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Rato Machchhendranath Jatra: The Longest Festival in the World


Numerous conflicting theories exist regarding the birth and birthplace of Machchhendranath, also known as Matsyendranath. This article acknowledges the limitation of adhering to the legend believed by many in Nepal, which claims that Machchhendranath was brought to Nepal from Kamarupa in the present-day Indian state of Assam. 

The legend tells the tale of Machchhendranath's journey from Kamarupa to Nepal's Kathmandu Valley during a prolonged drought under King Narendradeva's rule. Bandhudatta, a tantric, revealed that Gorakhnath held the rain-bringing Naga captive. Gorakshanath, visiting Patan, captured the serpents due to an ego issue with locals and meditated. Bandhudatta advised King Narendra Dev to bring Machchhendranath, Gorakhnath's guru, to release the Nags. With Bandhudatta and Lalit Jyapu's help, King Narendradeva journeyed to Kamarupa, overcoming obstacles to retrieve Machchhendranath. After discovering his teacher's presence, Gorakshanath paid his respects, and the captive serpents fled, bringing rain to Patan. A red-faced idol of Machchhendranath, also known as Rato Machchhendranath, was installed in Patan and has since been worshipped as the rain god there.

The Rato Machchhendranath festival, is a vibrant annual festival celebrated with much enthusiasm both by the Hindus and Buddhist in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. It revolves around the deity Rato Machchhendranath, who is believed to bring rain and prosperity. The festival, perhaps the longest festival in the world, is celebrated for approximately two months.  The festival features a grand chariot procession of Rato Machchhendranath's towering wooden chariot through the streets of Lalitpur (Patan), accompanied by music, dance, and religious rituals. The festival typically takes place during the months of April and May, although the exact dates may vary based on the lunar calendar.  The festival begins with the installation of the chariot of Machchhendranath, known as the Rato Machchhendranath chariot, in the Pulchowk area of Lalitpur. The chariot is a towering 60-foot wooden structure adorned with colorful decorations and symbols. The chariot is pulled through the streets of Lalitpur by devotees with a colorful procession attended by tens of thousands of people. The procession is accompanied by music, dancing, and chanting, creating a lively and festive atmosphere. Devotees offer prayers, flowers, and other offerings to Machchhendranath during the festival, seeking blessings for prosperity, good health, and abundant rainfall for agricultural prosperity.  The festival also features various cultural performances, including traditional music, dance, and theater, showcasing the rich cultural heritage of Nepal. 

Panejus, the priests of Rato Machchhendranath:

The priests of Rato Machchhendranath, known as Panejus from Buddhist Shakya and Bajracharya clans, play a crucial role in overseeing the religious aspects of the festival and performing rituals associated with the deity.  The priests are considered spiritual leaders responsible for conducting religious ceremonies, prayers, and rituals dedicated to Rato Machchhendranath. They have a deep understanding of Hindu and Buddhist traditions and scriptures. During the festival, the priests lead various rituals and ceremonies, including the installation of the deity's idol in the chariot, offerings of prayers and sacrifices, and blessings of devotees. They guide the devotees in their spiritual practices and interpretations of the deity's teachings.  Before the chariot procession begins, the priests perform a special worship to bless the Rato Machchhendranath chariot and ensure its safety and success during the procession through the streets of Lalitpur. They are believed to have the ability to interpret signs and omens related to the deity's will and intentions. They are responsible for maintaining the sanctity and purity of the religious ceremonies and rituals associated with Rato Machchhendranath. They ensure that the offerings and prayers are conducted with reverence and devotion.  Overall, the priests of Rato Machchhendranath play a central role in the spiritual and religious aspects of the festival, guiding devotees in their worship and preserving the sacred traditions associated with the deity.

The Jyapu community- the major stakeholders of the festivals:

Meanwhile the Jyapus of Lalitpur play significant roles as stakeholders in the Machchhendranath festivals. The Jyapus, are traditionally involved in agriculture and are considered the traditional farmers of the Kathmandu Valley. They are responsible for the construction, maintenance, and decoration of the towering wooden chariot of Rato Machchhindranath, which is the centerpiece of the festival. They use their traditional craftsmanship skills to build and adorn the chariot with colorful decorations and symbols.

During the chariot procession, the Jyapus actively participate as chariot pullers. They pull the massive chariot through the streets of Lalitpur with ropes, demonstrating their physical strength and dedication to the festival. They also contribute to the cultural performances during the festival. They showcase traditional music, dance, and theater, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of the Kathmandu Valley.  Overall, the Jyapus of Lalitpur are integral stakeholders in the Machchhendranath festivals, contributing their skills, traditions, and dedication to ensure the success and cultural significance of the event.

The Bhoto Jatra

The Bhoto Jatra is the concluding day of the Rato Machchhindranath festival. This festival is marked by several unique rituals and customs, making it a significant event in the Kathmandu Valley.  Bhoto jatra typically falls on the last day of the Rato Machchhindranath festival, which usually takes place during the months of May and June. It is celebrated on the full moon day (Purnima) of the lunar month of Jestha in the Nepali calendar. The highlight of Bhoto jatra is the public display of a sacred vest (Bhoto) believed to have belonged to a legendary figure named Bhimsen. The Bhoto is a jeweled vest is considered an object of great religious and cultural significance. The public display of the Bhoto symbolizes the conclusion of the Rato Machchhindranath festival and marks the end of the monsoon season in Nepal. It is believed to bring blessings of prosperity, good fortune, and agricultural abundance to the community.

It is also important to note that there are four idols of Machchhendranath in the Kathmandu Valley – two idols Rato Machchhendranath (Red-faced) and two idols of Seto Machchhendranath (White-faced). The main Rato Machchhendranath is in half-yearly rotation in the temples of Bungamati and Tabahal of Patan, while another Rato Machchhendranath is places in the temple of Chobhar.  The idols of Seto Matyendranath are placed in Janabahal of Kathmandu and Nala of Banepa. The Newars of Dolakha district in the mountains also symbolically celebrate Rato Machchhendranth jatra. 


Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi