The festival of ‘Gatha Mungal’ also known as ‘Ghanta-Karna’ (Bell-Ears) is a Newari traditional festival. Ghanta Karna was named after the demon who used to have a pair of bells on his ears. This demon was terrifying people and killing them. According to the legend, the demon used to steal children and women from their house. The villagers were particularly frightened by him and did not set out to plant even in the planting season.
The festival takes place every year during the month of Shrawan (July/August) in the ancient city of Bhaktapur, Nepal. People from the Newar community worship frogs on that day because it is believed that frogs contributed to the death of the demon. Indeed, it is said that a large number of frogs trapped the demon in a swamp, leading him to sink, while he was on his way to hunting.
Therefore, the day marks the celebration of the death of the demon. By performing the legendary drama (Lakhe Nach) on the streets, the festival’s aim is to ward off evil spirits as well as to bring peace and prosperity. During the festival, Ghanta Karna demons made of wheat straws are standing, like scarecrows, in every ward (tole in Nepalese). The symbolic demons are burnt outside of the city or nearby the river in the evening while innovating ‘Pevo Pevo’. People swing their children towards the fire in order to protect them from evil spirits. It is also a symbolic way of chasing away demons from homes.
Some people believe Ghanta-Karna was not a demon but a devotee of Lord Shiva while in Buddhism it is considered as a symbol of God Bhairav.
On this day people visit the ritual places and temples to worship for peace and victory against the demons. In their house, people bless ‘Bali’ which is made of cooked or beaten rice and eat ‘Samyabaji’ as ‘Prasad’ (food blessed by the gods) during dinner to avoid the influence of bad spirits.
Some of the ritual practices during the Ghanta-Karna Festival:
- People perform legendary drama on the street
- A sculpture made of reeds is placed at cross roads in the main streets.
- Girls hang their hand made dolls on that sculpture to protect themselves from the bad spirits
- People wear metal like-iron, silver or gold on their fingers, wrist, and ankle of their children
- Girls put ‘Mehandi’ on their palms
- Groups of boys roam around asking for alms shouting ‘Aaju Jaya Has, Om Shanti Jaya Nepal’
- Locals gather to raise the effigy and sketch a monster on it
- One who impersonates Ghanta Karna by smearing himself with paint is served with beaten rice with curd under the effigy
- Everyone volunteers to drag the sculpture of Ghanta Karna nearby the river
Edited by Jeevan Thapa