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Nepal Awash with Bisket Jatra Celebrations

This nine-day festival also heralds in the solar New Year, which is the beginning of the Nepali New Year.



BHAKTAPUR/KATHMANDU (Nepal): In Nepal, the famous Bisket Jatra is being celebrated in Bhaktapur and other parts of Kathmandu valley. The nine-day annual festival marks beginning of Nepali new year.

The Jatra begins four days before the start of new year. It is believed that the festival started during Malla dynasty.

There are many legends associated with the Jatra. According to a myth, whosoever marries local princes dies on the very first night of the marriage. Later a brave young man married the princes. In the night two snakes attacked him and the young man killed them.

The main attraction of Bisket Jatra is chariot procession of Lord Bhairavanath.

The three-story chariot is taken out in the streets of Bhaktapur and there is a tug of war between people from upper and lower city to pull the chariot on their side.

Thousand of visitors from various parts of Nepal and a large number of foreign tourists gather at Bhaktapur to see this thrilling event.On the eve of Nepali New Year, a huge linga ( a pole) is erected and two long pieces of cloth hanged upon it to represent the dead snakes.

Next day the pole is pulled down and Nepali new year officially commences. A number of festivals celebrated in Nepal throughout the year but people eagerly await for Bisket Jatra.

The Legend and the Celebration:

Bisket Jatra as it is known today was originally Biska ( Bi=snake/ skya=killed Jatra=festival). This festival is steeped in legend. One such legend talks of a princess who married a neighbouring prince but found him dead the following morning. She then married several times but always found her husband lifeless beside her when she woke in the morning.

One day a neighbouring Prince arrived in Bhaktapur but just before entering the city, he encountered the Goddess Bhadrakali (the consort of Bhairav) in a nearby forest. She told him of the Princess and the dead lovers. She explained how they were slain by two large snakes that crawled out of her nostrils while she slept. They would grow in size and eventually kill the Princess’ lover. They would then diminish in size and crawl back into her nostril. The Prince went to meet the Princess but after making love, he hid behind a curtain while she slept. He was stunned to see two serpents emerge from her nostrils and grow larger and larger in front of his eyes. He mustered up his courage, drew his sword and slew the evil snakes. In the morning when he appeared on the balcony of the Princess’ bedroom, the citizens were overjoyed. He displayed the two dead serpents and there was great rejoicing.

Hence every year, to commemorate the great event the Bisket Jatra is held. A 70 ft. wooden pole, known as yoshin is erected at the large square known as Yashinkhel near the Hanumante river, which flows by Bhaktapur. Two banners that hang down from the cross-piece represent the two evil snakes.

This nine-day festival also heralds in the solar New Year, which is the beginning of the Nepali New Year.

The New Year begins with the bringing down of the pole, which by itself is a big event generating immense excitement and attended by hundreds of revellers and onlookers half of whom watch from rooftops.

Bisket Jatra is one of the most elaborate Newari festivals in the valley and involves the dangerous deities, God Bhairav and his consort Goddess Bhadrakali. Bhaktapur has many God houses, which are not quite temples.

The festival image (the idol that is brought out in a procession during festivals) is kept in these houses and many of them are out of bounds for non-initiates as these Gods and Goddesses are considered dangerous deities.

Tantric practices are common in Bhaktapur and it involves many of these deities. Special tantric priests conduct secret rituals within these houses and there are idols which only they can lay eyes upon. Hence the rigid rules barring non-initiates.

For the festival, the idol of Bhadhrakali is brought out from her God house, which is some distance away from the Taumadhi Square. But the Bhairav image is kept in the two-tiered Bhairavnath temple that lies on the east side of the square. Bhairav is represented by just his head and this one is known as the Kaasi Bhairav as he is said to have arrived from Banaras. The Kaasi Bhairav is seen as the chief of the Bhairavs. Kaasi is the other name for Varanasi.

