Monday, 27 March 2017

The legend of Ghode Jatra

The celebration of Ghode Jatra is done in the wide open ground of Tundikhel every year in the heart of Kathmandu. Organized on the no-moon day of Chaitra, “Ghode Jatra” translates to “Horse Parade” in Nepali. Organized and performed by Nepal Army and Police together, Ghode Jatra has a historically rich lore that centers on Kathmandu city’s antiquity and yesteryear memoir. This occasion falls about mid-March or early April of the English Calendar month. A big horse parade takes place at Tundikhel. This year, the Jatra falls on Chaitra 14, 2073. That is on March 27th, 2017. Comprising of a demon terrorizing the denizens of Kathmandu in ancient medieval times, the legend speaks of how Nepali culture and tradition is veritable, unique and opulently rich.

The story begins in Kutumbahal in Kathmandu thousands of years ago. In Kutumbahal, there lived a trader who went by the name of KeshChandra. He was a quick-witted fellow and had a knack of thinking on his feet. Another quirk that KeshChandra possessed was that he was also, unfortunately, a big gambler. Indulging on gambling every day, KeshChandra had a serious gambling problem. Inevitable as it was, KeshChandra lost everything he had one day when a particular game of gambling went terribly wrong. He then decided to visit his older sister. Married to a rich husband, KeshChandra’s sister was loaded with money, so to speak. Glad that her younger brother had come for a visit, she cooked delicious meals for him and served him on a golden plate. KeshChandra ate till his stomach was full and cunning as he was, sneakily stole his sister’s golden plate and got away. With this new asset, he went on to gamble again, hoping to win his money back. But, along with his money, KeshChandra also seemed to be all out of luck. He lost his sister’s golden plate to gambling too.

Now poor KeshChandra had nowhere else to go. Having lost all his money, he decided to simply head back to his sister’s. With a red face, he knocked on his sister’s door. Upon knowing that it was her younger brother again paying another visit, his sister forgave KeshChandra for what he had done. Cooking delicious meals again, she served him on a silver plate this time. KeshChandra ate till the silver plate was shining and because he simply could not resist his urges; he stole that silver plate also and went off to gamble again. And lo and behold! He lost. By now, he was between a rock and a hard place. He had nowhere to go and was ashamed to go back to his sister’s place. But as the days went by, his stomach growls grew louder with hunger and he finally returned to his only family. “I’m sorry”, he apologized to his sister again, “I’m terribly hungry. Will you help me?”. Too angry for what he had done, his sister simply cooked another course of meal for him, but this time, she served him with no plate and instead dropped the meal on the ground. “This should teach you a lesson!”, said his sister.
Filled with remorse and a little hurt that his sister would do something like this, KeshChandra didn’t eat what he had been served on the ground. He collected the rice that was meant for him, bundled it in a cloth and went off. Tired and hungry, carrying his bundle of discarded rice; he was on his way to Swayambhunath. Fatigued with hunger, he decided to rest under the shade of a Banyan tree in a clearing in the forest. Cursing his bad urges to steal and to gamble, he fell asleep as the soft breeze and the shade provided him some comfort.

There were lots of pigeons perched on the branches of that Banyan Tree. With a bundle of rice just sitting on the ground, the pigeons flew down one by one and began pecking at the bundle, and pretty soon- the rice was gone. These peculiar pigeons flew back onto the branches again. And then, something even peculiar happened. These pigeons, as a sign of gratitude towards KeshChandra for feeding them, dropped golden eggs for him. As the first golden egg hit the ground, KeshChandra awoke with a start only to fine that it was raining golden eggs!

Finally believing that his luck was turning for the better, he collected all the golden eggs and bundled them up. He now had a large bundle similar to the one he had before; only now, instead of rice, he had gold. As he was about to pick the bundle up to take home, he found that the bundle was too heavy to carry. No matter how much he tried, he simply was not able to pick it up from the ground. As he sat there wondering what to do next, he saw that a giant demon was heading his way. With a head that seemed too big for his body, the demon had red matted hair that was all over the place. His teeth seemed to poke out from his mouth as if they were too big and KeshChandra saw that they were sharp. The demon had around his neck a mala of wooden faces and was also twice the size of KeshChandra. With bulbous hands and feet, the demon was coming swiftly towards him. “I have finally found my meal for the day!” cried the demon. It was Gurumapa, the legendary demon that old grandmothers in the city often told stories about to their young grandchildren.

KeshChandra did not dare run for he knew that the demon was faster and would surely catch him in no time. He had had no food and didn’t think he had the energy to run very far in the first place. But he still had his wits about. And at that moment, he knew his wits were his only best move if he were to survive. “Gurumapa! Gurumapa! Please hear my plea!”, requested KeshChandra, “Listen to me please! Eating my puny self will not suffice you I know. I invite you to my home, Gurumapa, where I shall arrange a massive feast in your honor for you. A whole single buffalo and three big bundles of rice! If you do not believe me, take this bundle of golden eggs and hold on to it. You shall return this bundle back to me only when you are satisfied”.

