Gurumapa: The Ogre of Itumbahaa

Festival Issue 161 Apr, 2015
Text by Alok Tuladhar

The famous merchant Singha Sartha Bahu of Tham Bahi (see story on page 58 ) had a brother-in-law named Kesha Chandra in Itumbahaa who had come upon bad times due to his gambling habits. His poverty necessitated him to visit friends and family for free meals.

One day, Kesha Chandra went for lunch at his sister’s house in Tham Bahi, where he was lovingly served the meal on a golden plate. He packed the plate in his bag and left after the meal, and soon lost it in a bout of wagering.

His forgiving sister invited him back for another meal, but this time served the food on a silver plate. Kesha Chandra quietly pocketed the silverware, only to wash his hands off it in the next bet.

When the sister invited him for lunch the third time, she laid the rice down for him on the floor, to try and teach him a lesson. Kesha Chandra was so overcome with grief that he packed the rice and hiked with it to an outlying forest, intending to leave the city forever. He spread out the sodden rice to dry, but his hunger and fatigue put him to a deep sleep. When he woke up, to his utter glee, he found that birds had eaten all his rice and defecated huge amounts of golden nuggets.

His newfound treasure was too heavy for him to carry back to town, but luckily he was able to convince the troll Gurumapa, who happened to live in the forest, to carry it for him.

In return for his favor, Gurumapa asked that he be allowed to live in town. His demonic behavior, however, soon surfaced, and neighborhood children started falling victim to his pangs of hunger. The locals finally struck a deal with the erring Gurumapa whereby he was permanently moved to Tinkhyo (Tundikhel), a large open ground in the eastern periphery of town, promising him a gigantic feast of one buffalo, one muri (about 90 liters) of rice, black lentil in a vyega (a large earthen pot) and 84 different tasty dishes once a year.

In the evening of the full moon of Fagun (which coincides with the gala Holi festival), the people of Itumbahaa go on a ritual procession with the promised feast, like they have been doing since the Lichhavi period, to Tinkhya. They also worship an image of Kesha Chandra every day, honoring him as their resourceful and lucky ancestor. The large Kesha Chandra image and ancient scroll paintings that vividly illustrate this legend are put on public display for a few days during the holy month of Gunla (Shrawan). Two repoussé plaques in Itumbahaa, one of the oldest and most important Buddhist monasteries in Kathmandu depict the legend of Gurumapa.

Parents and grandparents would call upon Gurumapa to scare children who would not go to sleep at bedtime. Many people of the locality below fifty have been forcefully put to sleep in this way.