Legend has it that the Kaasi Bhairav had come to attend one of the festivals in Bhaktapur. A tantric practitioner standing nearby recognized him. Using his tantric knowledge, the tantric expert tried to trap Bhairav with his magical powers. Realizing that he had been recognized, Bhairav tried to make a hasty exit by sinking into the ground. Just then Bhadrakali also recognized him and asked that at least his head is captured. The tantric then drew his sword and just in the nick of time chopped his head off. Hence the image of Bhairav’s head rests in the Bhairavnath temple to this day.

The Bisket Jatra involves two chariots and the Yoshin pole. This is the only chariot festival in Bhaktapur. The larger chariot of Bhairav that is assembled (the rest of the year the disassembled parts are kept beside the Bhairavnath temple) at the Taumadhi Square while the smaller chariot of Bhadrakali is assembled near the Bhairavi temple. There are in fact two poles erected during the festival. The smaller of the two is erected at the Potters’ Square.

Days before the festival is to begin, some men from the Sami caste (oil pressers) go to a nearby forest east of the city. An interesting procedure is followed in selecting the tree for the pole. A goat is let loose and the men watch while it picks a tree to rub itself against. The poor creature is then sacrificed right there in front of the tree it haplessly selected. The tree is felled and the branches cut off leaving only a few selected branches that will represent the Yoshin God’s hair. (The Yoshin pole is also said to represent a God). The two trunks are then dragged to Bhaktapur, which often takes several days. The bigger of the two poles is raised in Yoshinkhel.

Meanwhile at Taumadhi Square, men from different castes like the carpenters, painters and oil pressers gather to assemble the Bhairav chariot. Work begins about two weeks before the Jatra is to begin.

An interesting feature of the festival is the arrival of a government official from Kathmandu who walks along the festival route carrying a sword. This sword represents the Malla king who introduced the festival and has been handed down for generations. It is later used during the festivities.

Bisket is the only festival in Bhaktapur where a chariot is used.

The Taumadhi Square where the Bhairav chariot is made and where the Bhadrakali chariot is brought, is considered a neutral ground belonging to neither upper nor to lower Bhaktapur. Hence this is where the festival begins and eventually winds up.

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Dhvani se Śabd aur Chinh Exhibition Inaugurated at NGMA, Mumbai

The exhibition speaks to us about southern sensibilities and singular identities that were forged through scholarly adaptations, multiple skills and experiments.



MUMBAI (Maharashtra): An exhibition titled “Dhvani se Śabd aur Chinh” was inaugurated at National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai today evening.

Curated by Adwaita Gadanayak and his team, the exhibition speaks to us about southern sensibilities and singular identities that were forged through scholarly adaptations, multiple skills and experiments that were seeking to juxtapose the notions of the modern with the traditional.

It identifies artists who practised in Southern states as well as artists who were born there or had family trees and moved up North to become the greatest practitioners and pedagogues. We are looking at a period that just followed the Partition wherein an idea of tradition was in its genesis – as it oscillated between symbolic fantasy (Madras group) and the knowledge of truths that were generated by pure practice.

The czar of the Madras Movement, K.C.S. Paniker – believed that an artist had to foreground tradition and cultural art forms and interpret these within contemporary sensibilities, leading to defining the regional modern, particularly in Madras.

Hence, Paniker’s regional modern was firmly fixed in the wedge between the visibility and identity of the southern artists nationally, and developing a visual language born of an Indian ethos – the vitality of the Indian spirit.

Historians have noted that the modernity which was established in Madras in the ’60s integrated and blended pioneering visions of certain artist-teachers at the Madras School of Arts and Crafts.

The culling also includes Malayali veterans like K. G. Subramanyan, the cultural theorist, the philosopher, the art mandarin who taught seven decades of students as well as A. Ramachandran the scholar, the author, the art historian and the guru who taught a love for the immediate environment to his students.

“I want [my art] to flourish (so to say) in a ‘cloud of unknowing’,” K.G. Subramanyan explained in an interview when asked about the process of his work. “For a centipede-like me to start counting my legs is suicidal,” he elaborated in that distinctly witty yet acerbic manner of his, “It will freeze me into inaction.” The phrase, “cloud of unknowing”, is the ideal frame through which to look at Southern sensibilities and imagery.

