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Chapter Fifteen The Devi Cycle
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Chapter Fifteen
The Devi Cycle


In our presentation of the miscellaneous calendrical events of the lunar year we set aside a group of events distributed throughout the year for special treatment. This group, closely related to the rice agricultural cycle, makes up a thematically interrelated set in which the meaning of each unit is dependent on the entire group. While the meaning of the other events of the lunar cycle is often affected by their structural similarities and contrasts with other events in the cycle, the events in the Devi cycle are related by a central thread. This thread is a narrative of the states and activities of one group of supernatural beings, the "Nine Durgas," a group of dangerous deities thought locally to be uniquely associated with Bhaktapur (see fig. 27).

The Nine Durgas are, in part, manifestations of Devi, the Goddess. In the course of Mohani at the time of the climactic harvest of the rice cycle Devi is portrayed in all her complexity. Mohani brings her transcendent exploits as the conquering Mahisasuramardini in the mythic realm into concrete representation in Bhaktapur's mesocosm and, in so doing, brings the mythic Devi into empowering contact with the local legendary Nine Durgas.

In our listings of the annual calendrical events of the lunar cycle we were able to use the lunar New Year's Day as a place to enter it and to begin it. The Devi cycle has no conventional beginning, and there is more than one place where a descriptive beginning might be justified.


Figure 27.
The Nine Durgas' pyakha(n) . Duma dancing.


One might be with Mohani itself, in which, with the harvest, the presence and protection of the Goddess is returned to and into the city after a vital sojourn outside in the fields and away in other realms. Another entree to the cycle, the one we have chosen, is with the departure from the city of Devi's manifestations, the Nine Durgas. The results of that departure conveys the implications of her absence and thus the meaning of her return. We will preface our description of the cycle itself with a necessarily detailed introduction to the legend, membership, and iconography of the Nine Durgas troupe.[1] For the Devi cycle, as they were for the focal Biska: festival, details are essential.

The Legend of the Nine Durgas

There are a number of variants of the tale or legend of how the Nine Durgas came to be introduced into Bhaktapur. A familiar version goes as follows: A long time ago during the reign of the Malla king Guna[*] Kamana Deva[2] the Nine Durgas troupe inhabited a forest called Jwala (to the northeast of Bhaktapur).[3] They used to catch people who happened to pass by, and they killed them and drank their blood as sacrifices to themselves. One day an Acaju whose name was Sunanda was walking through the forest and was captured by the Nine Durgas, who prepared to kill him. Sunanda Acaju told the deities that if they wished to take him as a living sacrificial offering, they should allow him to worship them first. They agreed.

Now it happened that Sunanda Acaju was not just an ordinary Acaju; he was a great expert in Tantric knowledge and mantras . So he was able to say a powerful mantra that bound the Durgas so that they were unable to move. The Nine Durgas were very ashamed. They asked him to forgive them and to release them from their immobility. They gave him their word that they would not sacrifice him. But Sunanda Acaju, shrinking them in size, put them in his carrying basket and brought them into his house in Bhaktapur. He kept them in his room in a secure chest and periodically looked at them and worshiped them.

After a certain period of time (which varies in different accounts from the short period of this account to two or three generations in others) Sunanda Acaju's guru , a Rajopadhyaya Brahman with deep Tantric knowledge who lived in the Palisache(n) neighborhood, came to Sunanda Acaju and told him that he (the Acaju) was unable to worship the Nine Durgas properly, but that he (the Brahman) could, and therefore he took them in their chest to his own house and hid them in a


room. Then the Brahman, Somara Rajopadhyaya, worshiped the Nine Durgas in great secrecy with Tantric bidya , or "secret arts," and made sacrifices to them. He made the Nine Durgas dance, telling stories through movements of their hands. (In other versions the Brahman also plays various games of skill with them.) At some point in the stories the Nine Durgas had warned the Brahman, or sometimes the Acaju before him, that they could only he kept under the spell if no one else saw them. Somara Rajopadhyaya had warned his wife that she must never look into this particular room. (In some versions he had given her the keys to all the rooms except this one, which was not to be unlocked.) One day he was absent (in some versions having gone by means of his Tantric powers through the air to Benares to bathe in the Ganges), and his wife (as it is significantly phrased in one version, "being a woman and having a small mind") either opened the door or looked through a hole in the door and saw the Nine Durgas, who in some versions were dancing. As the stories emphasize, Somara had spent most of his time in that forbidden room, and his wife was very curious to know what was going on. In some versions the Nine Durgas kill Somara's wife at this point as a sacrificial offering "because she had done wrong and Somara Rajopadhyaya did not keep his oath." In other versions she is only severely scolded by her husband.

Because the conditions of their entrapment and control have now been violated, the Nine Durgas escape the Brahman's house. The stories now give various details that "explain" aspects of the Nine Durgas' present ceremonial activities in Bhaktapur. On escaping from the Brahman's house the band of deities capture, sacrifice, and eat a pig at a place called "Bha: Dhwakha," which will prevent the Brahman from taking the now polluted gods back into his house. Then, the story continues, Somara returned to his house and finding the Nine Durgas missing pursues them intending to entrap them again through his Tantric power. He pursues them with mantras and the beating of a small drum, and causes them to freeze in their flight. He finds them in the upper part of the city at Swa(n)ga Lwaha(n).

Now, the story goes on, Somara Rajopadhyaya begged the Nine Durgas to return to his house. He says, "Where are you going now in leaving me? Do not leave me." He cried very much. The Nine Durgas were pleased to hear him but said, we have taken a pig as sacrifice. The pig is polluting, and therefore we cannot go back to your house because you are a Brahman. But you can make a dance-drama (a pyakha[n] ), and we will enter into the performers. Then everyone will be able to see


us and worship us. The Brahman then established a god-house for the Nine Durgas, and gave members of the Gatha thar the authority and duty to perform each year as the Nine Durgas and to embody them.

In a variant of the story, Somara Rajopadhyaya having heard on his return that the Nine Durgas had eaten a pig, and realizing that he could not take them back into his house, instructed one of his faithful students in the proper spells, and delegated the student, an Acaju, to capture them. This he did after some difficulty, and he put them in accordance with the Brahman's direction in a god-house in Ga:che(n), the area where the Gatha live. The Gatha, whose special thar vocation was growing flowers for worship, came to present flowers to the Nine Durgas. Then Somara Rajopadhyaya came and told the Gatha that he would be grateful to them if they would care for the Nine Durgas and would learn their dances. Somara Rajopadhyaya said he would teach them everything they needed to know about the Nine Durgas and about other necessary Tantric procedures as he had taught the Acaju.

And thus, still following these directions, the Gatha and the Acaju still perform their duties for the Nine Durgas.

An Introduction to Meaning

In this chapter, because of the interrelated complexities of the Devi cycle, we will interrupt its description from time to time for essays or remarks on its meaning as introduced or most clearly demonstrated by particular aspects of the cycle. We may start with some comments on these accounts of the introduction of the Nine Durgas into Bhaktapur.

These stories or legends relate the Nine Durgas to a particular period of time and to specific events in the history of Bhaktapur and to particular places in Bhaktapur's space. This quasi-historicity contrasts with the locally and historically transcendent Puranic[*] mythlike stories of Devi as Mahisasuramardini, which, while also contributing secondarily to the troupe's meaning, are central to Mohani. The themes in the legend are repeated and modulated throughout the Devi cycle. We may well begin with the now familiar distinction of outside and inside. This is in its major emphasis a distinction between outside and inside the city itself with the ritual boundaries of the city being understood as the significant border—thus the Nine Durgas are captured outside of the city and brought into it. But once inside they are still "outside" the city in a sense, for they are in the Acaju's or Brahman's inner secret room, and still separated from the public space of the city. That inner room is in


this sense outside of the house (where wife and family are), as the house itself (with its own secrets guarded from its surrounding neighborhood) is outside of the public space of the city itself. The Nine Durgas move from forest to secret room to the house and then, finally, to the public urban space of Bhaktapur. Both the outside of the city beyond its ritual boundaries and the nested, successively more private realms inside a household or inside a corporate group, are in different ways "outside" the city as a public realm.

The Nine Durgas live outside the city in a forest. They have many of the characteristics of predatory beasts which are reflected in the iconic details of their masks. Like such beasts, they are dangerous in that they kill and eat people. it is essential to note that they kill people not because of their "sins" or violations of the dharma , but simply because of accidental encounters. Sunanda Acaju simply chanced upon them. The Nine Durgas are threats to the bodies of those who happen to encounter them. They are not related to people's souls , to their moral behavior, and the manipulation of karma as are the ordinary gods of the inside of the city. In fact, as we have noted in our discussion of sacrifice, the death of the body in such encounters because it represents a sacrifice to a deity results—as does an animal sacrifice for that animal—in a great reward to the soul, phrased sometimes as mukti or moksa[*] , that is, salvation. The Nine Durgas, like all dangerous deities, are brought under control not through ordinary moral action nor the kind of devotion that influences ordinary deities but by an act of power, the Tantric mantra of a particularly skillful practitioner. Ordinary people, as we will see, can control them only through blood sacrifice.

In the legends, the Tantric control of the wild divinities of the outside is first used for the private and secret enjoyment of the Tantrikas. The action is still outside the city in the sense that it is hidden from the public realm and of no consequence to it. This private pleasure is disrupted through the prying of a wife who is pejoratively characterized as curious and small-minded and who in one version is even punished by death. Her violation of her husband's authority, of his injunction "do not look in this room," caused the escape of the dangerous forces and her immediate punishment. Through the wife's meddling an essential transformation takes place, however—the powerful amoral gods move from the private personal realm of the Tantric Brahman to the public space of the city for the use and good of the city as a whole.[4] This legendary transformation reflects the way that Bhaktapur has turned Tantra into a Brahmanically controlled or at least supervised civic reli-

Mahakali H. 46 cm., W. 38 cm.

Bhairava H. 46 cm., W. 38 cm.

Kumari H. 42 cm., W. 24 cm.

Sero Bhairava H. 22 cm.,W. 27 cm.

Siva H. 33 cm., W. 22 cm.

Sima H. 40 cm., W. 34 cm.

Duma H. 40 cm., W. 34 cm.

Varahi H.40 cm.,W. 34 cm.

Ganesa[*] H. 43 cm., W. 36 cm.

Mahesvari H. 42 cm., W. 24 cm.

Indrani[*] H. 42 cm., W.24 cm.

Vaisnavi[*] H. 42 cm., W. 24 cm.

Brahmani H. 42 cm., W.24 cm.


gion, although a religion that continues to represent the exterior forces which surround, threaten, and sustain the interior moral and civic life of the city.

There is another story told to explain why the Nine Durgas ate the pig. This second story illuminates an important aspect of meaning of the Tantric gods in general and the Nine Durgas in particular—that is that the Tantric and dangerous deities represent a power that transcends purity and impurity. This power can absorb and neutralize problematic quantities and placements of impurity and thus help to maintain and restore that segment of social order that is differentiated by purity and which is the concern of the ordinary gods who partake of the ordering dependent on purity.

The story goes that in a past age the people of the earth had been polluting the earth with urination and defecation. Everywhere the world was dirty and everywhere there were bad smells. The gods consulted with Visnu[*] and asked him, as he had so often done, to come to the help of the world. The gods did not want to do anything to get rid of the feces themselves for fear of contaminating themselves. Finally Visnu[*] agreed to incarnate himself as a pig and to eat the feces. "But," he said to the gods, "if I do this I will become polluted, and it will be difficult for me to again escape from the world." The Nine Durgas said to him that they would agree to take and eat the pig as a sacrifice, and thus through the sacrifice of that pig make it possible for it (and the incarnate Visnu[*] ) to gain salvation.

The Nine Durgas—The Cast of Characters and Their Iconic Representation

We have followed the legends in referring to the group of the Nine Durgas without saying anything about the membership of that group. Whatever meanings that troupe as a whole draws from its legend, its membership and position in Bhaktapur's civic pantheon, and its position and activities in the annual cycle, the Nine Durgas give their local performances as a differentiated cast of characters. (We will discuss the local performances given by the troupe throughout the city during the nine months of each annual cycle, when the Nine Durgas are actively protecting the city, at length at the end of this chapter). Like the conventional characters in the European commedia dell'arte , the individual


members of the Nine Durgas troupe indicate their significance and relationship in large part by their appearance and their contrasts.

How many Durgas are there in the Nine Durgas group? This is a characteristic civic mystery. There are only seven goddesses or "Durgas" represented by the masks worn by the Gatha as the Nine Durgas. These goddesses are represented in the Puranic[*] text, the Devi Mahatmya, which is one of the mythic bases for the Mohani sequence, among the benign male deities' Saktis who join the fully powerful cosmic deity Devi in her battles against the order threatening Asuras (chap. 8). These seven Durgas are also represented in Bhaktapur as seven of the eight boundary-guarding pitha goddesses of Bhaktapur's borders, the Astamatrkas[*] . The eighth of Bhaktapur's boundary goddesses, Mahalaksmi[*] , is, as we have noted, not derived from the Devi Mahatmya, although she has other Puranic[*] representation as one of the "mothers." For the Nine Durgas she is present not as a member of the performing group, but as the Nine Durgas' "own god." She is represented at a shrine carried with the troupe where she is generally known because of her decoration with that plant, as the "oleander deity" or Siphadya:, and she is also represented by an image in the Nine Durgas' god-house. Mahalaksmi[*] is generally understood to be the eighth of the Durgas. But who is the ninth? At the center of the city's eight bounding "mothers" or Matrkas is a ninth goddess (Tripurasundari) who is not a Matrka[*] , nor a god's Sakti, but who represents the Tantric goddess in her full cosmic and creative form. The "nine" in reference to the Nine Durgas presumably refers to such a mandalic[*] schema (which is reflected in the city's nine Mandalic[*] Goddesses), but it is unclear as to just who the ninth Durga is. There are various proposals. Some Gatha believe that she is represented by their musical instruments, which they take to represent Tripurasundari. Others say that the ninth Durga is Bhairavi, the Sakti of Bhairava, but who is not represented in the masks or the drama.[5] Like many Tantric secrets, it is probably not known definitely by anyone now, assuming that it was ever clearly known in the past. Everyone assumes that there must be someone who knows the real truth but, as is often the case, it is likely that no such person exists.

The goddesses represented by masks in the Nine Durgas troupe are Mahakali, Vaisnavi[*] , Brahmani, Indrani[*] , Mahesvari, Kumari, and Varahi. These masks are worn as part of the costume of the Gatha performers who will incarnate the deities. The troupe also includes five other masked dancers, Bhairava, Ganesa[*] , Seto Bhairava, Sima, and Duma, and is further supplemented by a mask of Siva, which is carried, but not


worn. Thus we have now seven performing Durgas, and five other performing deities, all of whom will be incarnated in Gatha performers, a total of twelve perfomers in the troupe. These are supplemented by two other nonperforming representations, Siva and Mahalaksmi[*] , and perhaps by some esoteric hidden deity, who is added to Mahalaksi[*] as a Ninth Durga.

The masks are loaded with iconographic details that allow them to be grouped and contrasted in several different ways (see color plates). Many of these details and the possible categorizations deriving from them are peripheral to their performance meanings. An example is the rotated third eye, which is prominently displayed on the foreheads of Siva, Mahakali, Bhairava, Ganesa[*] , Mahesvari (all thus marked as closely related to Siva) and also, curiously, the Vaisnavite deity Varahi. (On the other hand, the protagonist of the pyakha[n]s that are given in the city's neighborhoods, Seto Bhairava, who is conceptually related to Siva, and is in fact a copy of the mask of Siva with certain significant transformations, does not have such a third eye.)

The neighborhood dance-drama divides the twelve mask-wearing performers into principal performers and a remainder who act as a kind of chorus and who are restricted to formal geometric dances performed as a group. The masks of the major and individual performers all have jeweled bindus at the bases of their noses. The minor performers (Vaisnavi[*] , Brahmani, Indrani[*] , and Mahesvari) do not. Varahi, who does have a jeweled bindu at the base of her nose, is not a major performer in the dance-drama, but in contrast to the other members of the "chorus" she does perform an independent dance. Ganesa[*] , who also has a bindu at the base of his nose, this one painted as part of his harness, like Varahi does independent dances.

Within the group of major performers two masks dominate by their larger size, by their intensely saturated dark colors, and by the presence of prominent fangs. One of these is the dark blue Bhairava, the main actor in the ceremonies that are the immediate context of the dance-drama, and the other is the dark clotted-blood-red Mahakali, who is represented with emaciated flesh, deep-set eyes, and facial bones protruding in a cadaverous way through her skin. Mahakali is the main antagonistic figure of the dance-drama itself.

