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Ghode Jatra

By Nepali Patro (Sudan Bhattarai Upadhyaya) in Festivals .
January 18, 2022

Ghode Jatra /Horse Parade. The festival of horse procession or parade is celebrated every year on the day of Chaitra Krishnapaksha Aunsi according to the lunar month in the wide field of Tundikhel located in the central part of Kathmandu. “Ghode Jatra” can also be roughly translated as Horse Parade in English. Ghode Jatra organized and performed by the Nepal Army and Nepal police, is historically rich knowledge, focused on the antiquity and old memoirs of the city of Kathmandu. This occasion occurs in mid-March or mid-April-March according to the English Gregorian calendar. Before starting this procession, on Ghode Jatra day it is customary for the head of state to be present and observe the procession in the military forum at Tundikhel.

The horse procession falls in the Paha Chare/Pasachare festival. Paha chare is a three-day festival of the Newar community and the custom of inviting guests in the Newari language (Nepal Bhasa) is called Paha chare. On this occasion, Shakti Peeths (power centers of the female goddess) of various deities including Kankeshwari, Bhadrakali, and Mahankal are activated by Tantric rituals. On the first day, people clean around their houses, worshiping Lukumadev, and some even offer animal sacrifices. 

On the second day, a festival begins in Asan where two palanquins (khats) are collided with each other near the Annapurna temple in the festival known as Paha Chare. It is considered a symbol of sisters (goddess) meeting. In the evening, idols of the goddess are taken around the city for circumambulation. The idols of Goddess Lumaldi, Bhadrakali, Kankeshwari, and Bhairav are brought to Asan Chowk for the main festival during the day and taken to Tundikhel at night. Every year on this day all these gods gather together. 

The story of the ghost that terrorized the people of Kathmandu in the ancient Middle Ages shows how Nepali culture and tradition are rich in practicality, uniqueness, and clarity.

History of Ghode Jatra

This story begins thousands of years ago in the Itum Bahal area in the center of Kathmandu, where there was a rich businessman named Keshchandra who was a very wise man too. But, unfortunately, Keshachandra’s gambling problem was serious and he used to gamble every day. When a particular gambling game went completely awry, Keshachandra lost everything he had. Then he decided to visit his sister. His sister was married to a rich husband and had enough money. Delighted to be visited by her younger brother, she cooked a delicious meal and served it to his brother on a gold plate. Keshchandra ate food, filled his stomach, and did the cunning thing again, he left by stealing his sister’s gold plate. 

He starts gambling again in the hope of winning back his lost money with this new property, the gold plate, but his fate does not help him and he loses his sisters’ golden plate too. Poor Keshachandra had nowhere else to go, thus, he decided to go back to his sister. With a red ashamed face, he knocks on his sister’s door, his sister too already guessed why her younger brother has come again but forgives Keshchandra for what he has done, and again cooks delicious food, this time she serves him on a silver plate. Keshachandra eats while the silver plate shines, but as the saying goes, “Habits from Childhoods are hard to go”, he steals the silver plate and goes to gamble again and yet again loses the plate in gambling.

Then he feels like he is stuck between a rock and a cliff boulder. He was embarrassed to go somewhere to ask for help or to go back to his sister’s house again. But as the day wore on, his appetite grew stronger and he finally returned to his sisters’ house again. ” “I’m sorry,” he apologized to his sister again, “I’m so hungry.” Help me ” The sister was very angry because of Keshachandra’s gambling problem and what he did, but being a sister she cooked another meal for her brother. But, this time, however, she dropped the food without a plate on the floor and said, “This should teach you a lesson!”

Repentant, saddened, and heartbroken, Keshachandra did not eat the food thrown on the ground. He collected the rice, packed it in a bundle wrapped in a cloth and, tired and hungry Keshchandra carrying the bag, went to Swayambhunath Stupa. Hungry and tired, cursing his bad habits like stealing and gambling, he decided to rest under the shade of a tree in the forest and sleep in the cool breeze the shade of the tree and cool breeze gave him some comfort.

There were many pigeons and birds on the branch of that tree under which he was resting. The pack of rice was lying on the ground, the pigeons came down one by one and started eating rice from the bag of rice, and very soon – the rice was finished. After the rice was finished, the pigeons returned to their nests in the tree. And then, something strange happened in that place. As the pigeons were given rice to eat unknowingly by Keshachandra, they laid golden eggs as a sign of gratitude for his act. When the first golden egg fell to the ground, Keshachandra woke up, surprised, and saw that the golden eggs were raining! Finally, believing that now his fate was getting better, he collected all the golden eggs and filled them in a bag. He now had a bigger bag than before; the difference was now it was gold instead of rice. He tried to lift the bag to take it home, but he couldn’t lift it.

While Keshchandra was sitting there thinking about how to get the package home, he saw a huge monster coming towards him with long red matted hair and a head bigger than his body. Keshchandra saw that his sharp teeth were protruding out of his mouth. The ghost wore wooden faces around his neck, which were twice the size of Keshachandra’s head. Possessing big hands and feet, the monster coming towards Keshchandra shouted: “Finally I found today’s food!” 

This “Gurumapa”, is the mythical monster that the city’s elderly grandparents often told their grandchildren stories about.

