Legends and History behind Bhoto Jatra
On the last day of this year’s month-long Rato Machhendranath Jatra in Patan, a bejeweled vest is displayed to the crowd gathered in Jawlakhel. This auspicious day, observed as Bhoto Jatra, falls on June 22nd this year.
The pulling of Rato Machhendranath’s chariot, which starts from Ga Bahal of Patan, is toured around different parts of the city and concludes at Jawalakhel.
Though there are several versions of the legend behind the Bhoto and its Jatra, all of the stories involve a Jyapu farmer, a thief, and the Karkotaka Naga.
Legends have it that the Karkotaka Naga, the chief of the serpents and who lived at Taudaha (near Chovar), gifted a diamond-encrusted vest to a Jyapu after he cured the Karkotaka Nag’s sick wife. The Nag was in the Valley in a human form in search of a Baidhya (homeopathic doctor) who could cure his wife’s eye disorder. On seeing the Jyapu using herbal paste on his wound, the Nag requested him to accompany him to cure his wife at home despite the Jyapu’s denial of being a Baidhya.
However, one hot afternoon, not being able to tolerate the heat, the farmer, while working on his field, unfastened the vest and kept it in a nearby alley. Alas! The vest disappeared.
According to Yagya Ratna Shakya’s, one of the priests of the Machhendranath Temple at Bungamati of Patan, a ghost stole the vest.
Despite a lot of endeavor, the farmer could not track down his valuable asset.
“However, during a Rato Machhendranath Jatra, the farmer spotted the ghost in his precious vest. It is believed that gods, ghosts and spirits along with human beings gathered in Patan to witness the Jatra and even participated in the procession of drawing the chariot,” adds Shakya.
On seeing the ghost with his rightful vest, the farmer started a heated argument, which came to the notice of the concerned authorities. But as both of them could not produce proofs that the vest belonged to either of them, it was put on a public display in the Jatra. Upon a mediator’s advice, the vest was offered to Lord Machhendranath, also known as Karunamaya, God of Compassion. The very same day it was also declared that whoever produced evidences could take back the vest.
“Apart from the physical elements of these stories, we also need to understand the essence behind them,”
"Machhendranath is known by several names—Karunamaya, Avalokiteshvara etc—by people of different sects. And during the Jatra, people from various backgrounds gather in the same place to worship the same deity, which helps in maintaining harmony amongst the different sects,”.
On regular days, the bhoto is packed, sealed and kept along with Machhendranath’s statue under the custody of the temple’s priest, informs priest Shakya. There are altogether 31 appointed priests for the temple, and their duty rotates every 15 days.
The bhoto was displayed in the presence of the king before the abolition of monarchical system in Nepal. However, these days, Nepal’s President, as head of the state, has been observing the annual bhoto display. From the chariot of Machhendranath, the bhoto is shown to the mass thrice in all the four cardinal directions.
The honor of displaying the sacred vest goes to the office head of the Guthi Sansthan of Patan Division.
“The presence of the king or head of state in the Jatra signifies that they are there to provide justice to the person who produces the evidence that the vest belongs to him,” adds the priest.
However, as it is, till this date, no one has produced the proofs. So the annual display goes on – to everyone’s merriment.! even the Living Goddess Kumari attends the ceremony.