Panauti is a very important place from cultural, ritualistic, religious, historical, touristic and commercial perspectives. This is a town having great significance with respect to art, culture, religion, history and tourism.
According to legends, in the ancient times, there lived a saint who, before moving to another religious site, fixed a dry bamboo on the day of Makar Sakranti, the first day of the month of Magh, on a stone eroded clean in order to test the purity and holiness of Panauti. Makar Sakranti marks the sun’s transit into the Capricorn. After strolling for twelve long years, the same saint returned to Shachi Tirtha (holy shrine), 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 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 word ‘Panchali’. Many people, however, believe that the word ‘Panti’, ‘Panati’ and ‘Palati’ 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’.
Known as 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.
As per a Buddhist tale, Panauti is known as ‘Panchal Desh’. It is mentioned that Yomari (popular Newari cuisine) had originated from Panchal town (now Panauti) during the reign of Lichchhavi King Amshuvarma as stated in Ratnabadane Buddha Vachan. The locals still believe that the town of Panauti is located on a single stone. In historical evidence and scripts, Panauti is also mentioned as ‘Asmanagar’ meaning the town which is divine and situated on a magnificent stone.
Another mythological tale mentions that Panauti is encircled and protected by a divine snake. That’s the very reason why there is a tradition among the locals not to use stone grinders so that the divine snake may not get wounded. There is also a belief that stone grinders are not to be kept in homes because Panauti is situated on a single stone. The town is also believed to be the birthplace of a divine snake called Basuki which was once taken away from Panauti to Patan as mentioned in folktales.
There are interesting mythological tales on Panauti Jatra. This cultural event commences five days prior to the full moon day of Jestha and ends on the third day after the full moon day, comprising a total of nine days. However, three days (June 2 to 4, 2023) prior to full moon days are of most significance.
The 10th day or Jestha Shukla Dashami (or five days prior to the full moon day) is known as Dyo Kwoha Bijyaigu (Gods to step down). On this day, Bhadrakali, Bhairav and Brahmayani are worshipped. Among the three important days of the festival, first day of full moon of Jestha is known as Kulkyaa. On this day, the procedure to cross the suspension bridge over the Punyamata River is done by making appropriate arrangements of materials. This worship is called Duicha Nyayakegu. The second day of the festival is known as Mu:jatra. On this day, animals are sacrificed, and feasts take place as per one’s capacity and wealth.
The full moon day-- Jestha Shukla Purnima (June 4, 2023) -- is a very important day of Panauti Jatra. Initially on this day the Brahmayani is charioted, routed round the town and taken to Police Pati situated at the courtyard of Layaku Durbar (Palace). And then idols of Bhadrakali as well as of Bhairav and Mahadev are placed in the respective chariots made for each god and goddess accompanied by traditional music playing. Between various musical echoes, Dwarey (the royal representative) is thrown into the chariot of Bhadrakali. At first, the chariot of Mahadev is lifted by Prajapati (a Newar caste), as the chariot of Mahadev is of type that it needs to be lifted. The chariot of Bhadrakali and Unmatta Bhairav is pulled around the town by the residents of Panauti to the courtyard of Layaku Durbar. In the beginning, the chariot of Bhairav and Bhadrakali and later the chariot of Mahadev and Bhadrakali are collided three times each. This collision of the chariots is regarded as sexual intercourse between the gods and goddesses.
The myth behind the collisions of chariots goes as follows. Once Bhadrakali turned extremely erotic and started to follow Mahadev. Mahadev became confused about what to do and where to go and finally decided to hide into the Punyamata River. After some time, Mahadev took the form of Unmatta Bhairav and started to follow Bhadrakali instead. Seeing the gigantic and appealing look of Unmatta Bhairav, Bhadrakali fled from the scene. While running through the Punyamata River (Roshi River) bank, she fell near Layaku Durbar of Panauti upside down.
Bhadrakali saw Unmatta Bhairav approaching her. Unmatta Bhairav copulated with Bhadrakali, who was also highly erotic, three times from the back. Mahadev returned to his original form, and he too copulated with Bhadrakali three times from back. As of resemblance of this incident, the chariot is struck three instances even today. In early days when the society was particularly reserved regarding the sex related issues, the jatra used to conclude early in the morning. However, with change of perception of the society towards sex, the Jatra is observed during the day these days. Besides, the chariots of Bramhayani and Ganesh are also move around the town. The third day after the full moon day is known as Dyo Thahan Bijyaigu, the day God returns.
(Dr. Tamrakar is cultural enthusiast and informant of Panauti town and medical educationist.)