Bisket Jatra is a week-long chariot festival celebrated in Bhaktapur. Idols of Bhadrakali and Bhairav are pulled in wooden chariots during the festival. This week-long festival starts with a special tantric ritual in the Bhairab Temple at the Bhaktapur Durbar Square. The chariot with the idols of the gods are pulled through the entire city of Bhaktapur by devotees.
Bisket Jatra is celebrated in Bhaktapur and Thimi at the start of the Nepali New Year. If you belong to the valley, you sure will be familiar of a lot of Jatras and festivals. Bisket Jatra is just one of them which mainly praise the God Bhairav and the Goddess Bhadrakali. People prepare huge chariots and they are pulled by young men all around the narrow streets of Bhaktapur. There is even a tug of war between the people living in the upper part and the lower part of the medieval city.
There are many legends associated with Bisket Jatra. Among the many stories, the legend about the princess and the snake is quite popular and widely accepted by the Newari community.
According to the legend, King Jagajoyti Malla once heard the story of a princess from Bhaktapur who was cursed. Anyone who married her died the next morning. The princess’s father was very worried as none of the royal princes wanted to marry his daughter after getting to know of the curse.
Finally an old woman’s son was chosen to marry the princess. She was reluctant to give her son as he was her only support during old age. But an old lady came and offered advice to the boy on what to do on the wedding night which made him agree to the proposal.
On the wedding night, once the princess fell asleep, the boy remained awake following the advice of the old lady. He noticed that two rope like things came out the nostrils of the princess which took the shape of snakes. These snakes were the ones who were killing the suitors of the princess. The boy quickly cut the snakes and killed them as was advised by the old lady.
When he was found alive and well the next morning, the denizens of Bhaktapur erupted in joy. There was much merriment and joy in the kingdom. People later discovered that the old lady who had advised the young boy was none other than Goddess Bhadrakali.
King Jagajoyti loved the story and wanted it to be remembered by the people. He started the ‘Bisyaku Jatra’ to commemorate this event. The ‘jatra’ was later renamed Bisket Jatra. Every year during the festival, this story is enacted in the form of a play.
Bisket Jatra is also celebrated in the neighbouring localities of Thimi and Balakhu as Sindur Jatra and Jibro Chedne Jatra(tongue piercing festival). Local inhabitants gather in the streets with the chariots carrying different gods and goddesses and sindoor (vermilion powder) is showered over the gods and people. During the ‘Jibro Chedne Jatra’ men from a particular community pierce their tongues with skewers and march down the streets.
This chariot festival is celebrated in April and marks the beginning of the Nepalese New Year. Like all Nepalese festivals it celebrates the victory of good over evil. Blessings are sought from Goddess Bhadrakali and Lord Bhairav while their chariots are being pulled by fervent devotees across the crowded streets of medieval Bhaktapur. Lasting for a week this boisterous and spiritually charged festival is worth witnessing if you visit Kathmandu around the time of this festival (usually April first or second week).