Kumari is visually clearly a transitional figure, and this is consistent with the role she plays. She is the same size and shape as the benign goddesses of the "chorus" (Mahesvari, Indrani[*] , Brahmani and Vaisnavi[*] ), and she shares with them the rounded features of a young woman in


full sexual attractiveness. Although she is smaller than Mahakali and full-fleshed rather than emaciated, she is painted in the same deep clotted-blood-red as Mahakali and has fangs that the other benign goddesses do not have. While Mahakali is emaciated and skeletal, Kumari is not—but Kumari's mask has the same exaggerated frontal protuberances (in anatomical terminology, the "mental tubercles" of the mandible) as does Mahakali's jaw, which signify and call attention to the underlying skeleton. It is much easier to see at a glance than it is to put it into words that Kumari is in a marginal position between the maximally frightening representation of the Tantric goddess and her exaggeratedly beautiful manifestations.

Two other masks whose features are very closely related to each other are those of Siva and Seto Bhairava. Many of their features are identical and do not occur on any other mask. They are represented as young men, with firm full flesh, identical stylized eyebrows, mustaches, and tiny beards. They differ in that the Siva mask is of a pastel orange color resembling the purely decorative colors of the secondary goddesses of the chorus. Seto Bhairava, as his name implies (seto , "white"), is white, and the contrast of his white with the blue-black and clotted-blood-reds of the Bhairava and Mahakali and Kumari masks reflects the color contrasts (male versus female, minimal power versus maximal power) of Tantric symbolism. Seto Bhairava lacks Siva's third eye icon on his forehead. His other obvious differences from the troupe's representation of Siva in his mask (a representation of Siva that is locally sometimes said to represent Siva in his aspect as a "young bachelor") is that Seto Bhairava his small fangs that associate him (even, as we shall see, in a comparatively ineffective manner) with the dangerous aspect of the Tantric gods. The Siva mask, which is small in size compared to the other masks, has no eyeholes and is not worn. During processions it is carried attached to the costume of the dancer who incarnates Ganesa[*] , and during the local performances the Siva mask is hung on the Oleander God's portable shrine. This peripheral reference to Siva is congruent with Siva's significant but peripheral relationship to the Tantric component of Bhaktapur's religion (chap. 9). Seto Bhairava, as a representation and transformation of the young Siva, is the protagonist of the neighborhood drama. He is the person who by his social awkwardness causes the drama to unfold as he stumbles into an encounter with Mahakali and the trouble he gets into and his efforts to get out of it all again provide the main thread of the plot around which the drama develops. Seto Bhairava is the focus for the audience's identification during that part of the drama concerning his conflict with Mahakali. The


things that happen to him also happen vicariously to the audience. The mask's general benignity encourages this identification in the way that, say, the mask of Bhairava strongly discourages it. But Seto Bhairava has another dramatic function in the drama. As Mahakali is to him, he is to the boys and young men in the audience during one phase of the proceedings. The fangs in his otherwise benign face serve to remind us of his danger to those who are even weaker than he is.

The remaining two divine actors are two masks that are identical except in the color of their faces (one white, the other a reddish-orange), respectively, in Newari, "Sima" and "Duma"—also known in popular speech as "Si(n)ba" and "Du(n)ba." These are said to be popular names for "Si(n)hini" and "Vyaghrini[*] " (variously pronounced). People know that they represent a lion and a tiger, but it is generally not known which is which, nor which mask goes with which name. They are sometimes said to be two goddesses, but sometimes they are thought of as a couple, with the white-faced Sima as the male. Sometimes they are said to be messengers of Yama Raja, the ruler of the Kingdom of the Dead. Their headbands of skulls identifty them as dangerous Tantric figures, as do their open mouths and sharp teeth. However, their decorative colors and relatively smaller size suggest, as does their action in the dance drama, that they represent a much less serious danger than the maximally frightening masks.

The Annual Cycle

The activities of the Nine Durgas are woven into the larger Devi cycle, providing one of the main plots that ties that cycle together. They also have a subcycle of their own, a cycle of performances that takes place during the nine months of their annual life, which we will present in a later section of this chapter. We must now turn to the annual Devi cycle arranged on the thread provided by the Nine Durgas' annual life and death. We may begin after their last annual performance, shortly before they disappear.

Sithi Nakha [36]

Sithi Nakha[6] falls on the sixth day of the waxing fortnight Tachalathwa (May/June). The Nine Durgas have to perform their last dance drama[7] on either the Sunday or the Thursday prior to Sithi Nakha, depending on the day of the week that Sithi Nakha will fall. Sithi Nakha, like all the annual calendrical events of the Devi cycle, has a significant connec-


tion to the events of the rice producing agricultural cycle, all being related either to the rice planting and harvesting activities themselves or to the phases of the rainy season on which they are dependent. Sithi Nakha marks the expected end of the dry season, the day when wells and ponds and roads are to be cleaned in preparation for the coming rains.[8] Anderson notes that "Chronicles tell how the city of Bhadgaon [Bhaktapur] was once surrounded by a thick fortifying wall and moat, the maintenance, renovation, and cleaning of which were the responsibility of every citizen of the town, regardless of caste. Any person who failed to complete his assigned section by Sithi Nakha Day was duly punished" (1971, 70). This day also marks the beginning of the period during which rice seeds are to be planted to produce the rice paddy plants that will be transplanted in the next stage of the rice production. For farmers, this day anticipates the beginning of a long period of hard work and anxiety and traditionally was the (the only , it is sometimes said) day in the year when farmers bathed their bodies completely, as a kind of purifying preparation for the period to come. The evening before Sithi Nakha marks the termination of the seven-week Dewali [30] period during which, on their particular days, various phukis worship their lineage deities as Digu Gods.

Like most calendrical events, the day has a miscellaneous additional set of references and activities, some being derivations of its wider areal and historical uses. This day elsewhere in South Asia and Nepal commemorates the day on which the god Kumara was born,[9] but this connection is largely lost for Bhaktapur. On this day a mandala[*] containing a six-petal design is made in the Taleju temple and in the homes of the Brahmans associated with Taleju. Although such a mandala[*] is in some other Nepalese communities thought of as representing Kumara, it is locally interpreted as the Goddess Prthivi[*] , that is, the earth, a reference that is closer to the agricultural implications of the Devi cycle.[10] In Bhaktapur Prthivi[*] is thought of quite concretely as the actual earth, the soil in the fields and beneath human constructions. Pujas to Prthivi[*] are held in many homes on this day. In the evening many households have special dinners.

Sithi Nakha is a threshold day, the ending of some of the year's activities and a preparation for something new. What is being prepared for with the anticipation of the seasonal rains is an encounter with nature vital to agriculturally based Bhaktapur, an encounter full of risks. This "nature" is the environing and supporting realm of Bhaktapur's public moral, civic life.


Bhagasti [40]

Bhagasti, short for Bhagavati Astami[*] , "Bhagavati's eighth day," falls on the eighth day of the waning fortnight, Tachalaga, that is, in June, seventeen days after Sithi Nakha. In the period between Sithi Nakha and Bhagasti the seed rice is being planted and time rains are anticipated. During this time many people go to the god-house of the Nine Durgas to do pujas and to offer sacrifices. This is a respectful gesture of farewell. Soon the Nine Durgas will be disappearing.

The disappearance of the gods is signaled by the "cremation" of the masks that had represented them during the previous year. On the Sunday or Thursday Before Bhagasti (whichever is the closest) the Gathas go to each of the major and minor twa: s throughout the city where they had performed throughout the course of the year (map 14, below). They wear their masks turned to the side of their heads and thus not covering their faces, as they had done during their previous performances. They visit the twa: s by walking around the city's main jatra route, and proceeding to them in the order in which they lie on that route not in the formally prescribed order in which they had visited them during the course of the previous nine months.

When in the course of their procession around the city they reach the Taleju temple, they enter it. A secret ceremony is performed there, indicating that they have completed their work for the year. In the minds of the Gatha performers and of people in general (cf. Teilhet 1978, 95) it is thought that this represents the withdrawal of some of the power from the masks, a power that had been given to them at the beginning of the yearly cycle, but this is not the understanding of the priests who administer the ceremony. The ceremony is called the "Sija Nakegu," that is, "feeding the 'death rice'"[11] , The exact meaning of this is not clear now to the priests, but seems to refer to the approaching death of the Nine Durgas. When the Nine Durgas troupe leaves the Taleju temple they continue on the jatra route and finally return to their god-house. When they reach there, in a significant contrast to what had always happened on the occasions of their return after performing earlier in the year, they are not met by their Naki(n), the senior Gatha woman ceremonially attached to the group, who would have led them into the god-house with a purifying and welcoming ceremony, the du kaegu , but they simply and unceremoniously enter the house.[12]

On the evening of Bhagasti the masks are secretly cremated at the Brahmani pitha , a pitha that has a particular importance in the ten-day


Mohani sequence and in the beginnings of the Nine Durgas' activities at the end of that sequence. Jehanne Teilhet (1978), on the basis of observations of the mask-making process and of interviews with the Pu(n) mask maker who was in charge of making the Nine Durgas masks each year, recorded many details and interpretations concerning the masks.[13] According to Teilhet's informant, the ashes of the masks are collected and stored in a copper vessel that is placed in a secret spot on the river floor near the pitha (Teilhet 1978, 96f.).[14] This is the "going into the water" of the Gods, dya: jale bijata . The vessel is left in the river until a month before Mohani, when it will be withdrawn and the ashes then used in the creation of new masks. According to the mask maker, the Nine Durgas "leave their masks and their Gathas [i.e., their vehicles] to go into the water because the water is necessary for the planting of rice; they help increase the water for the rice crops" (Teilhet 1978, 97). Their disappearance out of the city and back into "nature" underlines one of the important themes of the larger cycle.[15]

The idea of deities going into the earth for a four-month's sleep is a general one in Hindu South Asia (e.g., Stevenson 1920, 59; Kane 1968-1977, vol. V, pp. 110f., 158). Devi herself is traditionally thought to begin her sleep on the eighth day of the bright half of Asadha, that is, the eighth day of the Newar Dillathwa, which has no corresponding annual event in Bhaktapur's calendar. As she appears again only three months later in the autumnal harvest festival she must, in some local versions of that festival, be awakened (Kane 1968-1977, vol. V, p. 158; Shastri 1949, 259). The Nine Durgas' "sleep" or death or going into the waters precedes their reappearance in Mohani by only three-and-a-half months, and although their life will be renewed at that time, there is no overt reference to awakening, bodhana , as there is elsewhere in South Asia for Devi, or, as there is, for example, in Bhaktapur for Visnu[*] on Hari Bodhini [4]. Sithi Nakha [36] is, in fact, the event that precedes the reappearance of the Nine Durgas by four months, but this span does not seem related, now at least, to the general idea of a divine sleep of exactly one quarter of the year.

The Period Between Bhagasti [40] and Gatha Muga: Ca:Re [45], Human Sacrifice

Bhagasti is the time when the first rains of the summer monsoon are expected. The Nine Durgas are dormant. Now if the city is lucky, the rains will come, the rice fields will be flooded, and the rice seedlings will be replanted into the mud of the paddy fields to begin their growth into


mature plants. This is a period of risks—the danger of too much or too little water and of violent storms that may disrupt the planting. It is also a time of illness, particularly the gastrointestinal diseases that are common during the summer. It is said that because of the absence of the Nine Durgas, evil spirits freely enter into the city and are responsible for disease and troubles.[16] Some nine weeks after Bhagasti the spirits will be driven from the city during the vivid and dramatic festival of Gatha Muga: Ca:re at which time the rice transplanting from the seed beds into the paddy fields is ideally completed—although it often may last for some more weeks depending on the weather conditions.

During the period between Bhagasti and Gatha Muga: Ca:re is the time when the Gathas who will later once again incarnate the Nine Durgas are believed to capture the human skullcaps or calvaria that they use as drinking vessels (patra ). They need three such skullcaps each year, one for their god-house, one for their dance performance, and one as an extra reserve "in case one of the others break." They take these skullcaps from living men by means of mantras. They are significantly never taken from women. Furthermore, the men from whom they take them must show auspicious signs, similar to the signs that were said to have characterized people who were taken for human sacrifice in earlier periods. When a man's skullcap has been removed by the Gatha's magic, the person dies within six months. This echoes the legends' Nine Durgas' random murderous activities before they were transformed into servants of the city; the tenuousness of this transformation is, as we will see later, an essential part of their civic use. In one sense, because the Nine Durgas are out of the city and no longer protecting it, the inside of the city develops, during this unprotected period, some of the qualities and dangers of the outside. Yet, these dangers of disease and disorder are the sorts of dangers that the Nine Durgas symbolize as well as protect against, and the Nine Durgas persist as shadowy representatives of dangers in the fantasized magical murderous activities of the Gathas at this time—who could have such powers only in some still active association with the now "dormant" Durgas.

These magical human sacrifices may very well be an echo of something else. Hamilton, in the early ninteenth century, reported information that he had obtained from a Gatha informant. According to his informant (Hamilton [1891] 1971, 35 [original parentheses]):[17]

From those who come to worship at the temple, the Got [Gatha] that represent these deities [the Nine Durgas] accept of spirituous liquors, which they drink out of human skulls until they become elevated, and dance in a furious manner, which is supposed to proceed from inspiration. In the same manner,


they drink the blood of animals which are offered as sacrifices. In these temples the priests (Pujaris) are Achars, who at the sacrifices read the forms of prayer (Mantras) proper for the occasion, but retire when the animal is about to be killed by the Got who represents Bhairavi. The shrine, in which the images of the gods are kept, is always shut, and no person is allowed to enter but the priest (Pujari) and the Gots, who personate in masks these deities. Once in twelve years the Raja offers a solemn sacrifice. It consists of two men, of such a rank that they wear a thread; of two buffaloes, two goats, two rams, two cocks, two ducks, and two fishes. The lower animals are first sacrificed in the outer part of the temple, and in the presence of the multitude their blood is drunk by the masked Gots. After this, the human victims are intoxicated, and carried into the shrine, where the masks representing Bhairavi cuts their throats, and sprinkles their blood on the idols. Their skulls are then formed into cups, which serve the masks for drinking in their horrid rites.

Hamilton then goes on to report that other informants denied that such human sacrifices took place. Newars in Bhaktapur do believe that human sacrifices were performed in the past, and may still be performed on certain occasions in remote Newar towns and villages. Whatever Hamilton's story has to do with a possible historical reality (and his other details are quite accurate), they point to the important psychological reality that the Tantric control of the Nine Durgas by no means meant the end of their threat to innocent humans, and that behind the animal sacrifices that are of central importance throughout the Devi cycle is, as we have argued in chapter 9, an essential reference to human sacrifice. We will return to this in our summary discussions of the meanings of the Devi cycle and the Nine Durgas.

During the period beginning after Bhagasti and coming to a climax at Gatha Muga: Ca:re, obscenity is extensively and publicly licensed and used. Obscenities are called out loudly by male farmers working in the fields and in public areas of the city, and by young men and boys of various social statuses. The remarks are grossly sexual, and at any other time of the year they would be considered (particularly for people of middle and upper status) extremely bad behavior. Obscene remarks are made loudly to others at a distance so that they can be heard by an audience, thus indicating the essential public significance of the behavior. The remarks are made mostly by young men, from roughly sixteen to forty, and only very rarely by a girl or woman, who would be considered to be particularly brazen and uncaring of her status. Like all of Bhaktapur's other ritualized behavior of the special sort that collapses and disturbs ordinary social order and conventions (such as the


public role switching that occurs during Saparu [48] and the otherwise forbidden activities represented and licensed in Tantric rituals), there are strict limits to the license exhibited. While the obscene remarks are addressed by young men to young women, they would not properly address them to an older woman, a high-status woman, or an acquaintance. Above all, they would not address these remarks to any girl from their immediate or extended family. Within the limits of propriety for obscenities they say such things as "Hello, you girl over there who is holding my penis in your hand" or "A penis put into you is going to make you pregnant and then you will eat a lot of beaten rice (a food that is thought to have special value for pregnancy) and that will give you diarrhea." Sometimes the remarks are directed by young men and boys to other young men and boys (again within the limits of propriety), and they would say such things as "go lick a vagina" or "go lick your mother's vagina," although the latter may be considered too strong, and may well offend the recipient of the insult. There is, then, a "safe" area of conventional obscenities, a forbidden area that would represent a violation of proper behavior, and a risky borderline area where differences in individual daring and judgment operate. There are many more such phrases, and they are usually followed by a conventional phrase "pae hwa, " which forms a kind of refrain and which is derived from the very strong and shocking term "paegu " for the act of intercourse and "hwa, " which means a hole.

What is being expressed during this period is not only erotic sexuality but also, in the use of obscenity, a violation of status restraints that in other contexts would be extremely aggressive and insulting. This all has a special force in view of Bhaktapur's extensive (in comparative perspective) controls on sexual talk outside of its proper limited familial forms—above all, in public arenas where family ijjat or reputation is crucially at issue.