Listening to this tiny human speak, Gurumapa saw sense in his ideas. Now that he was close, the human did seem all skin and bones. “Alright human, I agree to your deal”, said Gurumapa, “Lead the way and I will follow”. Carrying the bundle of golden eggs, Gurumapa began to follow KeshChandra who led the demon into the city and to his home. When they finally reached there, KeshChandra kept his side of the bargain. Sneaking a single golden egg from the bundle, he arranged for a fat buffalo and three large bundles of rice to be served to the demon.

Delighted with his offer, Gurumapa returned the bundle of golden eggs back to KeshChandra and began to devour his offerings. In a matter of few hours, the buffalo was gone, and so were the three large bundles of rice. KeshChandra thought that Gurumapa would return back to the jungles of Kathmandu once he was satisfied. But to his horror, quite contrary to what he thought, Gurumapa the demon decided that he liked his stay on KeshChandra’s back lawn and slept there. Gurumapa went on sleeping for three whole days and three whole nights right there on KeshChandra’s back lawn. When he finally awoke on the fourth day, he asked for more offerings. Afraid for his life and for the commotion it would cause in the city when people find out about his deal with the demon, KeshChandra agreed to keep feeding Gurumapa. “Dine as much as you like Gurumapa! Sleep till your heart’s content”, said KeshChandra. And so this went on for a whole month. The demon dined and slept for three days. Upon his awakening, KeshChandra would have had to arrange for the demon’s meals again. And the cycle continued.

By now, the people of the city had begun to take notice of KeshChandra’s unwelcome d guest. “It doesn’t bode well to have a demon in your house, KeshChandra”, they said, “You have to get rid of him, otherwise this isn’t going to end well”. The commotion that he was afraid of happening was happening. “I really must think of something”, thought KeshChandra, for he also knew that Gurumapa was bound to do something unpredictable sooner or later.

“I have a new home for you, Gurumapa”, said KeshChandra one fine day to the demon, “I have arranged for you to stay on the shady Ficus tree in Tundikhel. You will be more comfortable there and I shall visit you with your meals every four days”. Deciding to trust the human, Gurumapa agreed. After all, this human had served him well so far. He had no reason to play foul now. Upon KeshChandra’s request, Gurumapa went to stay on the branches of the verdant Ficus tree in Tundikhel.

When he finally awoke from his sleep on the fourth day, he found that KeshChandra wasn’t there. There was no meal. He waited a few more days for the human to come around, but to no avail. And because of this absence, he became angry. Walking up to the Kathmandu courtyard, he made his way towards KeshChandra’s house. With his flaming matted red hair and the bounce of his garland of wooden faces as we walked, Gurumapa gave the city’s folk a fright as he made his way determinedly towards KeshChandra’s house. The people then saw a crying and begging KeshChandra being dragged by Gurumapa back towards the Ficus tree in Tundikhel. They never saw KeshChandra again.
But that wasn’t the last of the demon the city’s people saw. Gurumapa often used to come into the city and scare the people. He would sometimes carry little children off and their parents would never hear from them again. He began to terrorize Kathmandu’s people. “Don’t cry and be good, otherwise Gurumapa the demon will have you”, said the grandmothers to their grandchildren. It was no longer safe for the people in the city anymore. Nobody dared went near Tundikhel or the Ficus tree, for fear of being attacked by the demon. He lived on the Ficus tree and Gurumapa went on to terrorize the denizens of Kathmandu for three months.

Finally, unable to take the reign of Gurumapa’s terror anymore, the people of Kathmandu formed an angry mob. With whatever weapons they could find- khukuris, swords and other futile artillery, the people managed to drive Gurumapa to the open meadow of Tundikhel once he came into the city again. With sticks and stones, the people threw these fickle objects at the demon to bring him down, but it did no good. The people found that no matter how much the people hit the demon; Gurumapa would simply stand back up again.

In the end, the people released a horde of horses on top of the demon. The horse stampede crushed Gurumapa on the ground, and when the dust settled after the stampede, the demon did not stand up like before anymore. After enduring months of the demon’s terror, the people had finally killed him.
Afraid that Gurumapa would come back again to haunt the city; a ritual came about every year of horses running on the tracks in Tundikhel. Afterwards, as time passed by, this ritual came to be known as the Ghode Jatra. Various tricks and parades were added later on to this existing ritual. Ghode Jatra had the presence of a parade and people flocked to see the horse riders do various tricks and perform amazing acts in Tundikhel.

And that is how the celebration came to be. The Newar community has a different take on the celebration and there are various other lore and legends that tell the story differently. But no matter the difference, the reflection of the city’s past and its history is still alive and remembered every year as people see the celebration of Ghode Jatra in the capital on the no-moon day of Chaitra.

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