NAVADURGA JATRA (Nach)
Navadurga festival is a mask dance ritual of nine Durgas, the various demonic embodiment of the Parvati embodiments, Shiva’s shakti in the tantric tradition. The Navadurga festival is unique to Bhaktapur, performed in and around the city of Bhaktapur and surrounding localities. There are in the Valley four troops of Navadurga dancers who incarnate these goddesses (Bhaktapur, Kathmandu,Thecho and Kirtipur).The oral traditions confirm their relations with the priest of Taleju Bhawani, a jyapu who found them, a middle caste individual and the gathas, people of lower caste who were given the privilege to dance and care for them. The Navadurga festival was founded by King Subarna Malla (1445 AD), of the Malla dynasty. The Malla were followers of gods Shakti whom they believed to protect their king, nation and countrymen.
Participating in Navadurga dance are the thirteen masks, of which only seven represent Durgas-Mahakali, Kumari, Barahi, Bramhayani, Maheswori, Vaisnavi and Indrani. Mahalaxmi, who leads the masked dancers ‘ procession, is portrayed by a two-dimensional silver repousse icon and Tripura sundari is not visually depicted in public.Of these goddesses the supreme deity is Mahalaxmi; she draws power from Taleju and gives it to the Navadurga. The remaining six masks are Shiva, Ganesha, Bhairav and Seti Bhairav, and Sima and Duma, the guardians. Shiva’s mask is taken over by Ganesha. Sima and Duma, considered Shiva’s body guards, are considered the messengers of death. It is called omen if they are captured during the Nya lakegu.
Every year the Navadurga masks are made ritually by the different mask makers from the Chitrakar caste four weeks before Dasain. The elders of Prajapati caste guides for the proper clay used to make masks while Tamrakar caste produces and repairs the crowns used in Navadurga masks. Navadurga costume uses five colours: black, red, green, yellow, or gold and white.
On Dasain’s first day, the Navadurga masks are shown in the holy house at Ya Che, Bhaktapur. The masks are given life by Taleju’s priest (Karmacharya), gods and goddesses of Navadurga using tantric vidya late at night or early in the morning after which they are taken to their own temple at Ga Che where they are displayed until the final ceremony in June.The masks and masks dancer are god equivalent and they needed gathas as their vehicles, who have privilege to work and dance with Nava Durga. The dancers train or rehearse for one or two month before Dasain. The dancers performed the first public dance of Navadurga in Susimeretol on the square before the small temple of Vishnu.Early in June the Navadurga left their house in angry mood at night to Taleju where priests using mantras will be stripped of their powers and the helpless Durga performed their final dance. During this last day, Bhagasti at the sacred place of Bramhayani near the river Hanumante, the Navadurga masks will be ritually burned.The ashes will be stored in a copper vessel which will be placed at a hidden spot on the floor of the river near Bramhayani’s holy place until the month before Dasain which will be used to make masks for another season.
The Navadurga inahabited the Jwala forest near Bhaktapur way to Nala according to the mythology. The Navadurga caught, killed, and drunk blood from the people that were passing through that area. Sunanda, a priest who was expert in tantric wisdom, was able to bind the Navadurga, by using a mantra to limit their movement.His house the Navadurga received regular worship. One day Sunanda’s mentor Somara Rajopadhyaya who taught Sunanda about proper worshipping had a profound and nuanced understanding of Tantra. Somara took the Navadurga to his home where he secretly hid them and worshipped them and made sacrifices to them.Some time before, the Navadurga had informed Sunanda and Somara that they would be released from the spell should anyone else see them. Somara’s aunt, however, was very curious about Somara’s act one day and peeped into the room while Navadurga was dancing. The Navadurga then fled from the house of Somara, and the band of deities caught, killed, and ate a pig upon their escape.Nevertheless, Somara did manage to capture them, but they could not be taken back as they had eaten a pig, making them ritually impure and therefore unlikely for them to return to the home of the Brahmin. Somara later set up a god-house for Navadurga and arranged Navadurga dance drama and delegated the authority and responsibility of presenting Navadurga dance to the Gatha community the authority and responsibility of performing Navadurga dance each year.
The Banmala caste has the sole authority for conventional Navadurga. The Banmalas provide all the performers, known as Gana, which includes twelve dancers and three musicians, the temple caretaker (known as the Nakin, also to be built on shortly), the members of the tradition (the Naya), as well as all the other positions necessary to maintain the practice.The musicians are responsible for playing the khin (a big drum played on both sides), ta (small cymbals) and kya (large cymbals) traditional instruments. Most of the sacrifices made to the Navadurga are pigs but they also sacrifice buffalo, goat, sheep, chicken, and ducks. Of the Navadurga, Bhairav is the member mainly responsible for conducting the sacrifices.
Tradition Navadurga follows an annual cyclic cycle that begins with Gathemangal. Each year at the start of the Navadurga process new masks are made and then cremated at the end. Gathemangal happens in accordance with the lunar calendar and marks the start of a rigorous training period for the Gana.The Navadurga performed dances without the masks during the Ganesh chaturthi, because the masks are not finished. The next annual cycle event is Dashain, the largest festival in the Durga region. After completion of initial rituals, the Navadurga masks are shown at the Taleju temple in Bhaktapur’s palace compound (Durbar Square).Bramhayani is worshiped in the morning on the tenth day of Dashain and then a buffalo is sacrificed in Bramhayani temple. The Navadurga make a procession toward the Taleju temple in Durbar Square following the sacrifice. Before the procession the Karmacharya hands each performer their masks, symbolic of the role of the Karmacharya in the capture and placement Navadurga into the care of the Banmala.
After Dashain the Navadurga troupe travels around the Valley of Kathmandu where they perform different rituals in each culture.The Navadurga travels to the various localities of the district of Bhaktapur (Suryamadhi, Dattatraya, Kwathandu, Gachhen, Golmadhi, Taumadhi, Barahisthan, Yachhen, Talako, Itachhen, Durbar Square, Khauma) Changu Narayan, Thimi, Kathmandu District (Pashupati Nath, Tokha, Gokarna, Hadigaon (every twelve years), and Sakhu), and Kavre district (Nala, Banepa, Dhulikhel, Panauti, and Shreekhandapur) barefooted. They are thought to disinfect the places they pass from disease, which is why they have to walk everywhere.
The Navadurga season ends with the last supper and the ceremony known as Sirja and De-chā-mukego, after visiting the surrounding areas and performing their rituals at each location. The masks are cremated at the funeral pyres of Bramhayani temple the next day of the ceremony. The cremation marks the close of the Navadurga annual cycle.