Once in twelve years- Pachali Bhairav Jatra

The festival of Pachali Bhairav is celebrated in Kathmandu on Vijaya Dashami every twelve years. It is also known as “Barha Barse Pachali Bhairav Khadga Siddhi Jatra” in local Nepali language. During the festival, Lord Bhairav exchanges the Royal Khadga four times in the ritual. The ritual is performed by the head of the state.

In the past, the ritual of Khadga Siddhi (exchange of the swords) was done in front of Kasthamandap Temple with the Kings to transfer the divine power to the former king but after the declaration of Loktantra in Nepal, the ceremony is performed by the President.

According to most of the chronicles, the festival is said to be started by the Thakuri King Gunakamadev (924-1008 A.D.). The god is, in the Newari imagination, very much associated with the founding of Kathmandu because King Gunakamadev is believed to have founded both the city and the festival of Bhairav.

In the south of the modern town near Tekudovan at the confluence of the Bagmati and Vishnumati rivers, one of the most ancient temples of Bharirav in Kathmandu is situated. It is very close to the cremation ghat on the Bagmati. A stone representing Pachali Bhairav lies on the altar of the open sanctuary under the shade of a big pipal tree surrounding it with stones that symbolize his attendants (ganas).

According to the legends, Pachali Bhairav was the king of Pharping, and had a habit of locking himself in a room of his palace to eat enormous amount of rice and goat meat at one sitting. One evening, his wife insisted on coming and sharing his meal. The king accepted but warned her that he would have quite another appearance and she would have to throw some rice grains on him to restore his human aspect. His wife was so terrified when she saw his true form that she ran away forgetting about the rice grains. Afraid of his subjects discovering his true form, the king took refuge in a place where the temple of Pachali Bhairav stands today. His wife became Lumarhi, the dangerous goddess Bhadrakali whose temple stands at the edge of the Tudhikhel field.

In another version, Pachali Bhairav had the habit of leaving Pharping each morning to bathe in the Ganga at Banaras and returning to Kathmandu in form of a handsome man. In this way, he seduced a young kasai (butcher caste) girl who tended pigs near the temple site. She became curious and he agreed to reveal himself only if she threw some grains of rice as soon as she saw his real identity. But she was so terrified that she forgot about the grains and fled. Bhairav persuade her through the night but he had to hide himself as the day broke. He reached the cremation ground and wrapped a bamboo mat around himself like the Newars use for their dead. But he didn’t have enough time to fully disappear into the ground and the stone recognized today is his unconcealed buttock.

Yet another account is there in which Bhairav was not a king but a farmer. He walked with his daughter Kumari and his son Ganesh during the festival of Indra. His wife Ajima was jealous because she was not with them and asked him to stroll with her around Kathmandu. He agreed but not during the Indra jatra and that is why a procession is held where a man chosen to wear the mask of Bhairav and another person wearing a mask of Ajima walk together through Kathmandu during the Pachali Bhairav festival. The procession of Kumari, the virgin goddess is accompanied by Ganesh and Bhairav during the Indra Jatra but in this context, Bhairav resembles a small boy of the Buddhist Shakya caste.

The principal devotees of Pachali Bhairav are the farmers and oil-pressers who live in southern part of Kathmandu.