The Living Goddesses of Bhaktapur
No, no! I am not talking about the living Goddess, Kumari over here. But yes, you heard me right, I am talking about the other living goddess that resides in Bhaktapur. Actually, there are goddesses living in Bhaktapur.
“The Nava Durga Gana (group)”
The Nava Durga Gana is a group of people (the Banmala people of Bhaktapur) who with extraordinarily prepared and painted masks, represents the foremost nine most dangerous deities of Nepal along with other deities.
Even after being worshipped, they intentionally walk on the streets of Bhaktapur, startling every new person wandering on the same path, seldom. They perform one spiritual dance which is named the Nava Durga Dance, still, they are admired as eternal deities rather than some mediocre performers.
These Nava Durga Gana have their own way of rising, diminishing, and celebrating the events. Consequently, that’s why they also possess an undivided life series within a year.
Beginning with the death
Last week, on Saturday, the images of navadurga were paraded to Brahmayani and cremated. It was the day of Bhagasti. People simply call that day, the death day of nine durgas. With a cloudy heart, the Navadurga dancers gave their last public performance, holding up all their energies.
They were already powerless and were about to face their wanes. Though, it is a part of the Devi cycle to die and again revive. Bhagasti is powered as that specific day when these dangerous deities show their fierceness for the last time.
After the aforementioned, the city resembles bare without the god and goddess. Even, the locals get themselves involved in rice planting and all. The slick streets and those clumsy dark weather of June/July eventually made anyone feel the presence of distressing times.
Plus, there would be no music, dance, and festivals celebrating in any families of Bhaktapur. That seems a very not good time for Bhaktapurians. But yes, that time also passes with the arrival of the ghatha muga chare.
Gatha muga Chare is a local festivity that indicates the return of the festive season. Also, the comeback of Nava Durga. Once, the day of ghata muga chare arrives, the circle of reviving Nava Durga also starts to take place. And this is where the story of Nava Durga begins…
Nava Durga and Astamatrika
Nava Durga, a combination of dangerous deities, is more generously known as the incarnations of Goddess Parvati. That consists of the goddess Brahmayani, Kumari, Mahakali, Mahalaxmi, Tripura Sundari, Barahi, Vaishnavi, Indrayani, and Maheshwari, at the end. People in Bhaktapur worship these deities as Nava Durga.
Since there are different names and characters of Nava Durga in different countries fairly than Nepal.
It’s not only behind the Nepalese territory but even in Bhaktapur, the sequence of eight deities out of those nine is called Astamatrika. In accents of Bhaktapur, they were considered as the protectors of this burgh. I wonder if you have noticed it or not, almost all of the temples of these deities are in the outside entrance of the city.
Except for the temple of Tripura Sundari. Because she is not one among the Astamatrika. The anecdote also says that king Ananda dev once brought Astamatrika to Bhaktapur city for stability purposes at that timeframe, when he settled the Bhaktapur as the capital of Nepalmandal.
The process of reviving goddesses
Momentarily, coming back to the lifecycle of Nava Durga, the Gatha Muga Chare proclaims the vibes of immeasurable days.
Because that day is the day when the Gathas go look for the proper clay (dyo cha) to make masks of Nava Durga. Hither, Gathas represents those people who are actually gardeners. However, they are also mentioned as the protectors of the Nava Durga, in some studies.
But, all of the dances related to Nava Durga ceremonies are solely performed by the Banmala people. Once they ask the elders of the Prajapati caste where to find clay for mask making, on the day of Gatha Muga Chare, they go to Sakja, as recommended by the Prajapati people. It is a tradition or you can say an obligation ritual.
Sakja is a field inhabited in the northeast corner of Bhaktapur, barely more than a thirty-minute walk. From where they collect dark-coloured clay for the further process of mask-making.
Mask making, over here is not just a commissioned work. It is a very sacred and important process of reviving Nava deities. All of the nine goddesses are represented by these masks in the Nava Durga temple. There are no particular statues to represent them in the temple. Hence, that’s why the masks have had pretty importance.
When the masks are made
Finally, right before a month of Dashain, the Chitrakar people started to make and paint the masks. But before that, some tantric rituals took place at the Ya Chen, where the clays are given life and magic. The priest, also divides those clays into thirteen equal parts, since two masks are not necessarily made.
So, the magic and life of the clay can be re-mixed with the remaining clay.
On the very first day of the Dashain, the masks are finally publicized in Ya Chen. On the same evening, the dancers take the masks to the Brahmayani to attach gilded copper crowns to twelve of the masks. However, those gilded copper crowns have no relation to the power or symbols of the goddesses.
It is said that a devotee, the rich one bestowed it as his offering. During this process, the Navadurga then completely came into its form, ready for juggling in the streets. Afterwards, the street performances of Navadurga start to take place. That for some 90 times per year.
More about the masks
The masks seem extraordinarily beautiful when they came to life. Each mask appears to have a unique peculiarity. Along with some similarities too. Eight out of the fifteen Nava Durga masks have the green jewel at the apex of the nose.
That means they are the major Nava Durga deities. Name wise the Mahakali, Kumari, Varahi, Siva, Bhairav, Swet Bhairav, Sima and Duma have this green jewel in their masks.
The other characters of the Nava Durga
Although it is called Nava Durga mask ceremonies, there are fifteen characters in all. Besides the Nava Durga, there are six more characters in this mask ceremony. That consists of Sima and Duma, the guardians; Bhairav (an incarnation of Lord Shiva), Swet Bhairav, Shiva, and his son Ganesha.
All of them have carnivals and roles to execute. But, there is no certainty on how they are going to perform.
Among the Nava Durga as well, the masks of Tripura Sundari and Mahalaxmi are not publicized. They remain sacred in Ya Chen. whereas in the advantage of the Palenque, an image of Mahalaxmi with no face is taken with the troupe.
Mahalaxmi, somehow, is also considered the mother goddess of Nava Durga. The believers say that she augments the power of Taleju and exceeds it to other deities. Here, Taleju is worshipped as the tantric image of the goddess Parvati.
Similarly, the shiva is meant to be the god of all Nava Durga deities. The mask of shiva never takes part in the dance. Moreover, it is quite smaller than other masks and all along the way, carried by Ganesha. There is a belief that he is blind to anger and fury.
Thus, he could destruct everything appearing near him. That is why his mask is also painted red, symbolizing his angry face. The mask is then carried by his son, Lord Ganesha. So, he could be dominated.
What about a story?
Knowing all these things somehow made us think about the start-up of this ceremony too. Isn’t it? Yes, things like how these dangerous deities became part of our lives? Who started all these things? Also, why do they dance in the streets?
Of course, the Nava Durga, madly dance in the streets. The dancers say that they merely can control themselves from dancing, once they wear the masks. But this texture is all about human dancing in the form of the deities.
However, only one incident of the tale has mentioned the street dancing of deities. According to which, these deities danced once when they get free from their tantric devotee, named Sunanda Acaju. He was a person with tantric spells and power. By some means, he managed to capture the navadurga and keep them secretly.
At a condition that no one would see them except for him. But one day, knowingly or unknowingly, his wife noticed them. And, at the same moment, they set themselves free and in joy, they started to dance in the streets.
Foremost, Bhaktapur seems to have particular dates for every single event. And, each of them again has value and purpose as well. This, Nava Durga here also has a meaning in its existence. So far, it is a ceremony of masks, a belief, a story, and of course a depiction of dance forms.
Here we have a related photo story of Nava Durga and its characters. Check that out too.