Dipping into a private sea

Festival Issue 144 Nov, 2013

Until we learn to believe, everything is a mystery

Sometimes I wonder if God really exists; if he listens to our prayers. The name of god seems to be one everyone fears and, yet, ends up invoking during moments of crisis. More importantly, I imagine it prevails to remind us of our humanity. In this day and age, I believe we answer to our conscience rather than to an idol in a temple but I cannot deny that I live in a country where people brave chaotic crowds just to get a glimpse of the living Goddess and Gods – Kumari, Ganesh and Bhairav -  merely to feel blessed through a petal touched by them. It’s not something I can relate to as I have always been defiant of various conventions of religion that I view as unnecessary. But call it coincidence or destiny, it was in the chaotic Jatra of Yenya Punhi that I met Shubharatna Shakya who, from the years 2014- 2027 B.S., was bestowed with the life of a Bhairav. It seemed he could be all the answers I was searching for – perhaps he could inspire me to believe again. Or maybe I could blame him for my defiance because of what he stood for.

Bhairav, a protective deity, is believed to guard against accidents. According to King Jaya Prakash Malla’s decree, his presence, along with that of Ganesh’s, was regarded important to wheel the Goddess around Kantipur during Yenya Punhi. Shakya and I initially started to chat about the process involved in being a Bhairav. All this while he appeared calm and composed at my cynical queries. Prying him with questions, I asked him if he had ever felt trapped as a child who had to answer to the will of other people rather than his own. “I was living the life of a god who is highly regarded, I was proud of my status. I was privileged so that thought never occurred to me,” he answered.

But I wasn’t ready to let go so easily. I wanted to know whether he really believed he was a god at that time. Mirthfully, he replied, “Yes, I sometimes felt so. When I was twelve, the wheels of my chariot crushed a man’s leg. His wound worsened every day and it was only after receiving my blessings that he started recovering.” Although this miracle did not fit my level of understanding I could not deny the fact that faith has the ability to weave even the impossible.
I continued prodding him.

“Did you never crave a normal life?,” I asked.
“Well, I did. My interest in being a Bhairav was wearing off as I entered my teens. I did not like the attire (Bhotto and long hair) I had to wear so I started rebelling.”

Never being deprived of attention in his early years could have led to a taste of taking things for granted and, possibly, a craving for his previous influence once he had given up the life of a god. But Shakya reveals, “I had a very happy childhood and I welcomed the struggle that is inevitable in life. As soon as I resumed my normal life I was slammed with reality – but I never regretted it.”

I then asked him if he readily accepted the rules he was bound to and if he ever felt some superstitious beliefs were irrational.

“Come to think of it, there is a lot I would agree with but then when you are brought up the way I was, there is no rationality attached to it.”

Along the years many things have changed. He tells me how the new Bhairav, Ganesh and Kumari have more privileges – tuitions to scholarships to even accessories have all been taken into consideration and granted a budget by the Guthi. He regrets not having these opportunities but after more than a decade as a god, Subharatna Shakya is content with life and wouldn’t have it any other way. He has a wealth of experiences that I would never be able to contemplate due to my crisis of faith. Dipping into his sea of memories I realize it all depends on how we conceptualize our thinking. We can either confine ourselves within our reasoning or go on to make more meaning of our faith in this skeptical world.

Requisites to be selected as Bhairav

  • Should belong to any eighteen principal Buddhist monasteries (Vihars) of Kantipur
  • Should bear no wounds on the skin at the time of selection
  • Should be young (4-7 years old)

Should be read as a Devjat from the Cheeno (horoscope)

When the king consulted his guruji about the matter, the latter explained that they needed to establish a Bhairav and Ganesh to wheel the chariot of Kumari around Kantipur. Ganesh, being a god who would protect from any hindrance, and Bhairav, who would shield her against mishaps, were given high priority to see to the safety of the Goddess on her journey around the city.