Celebrate New Year with Bhaktapur’s Bisket Jatra

Bisket Jatra offers a unique way to celebrate New Year, bringing in communities together in a boisterous carnival of might and merriment.

Text by Archana Shrestha

Bhaktapur, the smallest district in the country, is the richest when it comes to ancient architecture, cultural peculiarity, and vibrant festivities. One of the many festivals and celebrations that happens in Bhaktapur every year o n the first day of a new year is Bisket Jatra. This jatra is the epitome of vivacious festivals that reflect affluent cultural norms that our country carries. Unlike many other jatras that happen in and outside the valley, Bisket Jatra breaks the stereotype of taking place every year ‘date-wise’ rather than tithi-wise, that being during the month of April; from 27th of Chaitra to the 5th of Baisakh.

The chariot-making endeavor takes place two weeks before the jatra is to start. Two chariots, in the shape of pagoda-style temples, one of which is bigger than the other, are built by local people associated with the Guthi Sansthan of Bhaktapur. The bigger chariot is home to the deity Bhairav, and the smaller one is where Goddess Bhadrakali resides throughout the period of this eminent jatra. The making of the raths happens on the premise of Taumadhi Square, just opposite to the Bhairav Mandir, which is also the site from where the rath procession will begin on the first day.

The lingo, or pole, which is approximately 50 feet tall, is specifically made out of the branch of a sal tree, and what makes it notable is that the tree should be the one from the forest around Nala Gumba. People from the guthi community are supposed to go to the forest of sal trees and bring home the branch which will later be the lingo in the jatra.

At other times, when the lingo is in good condition, they use the same one for the years to come. The lingo is supposed to represent two snakes through two long red colored pieces of cloth, halinpat, attached on its two arms.

The procession starts from Taumadhi Square in the mid-afternoon, where Nyatapola Temple witnesses the first day of Biska. A crowd of high-spirited Bhaktapur dwellers pull the unwieldy chariot eastwards to Ga: hiti on the periphery of the Bhairav Temple. The chariot stays there for the next three days, up to Chaitra 30, during the span of which the residents of Ga: hiti light butter lamps and perform puja of Bhairav and Bhadrakali.

The jatra continues as the rath is hauled further east, downwards to Lhyosingkhel on the fourth day of Biska. It is only when the procession reaches Lhyosingkhel that the lingo comes to life. While there, the lingo is erected with the help of burlap ropes tied to the chariot, and from then on, the lingo travels with the raths.

The sixth day of Bisket Jatra, that is, Baisakh 1, the callithump of massive number of rath-pullers tug the raths around Bhaktapur Durbar Square, where spectators gather, devotees worship, and the exuberant crowd add more life to it.

The second half of Bisket Jatra starts in the afternoon on the first day of New Year, when the rath that faced east before is then turned westwards so as to return it to the place the jatra started. But, this is where the real deal lies. While the rath is supposed to be directed back to the west towards Ga: hiti, the pullers on the opposite side try to pull it towards their direction. A tug-of-war takes place at the time of this duel, during which the lingo either falls or breaks. The number of people that get injured during this heedless push and pull is also one of the reasons why Biska is so different from other jatras. Another intriguing event of Biska is called Khalwake, in which the two chariots are allowed to face towards each other and then clashed deliberately.

On the last day of Bisket Jatra, the chariots are dismantled at the very place they were built, and the parts are kept safely in the guthi office to repeat the same thing the following year. In every home of Bhaktapur, it is a ritual to host small feasts throughout the period of the jatra, where families come together to share good times with good food.

What better way to start the New Year than being a part of this boisterous festival that lets the whole community celebrate collectively at the same place!