Franchising: The Gods

Festival Issue 89 Jul, 2010
Text by Looza Mahaju / Photo: ECS Media

Every Thursday morning, Hiranya Devi goes to pray to the wish fulfill-ing goddess, Manakamana Mai.
About her person, she has some pedas and couple of laddus (local sweets) which she has bought to offer to the goddess. A packet of incense—her favorites—are sticking out from her pockets. Somewhere in the recesses of the small basket she is carrying, a packet of matches are resting peacefully, some loose changes jingling around. And there are other ‘standard ingredients’: a sprinkle of rice grains, so much smeared with vermillion that the brilliant white sheen is replaced by bright red hue; couple of butter lamps; and other assorted ‘praying aids’.

After she has prayed to the wish fulfilling goddess, she makes her way to another powerful mother goddess, Guheshwori. There she proceeds to do the same thing: she closes her eyes, folds her hands, bows her head and prays with such enthusiasm that it seems she won’t leave until her wishes are granted. Before she exits the temple area, she encircles the entire compound then rushes home. She’s got a busy day ahead of her, and even a moment’s delay can mean her being stuck in the nasty traffic jam of Kathmandu.


Anywhere, but Kathmandu? Yes, you heard that right! “But, but”, you begin, “isn’t the temple of Manakamana nearly three hours drive from Kathmandu?” You are right, of course. But there’s one inside the valley as well. And, you’ll be glad to know that both these famous temples, of Manakamana mai and Gueshwori, are in the same compound. You raise your eyebrows, almost incredulously and a question is pasted beautifully all over your face. “How?”
You’d be surprised by the secrets Kathmandu holds, secrets that no one bothered to learn about. Secrets that are out in the open, should anyone be keeping an eye open to recognize them.  
Well, because the gods also like the air of capital cities, that’s why! Take this into consideration, that Kathmandu is not only the capital city, it is also the cultural capital of the country. It has also been heralded as the abode of gods for so long that even its echo has faded into time. And, you still raise an eye brow when someone mentions they go and pray to Manakamana right here.

As the migration trend suggests, people have been migrating into the valley since time immemorial. And, when gods, after a dutiful rest in their heavenly abodes decided to join in the fun that is always happening in the human realm, they too decided to drop in the valley, quite metaphorically so.

If you think about it, really powerful and famous gods and goddesses (really, being all powerful made them famous, too) have a strong penchant for taking abode in the strangest and farthest places possible: atop an impossibly steep mountain; in a hamlet in an isolated place deserted even by atlases. Like a lonely eagle scanning the endless horizon, they seem to like whiling away the eons enjoying the best luxury there is: doing nothing; which is good, in its own special sort of way. But atop a mountain, you won’t get that much action to witness, nothing much to do and not much space to exercise the divine plan. Gods, like humans, also get bored very easily. And, gods, much more than human, need the magic of belief to sustain them. It might be all Nirvana up there, but it feels lonely at the top too. They need our belief for their very existence. And this is where the obvious problem creeps in—either ‘migrate’ or ‘perish’!

Unlike humans, gods just cannot pack their heavenly luggage and move around in a jiffy and settle in any place that strikes their fancy. You see, they are ‘tethered’ to certain place. To settle in, they either have to be invited, called in and invoked through strong tantric means or roped  and bound to a place, and that too through strong tantric means. There’s one other way, though. And that’s where the divine franchising comes in.
The temple complex in Banglamukhi serves this example beautifully. Scattered all over the compound, even in odd nooks and crannies are shrines of famous gods and goddesses such as Manakama and  Guheshwori. Convenient, isn’t it? Now you don’t have to travel all the way and get stuck in traffic jams and all those bandhas that has been sprouting madly like mushrooms in wet bark, when you can stroll down to Banglamukhi and carry out all your religious needs ‘under-one-roof’. Pretty nifty, when you think about it. When Kathmandu has just learned to build supermarkets that enables you to do your entire shopping under one roof, our ancestors were always far ahead than us, talking to all their gods under one roof.

“There are ‘certain’ ways to invite them in,” says Navaraj Rajopadhayay, a Newar priest. He comes from a family of priests that has long since kept alive many of the anciently traditional puja ceremonies of temples such as Krishna Mandir, Taleju Bhawani and others in Patan’s Mangal Bazaar. But then again, you just don’t hand out the invitation cards to the gods; there are “special ways” as he says. “The reason you see lots of gods and goddess like Palanchok Bhagawati (the main temple is in Kavre), Manakamana (of Gorkha) and others is that in olden times highly qualified tantric priests would summon a ‘section’ or ‘portion’ from those faraway shrines and establish a small version here, where it’s easier for the people of the valley to visit.” Sister concerns of the famous shrines? Franchising? You bet!