Monday, 17 January, 2022

Significance Of Makar Mela


Dr. Suman Raj Tamrakar

Located about 32 kilometres south-east of Kathmandu, Panauti is a very important place from cultural, ritualistic, religious, historical, touristic and commercial perspectives. In 2053 B.S., Subbagaun, Malpi, Taukhal, Khopasi, Sunthan and Panauti Village Development Committees (VDCs) of Kavrepalanchowk district were merged to form Panauti Municipality. Since the adoption of the federal system of governance, Panauti has taken an ever larger form with the addition of a few wards of Sharada Batase and Shankhu and merging of Balthali, Rayale, Kushadevi and Bhumidanda VDCs.

It is believed that in ancient times, there lived a saint who, before moving to another religious site, fixed a dry bamboo on the day of Makar Sankranti, the first day of the month of Magh in the Nepali calendar that marks the sun’s transit into the Capricorn. After strolling for 12 long years, the same saint returned to Shachi Tirtha, another ancient name of Panauti, and was quite amazed to see that the bamboo, which he had fixed on the stone, had started growing.
Considering this phenomenal change and the religious significance of the place, the saint named this land ‘Pa Lohati' which means 'bamboo germinating on a stone'. In the Newari language, 'pa’ means bamboo and ‘Loha’ means stone.

Another tale has it that the name ‘Panauti’ comes from ‘Pa Chuli’, meaning ‘growth of a bamboo branch’. ‘Pa Chuli', therefore, is the mother word behind the origination of the word 'Panchali’. Many people, however, believe that the word ‘Panti’ came from the Newari word ‘Pa Lohati' where 'Pa’ means bamboo, ‘Loha’ a stone, and ‘ti' a place of pilgrimage, the shortened form of the word 'Tirtha'. Panauti is also called 'Panti' in the Newari language while the names 'Panati' and 'Palati' too are used as variants of the same word in other local languages.

Famous by the name of Triveni Sangam (the confluence of three rivers) among the Hindus, this place sees a month-long grand fair commencing from the day of Makar Sakranti. Since the transit of the sun towards the Capricorn on that day, the incident is considered pure. The place is also known as ‘Uttar Prayag Tirtha (North Prayag shrine)’. According to mythology, it is believed that one who takes a bath in this confluence within that month may receive divine blessings.

Purity of Panauti
There is a story behind the purity of Panauti and naming Panauti as 'Uttar Prayag'. There were 13 wives of a sage named Kashyap, among whom the mother of the divine snake was known as Kadru and the mother of Garuda was known as Binita. Binita was senior to Kadru. One day in the course of chitchat among them, they happened to hold a serious debate about the colour of the horse that dragged the chariot of the sun. They discussed whether it was white or black. The discussion finally reached the situation of betting. And they decided the one who loses must be a maid of the other.

As junior to Binita, it was a win-win battle for Kadru. However, it was a bit confusing for Binita. Thinking that she would eventually win the bet, she agreed to settle on it. The next morning, like the deceit resorted by Lord Krishna in the Mahabharata, the divine snakes cast a shadow on the white horses and they looked black. Binita thought, the horses should have been white and was perplexed why this happened! Though she accepted her defeat and started serving Kadru, she had been deceived by the divine snakes.

The divine snakes had resorted to this propaganda in the greed to be immortal after having ambrosia, or Amrit. And they knew that nobody except Garuda could bring the sacred nectar from heaven. One day, the divine snakes put one condition to Garuda that if he brings nectar from heaven, they may release her mother from the service. Even Garuda knows that due to their illicit activities, his mother lost the bet. So he got ready to bring the nectar.

As per his words, Garuda went to heaven, stole the nectar and brought it. No sooner had the nectar reached the divine snakes than it began arguing whom to feed first and they started an intense quarrel. Garuda asked them to release his mother first from her service as a maid. Divine snakes agreed for it. Then Garuda told them to take a bath, make pure before having the nectar. Before going to take the bath, the divine snakes covered the vessel with nectar by a big stone. The news of the theft of nectar spread like fire in heaven and special envoys were sent in all corners in search of it. Indra, the king of heaven, ordered the envoys to search for the vessel containing the nectar. With the help of Pawan, the envoys found the vessel hidden underneath a stone and took it back to heaven. Indra ordered the envoys again to bring the stone which has got nectar to spread on it.

In the meantime, the sage named Gautam found the stone and reported about it to heaven. Envoys were sent to take that stone to heaven. The sage told them to take that stone, henceforth that place would be known as ‘Uttar Prayag’. He said he would use this place for meditation and told envoys to return and convey the same information to King Indra.
In this way, sage Gautam started to penance on that very place and his spouse Ahalya too started to live with him in a hut. And the Gautam couple started to preach about that holy place.

Ahalya and Curse To Indra
Ahalya was the most beautiful woman ever created by Brahma, the creator or the Supreme God. She was so irresistibly beautiful that even the creator himself was enamoured by her beauty. For fear of being defied, Ahalya was brought to the outskirts of the forest, where Gautam, a sage, lived. The sage married Ahalya.

The place was a blessed retreat, peaceful and pleasant. It was like paradise on earth. So, even the gods envied that place. Everybody was thrilled and lost in deep thoughts at the enchanting beauty of Ahalya. Even Narad, another sage, praised her beauty prodigally. Upon hearing about her beauty, Indra came to that spot to see how Ahalya looked like. He found her plucking different varieties of flowers in a garden. She looked like a fairy on earth. Her face was quite stunning. Indra made up his mind that one day he will steal a moment and seduce Ahalya. Ahalya had, hitherto, lived a life of piety with her husband for a long time, serving him in his devotion, meditation and other religious activities he performed in the hermitage.