The period of obscenity comes to a climax and conclusion in the events of Gatha Muga: Ca:re, the day by which the Gathas' searching for human victims also ceases.

Gatha Muga: Ca:Re [45]

On the ca:re , the fourteenth day of the waning fortnight of Dillaga in July, a little less than five weeks after Bhagasti, the events of Gatha Muga: Ca:re (see fig. 28) bring the events of the intermediate period to a climax and to a close. By this day the transplanting of the plants that


Figure 28.
The demon Gatha Muga:.


have been grown from the rice seed into the—if all has gone well—rain-flooded paddy fields has ideally been completed.[18]

Although the Nine Durgas themselves have departed, the Gathas whom they will possess again at Mohani continue their esoteric preparatory activities. On this day, according to some accounts, the Gathas take some black clay soil from the river bank and make a linga[*] representing Siva from it. Some of this soil will later be added to the new Nine Durgas' masks to be made by the mask maker before the reappearance of the Nine Durgas during Mohani (Teilhet 1978, 86).[19]

The main public activities of this day are related to the expulsion of the dangerous spirits, vaguely characterized as "bhut-pret " (chap. 8), which are conceived to have accumulated in the city and paddy fields at this time, and which can now be chased out of the city and fields and destroyed. The expulsion of the spirits—represented by a particular dangerous being, Gatha Muga:—comes at the time in the cycle when the complex events of nature necessary for the rice cycle have usually allowed for the firm establishment of the rice plants in the irrigated fields. Now some of the disorder associated with relinquishing control to the dangerous generative forces of the outside can be overcome in the humanly orchestrated expulsion of the demons and in the consequent cessation of the obscenity that mimics those generative and disorderly forces. There will continue to be risk from the weather until the rice harvest is completed, however, and a season of sometimes devastating gastrointestinal diseases is now at its height. In the language of the Devi cycle, the city still lacks the protection of the Nine Durgas. It will not be until Mohani and their reappearance—at the tension-reducing time of the rice harvest itself—that the danger will be once more fully under control. On this day, Gatha Muga: Ca:re, most households drive iron nails into the main doorway of their houses to protect them from bhut-prets , and some people put on iron finger rings[20] and keep them on for days to protect their bodies.

The central imagery and legendary references of the day have to do with the giant demonic figure, Gatha Muga:, whose appearance and story overlap with that of a South Asian Raksasa[*] , a giant fairy tale type of ogre, named Ghantakarna. Gatha Muga:[21] was a dangerous predatory being variously described in different accounts. According to Anderson, "he was so corrupt that he vilified the gods themselves, defiled and destroyed homes and fields, roaming the land, stealing children, maiming the weak, killing and devouring his captives. His


depraved sexual orgies and unspeakable excesses with his countless wives horrified the pious people" (1971, 72).[22]

There are, in addition, more human accounts of Gatha Muga: in Bhaktapur, which suggest its Newar urban complexity. In a story widely known in Bhaktapur, "Gatha Muga: was a man who believed in karma , and not in the power of the gods."[23] The story continues, "he loved the poor people. He sat at the crossroads where he took money from the rich to give to the poor.[24] If rich people refused to give money to him for this purpose, he would kill them. He also lived without concern about pollution. As he lay dying he hung bells on his ears, so as not to hear the gods' names called out.[25] After his death [because of his failure to conform to traditional religion] no one was willing to cremate him, and his body was left at a crossroads. But then [ordinary] people joined together to donate money for his cremation, and they called a low caste man to perform it. Many people followed this procession because he had always protected the ordinary people." This legend throws an oblique light on a number of tensions, contradictions, and paradoxes in Bhaktapur's systems of moral control. For our present purposes, however, the story refers to aspects of the actions of the day, and illustrates an ambivalence, an attraction and repulsion, in what is symbolized by Gatha Muga:.

The events of the Gatha Muga: day, as well as the salient legends, differ somewhat in different Newar communities.[26] In Bhaktapur each neighborhood area constructs representations for Gatha Muga:, interpreted in the neighborhoods as demons who once inhabited the local area. These vary in size, complexity, and elegance from vaguely anthropomorphic bundles of straw to elaborately masked, painted, and dressed figures (see fig. 28). The more elaborate figures have faces with fangs and often with bells at their ears, in reflection of the legends. Most of these figures are larger than life size; some have legs and will be carried, others are hollow papier-mâché constructed over wicker frames that are placed over a man who dances the demon. Some of these figures when carried or worn reach a height of eight or nine feet. Some are given crowns, mustaches, and beards, military jackets with epaulets, and rows of medals. This adds the imagery of a recent (in Bhaktapur's perspective) and alien authority to the demon's complex meanings. Whatever the variations in the figures, all are equipped with very prominent phalluses, often some two feet in length, and a pair of large globular fruits representing testicles. Sometimes red powder and strings of red beads are placed at the end of the phallus to represent ejaculated sperm.


In each neighborhood bundles of wheat straw are prepared which will later be used as torches in the processions chasing the demons, represented by the Gatha Muga:s, out of the city and, finally, for fire for their cremations. Throughout the city groups of small boys block various roads, in an echo of the legend, and demand coins from passersby before they are allowed to proceed along the road (see fig. 29). In the late afternoon and evening music is played in various neighborhoods, often by Jyapu music groups, and the giant figures are made to dance. Finally the time comes when the bhut-prets are to be expelled from the city. Processions form in each neighborhood and men and boys, holding torches in their hands, and shouting the sexual insults that they had been using since Bhagasti, chase the demons out of the city.[27] The processions are called bha kayegu , which refers to processions accompanied by shouting of conventionalized phrases, but this is a travesty of such processions in which the phrase is often "victory" or the like. The figures are taken beyond the boundaries of the city and set on fire. In contrast to other major processions very few women watch the procession from the roadside or other public areas. They go into their houses "to avoid being insulted" and watch through the windows.[28] After the cremation some people wash their faces and eyes in the river as a perfunctory purification. Then the members of the processions and the onlookers drift back to their homes. There are feasts in many households during the evening.

Gatha Muga: Ca:re culminates in a partial restoration of civic order. Obscenity, which had reached a crescendo on this day, will now cease. The Gatha Muga: figure in its form and legends combines in itself unsocialized sexual power, wanton destructiveness, and a mockery of authority. But all this is ambivalently viewed. He and his behavior are demonic and dangerous but fun, shameworthy and demonic but praiseworthy, rebellious against the gods and the rich but a support of "poor people" who love him in turn. He is driven from the city and his ashes returned to the bordering outside where the rice plants are growing and where the Nine Durgas had generatively gone to die and to sleep the month before.[29]

Not only does Gatha Muga: represent various kinds of threats to Bhaktapur's social and cultural structure in his legends; such antistructural emphases are reflected in the day's actions. The day dispenses with deities and with priests, and with references to any of the city's hierarchical roles. The only references to authority are the crowns and


Figure 29.
Gatha Muga: Ca:re. Children holding a phallic representation of
Gatha Muga: block the streets and demand money for passage.


the medals, and military mustaches of Gatha Muga: himself—and he is destroyed. The city is represented, not in the kind of integrative events characteristic of structuring festivals such as Biska:, but in the parallel activities of the neighborhoods. But these are only loosely coordinated. Each neighborhood constructs Gatha Muga: after its own fashion and follows its own funeral routes out of the city.

The disorder mimed here is not the same kind of social disorder referred to in Biska:. This disorder, like all the disorder of the Devi cycle, has a vitality about it that represents the unruly and generative life—both of individuals and of the environing world—that the moral order must depend on as well as control.

Now for two months, between Gatha Muga: Ca:re and Mohani, the climactic festival sequence of the Devi cycle, during the slow growth of the rice plants to maturity, there are no events in the Devi cycle. Agriculture is left now, so to speak, to its own unfolding. The ordinary lunar cycle, however, is crammed with events. There are twenty-one of them in the intervening sixty days (chap. 13).

Mohani, The Autumnal Festival Sequence of the Rice Harvest [67-76]

The Mohani sequence begins on the first day of the waxing fortnight Kaulathwa (the bright half of Asvina) in late September. By this time the monsoon rains should have finished[30] and the rice harvest been completed (see fig. 30). As with other complex festivals, it is somewhat arbitrary as to how many discrete calendrical units it may be said to contain. Calendars used by local Brahmans simply list each of the ten days of the festival, each named for its particular focal Mandalic[*] Goddess. We will follow this for our enumeration of festival events although there are more than ten major component elements in the sequence.

Within the Devi cycle the ten days of Mohani is the time for a concentrated and complex sequence that is the focal point and climax of many of the themes of the annual cycle as well as a summation of the relations and meanings of Bhaktapur's dangerous goddesses. It is also the period during which the Nine Durgas are given a new birth and launched on their annual careers. "Mohani"[31] is the Newari name for the local version of the widespread South Asian harvest festival dedicated to Devi, which in Nepali and generally elsewhere in South Asia is called "Dasai(n)." It is, by all our criteria, one of the city's major focal sequences.


Figure 30.
Standing on the ka:sis, the open roof porches of houses, men fly kites during Mohani, said to be reminders to the
deifies to bring the monsoon rains to an end.


Bhaktapur, as it usually does in its relation to its South Asian context, selects, builds on, and adds to the materials out of which Dasai(n) is constructed elsewhere. The central thematic thread running through Bhaktapur's Mohani is the dramatization of, and civic participation in, the story recounting how Devi, represented most centrally as Bhagavati/Mahisasuramardini[*] , the conqueror of the great enemy of the gods, the Asura Mahisa[*] came into her full strength and achieved her victory,[32] how that strength is amalgamated with the power of Bhaktapur's political goddess, Taleju, in the course of the festival, and then, finally, transferred by Taleju to the Nine Durgas, who will use it to protect Bhaktapur during the following nine months.

Each of the first nine days of the festival begins and ends with visits to the pitha of one of the nine Mandalic[*] Goddesses, starting with Brahmani in the east, and proceeding in the auspicious clockwise direction day by day around the periphery of Bhaktapur,[33] ending on the ninth day at the pitha of the central goddess, Tripurasundari. On the tenth, the final day of the festival, a day of transition to a new phase, the Brahmani pitha once again becomes the focus, with an emphasis now on the newly emerged Nine Durgas.

Mohani: The First Day

On the first day of the festival, as they will again on each succeeding day, people from all over the city go at dawn to the pitha of the day's Mandalic[*] Goddess. On this day, as they will on each day, people dressed in their better clothes (see fig. 31) walk together in groups, often accompanied by musicians, from the city's neighborhoods to the Brahmani pitha , the protective goddess of the east. People move on this day, as they will on all the subsequent ones. That is, they join the main jatra route, the pradaksinapatha[*] , at a point convenient to their homes, and take it in either direction until they reach the god-house of the day's particular Mandalic[*] Goddess (map 2). They then follow the conventional route from the god-house to the pitha . On their way from god-house to pitha they go via the tirtha , the sacred spot at pond or river associated with the day's goddess. At the tirtha they sprinkle water on themselves in a ritual bath. They then proceed on to the pitha , which is always close to the tirtha , and hold a brief puja , offering coins, grains of rice, flowers, incense, and the like. They bow to the goddess, circumambulate the pitha , and quickly move on to accommodate the crowds behind them. Most people then go on to the Taleju temple, and circumambulate the inner courtyard, as they will on their return from the pithas of the goddesses of the following days.


Figure 31.
Mohani. A group of Jyapu women going on the twice-daily visit to the day's mandalic[*] pitha.


On this first day it is the god-house, tirtha and pitha of Brahmani to which the townspeople go.

In most houses, usually on the middle floor of the house, and also in each Tantric temple and god-house, a room or area is selected to be a locus of worship to Bhagavati (referred to in this setting sometimes simply as the "Mohani Dya:," the "Mohani God") during the Mohani sequence. During Mohani this room is called the "Na:la swa(n) " room, or simply "Na:la room.[34] A layer of soil that has been gathered at one of the Mandalic[*] Goddesses' tirtha s is spread on an area of the floor of the room. Barley grains are to be planted in this soil in the course of an important puja later in the day. For the upper thars , Chathariya, Pa(n)cthariya, Brahmans, and those Jyapu thars that have some special relation to Taleju, the barley will include grains given to them at the Taleju temple on this day, mixed with other barley grains. A connection between the goddess Taleju and Devi as the warrior goddess Bhagavati is thus established for them at the start.

After the barley has been distributed at the Taleju temple, the Taleju priests gather in that temple's Na:la swa(n) area, which is in one of the temple's inner courtyards or cukas , the Kumari Courtyard, to begin chanting the verses of the Puranic[*] text the Devi Mahatmya in Sanskrit. The Devi Mahatmya will be read in successive divisions on each of the ten days of Mohani and completed on the final day. That text, as we have noted in chapter 8, provides many of the images and conceptions on which the forms, meanings, and arrangements of the dangerous goddesses in Bhaktapur are based. The sequences and images of Mohani follow it particularly closely. During and just prior to Mohani the stories of the Devi Mahatmya are told in Newari by storytellers in the public squares, and read out and recounted throughout the city by elders in many individual homes to assembled family members.

After the reading of the first portion of the Devi Mahatmya at the Taleju temple, barley will be planted in the soil in Taleju's Na:la swa(n) area in the course of a puja to Bhagavati. The planting must be done within a sait , a proper and auspicious span of time whose beginning and end are based on astrological considerations as determined by the Royal Astrologer of the central government in Kathmandu. The Na:la swa(n) planting in the Taleju temples of all three of the old Malla royal cities, Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur, will take place during this centrally determined span. There will be other such centrally determined saits on the seventh and the tenth days of Mohani.


There are common features in the contents and procedures in the Na:la swa(n) rooms in the Taleju temple, in the other temples and god-houses, and in private homes. We have noted the area of soil in which barley grains are planted on this first day. In the worship of the first day, prior to the time of the planting of the barley, it is also necessary to "establish" (sthapana ) the image that will represent Bhagavati most focally in the Na:la swa(n) room during the first phases of Mohani. Throughout most of Mohani Bhagavati is represented there by a particular kind of metal pot, a kalasa , or by a clay pot, thought of during Mohani as a kalasa , on which an image of Bhagavati as Mahisasuramardini has been painted on one side with, frequently, a pair of eyes painted on the other. On the eighth day of Mohani other images of Bhagavati will be added, usually a painted image on paper, and sometimes a metal image of the deity. As the barley sprouts the blades of the young plants will be a third reference to the warrior goddess. On this first day sacred water is poured into the kalasa and a small clay dish holding rice grains is placed as a cover over it. The kalasa is set on a bed of leaves of five different plants.[35]

Before the puja to be held in the Na:la swa(n) room to the properly established deity, people, as they always do prior to important household worship, go to their local Ganesa[*] shrine. Some people, in a reflection of the importance of the Mandalic[*] Goddesses during Mohani, also go for prelimimary worship at the local mandalic[*] areal pitha . The details of the home Na:la swa(n) puja vary for different thars and at different status levels. In general, the sequence has the following steps. The puja equipment and materials other than the kalasa have been gathered in an area in front of the patch of soil.

1. The sukunda , the oil lamp that contains representations of Ganesa[*] , Siva, and of Sakti, is first worshiped.

2. Then the kalasa , representing Bhagavati, which had been placed on the soil and arranged as noted above, is worshiped.

3. Now the barley is spread on the soil and worked into it.

4. The soil is worshiped.

5. The kalasa and the soil are then worshiped together by means of offerings of the light of an oil-soaked wick and with the smell of incense.

6. As is appropriate in the worship of dangerous deities, and introducing the theme of sacrifice, which is a dominant theme of Mohani and of the Nine Durgas, the meat-containing mixture samhae , as well as


sweetcakes, fruits, and flowers are offered to these combined representations of the Goddess—the kalasa and the mixture of soil and barley grains. There will be no actual blood sacrifice until the climactic ninth day.

7. The family takes back some of the offerings as prasada .

In contrast to Chetri women who, according to Lynn Bennett (1983, 138), are forbidden entrance into their equivalent of the Na:la swa(n) room until the tenth day of Dasai(n), Newar women take part in this worship.[36]

We may note here that the focus of worship is Devi, and not the Tantric Siva/Sakti relationship (although those upper-status families with Tantric initiations will, as in most pujas , add some reference to this relationship in a more or less peripheral fashion). The relation of the autonomous Goddess to the earth and to the processes of germination is established from the beginning.

