Vivaha Panchami, when a city turns into a stageJanakpur is set to be visited by swathes of Hindu worshippers and pilgrims to celebrate the marriage of Lord Ram and Goddess Sita.
A couple dressed in elaborate headgear and wedding attire is seated on the stage. A crowd of people sit on the ground around them, singing in unison, and a few start dancing in front of the couple—who are portraying the roles of Lord Ram and Goddess Sita. This is the beginning of Vivaha Panchami in Janakpur.
The elaborate reenactment of Lord Ram and Goddess Sita’s nuptials is based on a Hindu epic Ramcharitra Manas, written by Tulsi Das, which took place in Janakpur, the then-kingdom of King Janak. Every year the seven-day festival falls on the fifth day of Shukla Paksha in the Nepali month of Mangshir (November-December). This year, the Janaki Temple management has been planning to mark the festival as an onset to the upcoming Visit Nepal 2020.
“We have decided to celebrate the festival with great fervour as it is the first festival of the upcoming season and also it coincides with the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign,” says Ramroshan Das, Janaki Temple’s chief priest. “This can be an auspicious way to start the campaign and attract national and international tourists.”
To make the festival a success, the temple management has started decorating the temple with radiant and colourful lights. Likewise, a makeshift resting place, provisions for drinking water and temporary restrooms are being constructed at the Bahrabigha ground, the main wedding venue. Preparations are also underway to manage house guests who will flock to the city in their hundreds.
“We have urged the locals, personnel from the sub-metropolitan office and security agencies to extend their help for the festival preparations,” says Das. “The main festival committee and sub-committees have also been formed to organise the festivities.”
Vivaha Panchami is also regarded as a festival that strengthens the diplomatic ties with the country’s southern neighbour. In Hinduism, it is believed that Lord Ram was a prince of Ayodhya, which lies in present-day India, and Sita or Janaki was the princess of Janakpur. So, every year, hundreds of sadhus from India visit the city, symbolising the groom’s wedding procession. They are treated as wedding guests in Janakpur. Last year, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had also attended the festivities. This year too, Adityanath has been invited for the festivities too along with Indian Home Minister Amit Shah.
During the festival, from November 26 to December 2, the whole city’s aura becomes theatrical. All the wedding rituals are carried out, which starts with a couple impersonating as Lord Ram and Goddess Sita parading around the city on the first day, followed by Fulbari Lila, Tilakotsav, Dhanush Yagya, Matkor, Swayambhar and Ramkalewa.
Among the rituals, Swayambhar is considered most important. It takes place on the sixth day of the festival and a real wedding ceremony is performed between the statues of Lord Ram from Ram Mandir and Goddess Sita from Janaki Mandir. Another interesting factor of the festivities is that the chief priest of Ram Mandir is regarded as King Dasrath during the period of Vivaha Panchami, while the chief priest of Janaki Mandir is regarded as King Janak.
On the day of Swayambhar, a lavishly decorated statue of Lord Ram mounted on a throne is carried on a palanquin from the Ram Temple to the Bahrabigha ground. A statue of Goddess Sita is also carried on a specially decorated palanquin to the wedding venue. On the day of the Mahotsav, devotees take holy baths, offer worship and make resolutions. Hymnal singing, stage drama depicting the life of Lord Ram and Goddess Sita, pageantry and religious discourse is also held on the occasion.
The temple is expecting around 1.5 million devotees during the festival this year. According to Das, various ministers have been invited to attend the event, including the prime minister. Meanwhile, locals and organisers of the festival are pushing for the government to officially acknowledge Vivaha Panchami as the inaugural event for Visit Nepal 2020.“It will be a positive message for national and international tourists to begin the campaign from the land of Mithila civilisation,” says Das.