• Culture & Tradition
  • 15 May, 2024

The Legendary Tale of Rato Machindranath Jatra

The Legendary Tale of Rato Machindranath Jatra
Once every 12 years, the chariot sets out on a remarkable journey, guided by devotees from Bungamati to Pulchowk, winding its way through the picturesque paths of Bhaisepati, Nakhu, Bhanimandal, and Jhamsikhel. Photo: Sambid Bilas Pant

As the early days of May unfold, Kathmandu Valley finds itself cloaked in a stifling heat, the sun glaring down mercilessly upon its parched lands. The absence of rainfall only exacerbates the discomfort, leaving the air thick with anticipation and longing for relief. In the distance, the looming shadow of forest fires in neighboring districts casts a haze over the city, a grim reminder of nature’s fury and the urgent need for respite. Despite the collective prayers and fervent wishes for rain, the skies remain obstinately clear, devoid of any promising clouds.

Amidst this sweltering atmosphere, life in the valley carries on, albeit with a sense of restlessness and unease. Streets buzz with activity as people seek refuge from the heat, their conversations punctuated by murmurs of hope for a change in weather. In the heart of Pulchowk, Lalitpur, amidst the bustling streets and ancient temples, a scene of profound significance unfolds. Here, under the watchful gaze of the surrounding crowds, craftsmen meticulously fashion a chariot fit for a deity – the revered Rato Machindranath, the god of rain.

Rato Machindranath
The grand chariot, standing at an impressive height of 48 feet, is intricately fashioned from bamboo and wood. Adorned with four immense wheels, this majestic chariot is a sight to behold. Photo: Sambid Bilas Pant


As the sun casts its golden glow upon the scene, a team of craftsmen gathers around a wooden frame, their tools poised and their spirits focused. With a nod to centuries of tradition, they eschew modern conveniences and opt instead for techniques passed down through generations – techniques that honor the natural integrity of the materials they work with. The craftsmen set to work, their hands moving with a fluid grace born of years of practice.

Without the aid of nails or screws, they join the sturdy wooden beams together, their precision and expertise evident in every careful motion. With each joint seamlessly integrated, the chariot begins to take shape, its form a testament to the artistry and dedication of those who labor upon it. Through patient craftsmanship, they breathe life into the wooden frame, transforming it into a vessel fit for the divine. And as the days pass and the chariot nears completion, a sense of anticipation fills the air, mingling with the heat and haze of the early May days.

The people of Patan find solace and hope, trusting in the age-old promise that the rains will come – ushered forth by the god whose chariot they now construct with reverence and love. An old man stands among the onlookers, his weathered face etched with wisdom and anticipation. With a solemn nod, he declares to those around him, “He will bring rain,” his voice carrying the weight of faith and tradition. In this moment, amidst the heat and haze, a glimmer of hope takes root in the hearts of the valley’s inhabitants. For in the timeless rituals and sacred rites of devotion, they find belief that even in the face of adversity, the rains will come, bringing with them the promise of life and abundance once more.

The Legend

In the ancient city of Patan, the grand spectacle unfolds as hundreds gather to engage in a sacred ritual—the ceremonious pulling of a towering 48-foot-tall chariot, meticulously crafted from bamboo and wood. This magnificent chariot with 4 massive wheels bears upon it the revered idol of Rato Machindranath, the embodiment of the Rain God in Nepali mythology. Amidst this annual tradition lies a captivating legend that traces the divine journey of the Rain God to the Kathmandu Valley. It is a tale woven with threads of history and mystique, featuring a Lichhavi King, a venerable tantric priest, and a humble farmer, each playing a pivotal role in the narrative of faith and reverence.

Centuries ago, during the reign of Licchavi King Narendra Deva, who ruled from 643–679 A.D, Kathmandu Valley anguished under the grip of a relentless drought. For twelve long years, the thirsty earth cried out for relief, as crops withered and streams ran dry. Desperate for a solution, King Narendra Deva turned to the wisdom of astrologers, who revealed a startling truth—the drought was the wrath of guru Gorakhnath, offended by the disrespect shown by the valley’s inhabitants during his visit.