The day introduces an activity that will reach a crescendo on the tenth day. Men, usually young men, from the mandalic[*] area of the first day's Mandalic[*] Goddess, Brahmani, who have made vows to that deity to perform a vrata on her special day during Mohani, perform a mata beigu , "a presentation of lights" at the Brahmani pitha . There are two varieties of this vrata . In one the man will sit on an armchair, with his forearms supported on the chair's arms. He wears a loincloth, a turban, and sunglasses (the latter two articles generally thought to suggest royalty). Seven oil lamps, small terracotta dishes with wicks floating in them, will be placed on his body,[37] supported by an asana , a "seat" or base of cow dung mixed with mud. The lamps are lit and then kept full of oil by friends and family members. The devotee will sit relatively immobile for at least two or three, and sometimes as long as seven or eight, hours (see fig. 35). In the other major kind of mata beigu the devotee will lie covered with a thick mixture of mud and cow dung, on which 108 oil lamps have been placed. The man, also dressed in loin-cloth and sunglasses (although his position prevents his wearing a turban) will usually lie there for the full eight-hour period. This practice is both more expensive[38] and more strenuous than the simpler mata beigu , and thus a greater offering.[39] Both of these vratas are performed adjacent to the Brahmani pitha . On each successive day of Mohani, people of the particular mandalic[*] area that is the focus of the day have their turn to fulfill pledges to perform a mata beigu vrata at their area's


pitha . On the tenth, the final day, men from all over the city as well as from hinterland villages outside it, do these kinds of vratas —and also, as we shall see, much more dramatic ones—en masse at the Brahmani pitha , which is once again on the final day the focus of an important part of the day's activities.

In the evening the stone that represents the goddess and its framing arch or torana[*] , which together constitute the Brahmani pitha , are elaborately decorated with flowers, in patterns that are thought to resemble a flight of stairs. Thus the act of decoration is called swa(n) taki tanegu , "erecting a flower stairway." This form does not seem, at least to contemporary knowledge, to have any special significance aside from being a traditional decorative form. These decorations are made by local mandalic[*] area groups, including areal guthis and groups of musicians, in honor of the goddess. Once again in the evening, as they had in the early morning, masses of people, accompanied by music, walk from their neighborhoods in groups to the Brahmani pitha following the same routes. They now emphasize flowers in their presentations to the Brahmani pitha . In contrast to the morning's procession, in the evening they do not bathe at the goddess' tirtha but go directly to the pitha . The routes they take through Brahmani's[*] area had been previously cleaned by the local people in preparation for this day, and now lamps and decorations have been placed on shrines, open sheds, and various buildings along the routes. Arriving at the pitha , people quickly present their flowers and other offerings. Their offerings are part of the swa(n) taki tanegu . They then return to their homes.

The special events in the Taleju temple on this day begin a period of dense activity for that temple, much of which involves the "Malla king" as represented by the chief Taleju Brahman. The king is responsible for the ceremonial management of many temple activities. He is the central worshiper in the temple's Na:la swa(n) worship of this day, and will be important for the later activities that center in the Taleju temple,[40] which also represents, as always when the Malla king is recreated, his palace. These activities require the assistance of representatives of many thars who perform what were their traditional specialities and responsibilities at the time of the Malla court.[41] Mohani is the time in the annual festival cycle that the segment of Bhaktapur's society centering about the king, palace, and court is ceremonially reconstructed. This is done in large part within the Taleju temple as the "royal palace," and is hidden from the larger city. This represents, as so much symbolic


activity in Bhaktapur does, the reconstruction or maintenance of one of the city's cellular components, in this case one whose output was once essential to the traditional organization of the city.

The Second Day through the Sixth Day

On each of the next five days of Mohani the morning and evening processions and worship of the first day are exactly repeated, but on each day a new Mandalic[*] Goddess and her pitha is the goal of the worship. The sequence continues in its daily movement around the periphery of the city in the clockwise circle of the compass points represented by the pithas . The mandalic[*] pithas of these next five days are, in sequence, those of Mahesvari, Kumari, Vaisnavi[*] , Varahi, and Indrani[*] , that is, the pithas of the southeast, south, southwest, west, and northwest. On each day, following the morning visits, people return to their household Na:la swa(n) rooms to worship Bhagavati. Then, during the rest of the day they go about their ordinary affairs. In the evening they will once again go to the day's pitha , this time, again as on the first day, with the emphasis on flower offerings to augment the flower "stairway" constructed there by the people of the day's mandalic[*] area. On each day the focal pitha is a focus for mata beigu vratas for people from the local mandalic[*] area.

On the fifth day, the day of Varahi—the goddess in the form of a tusked wild boar—the bladed shoots of the barley planted in the Na:la swa(n) room usually begin to appear. The blades, which will eventually be taken to symbolize the sword of the conquering Bhagavati, are said to symbolize Varahi's tusks on this day.

The Seventh Day: Taking Down the Goddess Taleju

The systematic daily visits to the Mandalic[*] Goddesses continue on this day with processions to the northern boundary pitha , that of Mahakali, as the focal point. But on the seventh day a new phase of the festival sequence begins with events at the Taleju temple in preparation for the special events of the following, the eighth, day. The preparations begin with the "taking down" of the goddess Taleju. Many people go to the outer courtyards of the Taleju temple, which become tightly packed with viewers. Within the limits of the astrologically determined proper time span, the sait , determined—like the sait on the first day for the proper planting of the barley grains in the Na:la swa(n) room in the Taleju temple—by the central government's Royal Astrologer in Kathmandu, an image of the goddess Taleju, wrapped in cloth decorated with gold and jewels in order to conceal it, is brought down from the room where


it is usually kept on the second floor of the temple. It is carried in a procession led by the chief Taleju Brahman, representing both the king and his Guru-Purohit,[42] who carries the wrapped image, followed by a Josi and three Acajus from the Taleju staff. They are accompanied by musicians, and seven sword bearers. All these officials are dressed in the costumes of the Malla period. The concealment of the image, leading to speculation among the spectators as to whether the concealed image is the "true image" representing, or more accurately embodying the goddess, or a decoy, and if not, where in the procession that image might be, is part of the use of secrecy and mystery which we have discussed in chapter 9 and which is an important part of the Taleju component of Mohani. Yet, somewhere in the procession, whether it be the wrapped image or not, is, in fact, the "true" Taleju, the embodying and living form that for the people of Bhaktapur began its career as Indra's personal deity, and was, as recounted in Taleju's legendary history (chap. 8), eventually brought to Bhaktapur by Harisimhadeva[*] . This procession, the taking down of Taleju, is thus considered a very powerful darsana , the showing herself to her devotees by the deity. Also included somewhere in the procession is Taleju's jatra image, which will be carried in a procession outside of the temple on the tenth and final day.[43]

The procession enters the Taleju temple's main internal courtyard, the Mucuka ("main courtyard") at its inner end through the inner "Golden Gate," which has access to the upper parts of the temple.[44] It then proceeds into the Kumari courtyard, which adjoins the main courtyard to the west, where the two Taleju images will be left. As the procession moves through the inner courtyard, the man who is at the head of the procession turns at three points, and the others follow. These turns signify yantras , diagrams of esoteric significance and power, traced out by the movements of the deities in the procession. The Kumari courtyard is closed off by a door from the main courtyard, and it is there the Na:la swa(n) worship has been taking place. Now, therefore, the goddess Taleju has been brought together at the Taleju temple with the kalasa representing the goddess Bhagavati and with the symbolism of the Na:la swa(n) room.[45] Taleju will be left there until the tenth, the final day.

After the procession has brought the images to the Na:la swa(n) room, Taleju is worshiped there by the Taleju priests, and, in an introduction to the great number of blood sacrifices of the following day, a number of male goats are sacrificed to her. These are said to give her strength in preparation for the battles of the next day, and suggest Tale-


ju's identification now with the warrior Devi of the Devi Mahatmya myth. The throat of the first goat must be cut by the chief Brahman himself, while the others are then sacrificed by Josis. The Brahman completes the sacrifice of the first goat by decapitating it. One reason given for this initial sacrifice by the Brahman is his representation here of the Malla king, who is now making a sacrifice to Taleju as his own lineage god. As we have noted, people should, if they have the proper initiation, do their own sacrificing to their Aga(n) gods, and not delegate it to an Acaju. In addition to this representation, the Taleju Josis and Brahmans make sacrifices to Taleju during Mohani in their own right, as they believe their thar forbears did during the Malla period. During these sacrifices, the "Malla king" makes a daksina[*] offering of gold coins to Taleju, as he will also do during subsequent sacrifices to her. The decapitated heads of these goats will be left in the Kumari court, along with the Taleju images, the kalasa , and the rest of the Na:la swa(n) room materials.

We have noted that the saits for certain Taleju activities during Mohani in each of the former Newar royal cities are set by the central government, that is, by the Saha king's astrologer, following a policy of the Saha kings from the time of the Valley's first one, Prthvi[*] Narayana[*] Saha, to maintain and support Newar festivals in the understanding that reference to royalty in them would now represent the new dynasty. During the "taking down" of the goddess Taleju at the proper sait , central government representatives who have come to Bhaktapur for this purpose and the staffs of the central government bureaus located (for local administrative purposes) in Bhaktapur are in attendance in the inner courtyard. This attendance is mandatory, and a roll call is taken to check their presence by a government official.

On this seventh day of Dasai(n) in Kathmandu, the seat of the central government, there is a procession honoring an image that is said to represent the lineage deity of the Saha kings[46] (Anderson 1971, 146ff.; G. S. Nepali 1965, 406).[47] This deity is said in Kathmandu to also represent Taleju who has become one of the Saha king's several protective deities. The procession there brings the image to the old royal palace, where it is placed in a Na:la swa(n) room, in the same way as is Bhaktapur's Taleju on this day.

The Eighth Day: Kalaratri

The Mandalic[*] Goddess of this day is Mahalaksmi[*] , at the northeast, and her pitha is the focus of the day's morning and


evening processions. But now additional activities are added to the continuing daily processions to the mandalic[*]pithas . On this and the following day in the Na:la swa(n) rooms in individual homes and at the Taleju temple the climactic mythic events will take place which reflect the two days of battle and the eventual cosmic victory of the Goddess over Mahisasura[*] , as recounted in the Devi Mahatmya .[48] And on the final tenth day this victory, now completed, will be celebrated.

On this day in most of the Na:la swa(n) rooms in the city an image of Bhagavati in the form of Mahisasuramardi[*] , the warrior goddess of the Devi Mahatmya, raised sword in hand, foot on the body of the defeated Asura in his water buffalo form, is introduced into the room. This warrior image is thus brought together in the same room with the kalasa , representing Devi. The Bhagavati image, usually a painting on paper, often supplemented by a second metal image, is placed not on but in front of the area of earth in which the barley is growing and on which the kalasa had been placed. The Bhagavati image will be offered a blood sacrifice on this day in temples and Aga(n) houses, and on the next, the ninth day, in homes—and blood cannot be spilled on the soil. At this time Devi as the full creator deity seems in the barley shoots and kalasa on the soil to represent fertility, while her partial manifestation as Bhagavati represents her ferocious warrior form who protects the gods and the city against their enemies.

If possible one or more swords are also put into the Na:la swa(n) room, and Bhagavati is decorated with tiny flags. Bhagavati is preparing for her great battle against the Asuras which will begin during the approaching night. In addition to the worship that has been repeated daily in the Na:la swa(n) room since the first day, the newly introduced Bhagavati image and the swords are worshiped with an offering of the meat-containing samhae . In the Tantric temples and Aga(n) Houses, in contrast to homes, preliminary blood sacrifices are offered on this day. In these Tantric settings blood sacrifices are routinely made and the sacrifice on this day does not have the special meaning that the unusual—and, for many households, unique—domestic blood sacrifice will have in private homes on the following day.

In the course of the evening of this eighth day, fitted in among the evening's other events, large feasts are held in people's homes. This is the first[49] of three major household feasts, which take place on this and the following two evenings. In the feasts on these three days, there is much drinking. People who are drunk sometimes joke that they have become the warrior goddess through their intoxication.


On the approach of the night between the eighth and ninth days the focus of events moves to the Taleju temple. Large numbers of goats and buffaloes are to be sacrificed. A flock of some thirty goats[50] is first brought to the temple. The lead goat, called "Nikhudugu,"[51] must be of an unbroken black color and without physical defects.

A male water buffalo, called "Nikhuthu,"[52] which like the lead goat, the Nikhudugu, must be all black and without blemish or defects, has been kept in a special shelter in the Byasi area of the Kwache(n) twa: . On this day the buffalo is given alcoholic spirits to drink, and is made drunk.[53] In the Byasi area local women station themselves along the main road holding lit sukundas , whose oil has been taken from the Taleju temple. At Laeku Square, a Taleju Brahman dressed in traditional Newar clothes and carrying a sword and who represents the Malla king seats himself at the outer Golden Gate of the Taleju temple. It is now evening, perhaps seven or eight o'clock. The king sends three members of the Taleju staff, one of whom is a Nae, or butcher, the traditional sacrificers of water buffaloes, to fetch the buffalo and conduct it to him. When the envoys arrive at the house where Nikhuthu has been kept, his Jyapu keeper worships him and flicking sacred water on his body, asks him for assent to what is to follow, which will lead to his sacrifice and death. The buffalo signals his assent by shaking his body (which is the buffalo's usual response to being splattered with water). Then the staggering buffalo, accompanied by these functionaries and large crowds of people, is run through the streets to Laeku Square. Twenty-four other water buffalo bulls have also been brought to the square, and the Nikhuthu joins them. Now a formalized dialogue takes place between the king and the Nae, in which the Nae, on being queried by the king, swears six times to the identity and proper condition of the Nikhuthu.[54] The lead buffalo is now brought into the temple. Now, one by one, twenty-four other buffaloes are brought by the Nae to the king. These are said to represent the twenty-four twa: s that are believed to have traditionally constituted Bhaktapur.[55] Some of these buffalo are given the names of particular twa: s; others are not named. The Nae is queried by the king about each buffalo in turn, and each time the Nae swears, six times, to its proper condition. The formula used for Nikhuthu is repeated for each. The lead buffalo, Nikhuthu, represents the Asura king, Mahisasura[*] . Each of the other buffaloes is said to represent one akshauhini[*] , or army, of Asuras.

The sacrifice of the goats begins in the Taleju temple on the afternoon of this eighth day. The goats are sacrificed in the various areas of


the temple where its host of Tantric deities are located and represented. A major site for goat sacrifices is the Na:la swa(n) area of the Kumari courtyard, where the true Taleju image is—and where the heads of the goats sacrificed on the previous day had been left. Some goats are sacrificed in the Mucuka, the main inner courtyard where the principal buffalo sacrifice will later be held. These goat sacrifices are said to provide strength for Bhagavati in her continuing battle. The buffaloes, meanwhile, are tied to stakes in the main courtyard.

Now the inner courtyard of the Taleju temple begins to fill up as people come to witness the climactic events of Kalaratri. These begin before midnight of this eighth day and last until dawn, thus spanning the ending of the eighth day and the beginning of the ninth day. They represent the two-day battle described in the Devi Mahatmya . The preparation for battle starts with the sacrificing of two goats at the threshold of the now open inner Golden Gate that separates the main courtyard from the inner, central and most sacred parts of the temple. After asking for (and receiving a sign of) their permission to be sacrificed, and after then worshiping them and dedicating them to Taleju, the throats of the sacrificial goats are cut and their blood sprayed on, that is, offered to, the jatra image of Taleju. These sacrifices, like the previous ones, represent the strengthening of the Goddess in preparation for her battles, and thus Taleju is here conjoined with Bhagavati. After each goat dies it is decapitated.[56]

At about this same time throughout the city in the upper thars ' Aga(n) houses one member of each phuki , or an Acaju (if there is no one with the proper initiation among the phuki ) sacrifices a male goat as an offering to the lineage deity. The phuki's Aga(n) Goddess is here, like Taleju, identified with Bhagavati, who herself is identified more and more clearly with Mahisasuramardini as Mohani proceeds.

Now in the Kumari courtyard, first the Nikhudugu, and then the remainder of the goats are being sacrificed. They must be killed by a Brahman or Josi, and not by an Acaju surrogate. The sacrifice of the goats takes several hours, the puja prior to the sacrifice of the Nikhudugu lasting, perhaps, some two hours. Each goat in turn must be asked permission to be sacrificed, and then be dedicated to Taleju and worshiped and then sacrificed with the proper ritual. The preparatory puja for the first sacrifice is considered to be the true beginning of the Kalaratri, the black night, in which in the mythic time of the Devi Mahatmya the goddess battles the Asuras.

In the main courtyard it is now time for the sacrifice of the buffaloes.


Two men from the Maha(n) Jyapu thars (which had provided the charioteers of Biska:), dressed only in short, apron-like loincloths and with their bodies rubbed with oil, stand on the elevated ledge that adjoins the two sides of the inner Golden Gate. These men are called the Hipha : men, the "receivers of blood."[57] When these men are performing their ritual actions, they are called the "Hipha: gods." As Gods the two men represent a dangerous goddess and her consort whose names are esoteric secrets. (This goddess is represented elsewhere in Mohani as a member of the Gana[*] Kumari and also as a form of the goddess in Taleju's Na:la swa[n] area.) They also represent the "right and left hands" of the Malla king and of Taleju. In their hands each holds a kalasa .

