There is no such deity probably in any religious pantheon on the earth as folklorishly popularized as Rato Machhendra. There are many fascinating legends and rates -woven around Buddhist deity. And this deity also has awful lots of names such as Karunamaya, Bodhisattwa Padmapani, Awalokeswara, Lok Nath, Bunga Dyo, etc. The multiplicity of its names also speaks a lot for his popularity. One might wonder and ask what made this deity so popular. One of the most strongly supporting elements in the composition of its popularity is that it has been a long tradition to worship him as the all-compassionate god of rain and food grain.
Nepal as we all know is an agricultural country where more than 90% of people -even to this age of science and advance technology-heavily depend on agriculture for their daily grind. The method of cultivation here, except in few cases is still in primitive stage. The monsoon rain is still the main source of water. The monsoon in Nepal generally begins sometimes in the middle of June and continues until the end of August. But the Nepalese farmers long before the monsoon starts thinking about the weather and look at regular clouds wondering whether they are going to have enough rain for the farming that year. The only way to free them from this worry and stay relaxed is to pray to the rain god for the better crops.
This is one of the main reasons why the chariot festival of Rato Machhendra which begins every year on the first day of the bright fortnight of Baishakh proves in itself to be the most auspicious occasion for the entire farmers' community-specially for (the Jyapu) farmers of Kathmandu Valley. These are the most enthusiastic people who always take active part in the celebration of this chariot festival. Soon after the festival phenomenon arrives at the door these people set them to the tremendous task of making a most fascinating festival chariot as tall as an ordinary three storeyed Nepalese house which demands a great skill. They become busy doing all kinds of things from carrying the building materials to using them in their most practical way. And also it is the same Jyapus who would pull the festival chariot throughout the different routes of the Patan city during the entire period of the celebration. The chariot is so heavy that it takes at least one hundred people to make it move. Beside this, the Jyapus also have a great enthusiasm for music. No festival in Nepal is considered complete without the musical performance. Their favorite drum locally known as Dhimaya and Bhushya (a pair of big brass cymbals) is a big must for the chariot festival of Rato Machhendra. When they bang beat the Dhimaya and hit hard the big brass Bhushyas people immediately make remarks on their performance and say that here they go for festival. Such an enthusiastic music they produce that it immediately puts the entire festival-watchers into a most enjoyable mood and they just go excited with it. This is all about the enthusiastic participation of the Jyapus in the celebration of the festival that has always a great respect for this rain god, Rato Machhendra Nath.
This deity is so much involved in everyday life of the people that he is almost in their blood. There is a very popular saying. It goes this way: one should never live in the neighborhood which does not have any Sanlhoo Guthi (a kind of religious institution or a trust devoted to rendering a service to Rato Machhendra on every first day of the month). Besides this, there are so many other customs and ritual traditions which throw plenty of light on the recognition of this deity's popularity as the rain god. There is a very old tradition custom according to which every year the bathing festival of this deity takes place at Lagankhel in Lalitpur. The main feature of this festival is the pouring out of the holy water over this rain god. There will be four big silver jars set in four different directions of this deity. When the chief priest announces the right moment to pour out the jars over the deity, all four priests long standing around the deity hastily lift their respective jars and pour out the water straight over the deity. As a very popular belief has it, the direction from where the first jar was lifted and poured out will definitely have better crops this year. It is said that in order to watch this auspicious ceremony even the important Nagas from heaven (water spirits) hand around in the air. Sometimes the public blows out into such an extent that some people in the crowd even strongly claim to have seen Nagas in the air watching the festival.
The Nepal Festivals-Dhurba Krishna Deep
National Library, Lalitpur
Photographs: Pradeep Man Shrestha