The Flying Deities Bhatbhateni

Festival Issue 72 Jul, 2010
Text by Dinesh Rai

Say “Bhatbhateni” and most people will think ‘shopping’. Who hasn’t heard of the Bhatbhateni Supermarket; even Indian tourists seem to know it’s ‘the’ shopping center in Kathmandu. The name ‘Bhatbhateni actually comes from Bhat and Bhateni, a pious couple who attained divine status. The temple dedicated to them lies a mere 40 meters northwest of the famous shopping center.
This valley is full of surprises. You will find a temple that has lost its steeple (Maru Ganesh); a temple that has wooden images of gods with no hands or feet (Jagannath); a god whose head arrived in the valley without the body (Akash Bhairav) and here at Bhatbhateni, the god and goddess are suspended in the air as their feet must never touch the ground while their child floats above them nearby.

Long ago in Handigaun, a small locality in the city state of

Vishalnagar, there lived a holy Brahmin couple, Sudev and Sudevi. They were deeply devoted to Vishnu and having gained profound knowledge, earned the name Bhatbhateni. Vishnu was so pleased with this couple that he offered them a boon. “Give me a son with all you good qualities!” exclaimed Sudevi to her Lord. Vishnu told them, “You are already too old for such a wish in this life, but your wish will be granted in your next life.” Sudev and Sudevi were reborn to a Brahmin family in Vishalnagar and once again got married to each other. But this time they were extremely poor. However, they were exceptionally religious, honest and law abiding, which made them famous far and wide.

One fine day, an old Brahmin named Suddhadev arrived at their doorstep asking for shelter. Knowing about their exemplary character, when he left he decided to leave his walking stick behind. He then left for a 12-year pilgrimage. This was no ordinary stick as inside it he had stored gold ornaments. As time passed, they became more impoverished and to make matters worse, a son was born on the eighth year of the pilgrim’s departure. The son had all the attributes of Vishnu and they named him Villa. One day they noticed the walking stick had begun to rot and they saw the gold inside it. Caring for the child was proving to be beyond their means. Thinking that the pilgrim was too old to survive and return after 12 years, they sold the ornaments.

One day, Sudevi gave the child a bath and having oiled him, the three were basking in the sun. Unexpectedly, Suddhadev appeared before them and asked for his walking stick. Caught in a quandary, the couple lied, saying that his stick had been destroyed by moths. For a moment he believed them, but as he looked up to the sky is despair, he saw an eagle circling above. Suddenly, he realized what had happened and turning to the couple, cursed them, “Impossible! Liars like you should not find land on this earth to set foot on. If my stick could be eaten away by moths, then surely that eagle above can swoop down and carry away your child.”

To everyone’s dismay, the eagle did come down, plucked up the baby and flew away with it. The couple having accumulated religious merit, found supernatural strength to rise up in the air to get back their son. But then, their boy showed his true form. He was in fact the four-armed Vishnu-Narayan astride the Garuda, which had appeared in the form of an eagle. Because of their devotion to their god, the couple was blessed by Vishnu: “You shall remain in the sky as gods as you have remained loyal to me.”

Henceforth, even to this day, the images of Bhat and Bhateni at their shrine at Bhatbhateni remain above the ground with the image of their son rising even higher above them. Their feet shall never touch the groun