In Nepal Language, today’s day is also called Gathamuga Chare or Ghantakarna Chaturdasi. In terms of meaning, ‘Ga’ means house, ‘tha’ means pillar, and ‘muga’ means strong whereas Chaturdashi is called ‘Chare’ in Newari. Every year on the Chaturdashi date of Shravan Krishnapakchya, Gathanmuga festival is celebrated. Today, the Newar community in the Kathmandu Valley and abroad observe this festival to keep all their unclean objects, ghosts, phantoms, vampires, demons, aphids, flies, and diseases out of their houses, community, roads, etc and to keep them clean, strong and safe.
Even though nobody knows when this festival started, Ghantakarna/ Gathamuga has been mentioned to be celebrated during the Licchavi era in the history of Gopal Bamsha. But, there are many myths about this festival being celebrated during the middle ages too. Gathamuga can be considered as a festival of sanitation celebrated by the Newar community. On this day, first of all, it is customary to clean the house and courtyard including the entire rooms, upper (chatan / chota) and lower rooms (chidi) of the houses, and make it holy by worshiping their revered favorite deity Kumar Kartikeya.
During the rainy season, farmers are busy planting crops or working in the fields. Since the house is not cleaned due to the busyness of work during this time, there is a possibility of accumulation of garbage and insects entering the house to cause suffering. That is why it is said that in the dark corners of the house, in the garbage, there dwells demons, evil spirits, and ghosts that cause misery plus suffering to people. Since garbage is also a cause of disease, accumulated garbage in the corners of the house is taken out and cleaned today. The garbage collected in this way is considered as a monster and is packed up inside useless plants such as reeds, sweet flag, nettle, marijuana, etc. Then, the effigy is made out of it called gathamuga by giving it as much artistry as possible and it is taken out of the house verbally abusing it.
The effigy or dummy denoting Ghanta Karna is placed at the crossroads of the main streets. Young girls hang their hand-made dolls on this effigy to protect themselves from evil and bad spirits. Today people sell iron rings, three-legged wrought iron nails, etc around the streets. People buy those nails to nail it on the door lintels of their main house to ward off evil forces and also wear iron rings, the small children as well are made to wear the same on their ankles for the same purpose. Young boys make small groups roam around asking for alms shouting ‘“Om Shanti, Jay Nepal, Aaju Dya ya haa” In the past, the alms thus collected were used for the ritual works of deceased family members, but many of these customs are slowly disappearing because of the new age televisions, mobile devices, etc as children are not participating much as they used to in the past in these kinds of local festivals.
Local people gather, make the effigy stand up, the effigy decorated like a monster Ghantakarna. There is a person also called or known as ‘Aaju Jaya’, who impersonates Ghantakarna by smearing himself with different colors. ‘Aaju Jaya’ is then made to roam the streets with burning torches of husks, begging for donations. Aaju Jaya, moves around the effigy three times when the volunteers gather together to drag Ghantakarna to a nearby river, while the people are dragging the effigy towards the river Aaju escapes on the way so as nobody can find him.
From time immemorial, the Kathmandu Valley has been a center of Tantric and spiritual practice. The tantric Siddhas used to invoke ghosts, phantoms, vampires, witches, etc. to get them to plant paddy in the rainy season on the day of Akshaya Tritiya, during the month of Baisakh. With the help of sorcery, They used to keep them hidden in the dark corners and secret rooms of the houses all day long. At night, with the help of these ghosts, complex work and farming were used to be done. After finishing the cultivation in this way, the ghosts, etc were sent away through the Tantra Vidhi on this day. Therefore, it is believed that ghosts exit the house after cleaning the corners of the house and by lighting lamps, torches and abusing them verbally.
Today, it is customary to gather all ghosts collected from the houses and take them to the riverbank in the evening by gathering at the crossroads and city dwellers chanting the abuses go around the settlement in the evening. Bhairav Dance (Lakhenach) is taken out after the ghosts staying in the house are cleansed. From today, the cultural musical instruments, which have been kept since Kumara Sasthi, are taken out, worshiped, and started to be played.
Ghantakarna Chaturdashi has an interesting legend. In ancient times there was a devilish heretical demon. As much as he hated the gods and goddesses, he used to wear 46-47 kilograms bells in his ears so as not to hear the name of the deities and religious deeds being performed in the society. His name was changed to Ghantakarna because he wore a bell on his ear. The ghantakarna demon would disrupt worship and cause misery to the gods and gentlemen. Because he liked metal, he used to harass people wearing jewelry more. He used to collect jagat (tax) from the people who walk on the road at the crossroads and kill and eat those who were not able to pay the tax. The victims of that man-eating monster were mostly helpless women and children. On this day, people also wear metal rings called gathemangal rings. The Ring is believed to have the power to safeguard people from all kinds of evil spirits. Before nightfall, in the evening the locals hammer three-legged nails onto the door lintels to scare away the ghosts.
Seeing that the whole human settlement was conquered by the terror of Ghantakarna, a Tantric disguised as a frog reached the place where Ghantakarna was residing. At that time, people were hiding in their houses from the fear of being eaten by Ghantakarna. Ghantakarna requested the frog to show him the way to the human settlement. The frog-like tantrik looked at the swampy place and said that a human settlement will be found after walking some distance from there. In the hope of finding food, the demon fell into the swamp and spent the night screaming. The next day, the villagers gathered and stoned him to death. Some even tell the story of Ghantakarna’s death by falling into a well.
In this way, every year on the Chaturdashi of Shravan Krishnapakchya, an idol of the tyrant Ghantakarna is made and cremated as a celebration so that humans do not have to face the terror of the tyrant Ghantakarna again. That is why the people of the Newar community also worship the frog on this day. It is also a controversial matter whether Ghantakarna was a demon or a god as Hindu worship Ghatakarna as a devotee of Lord Shiva while in Buddhism he is considered a symbol of the god Bhairab.
This evening, after the house is cleansed, special worship is done to Kumar Kartikeya, the son of Shiva Parvati. On Ghantakarna/ Gathamuga day, according to one’s clan or initiation tradition, Ardhanarishvara, Agam Devta, and Bhairav are also worshiped.
Gathamuga. To Read this article in the Nepali Language please click here.