Madhav Narayan

Madhav Narayan observances:

Navadurga festival, Bhaktapur

There in a festival in Bhaktapur called Madhav Narayan which celebrates one of the avatars of the Hindu god Vishnu. It is famous for the sight of male devotees rolling from the center of town down to the Hanuman River to show their devotion to Vishnu. The festival was nearing its close, so I went to Bhaktapur the day before to be at the riverside early in the morning.

It turned out that the city also is in the middle of its Navadurga festival. Navadurga is a mask dance ritual/street carnival. To celebrate Navadurga, dancers representing nine demonic avatars (durgas) of the goddess Parvati run around the city. I wasn’t aware of this until I wandered across a performance in one of the smaller squares of the city. The one in the red mask is one of the durgas; I assume the other is Shiva, since this appeared to be some kind of courtship dance.

After the show, I walked around the city for a few hours, and then returned to the same neighborhood on my way to dinner. As I passed, there was a loud commotion as young men rushed Shiva back into the square. They ran up and down, and then scampered off.

I continued up the road to a large square which I hadn’t visited before—Bhaktapur is much larger than I’d realized. At the main temple, there was a group of old men were singing and playing devotional songs, so I checked them out before finding some dinner.

After my meal, I was returning to my hotel when I heard another commotion. The street parade of durgas, drums and cymbals was heading toward me.

Naturally, I followed them. The revelers wound through some alleys and eventually ended at a temple where the musicians started pounding even louder. The dancers took off their masks and went inside, where they received offerings and more tips.

Next: Madhav Narayan


Bhaktapur also is known as a pottery center, which was exciting to us as we’re both into pottery—Abby has been throwing and hand-building for years, and I started right before we left Bangkok. A lot of the production we saw is standardized, however—not quite the stuff of The Great British Throw Down.

After leaving the kilns, we came across some guys working the clay in a courtyard. You literally can see the handiwork in the clay.

Back to Bhaktapur

We visited Bhaktapur in 2012, three years before the earthquake that damaged or destroyed much of the old architecture. We had the opportunity to return this past weekend. Fortunately, the historic areas looked much as they did before …

… with some obvious work underway, on historic buildings and residences alike.

We saw a lot of people doing puja (worship) at various parts of the square.

Lots of fabulous detail.

Next: Clay.

kathman-two: bhaktapur

this post is rated “m” for mature audiences only.

on day two, we visited bhaktapur, a historic town just outside kathmandu. it’s a living town, albeit a heavily touristed one, and a unesco world heritage site.

the architecture is remarkable. the entry to the historic town (just past the ticket booth) opens onto a wide square ringed with temples and administrative buildings. it looks almost artificial, like a theme park version of nepal. once past this, however, you will find the actual shops and houses.

now, i must admit that one problem of living in india is that i’ve seen so many amazing temples that i’m not eager to take photos of yet one more amazing temple, especially when the light is nearly overhead; the shadows are too harsh and they don’t give the buildings much depth. the two photos in the second row are more interesting to me: they show typical newari architecture, the newars being one of the early peoples of kathmandu. note the beautifully carved windows on even the simplest buildings.

the above disclaimer aside, a lot of the temples here and elsewhere had some of the naughtiest carvings i’ve ever seen, so i did photograph those – at heart, i’m still a 12-year-old. one website lists the possible reasons that the temple beams are carved with such graphic scenes: sex was not taboo in ancient times, and the carvings are a form of sex education; the carvings are a way of contrasting hinduism with buddhism, which preached abstinence; the carvings were meant to inspire people to have children, to increase the size of the workforce; the carvings denoted luxury and royal extravagance; or the carvings would keep the muslim invaders from destroying the temples, since they would be unwilling to come near depictions of nudity. i think this last one is pretty laughable, but you can decide for yourselves.

one website says that the erotic carvings on the temple exteriors were an early form of sex education. if that’s the case, the guys who carved the beam on the far right must have been teaching the advanced placement class.

bhaktapur was great for people-watching, particularly in the side streets.

the baby’s eyes are made up to ward off the evil eye.
there were a lot of men hanging out under covered platforms that dot the neighborhood. the kids above were playing “cellphone” with pieces of broken pottery, and, generally speaking, people seemed capable of making their own toys. and finally, the pause that refreshes (ba-da-bing!).

next: pashupatinath and boudhanath