The same procedure will now be followed with each of the twenty-five buffaloes, starting with the Nikhuthu. The Brahman-king is the offerer of the sacrifice, but now the killing is done by the low-status Nae. This is a public sacrifice and as we have noted in chapter 9, blood sacrifice is only done by Brahmans (and Josis) in nonpublic settings.[58] The king must ask the assent of the buffalo to the sacrifice.[59] The king throws uncooked husked rice, flowers, and sacred water on their heads and bodies, which usually produces the shaking motion that signals assent. If this does not work, a flower is placed in the buffalo's ear, which invariably causes the necessary motion. The sacrifices begin with the sacrifice of the Nikhuthu. He is led to the open gate leading to the inner temple. The jatra image of Taleju is in front of him, just behind the open gateway. The two Hipha: Gods stand facing the buffalo, at each side of the gate. The buffalo's throat is cut by the Nae. His blood is sprayed first on the Taleju jatra image, and then into the kalasas of the two Hipha: Gods,[60] who become splattered with blood. The Nae then decapitates the animal. Now, in turn, one by one, the remaining twenty-four buffaloes are sacrificed in the same way.

The sequence of sacrifices and their accompanying ceremonies last until dawn. After the last buffalo has been killed,[61] people leave the Taleju temple. The sacrificial area and adjoining parts of the courtyard are now soaked with blood. The purification and cleaning of the temple that now follows is considered to be deeply secret. It is said that if unauthorized people were to see this it would be extremely dangerous to them, that they would die. The Hipha: men go to bathe in a bathing place in an inner courtyard of the temple, said to be a pond associated with the goddess Dui Maju.[62] Taleju representatives from several different thars (particularly from among the Jyapus) come to do the traditional cleaning up. Also at this time a Po(n) untouchable comes to the


temple and "does something" that facilitates purification by transferring some of the impurity onto himself This is the only time during the year that a Po(n) can enter the inner parts of the Taleju temple.

Now the jatra image of Taleju is just inside the inner Golden Gate, which has now been closed, surrounded by twenty-five water buffalo heads and by two goat heads. The true Taleju image is in the Kumari court surrounded by more than twenty goat heads, from some of the goats that had been brought in a flock to the temple, plus other ones that had been offered and sacrificed by Taleju priests and by Chathar families descended from Malla kings. All the buffaloes are now considered to be representative of the Asuras, which have now been thoroughly vanquished in the setting of the Taleju temple, although the battle is still to be resolved later in the day elsewhere in the city.

Continuation of the Ninth Day: The Living Goddess Kumari and Emergence of the Nine Durgas

The ninth day of Mohani, which had been introduced with the events of the previous night, is the climax to the events of the first eight days. On this day the sequence of daily processions to the pithas of the Mandalic[*] Goddesses reaches its central focus; the work at the Na:la swa(n) rooms comes to a climax; the living goddess Kumari makes her first major public appearance;[63] and the Nine Durgas reappear, entering once again into the annual cycle, and preparing to carry forward the powerful meanings of Mohani.

The Mandalic[*] Goddess of this day is the civic mandala's[*] central goddess Tripurasundari. As we have discussed in chapter 8, she is not one of the host of goddesses of the Devi Mahatmya . In contrast to the peripheral Mandalic[*] Goddesses who are, in their Devi Mahatmya versions at least (although not, necessarily, in other Puranic[*] treatments), partial and limited goddesses, Tripurasundari represents the goddess as the full creator deity. Thus, as we have noted, she is not only a local areal Mandalic[*] Goddess in her own right, but as the center of the mandala[*] she concentrates and contains the partial forces of the peripheral goddesses in the same way that the Devi of the Devi Mahatmya does in that vivid narrative expression of this fundamental South Asian conception. In its focus on Tripurasundari the ninth day represents a completion of one important aspect of the cycle, while the tenth day, which returns once more to the first peripheral goddess Brahmani, is an opening out into the succeeding phase. The morning and evening processions to and worship of the Tripurasundari pitha is exactly like the worship


of the Mandalic[*] Goddesses of the prior eight days. There is a morning procession to her tirtha (which is at the river at Khware),[64] followed by worship at her pitha . In the evening great masses of people walk to the pitha again with flower offerings. After the evening pilgrimage people will go to view the new masks of the Nine Durgas, which are the first public signs of their reappearance after their long sleep.

On returning home in the morning from their visit to the Tripurasundari pitha , people go to worship in their Na:la swa(n) rooms. This is the one time in the year in which all Hindu Newars in Bhaktapur are expected to perform a blood sacrifice. For the very poorest people it may be the presentation of only an egg; others will offer a chicken or a duck, but, for those who can afford it, the ideal sacrificial animal is a male goat.[65] The sacrificial animal's head is kept and will be presented as siu , the hierarchically distributed parts of the head (chap. 9), during the family feast, which will be held on the tenth and final day.

While these sacrifices are going on in households throughout the city there is a sacrifice of a number of goats and buffaloes on Bhaktapur's Laeku Square. This is done by members of the Nepalese army, with accompanying rituals performed by non-Newar Brahmans.[66] These public ceremonies are considered to have been introduced after the time of the Malla kings. Although the Taleju sacrifices of the Kalaratri and, in fact, of the Mohani period[67] had previously come to an end, the Na:la swa(n) room sacrifices, and Laeku Square sacrifices, are considered to be representations of the ongoing mythic battle.

Associated with the Na:la swa(n) worship of this day is the worship of household members' tools and implements of trade. Some of these may be brought into the Na:la swa(n) room, but the larger implements are worshiped at their usual locations. Potters worship their wheels, women their looms, farmers and dyers their special tools, truck drivers their trucks, and so forth. The implements are thought of sometimes as Devi, sometimes as Visvakarma, whom the Puranas[*] describe as "the inventor of innumerable kinds of handicrafts, the architect of the gods, maker of all kinds of ornaments, and the most famous sculptor" (Mani 1975, 869). Blood sacrifices are generally made to the tools.[68]

As we have noted (chap. 8), Bhaktapur gives the same name to, and in part condenses,[69] Kaumari, the Mandalic[*] Goddess derived from the Devi Mahatmya and other lists of Matrkas, and Kumari, the maiden goddess. Worship of the latter form is commonly associated with the


South Asian Dasai(n) Festival. The Devi Bhagavata Purana[*] , for example, specifies that young girls (in this case at two years of age) should be worshiped during the Navaratri puja . Traditionally for South Asia—and reflected in the events of the day in Bhaktapur—"there are no hard and fast rules as to how many Kumaris should be worshiped and as to the manner and method of the worship. . .. Age alone does not render [a] Kumari suitable for worship. They should be absolutely free from [skin] ulcers, leprosy, ugliness, squint-eyes, dwarfishness, lameness, bad odor, stigma of low birth, etc." (Mani 1975, 439). Chakravarty, however, writing of Kumari worship, emphasizes the unimportance of the "stigma of low birth." "Maidens of all castes not exceeding sixteen years in age may be worshipped without making any distinction of caste" (1972, 81). He adds that in contrast to the sometimes "hidden ritualistic orgies" that sometimes accompany the Tantric tradition of the worship of adult women "as forms of the Mother Goddess," the worship of the child Kumari is "quite sober."

Kumari worship, as the worship of girls who become princess-like "living Kumaris,"[70] is highly developed in the three old Newar royal cities, and has been a subject of scholarly as well as popular interest.[71] The various major "living Kumaris" of the Kathmandu Valley are really a heterogeneous group, Bhaktapur's main one differing, for example, in status and conditions of her life from the major Kathmandu Kumari.

On the morning of this ninth day, after completing the blood sacrifice and worship in the Na:la swa(n) room, most families at some other location in the house worship the young, premenstrual girls in the family. They may worship one girl alone as Kumari,[72] and, sometimes, if there is more than one girl, as some set of goddesses. Thus three girls may represent the set of goddesses Mahalaksmi[*] , Mahakali, and Mahasarasvati, or nine girls, the Nine Mandalic[*] Goddesses. However the family girls worshiped, whatever their symbolism as a group, are thought of individually as Kumari. It is said that the motive of these pujas on this day is not to honor the girls, but to use them as vehicles to bring the Goddess into the home.

Kumari as a "living goddess" is worshiped in two representations at the Taleju Temple during the course of the day. In the first and less elaborate representation she is one member of the Gana[*] Kumari,[73] the "retinue" of Kumari. This troupe consists of eleven young children of the high-status Buddhist Bare thar , the same thar that provides the main Kumari.[74] These children are selected each year (a child may be reselected in succeeding years) by the Bare themselves and will have no


further ceremonial role to play, at least in the Hindu life of the city, aside from on this day. Two of them are boys representing, respectively Ganesa[*] and Bhairava.[75] The nine girls in the group represent the nine Mandalic[*] Goddesses, with the exception that the girl who represents the ninth goddess is not Tripurasundari, but a goddess of esoteric importance in the Taleju temple, Ugracandi. In the course of their preparation and dressing by the Bare, monhi (the pigment derived from lamp black, and which is of Tantric importance for facilitating possession by a deity), which has been sent from the Taleju temple, is placed on the foreheads of the children. Members of the Taleju staff go to the Dipankara vihara , a Buddhist religious and social community in the northeastern part of the city, to conduct the Gana[*] Kumari to the Taleju temple. The king waits at an intermediate place along the processional route in the Sukuldhoka neighborhood and joins Kumari and his envoys there for the return to the Taleju temple. The details of this procession and its membership and procedures are generally the same as the one that will fetch the main Kumari, the Ekanta Kumari, later in the day, and will be described below. But in contrast with procedures for the selection of the Ekanta Kumari, the members of the Gana[*] Kumari group are selected and inspected for the proper physical state (whose characteristics we will note in connection with the main Kumari) by members of the Bare thar without having to have any additional examination and confirmation by Taleju priests.

The children are greeted at a special Kumari god-house in the Kwache(n) twa: by the delegation. Each one of them is taken and carried by a Jyapu woman (of one of the Jyapu groups traditionally associated with the Taleju temple) who carries them in her arms in a procession. They are first brought to the outside courtyard of the Taleju temple, and then with a greeting and purifying ceremony, the lasakusa , led into the main inner courtyard. The king welcomes them there and washes their feet, as he would visiting deities. The children are then led to a room within the temple on the northeast part of its upper floor, where they are worshiped by the king and the Taleju priests, and by members of the Malla and Pradhananga[*]thars . These are descendants of the Malla kings, whose lineage goddess is, thus, Taleju.[76] In the course of the worship these living deities are asked to destroy the power of the Asura enemies of the king and the city. The king is considered the main worshiper, and the worship is for his protection as ruler and for the protection of the city. In contrast with the main Kumari, there is no legendary explanation of this group known to us (although, as we have


noted, such groupings of deities are elsewhere in South Asia associated with Dasai[n]), but the gathering of these representatives of the Mandalic[*] Matrkas into the Taleju Temple signifies not only the gathering together of the areal forces but also their association with and (as the subsequent Kumari worship indicates more clearly) their incorporation into the power and centrality of Taleju herself.

As they will with the main Kumari later in the day, the priests watch the behavior of the child deities for omens—messages from the deities. While the later omens from the main Kumari will be messages for the king himself concerning his own fate, these are considered messages for the people, for the city in general. That is, this group of Mandalic[*] Goddesses, plus Ganesa[*] and Bhairava, speak to and about the city, while the lone Kumari, who, as we will see later, is a manifestation of Taleju herself, speaks to the king, as the personification of traditional political power. It is the function of the main Taleju Josi to interpret the signs. In contrast to the main Kumari, who tends to act seriously in her role as goddess, the child deities of this group usually act like a group of children. They laugh, sometimes fight, tell the priests that they want to go to the toilet or want to go home. The omens are fairly generalized and simple to interpret. If the children fight or cry, it is a bad sign. If they laugh too much or act foolishly, it is also unpropitious, as it would be if they refused food offerings made to them or if they accept them but then eat them too hungrily or with evident greed. The ideal portent, in short, is if they behave properly as guests at a feast.

In contrast to the Gana[*] Kumari, the main living Kumari (see fig. 32) has her local legends. She is sometimes called the "Ekanta Kumari," the lone or solitary Kumari, to distinguish her from other forms,[77] but more usually just Kumari. For local informants "Ekanta" implies, in reference to Kumari, that she is the "sole goddess," that is, the Goddess in her full and complete form, as is Taleju, whom she represents.

The Malla kings of Bhaktapur, the story goes, used to talk freely with the goddess Taleju, who often appeared to them in her divine form. One day the goddess saw the king watching her in the way a spy does when trying to discover something about someone without their knowing about it, something that they may wish to hide. Because of this Taleju became angry at the king, and said she would not return anymore. He pleaded with her to come again to him. She said, "Because of what you did I will never appear to you again. But I will talk to you now in the body of a candala[*] , an untouchable girl." There are other versions of the


Figure 32.
The living goddess Kumari. People are making offerings and receiv-
ing prasada.


story, but they differ principally in the reason given for the anger of Taleju. Thus, in another telling, the king had a diamond that he cherished. Taleju advised him to keep that diamond secret from everyone. But one day the king's daughter somehow saw the diamond. Taleju became angry and the rest of the story followed.[78] These stories go on to say that when the king told the Brahmans what had happened, they said, "We cannot bring a Po(n) girl (Bhaktapur's equivalent of a candala[*] ) here into the temple, but we can choose a Bare's daughter." Thus the water-unacceptable Bare became, according to these Hindu legends,[79] a compromise substitute for the truly unclean girl with which the angry Taleju—and the Tantric tradition—threatened priestly Bhaktapur.

The child who is the Ekanta Kumari always comes from the same Bare lineage group. She is selected by members of that group among the girls of their phuki . She is usually about six or seven years of age (and thus premenarche) and must not yet have had her Ihi , mock-marriage, ceremony. She must not have lost any teeth (which is one reason that seven is a critical age), nor have any obvious physical defects or blemishes. In contrast to the living Kumaris of Patan and Kathmandu, who maintain their role as goddess for several years and who will find themselves in a permanently altered and disadvantaged state after their tenure as goddess (for they will be unable to marry), the Bhaktapur Kumari plays her part for only a year or two, and lives an ordinary Newar life after it is finished. Furthermore, her only function for the city as a whole is on this and the following day of Mohani, although she is an occasional focus of worship from time to time in her local area, where she and her family will inhabit the nearby special god-house of the living Kumari, in a place called "Casukhel," during her tenure.[80] Even during this period, however, when not at the center of local worship she can play with other children and go to school.

In contrast with the children of the Gana[*] Kumari, whose physical propriety was not checked by the Taleju staff, the Ekanta Kumari is checked three times prior to the ninth day. Three days before the beginning of Mohani and again on the fourth and sixth day of the Mohani cycle, a Taleju Brahman—representing the king and the Brahmans—and a Josi and an Acaju from the temple go to the Dipankara vihara to inspect her. They check to see if she has the required physical characteristics. If not, another girl must be substituted. They do not, as a matter of fact, check her completely. She is clothed, and they examine only her face, teeth, and extremities. They ask the responsible Vajracarya


Buddhist priest to swear an oath that her entire state is proper for her to be Kumari, which he does on each of the three occasions.[81]

By now the children of the Gana[*] Kumari have finished their time at the Taleju temple, and have been carried back to the living Kumari's god-house in Casukhel. Now once again, the Brahman-king, the Josi, and the Acaju proceed from the Taleju temple to the Sukuldhoka area, to a position along the southern circumference of the city's main processional route as it enters the upper city and wait there. Now members of the Jyapu Kalu thar , thought to have been traditionally messengers for the Malla kings, go, accompanied by musicians, to the living Kumari god-house, where the girl is now staying. She is now elaborately dressed and decorated to represent the goddess, and her forehead has been marked with monhi . The messengers bring her back to the waiting king and priests. The king now takes her in his arms and carries her, accompanied by the other members of the procession, back along the processional route to the Taleju temple. When they arrive there she is met at the entrance to the temple's inner courtyard by another set of priests who welcome her and by means of a laskusa ceremony lead her to the door leading into the Kumari court. Now the king washes her feet, as the feet of the Gana[*] Kumari gods had earlier been washed, and bows down to her. He then lifts her again and carries her into the Kumari court. In that court is the Na:la swa(n) area, the true image of the goddess Taleju, and the decapitated goat heads from the preceding day.[82] The blood, however, has been cleaned from the floor, making the scene less horrible, and the heads have been neatly arranged.[83] Now Kumari becomes the focus of worship, with the king as the chief worshiper. During the worship, which takes perhaps two hours, the girl's behavior is carefully watched. This is the time of the annual darsana , or manifestation of Taleju in the form of the living Kumari to the king. The staff, under the leadership of the Josi, will later interpret her actions as a sign of future events, as they had interpreted the actions of the Gana[*] Kumari. The staff looks for two different things. First they look for some sign in the girl's behavior, something in her action that seems more knowing or mature than the ordinary behavior of a six-year-old girl that will confirm to them that the goddess is present. This is for their own satisfaction, for however the child acts, that action is taken as a manifestation of Taleju, and as a sign. More important (at least it was in the Malla times) is their search for omens. As with the Gana[*] Kumari, the child's measured acceptance of food and offerings, neither rejection nor gluttony are good signs, as is the quiet, good-natured acceptance of


the worship, manifesting neither silliness, tears, nor a desire to go home as soon as possible. Proper or improper behaviors are interpreted as giving some very general indication of the sort of year that is in store for the king. In the days of the Malla kings, it is said, the Kumari's behavior actually affected the kings' policy. Now if, and only if, there is some particularly dramatic or portentous occurrence, the Saha king's priest in Kathmandu is informed of it. Although the Ekanta Kumari, like the members of the Gana[*] Kumari, is a vehicle for a god, the deity does not possess her in the same way as it will the members of the Nine Durgas troupe, who become the deities in an uncanny transformation. She is a child through whose ordinary behavior the goddess manifests herself.

