The Frogs Too Have Their Day!

Festival Issue 105 Jul, 2010
Text by Amar B. Shrestha / Photo: ECS Media

The full moon day of August 24th this year (and the same or, a near-to-it full moon date every year) is an important day in Nepal.

First, you have Janai Purnima – a day in which Brahmins change their janai (sacred thread) and other Hindus have as sacred a thread tied around their wrists (three months later, on Laxmi Puja, this thread is taken off and tied around a cow’s tail). Doing this assures your safe journey to heaven because after you die you will be able to hang on to the thread as the cow pulls you across the mythical Baitarni River.  However, that’s only part of it. Janai Purnima has a bigger tale behind it – a tale as tall as Mount Everest if you ask me!

The auspicious ritual of Janai Purnima

Apparently, the demon Bali managed to win Lord Indra’s blessings and became all powerful, making the gods fearful. They asked Lord Vishnu to right the wrong done, so Vishnu went to Bali disguised as a dwarf and begged for some land. Now, Bali couldn’t refuse since he’d taken a vow of charity. “How much?” asked Bali. “As much as I can cover in three strides,” answered the dwarf. “How big will be his strides, this little dwarf’s?” thought Bali, and agreed. The next moment the dwarf began to grow and kept on growing bigger. Then he took two steps, one covered the earth, the other, heaven. Now, Bali was no fool, he realized that it was Vishnu. And, when asked where else he could step on now, Bali cried, “On my head Lord!” His wish was granted and he was pushed into hell to live forever as the king of demons. Somewhere in this story lies that bit about how Bali was bound with a sacred thread. So, when tying the thread, the priest will chant, ‘Thus I tie the Raksha round your wrist, the same which bound the arm of the mighty Bali, King of the Danavas. May its protection be eternal.’

Gosaikunda Lake (4315m) in Rasuwa District is the place to go to during Janai Purnima. Pilgrims and shamans from all over congregate here and take dips in the icy waters. According to mythology, water from the lake is channeled 60 km south west to the tank at the Kumbheshwar Temple in Patan, and so, there’s a big event on here too. In the Terai mostly, this is also Raksha Bandhan day. Girls tie a fancy thread bracelet around their brothers’ wrists - a reminder that they are honor bound to protect their sisters. On this day too, Gurungs and Thakalis observe Yatung Mela in the Muktinath Temple premises in Mustang. They have a boisterous time drinking and feasting and chasing one another on sturdy mountain ponies.

Now, what about the Kathmandu Newars? Can these festival crazy folk be left behind? Of course not. And so, what they have is the festival of Gunhu Punhi.  They eat a lot of Kwati on this day, Kwati being a soup of nine different beans, and the women offer food to the frogs hopping about on fields nearby in a ritual known as Byanchaa Nakegu (‘feeding the frogs’). Oh yes, every year on this auspicious day in August, people all over have a grand time and the frogs too have their day.