It instantly conjures up that drifting restlessness which typically characterizes the traffic between the earthy and the ethereal in many of these works. Then again, it is the artist’s self-description as an unselfconscious centipede that, more than anything helps one to make sense of the profusion of paintings spread across these galleries at the NGMA. There is indeed an arduous degree of introspection and reflection about Southern sensibility and creativity — as if some artists indulged in a Dionysian ritual that revealed, quite naturally and effortlessly in an endless proliferation of images that cut across time and space to create corollaries in multiple contexts and complexities.

A look at the monumental work by Velu Viswanadhan signifies the truth that abstraction must be born out of the symbolism of a deeper experience – the incandescent flavour of the red hues and the geometry that creates succinct planes tells us that this is a nether journey built on rumination and realization and not superficial reflections of strokes and colour.

While the visual arts in the South charted trajectories that engaged with diverse media, techniques, materials, and concepts allowing articulation of creative expression also from within the social and cultural milieu, the Indian accent born of everyday idioms was also creating pathways. Between sculptures, paintings and prints we see an offering of possibilities mirroring the symbolic, the sacred and the secular.

Sculptures and paintings picked out from the NGMA Archives is an exercise that moves beyond the realms of exploration and intellectual thirst. In a large number of works that were created within and around the Deccan plateau regions and beyond the Western and Eastern Ghats this group of works is one that defines the many art practices that were born out of European influences and moved beyond to embrace and find deep rooted meaning in Indianesque histories and narratives that explored native elements over time.

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Kailash Mansarovar Yatra to Resume via Nathu La Route This Year

The yatra was stopped by China in the aftermath of the military face-off with India last year at Doklam.



BEJING (China): In a development that is going to spread joy in the Hindu (Sanatan Dharma) community, India and China on April 22 agreed to resume the Holy Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through the Natha Lu route in Sikkim.

The decision was made during External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj talks with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing.

The pilgrimage was stopped through the route ten months ago following the face-off between the Indian and Chinese militaries in Doka La Plateau in Bhutan.

The pilgrims opting to undertake the pilgrimage through Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand were allowed.

The matter related to the resumption of the annual pilgrimage through Nathu La was raised by India during meetings between the two sides in the last year.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also discussed it with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in December last year.

“We are also happy that the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through the Nathu la route will be resumed this year. I am confident that with Chinese side’s full cooperation, this year the yatra will be a fulfilling experience for the visiting Indian pilgrims,” Swaraj said during a joint press statement with Wang.

Ministry of External Affairs organises the yatra from June to September each year through two different routes – Lipulekh Pass (Uttarakhand) and Nathu La Pass (Sikkim). The yatra, which holds religious value, cultural significance, is undertaken by hundreds of people every year.

Holding significance for Hindus as the abode of Lord Shiva, it holds religious importance also for the Jains and the Buddhists. It is open to eligible Indian citizens, holding valid Indian passports, who wish to proceed to Kailash-Manasarovar for religious purposes.

Har Har Mahadev!

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Determining the Age of the Saraswat Community

Saraswats, who once lived on the riverbed of Sarasvati, have a history equivalent to that of Rigveda.



Who are Saraswats?

In India, there are at least five Brahmin communities who claim themselves as ‘Saraswat Brahmins’, including Gaud Saraswat Brahmins, Chitrapur Saraswats, Rajapur/Bhalavalikar Saraswat Brahmins, Kashmiri Saraswats, Punjabi Saraswats, Sindh Saraswats, Kutch Saraswats and Rajasthan Saraswats.

This community, as a whole, has produced eminent personalities including Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr TMA Pai, Nandan Nilekani, Girish Karnad, Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Deepika Padukone, Shyam Benegal, and Guru Dutt.

Though being miles apart from each other for ages all Saraswat legends claim of their ancestors having once lived on the banks of now extinct river Saraswati.

Today, however, there is no doubt that Saraswats are among the oldest living communities in India – still preserving their own indigenous culture which essentially hails from the Rigveda – that which is believed to have been written by their forefathers during their stint on banks of river Saraswati.

