The Heritage of Handigaun

By Vanshika Shah / Photo: Ashmin Singh 2016-06-30

Once the capital of Kathmandu Valley, Handigaun is a heritage that needs to be preserved.

It takes me back down memory lane to see the place that has gotten lost in time in the midst of the capital of the country. Handigaun, a town inhabited for 2000 years and more, it is the earliest known urban settlement of Kathmandu Valley. According to history, it is said the great Kirat and Lichchhavi kings had their princely palaces built here, due to which the town served as a capital for a millennium. It is astonishing to know from the dwellers that artifacts like earthen pots, utensils, and diyas are still being found deep beneath the earth during excavations even today. The fascinating stories related to Handigaun’s origin, its legendary figures, the palace intrigues, and other historical events mingle with the folklore passed down each generation. The wide echoes of joyful laughter, along with the buzz during every jatra/festival, epitomize the atmosphere of the town. Jatras, specifically, make for Handigaun’s core identity, and there are many that are celebrated only here, found nowhere else in the world. Some of the famous ones are Gahana Khojne Jatra, Ropai Jatra, Rath Dubaune Jatra, Bhatey Jatra, Krishna Jatra, etc.

Handigaun ko Jatra, also known as Gahana Khojne Jatra, or Tunal Devi ko Jatra, is the most important celebration highlighting the past glory of Handigaun. The commencement of this indigenous festival is marked every year on the lunar calendar’s Chaitra Shukla Astami (April 28, 2016) with the ritual raising of the ceremonial pole, or lingo, that will be brought down at the end of a month’s time. Although the wave of urbanization has slowly begun to wash away cultural knowledge, some folklore have left their footprints on the sands of time. The most prevalent myth, which every other elderly shared with the young till recent days at bedtime, is of Tunal Devi. According to legend, Tunal Devi of Chandol, Mahalaxmi of Naxal, Mana Maiju of Balaju, and Nuwakoti Devi of Nuwakot were once passing by an extensive lake (now known as Gahana Pokhari). They decide to freshen up in the pristine waters of the lake. Between those sloshes and splashes, Tunal Devi loses her ornaments in the water. Panic stricken, she starts searching for her jewels. Meanwhile, the others leave, asking Mahalaxmi to keep watch. On this basis, the festival commences, when Tunal Devi’s chariot is immersed in the waters, depicting her frantic search for her jewels, while Mahalaxmi’s chariot circumvents the pond, keeping watch. Prasad (ritual offerings) are sent to Mana Maiju and Nuwakot even till date, where the jatra is observed during the same time of the year. 

Another myth talks about Bhat-Bhateni, a Brahmin couple of Handigaun, widely famous for their devotion to Lord Vishnu. During the ritual proceedings, the deity of Bhateni, who is the daughter of Tunal Devi, along with her husband Bhat, are taken down from their perch. The story goes like this: a Brahmin, Suddhadev, leaving on a 12-year journey, leaves his ornaments with the Bhat-Bhateni couple. During the passing of days, months, and many years, the couple faces tough budgetary times. They struggle very hard, but their situation turns worse. Finally, anticipating that Suddhadev must have passed away, having gone for so long, the poor Bhat-Bhateni couple sells the ornaments. 

However, the Brahmin returns after completing his pilgrimage. He is alarmed to find that his jewelry has been sold by the couple, who are known for their integrity. The infuriated man curses Bhat-Bhateni, and makes an eagle swoop down and take away their only child, a son, who they have conceived through the blessings of Lord Vishnu. It turns out that their son is no other than Lord Vishnu himself, and the eagle, his vehicle, Garuda. Tunal Devi, at their behest, descends down to Gahana Pokhari to look for the Brahmin’s lost jewels, which had somehow been deposited there. She, along these lines, gives back the gems to the Brahmin, and restores the Bhat-Bhateni couple’s status once again. Handigaun’s cultural heritage is rooted in profound moral values. The enchanting tree of that cultural heritage was sown long ago (2000 years) and nurtured since then. However, corruption of mind, and so-called “modern ideologies”, has shaken the roots, and the tree is beginning to slowly wither. All that the tree now requires is proper nurturing. 

It is important to preserve our history and traditional practices, so that we can hand over our history and culture to the next generation. It is now our responsibility (the youth) to bring back the charm of Handigaun. There is another world of power where our beliefs lie. It is now time to broaden our horizons and realize, revive, and recognize this world, our true inheritance. Sadly, the valley of the golden era, with its rich cultural heritage and architecture, has now been transformed into a concrete jungle, with matchbox houses. There is hardly any place to take a deep breath that reminds one of its glorious past, but luckily, the jatra of Handigaun still exists. It is heart-rending to see the place today, and Handigaun is remembered only during the festive times of the year. Later, it too may fade away with the pace of time, if not with calamities, natural or manmade.

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