At the end of the worship the priests take prasada from the child goddess, and she is brought out of the Kumari courtyard into the main inner courtyard. Now the king calls for music, and musicians, who are in adjoining courtyards, begin to play. People, who have come in large numbers and now pack the inner courtyard, bow to her and take prasada from her if they can. In the main courtyard the priests transfer her to her Vajracarya priest, who conducts her back to her god-house along the main jatra route, where multitudes of people wait to see her and receive prasada from her (see fig. 32).

On the evening of this ninth day and on the following day there are a number of public events that signal the imminent return of the Nine Durgas to Bhaktapur. During the weeks before Mohani members of that family among the Pu(n) thar which has the hereditary right and responsibility to prepare the masks of the Nine Durgas troupe have been making the masks with the proper and traditional ritual and technical procedures (Teilhet 1978). The masks include among their ingredients a mixture of a specially gathered and prepared clay mixed with some of the ashes saved from the cremation of the previous year's masks. Also during this period the members of the Gatha thar who will perform and become the Nine Durgas are engaged in the secret activities that will ensure the successful and proper public effectiveness of their representation of the Nine Durgas.

On their return from their evening procession to the Tripurasundari pitha many people pass through the courtyard of a special house in the Yache(n) twa: , where the thirteen masks that will be used by the Gatha are arranged side by side on a platform. Many of them then wait along the route on which the Gathas will chase a bull water buffalo, in an echo of the running of the Nikhuthu to the Taleju temple on the previous day. This buffalo is called the "Kha(n) Me:." Me : means "water buffa-


lo," and Kha(n) is a term of uncertain meaning here, although the same term is used as one name of the Na:la swa(n) room, where it is locally interpreted to mean "sword." The Kha(n) Me: has been kept in a special room on the cheil , the ground floor, of the Nine Durgas' god-house. It has been made drunk, as had the Nikhuthu, and now staggering and lurching toward the bystanders, is chased by the Gathas—who are in their ordinary clothes and are not yet the Nine Durgas—from the god-house down to Dattatreya Square, where great crowds of people are waiting to watch it, and then on to the Brahmani pitha , which will be a focus of secret activities for the Gatha during the night, and one of the centers of the next, the tenth, day's activities. The Kha(n) Me:, like Nikhuthu, represents the great Asura, Mahisasura[*] . This echo of the previous days' events represents, with the involvement of the low-status, marginally clean Gatha, a movement of the Devi myth out of the Royal and aristocratic Taleju temple, and into the demotic realm of the city.

Later in the night, when people are asleep, the Gatha go to "steal" the masks. Those who happen to be abroad in the city during the night avoid the areas on the route from the house where the masks were displayed to the Brahmani pitha where the next Gatha activities will take place, because they fear that to see these things will cause death. The Kha(n) Me: will be secretly sacrificed at the Brahmani pitha by the Gatha during the night. The sacrifice follows the procedures for the Nine Durgas' sacrifices, which we will describe below. The Gathas as the Nine Durgas are at the same time the sacrificers and the deities to whom the sacrifices are offered, and they will drink some of the blood of the Kha(n) Me:. The drinking of this blood, the "life blood," is appropriate to dangerous deities but would be fatal to humans. This thus signals that the Gatha have become the Nine Durgas. It is said that at the Brahmani pitha on this night the Gatha, wearing their costumes as gods, do their first dances as deities for the new cycle. They have not yet, however, attained their full power. This is a preliminary stage during which their slowly waxing powers derive from their sacrifice and from their worship of Brahmani. They will attain their full siddhi , or supernatural effectiveness, from Taleju in the course of the events of the final, the tenth day of Mohani.

The Tenth Day: The Taleju Jatra, and the Transfer of Power to the Nine Durgas

On the morning of this day people dress in their best clothes, the women if possible wearing one of their most beautiful saris , and go


for the last time from their neighborhoods along the jatra route, joining in a great mass of people to visit one of the protective Mandalic[*] Goddesses of the city. This time they go once more, as they did on the first day of Mohani, to the eastern pitha , that of Brahmani, stopping as they had on the first day to wash or sprinkle themselves with water at her tirtha . Even people who might not have gone previously join in on this day, and large numbers of people from surrounding villages and towns also join in,[84] so that many thousands of people converge. Seated near the pitha are scores of music groups, playing—each group its own music—at the same time. At the pitha the corpse of the Kha(n) Me: is lying. The Gatha, dressed in their Nine Durgas costumes, which are now splattered with blood, stand close to the buffalo's corpse. Their masks, which have been marked with monhi and other sacred pigments lie on the ground. As people file by the pitha they worship not only Brahmani as they did on the first day but also the Nine Durgas group, represented by the masks. Each person is given a bit of meat from the buffalo carcass, which they eat as prasada , thus sharing in the killing of the buffalo, and in Devi's victory over Mahisasura[*] .

This morning is the major time for the fulfillment of the pledges for the "offering of lights" vrata (see fig. 33). This is the sitting or lying supine of young men for many hours on end, supporting burning oil lamps, which we described in our discussion of the first day. On this tenth day another, a much more strenuous way of fulfilling such pledges is also done. The devotee will move starting from his home, and then join and proceed along the city jatra route to the Brahmani pitha in one of two ways. He may move forward by lying on the ground, and then alternately rolling himself up into a ball, then extending his body forward, and then rolling it up again by bringing his legs up toward his head while keeping his most forward position, slowly proceed along the jatra route. Another way of proceeding is by alternatively kneeling, prostrating himself, moving his knees forward, rising on his knees, making a gesture of respect, standing up, and then kneeling again. In this latter method a friend or family member may help support a burning oil lamp on his head as he proceeds. These vratas are performed for the same kinds of purposes as we have described for the much more ordinary offerings of lights, but are usually motivated by more severe problems. The devotees, dressed in loincloths, and wearing turbans, have their knees and elbows heavily bandaged to protect them from injury.[85]


Figure 33.
A vrata, an offering of light at the Brahmani pitha on the tenth day
of the Mohani festival.


As people leave the Brahmani pitha and enter the main city festival route again, many of them proceed to the Taleju temple. When they pass Sukuldhoka on their way to that Temple they encounter the living goddess, the Ekanta Kumari, seated there at the side of the road. People stop and worship her and give her small offerings and take prasada from her (see fig. 32). When they reach the temple they enter the main courtyard. The fifteen buffalo heads have been arranged in three rows of five each just in front of the closed inner Golden Gate behind which is the jatra image of Taleju. The head in the center of the row just adjoining the gate is considered to be the Nikhuthu. People circumambulate the buffalo heads, walking along the raised ledge just in front of the inner gate in order to do so. The people will now return to their homes for their final activities in the household Na:la swa(n) rooms.

At Taleju the true Taleju image has been in the temple's Na:la swa(n) area, the Kumari court. The activities that will take place there must take place during the proper astrologically determined sait , one of three such saits that are important to the temple's activities during this tenth day. Two of these saits are locally determined by the Taleju Josis; one of them, the taking up of the true Taleju image is, like the two earlier saits of the Mohani period, determined by the central government's astrologer. The first event is a visarjan , a "taking leave" ceremony. During the proper sait the Taleju priests will now complete their reading of the Devi Mahatmya , and do a final puja to the combined Taleju-Bhagavati in the Kumari courtyard. At the end of the worship the goat heads are removed. They will be distributed to members of the Taleju staff, to be cooked and distributed as siu in their next household feast.[86] All the other objects in the room are left in place until the second of the day's saits , the "tika sait ." This may come immediately after the "taking leave" worship, or may be some hours later. At this time the king gives a tika (a pigmented mixture that is placed on the image or specifically on the forehead if the offering is to an anthropomorphic representation or to a person) to Taleju. He also presents her with barley shoots brought from the Na:la swa(n) rooms in the homes of each of the Taleju priests. These shoots, conceived of now in part as swords, represent Devi's great victory. Then each of the priests takes back some of the tika mixture and barley shoots from the Taleju image. They are now prasada . Each priest then gives tika and some of the barley shoots to each of the others. The barley shoots in the temple's own Na:la swa(n) room are left undisturbed for the time being. During this tika sait the non-priest members of the Taleju staff and members of their families, as well


as the families of the priests, wait in the Taleju main courtyard, outside of the Kumari courtyard. The Taleju priests then leave the Kumari courtyard and give Taleju prasada to them.

Meanwhile the people who have returned from the Brahmani pitha , perhaps via Taleju, go to their Na:la swa(n) room for the final worship there. A puja is held for the representations of Devi, that is, for the kalasa and the Bhagavati image. During the course of this last puja the worshipers do something that is usually restricted to Tantric worship. Using a special oil lamp, often in the shape of a reclining skeleton with the lamp bowl over its genitals, they prepare the lamp-black pigment, monhi , which the worshipers then apply to their foreheads in a straight vertical black line. In esoteric Tantric practices, that monhi mark is used to facilitate the entrance of a deity into the worshiper's body, but here it is a routine ritual gesture. People take pieces of red cloth, which had been brought into the room on the eighth day, and tie them around their necks in another sign of Devi's victory. The blades of barley are now pulled out of the soil and offered to the Devi images, and then some of them are taken back by the worshipers who decorate themselves with them. On the eighth day a pumpkin-like gourd, a bhuiphasi ,[87] had been placed in the Na:la swa(n) room to represent the Asura. Now the men and young boys in the household take the bhuiphasi out of the Na:la swa(n) room, along with one or more of the swords that had been kept there, and "kill" it by giving it three slashing cuts. They jokingly brandish the swords, pretending to be Ksatriya[*] warriors. This little domestic victory parade is a forerunner of the goddess Taleju's public victory jatra that will take place later in the evening. Now the men and boys, carrying the swords, return to the Na:la swa(n) room, and they and the other family members take prasada from the goddesses. The bhuiphasi will then be cut up and distributed to all people in the household to eat and once again to share in the killing and the victory.

The Na:la swa(n) worship, which has lasted throughout Mohani, is now over. The remnants of the barley plants are placed on the household pikha lakhu . The soil, the special kalasa , and the Bhagavati painting are left in the room until the fifth day following the end of Mohani, that is, until the next full-moon day. Then the soil is sent to be thrown into the river, the painting hung on a wall, the kalasa stored, and any metal Bhagavati image that might have been used returned to the household puja area.

On this or one of the immediately following nights many households


hold feasts. Married-out household women and their families are invited to the house for these feasts and offered various prasada items from the household Na:la swa(n) room.

Meanwhile in the Taleju temple the priests await the third sait of the day, which will be the proper time for Taleju's jatra . This consists of an internal jatra first within the temple, and a subsequent external one that moves out through the city. In both of these the details of the movements of the goddess Taleju are determined by the position of the moon at the time of the sait . She must be carried in such a way that the moon is either in front of her or at her right in the first movements of her procession.

Just before this sait an esoteric form of Devi[88] in her warrior manifestation, which had been placed on the soil before the barley seeds were planted, is removed and taken to her quarters in the temple, and the remaining barley shoots are taken up. People have come to the Taleju temple and wait in the inner courtyard to watch the "taking up" of Taleju, the internal jatra . At the proper time a procession leaves the Kumari court. This includes seven people carrying swords, and three others carrying secret objects wrapped in cloth, and covered with flowers, jewels, and barley shoots. Among them is the true Taleju image. The procession goes through the main court and enters the inner Golden Gate. It is led by the king carrying one of the bundles in his hand. He again stops at three points within the main courtyard and turns in a movement that designates a yantra . The exact movements are determined by the position of the moon. The procession then proceeds to carry the true Taleju goddess upstairs again to her room, where she will remain until the next year's Mohani.

The final phase of Mohani is a literal and symbolic moving outward, both into the city and into the new cycle, which begins at this time of harvest. This is enacted in the public victory procession of the goddess Taleju, and is called "Paya(n) Nhyakegu." Nhyakegu means to "cause to move," "to be put into motion." The word "paya(n) " is now used only in this context in Bhaktapur, and its meaning is unknown to our informants.[89]

The procession assembles in the main courtyard of the Taleju temple. The Taleju jatra image is taken from behind the inner Golden Gate, where it had been left since the previous night. The king takes the jatra image, covered with cloths and ornaments, and goes to an external


courtyard of the temple, the Bekwa (or "zigzag") courtyard. He stands there holding the goddess, and now there begins a conventionalized little drama which takes its context from the legend of the origin and movements of the goddess Taleju, which we have presented in chapter 8. The king, "played" by the chief Taleju Brahman, now represents Harisimhadeva[*] , the exile from Kanauj who—according to local history—became king in Bhaktapur and established his lineage deity Taleju, whom he had brought with him, as the city's protective "political" deity. The king is met in the courtyard by a Jyapu who plays the part of a merchant visiting from the Indian city of Simraun Gadh[*] , the city from which Harisimhadeva[*] had come. The merchant has a carrying pole over his shoulder with baskets at either end, which is identified as "the Newar style" of carrying loads. The king asks the merchant where he comes from. The merchant tells him that he has been sent from Simraun Gadh[*] by the king Nandideva, who sends his respects and good wishes to the king of Bhaktapur and the goddess Taleju. Now in what is to all local people including the actors an incomprehensible part of the sequence, one that is believed to be a comic interlude, the king asks the merchant whether one can still buy nine pathi of rice for a one-dan coin in Simraun Gadh[*] . The messenger answers that one still can. The king then asks, "Everything is still cheap and untroubled there?" The Merchant answers affirmatively. He answers with a farcical double-meaning phrase. "Everything is fine; things are well up into other things," a sexual reference that makes the king and bystanders laugh. The king then asks him whether he brought anything with him from Nandideva in Simraun Gadh[*] . The merchant says he has, and then shows and presents some ta:syi fruits, a kind of citron, to the king and to Taleju. The little drama is then over. This episode, although vaguely naturalized into Bhaktapur's legendary history, is a mystery to the people of Bhaktapur.[90]

The Taleju jatra procession forms in front of the temple. First in order are two Jyapus, who will walk abreast carrying representations of Bhairava. Next comes a Pa(n)cthariya who carries a sword. He is followed by the two other high-status sword bearers, the second a member of the Chathar Ta:cabhari thar , and the third a Brahman. Each of the three sword bearers represents an esoteric warrior form of Devi. At the center of the procession is the Taleju jatra image carried by the king, and followed by a white horse, Taleju's vehicle. And, now, at the end of the procession come the Gatha, dressed as the Nine Durgas. The Nine Durgas have their own order in the procession. The portable shrine of


their own deity the Siphadya:, identified with Mahalaksmi[*] , is carried first. It is followed, in order, by Bhairava and Mahakali, the group's dominant deities, and they, in turn, by Varahi. The next group comes in the order of the sequence (in both their position around the city and their respective days during Mohani) of the peripheral Mandalic[*] Goddesses (except for Mahakali and Varahi, who have already appeared). This sequence is Brahmani, Mahesvari, Kumari, Vaisnavi[*] , and Indrani[*] . These goddesses are followed in turn by Sima, Duma, Seto Bhairava, and finally Ganesa[*] .