Their Relationship with Saraswati River:

Even to this day many Saraswat’s in their daily Sandhyavandana rite swears their allegiance to Rigveda. This apart, several of Saraswat’ rituals are conducted by reciting the hymns from the texts from Rigveda; firmly establishing links between Saraswats, Saraswati River and Rigveda.

According to two distinguished historians and Vedic Scholars, Dr NS Rajaram and Dr David Frawley for Vedic Aryans the holiest river was “not Ganga but Saraswati” because, they say,

“In Rigveda Ganga is mentioned only once while Saraswati is lauded no less than fifty times.”

There is at least one whole hymn devoted to Saraswati River. In a famous hymn, Saunaka Gritasamdathe seer of the second Mandala lauds the Saraswati as ambitame, naditame, devitame Saraswati:

Sarasvati, the best of mothers, the best of rivers, the best of Goddess.

To follow the very descriptions given in the Vedic literature, Saraswati was the greatest river that then used to flow to the west of the Yamuna but to the east of the Sutlej.

According to the seventh Mandala of the Rigveda attributed to the famous Rishi (Sage) Vasistha, the Saraswati was a mighty stream that flowed from the “mountain to the sea” sustaining the lives of Vedic people:

Pure in her stream, from the mountain to the sea, filled with bounteous abundance for the worlds, nourishing with her flow the children of Nahusa.

Interestingly, this very reference ‘from mountain to sea’ gives us a valuable pointer to Saraswati’ geography. But today we have no river called Sarasvati flowing in this country or elsewhere. The question then is: whatever became of it?

Thanks to archaeology and satellite photography we now know that Saraswati gradually became weaker and finally dried up completely around 1900 or 2000 BCE or even a little bit earlier.

According to several recent findings Vedic Saraswati once used to flow mainly through the channel of what is now an insignificant flow called the Ghaggar close to Indus thus making part of what we now know Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro civilizations. Even Satellite photos have shown that the Ghaggar was once a great river. Paul-Henri Francfort who recently surveyed the area calls it the “immense Ghaggar system”.

Intensive research carried by Dr Frawley and Dr Rajaram has completely debunked the Aryan-Invasion theory. They have also strongly established that the so-called Indus Valley or the Harappa civilization (of which Saraswati River is a part) did not consist of just a few urban settlements. It was a part of a vast civilization that stretched from the borders of Iran to East UP, with some sites as far south of Godavari River; as far as its duration is concerned, it represents a continuous evolution dating back to 7000 BCE in terms of the sites and more are being found all the time. So we can see that this great civilization spanned over 5000 years!

Saraswati’s Extinction:

Regarding the ending of this great civilization, thanks again to recent archaeological and ecological findings, we now know how that end came about. By putting together those pieces of evidence on the basis of archaeological and satellite studies it was most certainly due to the gradual depletion of water resources in North India that culminated in a calamitous drought in the 2200 BCE to 1900 BCE period.

Fig. 1: Map showing the flow of Saraswati from ‘mountain to sea’

Fig. 2: Area covered by Indus-Saraswati civilization and its overlap with the area covered by early Vedic Civilization.

This was, also, a global phenomenon that affected civilization across an immense belt from southern Europe to India. The Akkadian (Sumerian) civilization of Mesopotamia was practically wiped out around 2200 BCE, while in Egypt, the so-called Old-Empire collapsed. In India itself, the mature Harappa civilization of which Saraswati was an integral part came to an abrupt end and there were severe dislocations. As SR Rao observed:

In circa 1900 BCE most of the mature Harappa sites were wiped out forcing the inhabitants to seek new lands for settlement. They seem to have left in a great hurry and in small groups, seeking shelter initially on the eastern flank of the Sutlej and the Ghaggar and gradually moving towards the Yamuna. The refugees from Mohenjo-Daro and southern sites in Sind fled to Saurashtra and later occupied the interior of the Peninsula.

