Just 18 kilometers east of Kathmandu is the ancient city of Bhaktapur, whose name translates to “Place of Devotees”. A very fitting name when the annual Nepali New Year festival and celebrations take over the city.
The Nepali calendar follows the cycles of the Moon and so varies year by year from the Roman calendar. The end of the Nepali month of Chaitra and beginning of the month of Baisakh marks the end of one year and beginning of another – the Nepali New Year. But while the Nepali calendar follows the cycles of the Moon, the date of the Nepali New Year is determined the celestial position of the Sun. This auspicious date usually occurs in April each year. In 2016 the celebrations will peak on April 13th which is also the Nepali New Year day.
Bhaktapur is the national hub for Nepal New Year celebrations, however the festivities also occur in less grand form through Nepal and the Himalayas. It begins with the 10-day Bisket Jatra, an 800 year old festival of many parts, great festivity, crowds and noise. The Bisket Jatra coincides with the spring season and so has associations with male, female, birth, creation, fertility and good fortune for the coming year. There are three main cultural component to the Bisket Jatra – tongue piercing; ritual chariot processions; and the erecting and lowering of symbolic poles.
Each year a volunteer member of a local family undertakes a painful ritual piercing of his tongue by a steel needle. The volunteer then displays his bravery and pierced tongue by walking around the city carrying a bamboo rack of flaming torches. This painful ritual is said to bring good fortune to the people of the region and to the volunteer.
Ancient mythology of the Himalaya region defined Bhairab and Bhadrakali as the divine male and female forms of the heavens and the Earth. Back when time began, the bringing together of Bhairab and Bhadrakali resulted in the creation of our planet and the life it supports. The rain that falls from the heavens to the soil of Earth is considered the life-giving element while the earth itself is the foundation of creation.
Based on these ancient beliefs two chariots called Bhairab and Bhadrakali are dragged in noise procession through the streets and crowds of Bhaktapur and on the evening of April 14th 2015 they will meet at the height of the festivities and symbolise new creation – very fitting symbolism for the start of a New Year in Nepal.
In the 24 hours leading up to the end of one year and the commencement of another, two very tall poles are erected in public squares of Bhaktapur. The poles are called Yoshin and they also symbolise aspects of male, female and creation. One of the poles has two extended arms while the other has none. The Yoshin without arms is erected a day earlier in the early morning in the Potters Square. The other Yoshin is then erected in late evening on the eve of the Nepali New Year. Huge and noisy crowds gather in the squares to sing and enjoy the sceptical and chariot procession.
Many young men attempt to climb the armed pole. They clamber and swing from thick ropes and attempt to reach branches of plants placed on the extended arms. It is believed that a successful climber is very likely to father a male child in the coming year.
The Yoshin are taken down at midnight on the evening of New Year’s Eve. When the poles returns to the ground the New Year has arrived and festivities kick on even more earnestly. The Nepali people love a good festival – the more colour, noise and excitement the better we like it.
The Bisket Jatra is a fantastic festival for Nepali people and international visitors alike. So if you plan to trek, tour or explore Nepal and the Himalaya region it might be a good idea to check the Nepali solar and lunar calendars and book you visit to coincide with the next Bisket Jatra and Nepali New year celebrations.
For more information on many other festivals in Nepal and treks and tours that can incorporate these wonderful events, please click to our Festivals page.