The direction that the procession will take was determined by the sait , which also determined the way in which the true Taleju image was carried within the temple. In this case the procession will go to either the upper or the lower part of the city depending on the position of the moon so that, as in the earlier procession within the temple, the moon will in the first out-moving phase of the procession, be either at Taleju's right or in front of her.[91]

Whichever route the procession takes, it loops back via Ga:hiti Square, the spatial focus of much of the Biska: festival. Here the focal point is the stone deity Swtuña Bhairava. When the procession reaches the stone, the entire procession circumambulates it. The Brahman carrying Taleju then stops at a designated point at the right side of a Siva temple[92] in the square. It is at this point that the Nine Durgas will demonstrate their submission to Taleju. The members of the group, in the same order in which they have marched in the procession, come to "say farewell" to Taleju. They come to the wrapped image, bow and embrace it twice. In esoteric understanding it is through these embraces the power of the Nine Durgas is raised, each one in its turn, to their full power.[93] Now the Nine Durgas, having said farewell, leave the procession and return to their god-house, stopping to perform formal dances at certain places along the route. Taleju, her work for this elaborate festival being completed for another year with the empowering of the Nine Durgas, returns directly to her temple. On their return there Taleju and her entourage are met just inside the external Golden Gate by a Brahman who had remained behind. He performs a welcoming and purifying laskusa ceremony, and leads the image back into her room in the inner temple, where it will be kept until the next Mohani.

While Taleju is being returned to her inner chamber, her white horse vehicle, which had left the procession at the entrance to Laeku Square and had been met there by a Taleju Acaju, is decorated with an offering of swaga(n) . Then it is led by the Acaju—who runs while leading it by a


rope—in three movements, first to the Golden Gate, then back to the entrance to the square, and then, finally, back to the Golden Gate, where it is taken into the temple.

Now the Devi cycle, insofar as it is a set of events within the annual lunar calendar, is finished. The cycle is continued now in the wanderings of the Nine Durgas over the next nine months, as they move throughout the entire city and many of its hinterland communities.

Mohani: Approaches to Meaning

The Mohani sequence is the complex climax of the Devi cycle. We must pause to discuss it before presenting the succeeding activities of the Nine Durgas regenerated in its course. We will follow the arrangement of issues we used in our discussion of Biska:'s meaning in chapter 15; the similarities and contrasts in the two focal festivals are often illuminating.

1. Mohani and the rice agricultural cycle.

One of our questions about annual calendrical events is their possible relations to cyclical events outside of the festival cycle itself. Such external relations are of paramount importance in the Devi cycle, both in the timing of its events and in a give and take of meaning. The events of the Devi cycle echo the planting of rice seeds and the transplanting of seedlings; the phases of growth of the seeds and of the replanted shoots; the anticipation, onset, and ceasing of the annual monsoon rains; and the cycles of disappearance, latency, and regeneration of the crops. At the successful climax of all this is the harvest, and that is where Mohani is situated. With the harvest the Nine Durgas are returned to the city to "protect" it yet once again, until they must disappear back into the wilds they originally inhabited as the earth prepares for its next cycle of regeneration.

In a metaphorical flow, symbols that express the relations of agriculture and weather to the city's inner order are extended to the quite similar relations of other vital realms—individuals' passions, the protective and destructive force of Ksatriyas[*] —to the city's moral order.

2. Mohani as a structural focal sequence.

In all the aspects that constitute festival events—time and resources used, extent of participation, extent of the city space that is ritually marked, quantity of symbolic resources put into use, and complexity and importance of the festival themes to the life of the community—Mohani is clearly of predominant importance in Bhaktapur's collection of calendrical events. Only Biska:


approaches it in these aspects. Like Biska:, Mohani has much to do with the representation and ordering of Bhaktapur as a city—but it does it with a signicantly different emphasis. The primary emphasis in Biska: is the ordering of the internal, the contained, structures of the city; the primary emphasis in Mohani is the relations of the city to its sustaining and threatening external environment—the city being delineated by its transactions, contrasts, and boundaries with that external environment. As we noted in our discussion of the legendary origins of the Nine Durgas, the bordering realms external to the orderly public realm of the city are not only in the forest wilderness outside the city boundaries but also in the secret reaches of houses, or (as the obscenities associated with Gatha Muga: suggest, and the neighborhood performances of the Nine Durgas, which we will discuss below clearly indicate) in the asocial or antisocial areas of the minds and passions of Bhaktapur's citizens.

3. Interactive versus parallel features.

In Biska: the dramas of disunity and unification take place in the public space of the city, and are only secondarily augmented by "parallel" household and neighborhood events throughout the city. Mohani's primary emphasis is also on the public civic dramas, but there is an important additional feature in Mohani. In addition to its public interactive narrative using socially defined actors, deities, time, and space for a complex dramatic performance, and its parallel household feasts, and its repetition of events on successive days in one internal mandalic[*] segment after another, each individual household also participates throughout the nine days of Mohani in its own complex and vivid drama echoing the larger civic drama. Thus, individuals busily participate in a drama that takes place in their homes, and again in the larger city, and still again in mythic space and time as the vivid cosmic battle of Devi and the Asura enemies of the gods. In Mohani individuals do not only watch the performances of other civic actors; they do not only interact with deities in their homes and at temples and along the paths of jatras in relations of honor, respect, and submission and the reaffirmation of vital relationships. In Mohani ordinary people, like the Taleju priests and the king, participate in the work of Devi. They kill with her, they work with her to produce life in their Na:la swa(n) rooms; they become Devi.

4. Human actors.

The human actors of Biska: passively represent Bhaktapur's hierarchical social order. Their main location is in a chariot moved through the city's public space and brought to rest at significant points. The king and his Brahman Guru-Purohit appear in Biska:


from the off-stage Taleju temple and royal palace complex to become passive doll-like figures joined with other representatives of the social hierarchy as static symbols and witnesses of Biska:'s events. There is very little human action in Biska: aside from the struggle of the city halves—an action produced by the nameless representatives of those halves—the remainder of the action is an automatic unfolding. In Mohani people must, as we have noted of the participation of ordinary citizens in household dramas, actively help in the unfolding of the festival's drama. In this the king now conflated into one figure with Taleju's chief Brahman has a central role.

The main arena of their action is the Taleju temple, the temple of the Royal Palace. That action takes place in the inner, often hidden, chambers and courts of that temple. Around the king and the Taleju priests the old Malla court life is recreated in the ceremonial attendance of the councilors, suppliers, and servants of that court.

The king is now an active figure in the encounter with the deities— trying to recreate an intimacy that he once had, but lost—and participating within their realm, or more specifically Devi's realm, through ritual and through blood sacrifices, in mimicry of Devi's battles and her slaughter of the enemies of the heavenly order. The priests, above all Taleju's chief priest, is, insofar as Tantric Brahman and king are differentiated, his ally in all this. This is another striking contrast with Biska:. The priests in Biska: are simply representatives of civic order. Here they are Tantric practitioners, joining with royalty in blood sacrifice. A complex of themes—king, court, warrior, Ksatriya[*] , Brahman as Tantric practitioner, human activity beyond social action and relationships—are amalgamated with those of the agricultural cycle and are explored in Mohani. They are all themes of power.

5. Divine actors.

In Biska: the main public deities are Bhairava and the vaguely deified Yasi(n) God, both masculine figures. Bhadrakali[*] is a very secondary figure in Biska:'s action—although in the legends associated with that festival sequence she stands in the shadows as a much more powerful figure than Bhairava. The Goddess must await Mohani to come from her shadowy presence in the wings to center stage. Both Bhairava and the Yasi(n) God are, like the human actors in Biska:, passive figures who are manipulated in space and time and, aside from whatever active participation Bhairava may possibly be thought to have in his sexual-aggressive encounter with Bhadrakali[*] , represent much but do little.

The deities in the public narrative of Mohani are Devi and her man-


ifestations and emanations. These forms are very active, indeed. They battle the Asura forces of disorder, cause the rice and barley to grow, inhabit the children of the Gana[*] Kumari and the Ekanta Kumari in order to bring oracles to king and city, and eventually embody themselves as the Nine Durgas. Bringing Devi and her forms into useful contact with the city requires the powerful ritual of Tantra, rather than the devotional ritual more or less appropriate to the comparatively tamed Bhairava of Biska:. Mohani is about the capturing of "natural" forces represented by Devi for civic use; Biska:, about the deployment of these already captured forms.

The Devi Mahatmya , tells of the alternating gathering together of components of the Goddess into her forms of maximum power, and their subsequent emanation and differentiation in order to do specialized tasks. In the sequence of Mohani the nine Mandalic[*] Goddesses of the city, Bhagavati, Kumari, several esoteric goddesses, the tutelary lineage Aga(n) Goddesses, and Taleju are repeatedly joined as one goddess, Devi, and then differentiated as special manifestations.

While the Devi Mahatmya 's Devi is the focus of Mohani's mythic realm, in the course of the events of the sequence it is Taleju who becomes progressively established as the central reference point for the gathering in and centralization of forces, and it is through Taleju that the momentum of the festival is handed over—from her point of view, delegated—to the Nine Durgas at its end. Taleju is the Malla king's lineage deity; her home is the united palace/temple complex. The in-gathering of powers on the completion of the harvest is a validation and renewal of the power of the king.

Biska:'s passive Bhairava and Bhadrakali[*] are powerful but limited, resembling socially limited humans in their irritations and ambivalences, their ineffectual attempts to escape, and their susceptibility to teasing. The goddesses of Mohani are quite different. They are uncanny and powerful beings, whose transformations and powers belong to some other than ordinary social world. In Hinduism's view of Royalty in its transcendence of the ordinary dharma (chap. 9) the king and these goddesses are natural allies.

Devi as the focal deity of Mohani is not the Sakti of Siva-Sakti theory, whose symbolism and manipulations are central to Bhaktapur's ordinary Tantric religion. Siva is here, as he is among the Nine Durgas, a faint, peripheral figure. This Devi, the full, creative Goddess, is in this harvest context the supreme, the only significant deity.


6. Space.

The public drama of Biska: moved through and took much of its meaning from the public space of the city. That movement centered on an axis and on points that, in their centrality, transcended and represented the divided components of the city. In Biska:'s main movement of masses of people—the visits to the dangerous deities of the city on the eighth day of that sequence—the procession moves within the city along the pradaksinapatha[*] . In Mohani the major spatial emphases are within the Taleju complex, within houses, and—in the mass movement of people to the pithas of the Mandalic[*] Goddesses—to the external borders of the city's boundaries and to the city's mandalic[*] center. These areas are all outside of the public spaces of the city and of its public society. In Mohani, and generally throughout the Devi cycle, the space of the public city is delineated by its edges, its inner and outer boundaries, its hidden cells—households and royal enclave. While Biska: emphasizes units of city space—city, city halves, mandalic[*] areas, twa: s—in themselves and in their relations to each other within the city, Mohani's main emphasis is on the boundaries of units and refers to what is beyond those boundaries—putting outside and inside in relation and opposition.

It is only at the end, the last day of Mohani, that there is a movement out of such peripheral spaces. The goddess Taleju, that is, her jatra image, is taken out of her temple into the city streets for her one yearly darsana . The representative of the Buffalo Asura is taken out of each house's Na:la swa(n) room in a little victory procession to be destroyed. And now the Nine Durgas prepare to move out into the city's neighborhoods and into the ordinary time of the next nine months.

7. The narrative.

Within the complex movements and events of Mohani we have suggested the presence of a central theme and narrative, clarified by its context in the Devi cycle and its contrasts with other festival narratives, particularly that of Biska:. Throughout Mohani the relation of the city and the outside is explored, and is represented in a coherent way.

The sequence begins with the processions, which continue each morning and evening throughout the sequence, to the pithas of the border-protecting goddesses, culminating in the sequence's climactic ninth day at their central representative, and then, on the morning following that climactic day, returning once again to the goddess of the first day, where the mass of moving people encounter the Nine Durgas. Throughout Mohani this motif—which we first encountered in the


Nine Durgas' legend—is repeatedly represented: a gathering in of external bordering forces to a climactic concentration in a ritually bounded space, and then, in a coda, their socially controlled moving out again into the public city's space and time. On a larger scale the movements of the processions are echoed in the movements of the Devi cycle, with its progressive concentration of the powers of soil, weather, and seed in the generation of the rice, which is now about to be gathered into the city and distributed within it. And in the largest scale of all they are represented in Devi's myth where the gods of the heavenly city generate her to share in the nature of the Asuras at their borders, and thus to conquer them and restore cosmic order. As the Devi Mahatmya puts it, after the final victorious battle "favorable winds began to blow; the sun shone with perfect brilliance, the sacred fire burnt in a tranquil manner; and the strange sounds that had filled the quarters of space also disappeared" (X, 27; Agrawala 1963, 127).

In their cumulative movements the twice daily processions mark the outer boundaries of the city and the central point where the protective forces at and just beyond the boundaries are concentrated. The people of Bhaktapur move en masse to the pithas nineteen times during the course of the sequence. They are active participants as they will be throughout. In the course of their daily processions they include the Taleju temple, the ultimate center for the in-gathering of forces for the city as a whole, in a movement that allies king, court, and temple with the forces of the bordering outside—and with the successful harvesting of their recalcitrant potentiality.

From the first day the agricultural resonances of the festival are made concrete in every household, Tantric temple, and god-house. Earth is placed in them and grain is planted. The Goddess in her aspect as the cosmic creator and here specifically as the genetrix of agricultural life both presides over the earth and grain and is represented in the plants themselves as they develop.[94] But this generative goddess, as the sequence makes increasingly clear, is a warrior goddess, she is Bhagavati/Mahisasuramardini[*] , the bloody warrior goddess of the Devi Mahatmya . The success of the agricultural cycle, the generative powers of earth, seed, and weather are now allied with the force of the warrior, ksatra[*] , in the battle against the forces of disorder at the boundaries of the heavenly city of the moral gods. The use of Taleju's barley by the upper thars is a further reminder of the connection of ksatra[*] , Taleju, and Bhaktapur's traditional monarchy.

The central package of symbols is in place by the first day—the con-


flation of agricultural and warrior power, and the relation of that power to the inside of the city, to the moral city. The mata beigu vratas , which begin on the first day, introduces a further active way in which people will participate in and control these forces, that is, through sacrifice, through self-sacrifice and, above all, through the city-wide mass slaughter of represenative and surrogate animals. This sacrifice not only is a mimesis of the death and regeneration of the agricultural cycle but also has as one of its implications (as we will argue in our discussion of the activities of the Nine Durgas later in this chapter) the forceful binding of individuals—who represent another fertile and dangerous outside—to the city's social and cultural order.

Slowly at first and then gaining momentum throughout the sequence the forces of the outside are moved under the direction of traditional enactments and rituals into bounded areas of the city. The barley grain begins to grow in the houses and temples; the processions, after finally visiting all the bounding goddesses in their proper sequence, will move to the mandalic[*] center; and at the Taleju temple the Goddess herself —uniquely, not a jatra image—is manifest (albeit under wraps) to the spectators, and then brought together with Bhagavati and the growing grain. For the city as a whole all the forces now begin to amalgamate themselves to Taleju—agricultural growth, Bhagavati, and the cosmic warrior Devi, soon to be joined by representatives of the Mandalic[*] Goddesses as the Gana[*] Kumari, by Kumari herself, and eventually by the Nine Durgas.

All this comes to a climax in the Kalaratri, the "black night," between the eighth and ninth days, when Taleju/Bhagavati/Devi and the king and his priests participate vividly in the bloody cosmic mythic war of Devi against the disordering Asuras. That battle is replicated in each household on the following day with animal sacrifice. The city's citizens are not just witnesses; they continue to be active participants.

For the court and Taleju there is a further in-gathering. The Devi cycle tells of the moving out of the city of the deities and, then, of their return along with the harvest for the inner uses of the city. The tale of Kumari tells of how Taleju herself has fled the direct presence of the king, but now with the Gana[*] Kumari and the Ekanta Kumari she makes her annual return, once more to advise him.

Taleju's urban hegemony has now been established, but it is a hegemony in alliance with a peculiar collection of forces, the forces that are the concern of king and Tantric expert and farmer and craftsman—the worship of whose tools is an important part of the sequence. These are


not the forces, the arena, of concern to the Brahman as Brahman and to his auxiliary and covert priests (with the exception of his Tantric surrogate, the Acaju). Mohani is a celebration of the forces that are the support of the moral order, not of that order in itself.

The final episode in the story is the moving out of the concentrated forces from households and palace once again into the city. On the morning of the last day people once again go to the peripheral Bramani[*]pitha whence they had started on the first day, but now they find the Nine Durgas there, who have killed a buffalo in their mimesis of Mahisasuramardini's[*] battle, and are preparing for their full return to the city. In the households boys and men carrying swords storm out of the Na:la swa(n) rooms in a mini victory procession to kill the bhuiphasi gourd. And finally—the true Taleju having been returned to the recesses of her temple-palace—the jatra Taleju image, carried by the king, is brought out in a victory procession into the public city where Taleju delegates power to the Nine Durgas so that the manifestation and uses of the powers of Devi may be carried throughout the city for the next nine months until once again they must be returned to their proper and necessary places in the outside order.

8.Rhetoric and participation.

