Navadurga Jatra is an indigenous festival of Bhaktapur which is basically the mask dance ceremony of the nine Durgas. The nine forms of Durga are said to be the demonic representation of manifestations of Parvati, the shakti of Shiva in the tantric tradition.
In Navadurga Jatra, thirteen masks participate in the mask dance ceremony among which seven represent Durgas. The seven representation of Durga includes Mahakali, Kumari, Barahi, Bramhayani, Maheswori, Vaishnavi, and Indrani. The remaining two forms of Durga: Mahalaxmi and Tripura Sundari are not visually represented to the public. The remaining six masks represent Shiva, Ganesha, Bhairav, and Seti Bhairav and the guardians’ Sima and Duma. The mask of Shiva is carried by Ganesha. Sima and Duma, considered to be bodyguards of Shiva, are regarded as messengers of death. It is considered an omen if caught by them during Nya lakegu , The spiritual game with gods.
THE STORY BEHIND THE MASKS
Each year, a month before Dashain, The mask makers from the Chitrakar caste start making the mask. The elders from the Prajapati caste guide them for the proper clay used for making the masks. The masks are beautifully drawn and painted. The crowns used in Navadurga masks are made and repaired by the Tamrakar caste. The task has been given to a special group of people who have been doing it for generations.
On the first day of Dashain, these beautifully crafted masks are exhibited in Ya Che. The masks are said to be given life by the priest of Taleju by the magic of tantric vidya ta late at night. After that, these masks are taken to their own temple where they are displayed until the final ceremony.
The masks and masks dancers are said to be possessed by the god. People worship the masks and mask dancer as the god. The dancers perform the first public dance of Navadurga in Susimeretol. The dances occur in different places until the last day when the Navadurga masks would be ritually burnt in Bhagasti near the Hanumante river. The ashes would be collected in a copper vessel which would be stored in a secret place until the month before Dashain. The ashes would be used to make a mask for next year.
THE MYTHOLOGICAL STORY BEHIND THE JATRA
According to the mythology, the Navadurga inhabited the forest Jwala near Bhaktapur’s way to Nala. The Navadurga captured, killed, and drunk the blood of the people who passed by that forest.
Sunanda, a priest who was an expert in tantric knowledge was able to bind the Navadurga, restricting their movement with the use of a mantra. He kept Navadurga under a spell and hid them secretly. They were under spell with the condition that no one could see them and if anyone else saw them, they would be free. One day, The wife of Sunanda, who was curious about them, noticed them, and the spell was broken. They escaped from the house and danced in the streets with joy.
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