Gathamuga (गथामुग) – Demon festival in Nepal
Ghathamuga festival is a Newar festival in Nepal. This festival is celebrated generally in the month of June/July and after rice plantation. There is a belief in Nepal “there was a Demon named Ghantakarna, a legendry demon who spread havoc amongst the people. This festival is believed to be celebrated to remember the end of Ghantakarma. This festival marks the beginning of several other festivals of Hindu and Buddhist in Lalitpur, Bhaktapur and Kathmandu. Gathamuga is also known with the name ‘Gathemangal’ and ‘Ghantakarna’ .
The festival features chasing away demons from homes in a symbolic manner. In the festival, Gatha Muga demons, made of wheat straw, are erect at every tole’s street. The straw demons are burnt outside of city or nearby sokala, Chusakhyaa (The road meets/joined 3 ways) or nearby river in the evening.
In the ancient time, when little water and violent storm brought illness due to diseases like gastrointestinal diseases, most common during the summer, people thought evil spirits were to be blamed. They said, it was because of the absence of the Nine Durgas that evil spirits were free to enter into the city to cause such troubles.
People are seen doing following things in this day.
- Cleaning the houses
- Acting out the legendary drama in the streets
- An effigy made of reeds is placed at the cross roads of the main streets
- Girls hang their hand-made dolls on this effigy to protect themselves from bad spirits
- People wear rings made of wrought iron metal on their fingers and ornaments made of silver or gold on the wrist and ankle of their children
- Girls put ‘mehandi’ on their palms
- Group of boys roams asking for alms shouting ‘Aaju Jaya Haa, Om Shanti Jaya Nepal’. In the past, the collected money is used for the ritual works of their passed family members.
- Local people gather to standing up the effigy and a monster like structure is sketched on it.
- ‘Aaju Jaya’, one who impersonates Ghantakarna by smearing himself with paint is served with beaten rice with curd under the effigy.
- ‘Aaju Jaya’ is then made to roam the streets with burning torch of husk and begging for donation. The man moves around the effigy for three times. Everyone volunteers to drag Ghantakarna to nearby river.
But in the process ‘Aaju’ escapes on the way. On this festival people, especially newars, visit to ritual places and temples to worship for peace. People worship ‘Bali’ made of cooked or beaten rice at their home and eat ‘Samyabaji’ as ‘Prasad’ to avoid the impacts of bad spirits. To avoid any effects from bad spirits, a three-legged iron nail is driven in on the doorway while burning incense.
Even though nobody knows when this festival was started, it has been mentioned to be celebrated in Lichhavi era in the history of Gopal Bansha. But there are many myths about this festival being celebrated in the middle age too.
According to a folk lore, a demon called Ghantakarna with a pair of bells on his ears used to terrify people by killing them. He was called Ghanta (Bell) Karna (Ears) to identify him by his bells on the ear. When, all attempts to kill the demon were not successful. A clever frog however was successfull in killing the demon by trapping him in a swamp when he was on his way to hunting. It is told that the day marks the celebration of Ghantakarna festival. That is the reason, people from newar communities worship frog on that day. It is also controversial on whether Ghantakarna was a demon or a god as Hindu worship Ghatakarna as a devotee of Lord Shiva while in Buddhism he considered a symbol of god Bhairab.