That this was not restricted to India is clear from a recently concluded major French-American study in Mesopotamia. The report of the study notes:

At 2000 BCE, a marked increase in aridity and wind circulation, subsequent to a volcanic eruption, induced considerable degradation in land-use conditions… this abrupt climatic change evidently caused abandonment of Tell Leilan, regional desertion, and the collapse of Akkadian empire based in southern Mesopotamia. A synchronous collapse in adjacent regions suggests that the impact of the abrupt climatic change was extensive.

Whether a volcanic eruption was sufficient to trigger a drought so destructive may still be open to doubt; but whatever caused the draught, its effect now seems established beyond all doubts. The authors summarize their momentous findings as follows:

The abrupt climatic change that generated Habur hiatus I and the associated Akkadian-Gutti-Ur III collapse are synchronous with climate change and collapse phenomenon documented in the Aegean, Egypt, Palestine, and the Indus. The reoccupation of the Habur plains [in the northern Mesopotamia] in the 19thcentury BC and the sudden emergence of centralized Amorite control… was evidently facilitated by the amelioration of climatic conditions…

These very recent reports make it clear that the ending of Harappan civilization was a part of a worldwide climate change phenomenon that affected all ancient civilizations.

Fig 3: The course of Vedic Saraswati from “mountain to sea”

Fig 4: The source of Saraswati – Glacier at Garhwal

Determining the Age of Saraswat Community:

There is no doubt that Saraswats were the people who played a pivotal role in the authoring of Rigveda. Thus the age of the Rigveda can easily be regarded as the age of the early Saraswats.

Thanks to our understanding of ancient metallurgy, we can now say that Rigveda must be older than 3500 BCE.

Kunal, a recently discovered Saraswati site in Haryana has yielded silver ornaments. This shows that their metallurgy must have been quite advanced; for unlike gold, silver never appears in pure form and has to be extracted by separating it from other metals like copper. The archaeological research dates Kunal to be much earlier than 3000 BCE.

The presence of silver ornaments at Kunal shows that it is much later than the society described in the Rigveda. This is because Rigveda does not know silver. The oldest Sanskrit word for silver is Rajata Hiranyam – literally ‘white gold’ – and it is mentioned for the first time in Yajurveda.

This evidently disapproves the currently ascribed date of Rigveda as 1200 BCE as Kunal is evidently the last phase of the Saraswati civilization. Interestingly though there are proofs to suggest a date marking the end of the Saraswati civilization there is no evidence to suggest its exact beginnings.

Thus Dr Rajaram has suggested that:

All we have to do is look hard and deep along the Sarasvati and other Vedic rivers. Such sites are likely to date to 3500 BCE or earlier. These, when found, are likely to be from the Age of Rigveda. The key identifying factor will be the relatively primitive metallurgy of their artifacts.


Today, though we have archaeology telling us that: there was extensive trade between the Harappans, Egyptians and Sumerians besides presenting existence of science and mathematics much advanced to that age, our understanding of the Harappa Mohenjo-Daro or better put Sindu-Saraswati civilization is incomplete.

Though we have evidence to suggest the existence of now-extinct Saraswati we are yet to find evidence to suggest the beginning of the civilization. However, with the available information we can fairly conclude that:

  1. Saraswats, who once lived on the riverbed of Sarasvati, have a history equivalent to that of Rigveda.
  2. The riverbed of an extinct river found by American and French satellites near Harappan excavation are of Saraswati as the very description of the riverbed matches with that of Saraswati mentioned in Rig Veda.
  3. The Kunal excavations discovered on the riverbed of Sarasvati belong to the Yajurveda period dating earlier than 3000 BCE. And because Rigveda was written much earlier than Yajurveda the current idea of Rigveda being authored around 1300 BCE is false.
  4. Given this, we can firmly conclude that Sarasvati civilization of which Saraswats were one an integral part has a history of at least five thousand years.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Reprinted with permission from

U. Mahesh Prabhu
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Udupi Mahesh Prabhu is a media, management and political consultant. He’s co-founder and director of Vedic Management Center. He’s also a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, London (UK) and Member of the International Federation of Journalists (USA).

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