Gorakhnath, insulted by the inhabitants of the valley during his visit, retreated into meditation to subdue the Nagas (snakes) who controlled the rainfall in the region. The advisors counseled the king that the sole remedy to appease the snakes and restore rainfall was to summon Rato Machindranath from Assam, who happened to be the mentor of Gorakhnath. This course of action would necessitate Guru Gorakhnath’s cessation of meditation upon the Rain God’s arrival in the Kathmandu Valley, thereby granting freedom to the Nagas. Guided by the counsel of the astrologers, the king embarked on a daring quest to appease the angered deity and restore the rains to Kathmandu. Accompanied by the revered royal tantric priest, Bandudatta, and the humble farmer Lalit, emissary of the valley’s agrarian soul, King Narendra Deva journeyed to the distant land of Assam, where Rato Machindranath, the revered Rain God, resided.

Rato Machindranath
The idol is commonly referred to as “Rato Machindranath,” with “Rato” signifying red and “Matsyendranath” or “Machhindranath” translating to ‘Lord of the Fishes’. Photo: Sambid Bilas Pant

The road to Assam was fraught with peril, beset by unseen dangers that threatened to derail their mission. Yet, undeterred by adversity, the trio pressed on, invoking the protective blessings of Sankata, the deity who dispels obstacles. Their journey, marked by trials and tribulations, culminated in the triumphant return of Rato Matsyendranath and Sankata to the sacred soil of Kathmandu. Even today, devotees continue to venerate Sankata, seeking the deity’s divine protection against malevolent forces and adversities. The worship of Sankata is deeply rooted in the belief that invoking the deity’s blessings can alleviate problems, overcome challenges, and mitigate setbacks encountered in daily life. This enduring tradition reflects the unwavering faith of the devotees in the power of divine intervention to guide them through life’s trials and tribulations.

With the arrival of the Rain God, Guru Goraknath halted his meditation to greet him and the heavens opened once more, bathing the thirsty earth in life-giving rain. In gratitude and jubilation, King Narendra Deva inaugurated the Rato Matsyendranath Jatra, a grand procession that would become a cherished tradition in the annals of Nepalese history. Each year, the people of Lalitpur pay homage to this ancient legend, crafting a majestic chariot to carry the idol of Rato Matsyendranath through the winding streets of their city. Guided by faith and devotion, devotees pull the chariot on a month-long journey, invoking blessings and celebrating the bountiful gifts of nature.

The Rain God

The idol is venerated by Hindus and Buddhists alike and bears multiple names. The idol is popularly known as as “Rato Machindranath,” “Rato” meaning red, “Matsyendranath” or “Machhindranath,” which translate as ‘Lord of the Fishes’. According to a legend, Matsyendra’s birth occurred under an inauspicious star, prompting his parents to cast him into the ocean as a newborn. Miraculously, he was swallowed by a fish, wherein he resided for many years.

Deep beneath the ocean’s surface, the fish carried him to the presence of Shiva, who was divulging the mysteries of yoga to his consort, Parvati. From within the belly of the fish, Matsyendra listened intently to the sacred teachings of yoga. Over time, he diligently practiced yoga sadhana, immersing himself in its profound disciplines. After twelve years of unwavering dedication, he emerged from the depths of the ocean as an enlightened Siddha, having attained profound spiritual realization. This extraordinary tale is said to be the origin of

Matsyendra’s epithet, the ‘Lord of the Fishes,’ a testament to his miraculous journey from obscurity to enlightenment within the depths of the aquatic realm. The residents of Lalitpur affectionately call the rain deity as “Bungadeya,” a name derived from the words “bungaa,” meaning “watering place.” The idol is also called Padmapani Lokeshwor also recognized as Avalokiteśvara,”Lord of the World,” a significant figure in Buddhism or “Karunamaya,” meaning the compassionate one. The deity is seen as an icon for thriving of agriculture, the arrival of monsoon showers, and the general welfare of the community.

For six months of the year, Rato Machindranath affectionately known as Bungadeya, resides in Bungamati. The grand shikhara-style Rato Machindranath Temple in Bungamati served as the deity’s abode until the devastating earthquake of 2015 reduced it to ruins. Presently, efforts are underway to restore and renovate the temple to its former glory. Meanwhile, the deity has found temporary shelter in Bungamati. During the remaining six months, Rato Machindranath takes up residence in Patan, continuing to bless devotees with his presence. The cyclical movement of the deity between Patan and Bungamati is commemorated with great fervor as the Rato Machindranath Jatra—a cherished celebration that honors the divine journey of the Rain God and strengthens the bond between the people and their deity.

