financial crisis decided to sell the jewels assuming that the Brahmin was not going to return back. One day, the Brahmin returned back to claim his stick. The guilty couple lied and told him that the stick was eaten by moths. The infuriated Suddhadev spot an eagle soaring in the sky and summoned it to swipe away the child. The couple, blessed with the power of flight due to their religious devotion towards Lord Vishnu, went after the eagle. Meanwhile, the child, who happened to be Lord Vishnu himself, reveled his true form. He also blessed his parents and offered them the status of immortals ending the cycle of birth and death.
It is also believed that the Brahmins were also called Bhat and Bhateni. Bhateni is believed to be the daughter of Tundaldevi. It is also said that the search for jewelry was not Tundaldevi’s own, but the Brahmin Suddhadev’s, which had somehow ended up in the pond.

To symbolize this, the Khat of Tundaldevi visits BhatBhateni returning the lost jewels of Suddhadev and returning her daughter and son-in-law to a pedestal once again.

The festivities revolving around this Jatra goes on for one long month, starting from Chaitra Shukla Asthami to Baishakh Nawami. The festivities officially commences when a ceremonial lingo is raised at two places, Bhooteshwor Mahadev and Handigaun Dabali. This is followed by the annual bath of Tundaldevi on Chaitra Shukla Dwadashi. The next day, a buffalo sacrifice is made to the goddess whose meat is meant to be served to 64 people who make the “Bhat deuta” (rice God). The idol of BhatBhateni is taken to Tundaldevi the next day to symbolize the consultation regarding lost jewels. The main even takes place on the Baishakh Krishna Pareva (23rd April this year). This day the mukut Tundaldevi is carried to Bhimsenthan in a small Khat along with MahaLakshmi where the diadem is transferred to a larger wheel-less chariot which is carried by 32-young men from Jyapu community. This is followed by the Mane Khat which follows the grand chariot throughout the day. The Jatra route which started from Bhimsenthan goes to Bhooteshwor, Dabali, Kotaltole, Nyalmalohn and finally ends with a festive dip in Gahana Pokhari where the search for the ornament commences. The chariot is later taken back to Handigaun Dabali where the chariot stays for two more days. More events follow and the festivity officially ends at Baishakh Nawami when the ceremonial lingo is lowered.

SatyaNarayan Jatra

Whether it be Greek or Hindu mythologies, the Gods have always been portrayed as unforgiving. They unleash their wrath and create havoc on mortal’s lives when things do not go in their favour. According to myths, SatyaNarayan Jatra also started when something similar happened.

Legends say that once two pregnant sisters from Handigaun were discussing child birth and the role of various forces that influence the process. One sister was a firm believer of the Gods and thought the birth process will be free of complications through God’s grace. The other sister with an atheist mindset ridiculed the idea and said childbirth had little to do with Gods as it was a natural process. The ubiquitous Lord Narayan heard the second sister and decided to teach her a lesson. Outraged and offended, he also decided to leave Handigaun. As time passed, the first sister had a normal delivery, whereas the second one did not seem to be giving birth any time soon. Years passed but nothing could induce the childbirth. Then, the grieving parents go to Kailash and underwent through 12 yearlong penance, after which as promised by Lord Shiva a healthy baby boy was born to the couple. However, as the baby had matured in the womb for 12 long years, the baby was born with a mustache. Seeing this, the parents were worried about being attacked and asked about the legitimacy of the child. Lord Shiva said that they could conduct on a yatra around Handigaun where the father would carry the Khat and mother would lead the procession with wick lamps, people would gather to observe it. The procession was carried on according to the directions. Meanwhile, Chokte Narayan also returned to Handigaun and other gods themselves explained the legitimacy of the child.

It is also said that the Jatra was initially conducted as a legitimacy rule for King Narendradev. As his father, King Udaydev went on an exile in Tibet, it was essential to gain the trust of the public after claiming the throne. The Jatra is said to be started as a strategy that would lead to recognition and acceptance of the King.

It is also said that the Jatra was initially conducted as a legitimacy rule for King Narendradev. As his father, King Udaydev went on an exile in Tibet, it was essential to gain the trust of the public after claiming the throne. The Jatra is said to be started as a strategy that would lead to recognition and acceptance of the King.

Handigaun, is itself an open museum. The people, culture, rituals, festivals and temples each tell an unparalleled story. Despite centuries of power struggle, new dynasties taking over, and the shift to modernization, the area has withstood the test of time and has still managed to keep its tradition intact, passing them down to new generations. Handigaun has still been concealing eons of well-kept secret in its womb. Proper attention by the government, excavation by the archaeological community might uncover the arcana and decode the enigmas giving us an intricate insight to our past.

Words by Pragya Thapaliya.
Read more by Pragya on DREAMS here.
Follow Pragya on Twitter on @pragya16

Photos by Saifullah Muhammad.
See more works by Saif here

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