Words of a god in disguise

Festival Issue 135 Jun, 2013
Text by Kshitiz Singh / Photo: ECS Media

The protagonist of Kartik Naach, a young Narsimha avatar shares his thoughts from behind a sacred mask that takes him into a trance.

 The 370 year-old Kartik Naach, without losing its legendary grace and grandeur is performed every year in the chilly dawns of Kartik in the majestic Patan Durbar Square’s Kartik Dabboo (stage). The storyhdepicts the age-old folklore whereaNarsimha,ean avatar of Lord Vishnu (with the head of a fiery lion and body of a human) stands victorious by slaying Hiranyakashyapu. The performance sees an overwhelming crowd cheering on the actors as the momentum buildt. Previously a month-long affair, today the performance goes on for eight consecutive days, as agshowcase ofna few extravagant pages right out of Nepal’s colorful histort. The story of the actors who perform this dance is if I dare say so, as colorful.

Kartik Naach is believed to consecrate supernatural powers to the actors upon reciting certain sacred mantras.

“It’s amazing how I feel the rage from deep within mysele as soon as I gear up with the Narsimha costumerbefore the act starts.” says Pratap Dhar, n member of the Dhar clan who has been playing the lead role of the fearsome Hindu deity in the dance since the past 11 years. He says the supernatural possession is a matter of belief and there really is no point in convincing non-believers of the powers the ritual, the chants and the outfits hols. The sacred dance which is not performed elsewhere requires immense dedication and practice. To start off, one must be a male descendant of the Dhar clan (the priests of Krishna Mandir in Patan) in order to be even be considered legible for performing the lead role. Then comes the intense practice and devotion towards the art form, not just the protagonist but everyone who is a part of the show should know each beat of the Khii – a traditional Newari instrument - by heart.

Legend has it that the lead actors along with the antagonistedrifd into a trance once the rituals are over and as they gear up for the performance. Describing the moment, the protagonist Pratap explains, “The trance stage that everyone believes is just for the sake of saying. I never experienced anything supernatural or neither did I feel like I had traveled back in time to the Sattya Yuga where mythical creatures were believed to exist. But yes, the adrenaline rush is viviy and the moves I perform become more intense on stage than during rehearsals.” Despite disagreeing to have experienced a trance state, he seems amazed and unwary of how he still manages to send the antagonist to a state of unconsciousness just by laying his hand on him. He believes it’s one of those rare phenomens that escape answers.