Minnath

A smaller chariot, reminiscent takes the lead and later follows Rato Machindranath along the ancient pathways of Lalitpur. Enshrined within this diminutive chariot is an idol that has accumulated various names over time. The veneration of Minnath in Patan predates that of Machindranath, with a history dating back over 2,000 years. The legacy of Minnath also called Jattadhari Lokeshwor in the city traces its origins to ancient times, illustrating a profound and enduring spiritual connection that has endured through the centuries. In the native dialect of Nepal Bhasa, he is revered as Chak: Baha Dyo (The god of Chak Baha in Patan of Lalitpur), while in Nepali, he is known as Jatadhari Lokeshwor (Braided Hair Lokeshwor). However, he is commonly referred to as Min: Nath, a name that resonates throughout the
community with deep reverence.

The Procession

The procession of the Rato Machindranath chariot commences from Rath Khel (Pulchowk) and proceeds to near Pulchowk Stupa. Simultaneously, the smaller chariot sets off from Chak Baha (commonly known as Tangal), navigating through Mangal Bazar, Mah: Pal, Ga: Bahal, and reaching Nya Tole (Na Tole). Upon reaching Nya Tole, the smaller chariot reverses course and heads back towards Ga: Bahal, with the larger chariot following suit. On the second day of the procession, the chariot of Chak Baha Dyo yields precedence to the Rato Machindranath chariot, allowing it to take the lead. Both chariots converge at the heart of the city, Mangal Bazar, where they pause for rest and reverence.

As the journey progresses, they traverse through Sundhara, Thapa Hiti, Lagankhel, Tha: Ti, and adhering to designated routes. Finally, on the culminating day, the chariots are ceremoniously pulled to Jawalakhel (Ja symbolizing rice, Hwau signifying the act of feeding in a throwing motion, and Khel denoting an open field), marking the grand finale of the procession. Once in every 12 years, the Barha Barsa Jatra, or the 12-year festival, heralds a special occasion in Bungamati, where the construction of the Rato Machindranath chariot takes place. This monumental event sees the crafting of the revered chariot, a symbol of devotion and tradition. During this rare and auspicious occasion, the chariot embarks on a remarkable journey, pulled by devotees from Bungamati to Pulchowk, traversing through the scenic routes of Bhaisepati, Nakhu, Bhanimandal, and Jhamsikhel.

Rato Machindranath
The sacred procession stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of faith and unity, as communities unite to pay homage to Rato Machindranath and commemorate the vibrant heritage of their culture. Photo: Sambid Bilas Pant

Bhoto Jatra

As the procession draws to a close, another ritual unfolds—the Bhoto Jatra, a poignant reminder of the interconnectedness of humanity and divinity. The festival is known as the Pwaklo Jatra, with “Pwaklo” specifically referencing the vest. Following the arrival of the two chariots in Jawalakhel, astrologers meticulously select a propitious date to commence the Bhoto Jatra festival. On the designated day, in the esteemed presence of the head of state, a government official ascends onto the chariot. With great ceremony, the official displays a jewel-studded black vest from each side of the chariot, ensuring that all assembled spectators have a clear view of this revered artifact. Adorned with jewels gifted by Naagraj, the King of the snakes, the sacred vest (bhoto) symbolizes the enduring bond between mortals and the
divine, a testament to the timeless power of faith and compassion.

Legend has it that Naagraj, the King of the snakes, bestowed a vest (bhoto) adorned with valuable jewels upon a local physician who had successfully healed his wife’s ailment. Subsequently, during a day of toil in the fields, a demon pilfered the physician’s vest, leading to a confrontation between the two parties. The dispute caught the attention of King Narendra Dev, who decreed that the vest would be held in the custody of Lord Matsyendranath until one of the claimants presented substantial evidence to validate their ownership. Thus, the vest is exhibited annually as a poignant reminder of this unresolved contention. The revered living goddess Kumari of Patan graces Jawalakhel with her presence to witness the Bhoto Jatra ceremony. She observes the proceedings from a specially designated rest house, adding a divine

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