Gathemangal- Demon Festival in Nepal

The festival of Ghantakarna is celebrated in Nepal on the Shrawan Krishna Chaturdashi. It is the day when Lord Kumar Kartikeya is specially worshipped. A mythical story of the terror – monster is often narrated in connection with the festival. The devil named Ghantakarna would hate God, good things, virtues and religious talks and was against hearing anything related to them. He had worn sixteen or seventeen Dharni bells in his ears not to listen to those things. People had been highly terrorized by him and his act of raising tax in public walkways. Once Ghantakarna lost his way and he met a frog whom he asked the way to human settlement. The frog was also fed up by the monster. It therefore showed a wrong way to marshy land where the minister proceeded and got so enmeshed in the mud that he could not come out until death. People believe the festival of Ghantakarna is one reminder of the monster and its evil deeds. People celebrate it as a victory over the Kathmandu valley is rich in culture, and has many festivals for their manifestation. Gate Mangal or Gatha Muga is one of them. The festival—which falls on July 29 this time– is celebrated to ward off evil spirits, and bring peace and prosperity to the society. This also marks the beginning of several festivals that will follow.

Effigies of the demon Ghantakarna—representing the evil spirit– are erected at street crossroads and corners. Each area with the effigy will have a boy—painted all over his body and face– impersonating the demon, with other kids chasing him. ‘Om Shanti Jaya Nepal, Aaju Jaya Haa’ (End of the demon and peace and prosperity in Nepal), they keep chanting as they move on. At the end of the day, the effigy is dragged to the nearby river bank for disposal with the painted man sitting on it. Aaju or the demon escapes on the way to the river. Some variance is observed in the celebration. In some communities, the demon’s effigies are burnt during celebrations. Girls tie dolls to the effigy and people wear iron rings on their fingers to ward off any possible influence of the evil spirits. A person wearing paint all over his body goes about begging for money. The painted man is made to sit on it and the neighborhood kids drag it away to the river bank.

Householders then place pots of cooked rice at the crossroads as food for the evil spirits to eat it, and not to harm any. Believed to have started in the medieval period of Lichhavi era, it can also be regarded as a festival of appeasement, of cleansing and of purifying. People worship Bali made of cooked or beaten rice in their home and eat Samyabaji as ‘Prasada’ to avoid the impacts of bad spirits for the coming year. To avoid any effects from bad spirits, a three-legged iron nail is driven on the doorway. Metal ring, believed to have the power to safeguard people from evil spirits, is worn on the day. Mythology and folk tales have narrations of evil spirits causing diseases among people and crops during the time the festival is believed to have started. Legend has it that demon Ghantakarna, literally meaning bells like ears, used to terrify the people by stealing and eating children.

People could not go out because of the terrors of the demon. Entire society looked deserted and lifeless. Frogs, friend of farmers, too were as sad as the people. Ultimately, the frogs decided to come to the rescue of the people. Frogs assembled in different directions and began agitating the demon by croaking loudly when Ghantakarna was on his way for the manhunt. Furious Ghantakarna tried to catch each of the frog. But the clever frogs led him to jump into a big swamp leaving him to die there. The valley was liberated from the fear of the demon. Frog is, therefore, worshipped by the farming communities, till today.

In Nepali context, the Gathe Mangal day is also a sort of ‘Thanks giving day’ to all those who have contributed to the prosperity of humankind invisibly like the frogs did in the Ghantakarna case. On this day, they also worship tools and agricultural equipment and also quietly apologize for their ‘unknowingly’ killing small creatures and insects during the plantation. ‘Om Shanti Jaya Nepal, Aaju Jaya Haa’.

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