One morning, Gautam took a dhoti and went as usual to the nearby river to take a holy bath. Soon after the sage had left, Indra disguised himself as Gautam and went there to seduce Ahalya with honeyed but sexually provocative words. He pretended to be Gautam and told her that he was having a sudden urge for sex. At first, Ahalya rejected saying that the time was not appropriate for sex. At this, the disguised sage looked quite dejected, and Ahalya had to comply. The two had sex in ecstasy.

In the meantime, the real Gautam returned from the river. He had forgotten to take sesame for the bath, and he was back to take the same. To his surprise, he caught a different man engaging in sex with his wife. He fumed and raged out of his ill: 'Stranger! You have committed a great crime against me by having sex with my wife. So let there be a thousand vaginas in your body for your immoral and wicked work.’
He then turned to his trembling wife and said: ‘Faithless woman! As you’ve done wrong without having the austere insight to find out who the man was, I hereby abandon you. For a thousand years, you shall stay here alone in the form of a stone. You will have to practice the severest austerity alone for your treachery. But listen! Later in the Tretya Yuga, when Lord Ram shall set his foot on you, you shall get redeemed of your sin, and then, you shall return to me.’ Enraged, Ahalya lashed out against Indra, for he had deceived her for nothing. Ahalya turned into a stone.

Indra’s Deformed Look
Anyway, Indra was not supposed to come out in public because of the curse of sage Gautam for his immoral sensual advances. Indra went to his wife Shachi stealthily in heaven with the pitiable and deformed look. She looked at him and she was horrified to see the plight of her husband. He told Shachi in detail whatever had happened; she looked sad and angry. She scolded her husband for his ill behaviour and sinful act that had defiled the most sacred woman ever created in the universe. Then, out of anger, she said, ‘Being the Lord of heaven, it’s a shame that you performed such a mean act. Your depraved nature and vicious act degraded and perverted yourself and made me difficult to move about with my head erect. You've been the meanest of the meanest.’ But Indra said nothing.

In such circumstances, Indra could not attend the council meeting in heaven. He stayed hiding in a secret place for a long time so that others could not see his body filled with vaginas, gaping like so many wounds. Over time, a lame political disorder arose in heaven. People started asking, ‘Where has the king gone? What has happened to him? Why hasn’t he been seen for a long time lately?’ Indra repented for the vilest deed he had committed. The turmoil that arose in his mind demoralised him mentally and spiritually. The curse marred his reputation and tarnished his divine dignity.

Indra and Shachi felt uneasy; they begged Brihaspati, the preceptor, for advice to get rid of the curse. Brihaspati looked very sad. Out of pity, he said, ‘Alas! Even the Lord of heaven has to suffer because of evil thoughts and action.’ The king requested his guru to suggest a way to absolve the curse. Brihaspati said: ‘There is a very pleasant place at the foot of a hill called Kunja. Have a holy bath at the confluence of the two rivers Lilawati and Padmawati there. Then, instal a Shiva Linga and worship it. Have deep meditation on Lord Shiva for a long time. Shachi, you meditate on Parvati. This will help your husband. These are the ways to get rid of the curse.’
After saying this he disappears. As per the suggestion of Guru Brihaspati, Indra and his spouse Indrani start penancing at the tip of Kunjaparbat (present-day Gorakhnath Cliff) near the confluence of Lilawati and Padmawati where dry bamboo believably turned alive, long ago.

Indra Gets Rid Of The Curse
After Lord Shiva emerged from the Shiva Linga and said to Indra, ‘This spot will be renowned as Shachi Tirtha owing to the emergence of Rudrawati river as a result of penance of Indrani. By bathing in this holy river except for the vagina on your forehead, all the vaginas you have on your body will disappear. Shiva Linga will be known as Indreswor in your name and this will be capable of fulfilling the desired wish of the people.’ After Mahadev's blessings, Indra bathed at Shachi Tirtha on full moon day. With this, the curse of Indra was purged, and its symbol disappeared from his body.

With the pleasure from the penance of Indrani, Goddess Parvati started to flow as Rudrawati in a secret form on the holy day of Magh. As Saraswoti River gets mixed at the confluence of Ganga and Yamuna at Prayag secretly, dwellers of Panauti also believe that there is a secret mix of Rudrawati on the confluence of Punyamata and Roshi rivers. That's the very reason why the tale behind Panauti is famously known as Uttar Prayag and Triveni.

In this way, the ritual of the month-long festival during the first day of the transit of the sun to Cancer got started. There is public faith that the Rudrawati river flows in the form of milk for a month at the time of Makar Mela from Gorakhnath Cliff underneath Brahmaayani Temple. Bathing at this place during Makar Mela releases one from sin and pain, as a local tale says. Mukteswor Temple where Indra penanced and Indreswor Temple which Indra established after making his penance successful and before returning to heaven are very famous even today.

Devine Blessings
It is believed that anybody who steps a step on that place might get wealth, peace and end of sin. So the name of the place became Palati (Pala meaning steps and ti means to keep steps). And with time, the place is named Punyawati as one can get divine blessings (Punya) just by stepping a single foot. With the modification of the words Palati/Punyawati over time, the name of the place got converted into Panauti.

So it is said that if possible step once every day if not once a month. If it's still not possible, step once a year and again if it's not possible, take a bath every 12 years at this holy place and get rid of your sins and earn welfare. By doing so, it is said; one can get a place in heaven after death.

There is a mythological connection between the Roshi River of Panauti and Makar Mela. And considering the similarity in the quality and source of water, the 12-year festival takes place every six years’ interval in Godawari of Lalitpur and Panauti alternately on Shrawan and Magh, respectively. The abovementioned tale is believed to have validity.

(A resident of Panauti. Dr. Tamrakar heads the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
at Dhulikhel Hospital)