Bungdyo’s indecent proposalWhy Patan has just one chariot festival might not be a question that has tickled your fancy before. Yet, once stirred, why the City of Arts has just the elaborate festival for the Bungdyo is not a question that is easily shaken off.
Why Patan has just one chariot festival might not be a question that has tickled your fancy before. Yet, once stirred, why the City of Arts has just the elaborate festival for the Bungdyo is not a question that is easily shaken off.
Consider this back story:
In antiquity, when Gods walked among us, Bungdyo—or Rato Macchindranath—was not happy with Patan’s agricultural output. At a meeting of the Gods, chaired by the fearsome Caakuwaa:dyo—or Minnath—Bungdyo pointed out that because of its 32 different chariot festivals, Patan’s residents were becoming “lazy and feast-oriented.”
“I am the God of Abundance, but crops don’t grow by themselves,” he lamented, “What is the point of Patan being the City of Gods, if there is a perennial shortage of food?”
Instead, Bungdyo proposed, Patan should have one large chariot festival to represent all the gods at once. This chariot, he envisioned, would be 32 cubits tall, the central steering shaft—called the dha:ma—would also be 32 cubits, so would the circumference of each of its large wheels.
“But surely all 32 of us can’t be housed in the central platform. Who would have the honour of sitting in the chariot?” the Gods asked.
“I would,” Bungdyo replied, “The size of the chariot will represent the 32 chariots and their deities, but we are all one. These various forms of ours are meant for the physical eyes, but when seen through the spiritual eyes, aren’t we one and the same? Isn’t our physical forms just symbolic?”
But Bungdyo’s moot point was lost on the incensed congress. Minnath, the Lord of Death, was so angered by the Red God’s naked power grab that he hurled a vajra that barely missed its mark. The meeting quickly dispersed thereafter, Bundgyo’s indecent proposal left unanswered on the table.
That night, stewing over the day’s events, Rato Machhindranath realised his folly. “Caakuwaa:Dyo was right,” he festered, “It was indeed authoritarian of me. But some reforms have to be made. He can occupy the chariot.”
On the other side of town, the Lord of Death, too lay tossing at night, embarrassed by his quick temper. His thoughts meandered back to a time when Bungdyo had devised a plan to move hell to the underworld, converting its then-location—Pulchowk—into a beautiful lotus pond instead. “If you continue to torture people openly like this,” Bungdyo had advised Minnath at the time, “People will be frightened to even pay homage to you. Sinners must not be spared, but when done in public, the people will begin to empathise with their pain. One should only choose good things for public display.”
How happy the people of Patan had been, Minnath remembered, for the change it brought to their city. It was indeed the foundation upon which the peaceful and tranquil city of Patan had blossomed like a beautiful lotus. Bungdyo’s words were never in vain.
The next day when the Gods reconvened, Minnath accepted Bungdyo’s proposal, indecent as it was, and convinced the others to follow suit. Bungdyo on his part, apologised to the assembly, and proposed that the chariot of Minnath accompany the larger chariot as a testament that this was not a consolidation of power on his part but a compromise for the greater good.
To this day, the two chariots of Minnath and Bungdyo travel in pair as they weave through Patan’s streets. The larger chariot of Rato Machhindranath will not move, as the legend goes, until Minnath’s diminutive car leads the way first.
It remains Patan’s only chariot festival.
This tale and 15 others make up Sundar Krishna Joshi’s newly published short-story anthology, Through the Latticed Window, a translation of the original Tikkijhyalam from Nepal Bhasa. With stories that recant and recast old ‘grandmother’s tales’ from the Valley’s three ancient kingdoms—from the origin myths of the Biskaa Jatra to a scandalous love affair between Bhaila Aa:ju and Nain Ajima—Through the Latticed Window is a delectable collection that is amusing and enlightening at the same time. Most of Joshi’s stories are tales the Valley’s Newars already know, having been passed down orally from one generation to another. Yet in recasting these myths for the modern day, the author uses his own devices and tools to “enrich them with flesh and blood.” And in doing so, he has made away with distracting open-ended superstitions to make the stories relatable in the here and now, making the book of interest to both scholars of culture and history and the casual reader.
That being said, the book is not without some gaping faults. While some stories have been wittily translated (a compliment in itself for English translations of books in indigenous languages in Nepal), there are others that fall way short of the mark. Translation is a tricky craft—when it resonates, it can open new doors of perception, but when it doesn’t, the end product is little more than a gibberish rant. Take for instance the story of the Bhoto Jatra, included in the anthology, which begins promisingly enough but closes in a clamour of incoherent theories. While it is true that urban legends do exist about how the real bejewelled vest of Karokat has been replaced by a fake one, it is wholly another matter ending a published story literally at “This is the fake one. The original one is said to be in a museum in England,” without the statement necessitating a lengthy, critical explanation.
Ultimately, it is these stories—that have perhaps been lost in translation—that steal away from what otherwise would have been an excellent, short read. And if you are a reader willing to overlook these obvious shortcomings, you will find value yet in Through the Latticed Window. At the very least, it should get younger readers intrigued by the folklore and myths that surround them. For the older readers, Joshi’s stories will undoubtedly be food for thought. Even if you ultimately chose to find answers to the questions he raises elsewhere.