There is always a reason for Newars to celebrate any of their festivals. The saying seems just fit when you randomly scan through your yearly calendar and there’s barely a month that drifts without a Newari festival coming in. Delicacies, feasts, traditional dances, and festivals, “celebration” as a whole is almost synonymous with Newari culture. The Kathmandu Valley of Nepal mainly witnesses major elaborate Jatras (street festivals or carnivals) around the year.
On Shrawan Shukla Chaturdashi of the lunar calendar, a unique festival is celebrated by the Newar community. The festival has many names, but in the common tongue is known as Ghantakarna, but various Newar settlements call it by a different name. In the city of Bhaktapur, it is called Gatha Muga, whereas in Kathmandu and Lalitpur it's called Gathe-Mangal.
Gatha Muga Cha: Re showcases the sign of the beginning of the festive seasons. The city of festivals, music, and dance abruptly turns into an agro-focused city. That purely, for a whole month or even more. Thus, this day as the first festival of the year again ties everyone with their musical instruments.
Believed to have started in the Lichhavi era, it can also be regarded as a festival of appeasement, cleansing and of purifying from evil spirits. Houses are thoroughly cleaned that day to ward off any traces of evil spirits. People worship baali (new harvest) and eat offerings after a ritual samyabaji (consecrated offering) to avoid the impacts of bad spirits for the coming year.
Celebrates on Shrawan Shukla Chaturdashi(श्रावण कृष्ण पक्षको चतुर्दशीका) of the lunar calendar, which is the 9th month in the lunar Nepal Era calendar.
A popular legend from Bhaktapur has that, Ghantakarna was no mere demon but a simple man, who had a lot of sympathy towards the poor people. Only he was against religious beliefs. Instead, he believed in karma and hard work. That's why he also had hung bells in his ears so he couldn't hear any repute of the goss. He used to loot rich people and provide for the poor. But at the end of their life, no one wanted his cremation due to his undefined religious status, yet because of his good deeds towards the poor, they all decided to do his cremation by collecting the fund and did so.
The people of Kathmandu believe that the Ghantakarna was a good demon, who partially help them in the rice plantation. Due to the lack of human force, they needed a supernatural force to complete the agro work. Thus they invited these supernatural spirits during the monsoon and then bid farewell on the day of Gathe Mangal. But the demands of these spirits were far from affordable to the locals. Hence they were sent to their places, once the fieldwork settles.
According to another myth, Ghantakarna (a demon with bells in his ears) used to muddle the lives of locals. Eating humans and frighting them to death were his favourite pastimes. People were so terrified by him that they began to stay in their houses. One powerful Tantrik somehow got to know about the misdeeds of the demon so he transformed himself into a frog and went to the demon. The frog-turned-tantrik told the demon that some humans live across the river which made the demon go across the river barrier. But the supposed to be river turns out to be a swamp. Ghantakarna easily fell for this trick and fell into his death. That's why the frogs are also fed rice as their reward.
The legends surrounding the festival of Ghatakarna might differ in various settlements but the end of these brightly painted is the same in all. It is known as Bha Kayegu which refers to processions accompanied by shouting victorious phrases. As the sun sets, these effigies are dragged, beaten and taken to the nearest river to have them burnt. Procession goers wash their faces and eyes in the river for purification and bundles of straws are burnt at the crossroads to purify it of evil spirits and demons. In some neighbourhoods, a communal feast is prepared to celebrate the day.
In this locally celebrated festival, people make a figure of a demon using wheat straw, bamboo and branches of the tree. Also, the local women prepare dolls (Katamari) to add to the demons' figures. They believe the dolls might have souls, which probably could be a bad one. Thus to get rid of any kind of evil spirits, they attach it to the demon’s figure. Furthermore, they also add some paintings to the picturesque image of the demon. However, even with such a terrifying combination, it looks quite eyecatching, with a musical performance the gatha muga or ghantakarna is brought to the streets. After roaming a little around, it is burned down in between the streets, far more into the crossroads and somewhere near the rivers too.
It's Gathamuga: Chahre (गथांमुगः चह्रे), today.— Ask Me About Nepal (@askmeaboutnepal) August 9, 2021
The Newars of Kathmandu valley wear these wrought iron rings to ward off evil spirits. #nepaliculture #nepalnow #newars #gathamuga #gatheymangal pic.twitter.com/MagdqMEREC