Keshchandra could not run away with fear because he knew that the ghost could surely catch him. But, he was still proud of his intelligence and at that moment he knew that if he was to survive, his mind was his best move. With the same thought, he shouted, “Gurumapa! Gurumapa! Please listen to my request! “By eating a punished thin person like me your hunger would not be satisfied”, Keshachandra requested. Instead, I invite you to my house, where I will arrange a big banquet in your honor and invite you right now. A full buffalo and three big sacks of rice, for you, accept my invitation! If you don’t believe me, take this golden egg pack and grab it in your possession. Only when you are satisfied with my invitation can you return this package.

The little man, with all his skin and bones visible, was heard by Gurumapa, who thought, “Okay man, I agree with you,” and Gurumapa said, “Lead the way and I will follow you.” Carrying a bag of golden eggs, Gurumapa began to follow Keshachandra, who led him through the city to his house. When they finally reached home, Keshachandra sold one of the golden eggs and arranged a feast to serve the demon by buying a big buffalo and three big sacks of rice.  

Pleased with the feast, Gurumapa returned the golden egg packet to Keshachandra and ate the feast with much gusto. In a few hours, the feast was over, and so were three large sacks of rice. Keshchandra thought, now that Gurumapa will be cold, he will return to the forest of Kathmandu. But, contrary to his expectations and with horror, Gurumapa decided that he would like to stay in the backyard of Keshachandra’s house and sleep there. Gurumapa slept for three days and three nights in Keshachandra’s backyard.

When he awoke on the fourth day, he told Keshchandra to prepare more food as prepared before. Fearing for his life and the riots that can take place in the city, frightened people, etc he agreed with the monster. It was out of fear that disaster would strike if people knew that he had allowed the monster to stay in his house and fed him. And, so this went on for a whole month. The demon had eaten and slept for three days. When he would wake up, Keshachandra had to arrange for a meal again and this cycle continued for months.

By now, the people of the city had started paying attention to the unwanted guests in Keshachandra’s house.  And they said, dear Keshchandra “this is a ghost in your house,  it is not welcome”, and they further said, “you need to free him, it will end well, otherwise there will be a bigger problem later on.” Keshchandra was also scared and thought, “I really have to think of something”, because he knew that sooner or later Gurumapa would force him to do something terrible and unexpected.

One day, after the monster had eaten, he took a good chance and said, “Gurumapa, there is a new home for you.” “I have arranged for a shady big peepal tree for you to live”, “You will feel comfortable there and I will bring food for you every four days”.  Believing the human being, Gurumapa agreed, after all, this human had served him so well. He didn’t see any reason that this human would play a foul/bad game with him anymore. At Keshachandra’s request, Gurumapa went to stay on a poplar tree branch in Tundikhel.

When he woke up on the third day, he was hoping that Keshachandra would bring food there, but it didn’t happen. There was no food. He waited a few days, but he was angry because of Keshachandra’s absence. Walking through the square of Kathmandu, he walked towards Keshchandra’s house. Keshachandra was dragged by Gurumapa and brought back to the poplar tree. And, the people of Kathmandu never saw Keshachandra again.

But, that was not the last of the demon Gurumapa that the people of the city saw. He frequently used to come to the city and scared the people. Occasionally there were cases of young children being taken away and their parents never seeing them again. He started terrorizing the people of Kathmandu. “If you cry, Gurumapa, the ghost will come and take you away,” the grandmothers and mothers used to say to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren to make them behave. It was no longer safe for the people of the city and no one dared to go near the Tundikhel or the Peepal tree, for fear of being attacked by Gurumapa. 

After the growing terror of Gurumapa in Kathmandu day after day, the people of Kathmandu formed an angry mob saying that they would not tolerate the terror of Gurumapa. They would take Gurumapa to the open field of Tundikhel with all the weapons they could find, such as khukuri, swords, and cannons, but he would return to the city again. People threw cold objects at him with sticks and stones to bring him down, but it didn’t have much effect, no matter how much people did to the evil spirit, Gurumapa would stand up again. In the end, the people decided to leave a horde of horses on top of Gurumapa. A stampede of horses trampled Gurumapa on the ground, and when the flying dust settled down after the stampede, the demon did not rise as used to before. Ending the terror of this ghost that had been going on for months, people killed him.

But, the people were still afraid that the Gurumapa would come back, return to town again; that is why the ritual of horse riding started every year in Tundikhel to subdue him forever. Later, as time went on, this ritual came to be known as “Ghode Jatra or Horse Parada”. Various parades were later added to the original ritual and it turned into a celebration. Celebrations inside of the Newar community are varied and there are many other sciences and legends that tell each story differently.

But no matter what, the things that reflect the city’s past and its history are still alive and hopefully will live on forever. And every year on the day of Chaitra Krishnapaksha Aunsi according to the lunar month, people remember and will continue to remember Gurumapa and Keshachandra by organizing, showing, and watching the celebration of horse procession i.e Ghode Jatra in the capital of Kathmandu. 

Let us pray and hope none of us would get into one of the badest habits as gambling to lose one wealth as well as prestige as Keshchandra, and let us hope never ever shall we have demon-like Gurumapa to molest, torture, and or abduct us. May this years’ Ghode Jatra trample our worst, bad habits by the hoofs of the horses during the ritual. Best wishes of the Ghode Jatra festival from our entire Nepali Patro family to all Nepalese here in Nepal and abroad as well. To Read this article in the Nepali Language please click here.


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