In our discussion of Biska:'s meanings we noted some of the rhetorical resources that are used in that festival sequence in attempts to ensure the engagement of people with its meaningful forms. Mohani uses some of the same ones. It uses mystery, pageantry, and the revelation of wonders as deities become manifestly embodied in living forms. However, Mohani's emphasis on participation shifts the problem of engagement from the engagement of an audience—the traditional problem to which rhetoric is devoted—to the engagement of the performers themselves. People become participants in the drama—in a participation with "magical" implications. Centrally in the Taleju temple, and throughout the city in the Na:la swa(n) rooms, they participate in the transformation of seeds into "weapons," and through the one annual blood sacrifice expected of all the city's citizens, in Devi's conquest of the antigods. They share in the killing—and eating—of the sacrifice, privately in the household sacrifice and publicly in the eating of the Kha(n) Me: Buffalo, sacrificed by the Nine Durgas at the festival's final day.

In Mohani, deities, king, priests, and householders all participate in Devi's battle, and in so doing partake in Devi's victorious—and necessary—power. As is everywhere evident in the worship of the dangerous deities, but above all in the Devi cycle, they achieve a limited


influence or control over that power by being like the gods. In a manner reminiscent of ancient Indian sacrifice, this participation in the restoration of cosmic order involves a necessary, active, and effective solidarity in action with the gods.

Through their active participation in Devi's battles people become , in a sense, Devi. In other festivals, or in other parts of Mohani itself they may relate themselves to a deity by visiting it, by watching a procession, following it, taking prasada , worshiping the deity through gestures or more elaborate pujas . Participating in the work of a deity, becoming in a sense that deity, has quite different social and personal implications than simply observing it, worshiping it, respecting it, interacting with it, fearing it, worrying about the values implied by it, and in part, identifying with it. It is the difference between (in the first case) participating in the protective and environing forces surrounding, protecting, threatening, and sustaining the moral civic order and (in the second case) acting properly within that order. It is the difference between the realms of Ksatriya[*] and of Brahman.

The Performances of the Nine Durgas

We have been concerned in the earlier sections of this chapter with the legend and membership of the Nine Durgas and with the Devi cycle within which they are a major component as well as a thread binding the individual calendrical events of that cycle into a larger thematic unit. Now with Mohani the Nine Durgas have emerged again to carry Devi's power and significance out into the city throughout the succeeding nine months of their annual life cycle until their disappearance once again at the following Bhagasti. We may now turn to a consideration of their performances throughout the city.

The dance drama, or pyakha(n) , which the Nine Durgas troupe performs throughout the city, comes to each of the neighborhoods in which it is performed as a kind of invasion. The troupe appears in each neighborhood in an order determined by a traditional annual sequence (map 14, p. 223). Local people must prepare for a visit that is beyond their control. Before turning to those systematic, sequential pyakha(n) s, however, we must consider another setting and form in which individuals encounter the Nine Durgas.

During much of the period when the Nine Durgas are active they


may be invited by a family, a group of extended-family members, or a larger neighborhood group, to come and dance for the "protection of the area," which is how the Nine Durgas" function is usually phrased. This invitation is often in fulfillment of some vow. In the case of these invited performances a messenger is sent from the Nine Durgas to the hosts to say that the Nine Durgas are ready to go to their quarter. Thereupon the men responsible for the invitation and the expenses of the performance go to the Nine Durgas" god-house to conduct the gods to the place where the ceremony will be held. This is in significant contrast with the formal systematic neighborhood sequence when the gods will come by themselves, uninvited and unconducted. In the course of their being worshiped in the local area, usually in the courtyard of a house, a domestic pig, called in this context amu vaha(n) , or "main offering," is given as an offering to the Nine Durgas. This pig represents the strategic pig of the Nine Durgas' legend.

The pig is killed by Bhairava, who is the only one of the Nine Durgas who performs blood sacrifice, with the important exception of the killing of a cock by Mahakali during the formal neighborhood dance-drama. He does this by splitting the skin of the young pig's foreleg with his fingernail (in a relatively thin area at the inner part of a joint) and separating the skin until he reaches the thoracic cage. He then forces his hand between two ribs and pulls out the heart and offers it to the Oleander shrine goddess, the Siphadya:. Now first Bhairava and then all the other gods (including demonic skeletal figures representing attendants of the Nine Durgas incarnated by Gatha children) take blood from the pig's open chest and drink it. The gods now begin to tremble. This is said to be in response to the "force" in the blood, and to be a sign of the Gathas" possession by the gods, but also to be a kind of intoxication. This image of the goddesses intoxicated with the blood of their Asura enemies, sometimes dancing as a result, is salient in the Devi Mahatmya . Now Bhairava gives a mixture of beaten rice and curds, dhaka baji , to each god to eat. He then offers dhaka baji as prasada to the onlookers, with a particular emphasis on the children, and among the children, especially the boys. It is thought that this offering will protect children from disease. Bhairava's hands are still contaminated with the blood of the pig, and the audience thus share in this sacrifice. (Brahman boys after initiation and adult Brahmans are not allowed to accept this prasada .) Following the sacrifice, the group of Durgas do formal dances. These dances describe certain geometric patterns and are said to be mystical diagrams or yantras that protect the locality through


supernatural power. Then the Nine Durgas troupe, taking the body of the pig with them, returns to its god-house accompanied by the important people of the inviting group. At the god-house the Gatha¡ dancers are said to cook and eat the pig.[95] Occasionally for particularly important offerings the Nine Durgas are offered five kinds of male animals for a major sacrifice called a pa(n)ca bali .

In the course of their nine months of life the Nine Durgas troupe dances at twenty-one public squares (map 14) throughout Bhaktapur and in nineteen villages outside of the city (Gutschow and Basukala 1987). These villages are generally with a few exceptions within the boundaries of the old Malla kingdom of Bhaktapur.[95] The pattern traced by the sequence of dances both outside and within the city are considered to form protective yantras , in the same way as the detailed patterns of the dance performances within each local area mark out a local protected space. Aside from the Gatha performers themselves, only a few specialists in the city are aware of the places and sequences in the larger cycle. All that the vast majority of the spectators to the local performance know is that somehow this local performance weaves their locality into a larger pattern of temporal and spatial relationships reiterated during each annual cycle, a pattern whose center is Bhaktapur.

In presenting the local performance, we must make the same choices we have made throughout this study. We will select out of the complex traditional performances, whose detailed description and elucidation would justify a volume in itself, those aspects that are presumptively meaningful in the particular and limited sense of this study. Thus we are here concerned with the "message" delivered by the performance to the neighborhood people and the purposes the performance serve in the symbolic organization of the city.

The relative position in the annual sequence of the visit to each neighborhood and village is fixed, but the Gatha performers make use of various calculations known to themselves to determine the exact day in which they will come, so that the local people are never sure exactly when to expect them, although the performances always take place on either a Sunday or a Thursday. As we have noted, in contrast to the invited performances the Nine Durgas thus enter the area as a kind of invasion beyond the determination of the local people. These sequential local performances are often referred as the "Na[*] lakegu" pyakha(n) , the "going fishing" pyakha(n) , using a reference to one element in the performance to stand for the whole. On the afternoon before the


pyakha(n) the group of Gatha—performers, musicians, and attendants—go to the twa : or neighborood area in which they will perform. Gutschow and Basukala (1987, 152ff.) have described this movement to the performance area in detail, and we will follow their description for the phases prior to the pyakha(n) itself. According to Gutschow and Basukala, on the occasion of one of the sequential visits the masks are brought from their hidden room in the Nine Durgas' god-house to the courtyard of that house, where the three frightening masks—Bhairava, Mahakali, and Varahi—are separated from the others, and hung facing west. These are the same three deities who preceded the other Nine Durgas in the Taleju procession of the tenth day of Mohani. Although the troupe itself may take several hours to reach their destination, the palanquin on which the Siphadya: will be placed is first brought directly to the square where the public performance of the following day is to be held. As Gutshow and Basukula write, "it [the arrival of the palanquin] is the first sign of the procession of the night . . . [as] the people are never sure when the gods [will] come" (1987, 152). The Gatha troupe leave the god-house at twilight. First comes a man carrying a human skullcap as a drinking cup[97] in his left hand and a small drum, a damaru[*] , in the right. Next comes the man who carries the Siphadya:, accompained by another carrying a ceremonial umbrella to protect and honor that god. Then come three boys who at this point represent the deities Sima, Duma, and Kumari. They are followed by the masked men who incarnate Bhairava, Mahakali and Varahi. The goddesses of the "chorus" follow next—Brahmani, Mahesvari, Vaisnavi[*] , and Indrani[*] . Finally comes Ganesa[*] , wearing at his waist the mask of Siva.

On each occasion the group begins its procession in the same way. It goes first to worship at a shrine of Ganesa[*] , Sala(n) Ganesa[*] , in the upper city. Mahakali does a formal dance there. Now the procession proceeds to the Wa(n)laeku Taleju shrine near Dattatreya Square. Mahakali bows to the shrine, and is lifted twice into the air by an attendant. The procession proceeds along a main road that "serves as a kind of backbone from which the individual places are reached," and makes five further stops at various shrines, temples, and god-houses, where the Nine Durgas perform brief formal dances.

When they reach the particular quarter that is the goal of the day's procession, some of their activities are differentially determined according to the particular quarter. On their way to its main square they make from three to nine stops. The naki(n) , the senior woman of the troupe,


seats herself at each stop with some baskets and pots to receive offerings of food and drink. Often the troupe is invited into individual houses and given offerings.

In eleven of the twenty-one neighborhoods in which they perform there is an additional sequence, the chasing of a pig, as they had done in the legend to protect themselves from recapture by the Brahman Tantric practitioner. This is done, according to Gutschow, in areas peripheral to the various performance squares in the direction of the borders of the city. The pig that is intended for sacrifice to Mahalaksmi[*] by Bhairava is, instead, stolen by groups of young men and boys. "The youngsters run around carrying the squeaking pig under their jackets and passing it quickly from one to the other. The gods are obviously teased and asked to come and fight for the pig. . .. This kind of teasing may last for an hour or two" (Gutschow and Basukala 1987, 156). Finally the pig is released and Bhairava grabs it and carries it back to the main square where he tears its heart out and throws it to the Siphadya:, that is, to the goddess Mahalaksmi[*] . This teasing ending in a blood sacrifice anticipates the themes of the next day.

These preliminary activities take from two to six hours, when, finally, toward midnight, the troupe reaches the square where they will perform.[98] It is said that the Gathas do secret dances and rituals on the square. Non-Gathas do not know what these are—it would be very dangerous to see them—but it is believed that they increase the power and effectiveness of the goddesses in preparation for their next morning's performances.

The next day's sessions are a mixture of formal dances (conceived as yantras ) and worship, interspersed with dance-dramas or pyakha(n) s.[99] Following the first formal dances in the morning, there is a performance by the lion and tiger deities Sima and Duma (see fig. 27). Although generally conceived as goddesses, and derived from the goddesses Si(n)hini and Vyaghrini[*] , Duma is here considered as a woman and Sima as a man, her husband.[100] Duma has a cup out of which she will drink beer, but at some point Sima steals it. During this sequence the younger boys among the spectators laugh and make mocking noises directed to Sima and Duma. Sima now begins to chase the children, occasionally catching one and holding him for a short time. If he catches the child he may bring the child to the shrine of the Sipha: God. If a child is caught, people may say this is the result of adverse planetary influences and his family may worship the Nine Durgas to remove the bad effect. This chase occurs several times during the course of the morning. These


Sima-Duma sequences are considered to be comic, more concerned with younger children, and less serious than the pyakha(n) that is to follow in the afternoon.

This afternoon pyakha(n) focuses and conveys much of the meaning of the Nine Durgas and of the Devi cycle, and systematically delivers the message of that cycle to localities and their people. It derives its force and significance from all that has preceded it, and also from certain background experiences and interpretations of its audience in relation to animal sacrifice (chap. 9).

The afternoon performance has as its principal characters Seto Bhairava, the small white-faced young man with a mustache and tiny fangs who is the protagonist; Mahakali, the largest and most frightening goddess, who is his antagonist; and Kumari who is, as we have noted, a transitional form between the benign-appearing goddesses of the chorus and Mahakali, acting as a mediator. These characters are augmented by Sima and Duma as comic figures.

The pyakha(n) begins with Mahakali doing a formal dance. Seto Bhairava seats himself on a woven straw mat, which he will later use to "go fishing." While Mahakali is dancing, Seto Bhairava smears himself with a white pigment (a mixture of oil and white powder that is used otherwise in marriage ceremonies as a cosmetic for the bride). He has been given this as well as ghya : (clarified butter), brown sugar, and a white shawl by one of the members of the local area who is responsible for local supplies and arrangements. Seto Bhairava puts the white pigment on his face and hands and puts on his mask. He then puts the shawl over his head, approaches the place where Mahakali is dancing and, seating himself with head still covered, slowly moves his head about in a fashion that is interpreted as a kind of mocking or making fun of the dancing Mahakali. Keeping one's head covered in this fashion in front of a deity (or in this case a superior deity) is to show disrespect. Mahakali becomes enraged and shakes her head in a quivering motion, indicating her great anger. She suddenly seizes the shawl from Seto Bhairava's head and holds it in her hand. Seto Bhairava wants to get his shawl back and the next part of the sequence has to do with his attempt to recover it. First he makes a gesture of respect to Mahakali, but she ignores it and turns her head away. This attempt having failed, Seto Bhairava turns to the onlookers and begs for small coins. Some people in the crowd give coins to him. Seto Bhairava now offers the money to Mahakali, asking her to take the coins as an offering. (His words now


and in later parts of the pyakha[n] are spoken for him by one of the musicians.) Mahakali takes the money from him, but does not return the shawl. All this ineffectiveness is amusing to the spectators. Now this part of the drama comes to a climax. Seto Bhairava takes a cock, which one of the onlookers hands to him, and offers it to Mahakali. At first she is angry; she keeps her head turned away and will not take it. Then suddenly she grabs the cock, and with an angry gesture throws the shawl back into Seto Bhairava's face. Now Mahakali bites the head off the living cock and drinks its gushing blood.

The pyakha(n) comes to an intermission. Now the twa : representatives do pujas to Kumari, Bhairava, Mahakali, Varahi, Seto Bhairava, Sima, and Duma and to the Oleander Goddess, the Sipha: god. The background deities of the chorus are not worshiped at this time. Thus the gods that are worshiped are all frightening forms, with fangs, tusks, or sharp teeth. Now the masks are placed in a specially designated place and only Seto Bhairava remains masked. He takes his mat, which is now to serve as a fishing net. This mat is a rectangle about two or three feet long, with seven or eight tiny dried fish placed in openings of the net. He will use this net to "go fishing," as his chasing of older boys and young men which is about to occur is called. The chase by Sima in the morning is also called "going fishing," although he does not use a symbolic fishing net. As we have noted, the performances of the day with their various scenes and elements are, in fact, often named as a unit in reference to these episodes, and referred to as the "fishing," or "Na[*] lakegu pyakha(n) ," suggesting the central significance of this element. Seto Bhairava now does a formal dance (see frontispiece), as Mahakali had been doing when Seto Bhairava showed disrespect to her. As he performs, the young men and older boys in the crowd begin to mock and taunt him by clapping their hands together and making sounds, rhythmically covering and uncovering their mouths with their hands to make a wavering noise. These young men are usually youths between fourteen and twenty, and include members of the clean thars , even Brahmans. This is considered to be a brave and daring thing to do, and people are said to admire them for it. Now Seto Bhairava "goes fishing," angrily chasing the offending boys and young men. Sometimes during the course of his chase he will stop and be invited into a nearby house, where he is given an offering of food, including meat and alcoholic spirits. The young men will wait outside and continue their mocking when he comes out. If he manages to catch one of them, Seto Bhairava will drag him toward the Oleander God's shrine, but if he is far away


from the shrine, he may let him go after dragging him for a while. This is considered bad luck for the boys and young men, and sometimes the younger ones cry with fear when they are caught. Seto Bhairava then returns to the shrine, and resumes his formal dance, only to be interrupted once more by the taunts and mockery of the boys and young men. The sequence of dancing and chasing occurs three times.

Now a new phase of the pyakha(n) begins, a comic phase. Seto Bhairava's stomach begins to hurt him. He is said to have an upset stomach from "eating fish," the boys and young men whom he has been chasing being those fish. He lies down on the mat and begins to rub his stomach. Sima and Duma, now danced by boys instead of men, come to feel his abdomen "to see where the pain is." Seto Bhairava wriggles around because this tickles him. He is still in pain, however, and he calls for Kumari (with one of the musicians again speaking for him). Kumari, now also danced by a boy, comes with a handful of parched beaten rice and holding it first to Seto Bhairava's head, chest, and stomach, throws it to the right and to the left.[101] During these scenes in the dance-drama, Kumari (as she is danced in this scene by a child, she is now sometimes called Balakumari, the "child Kumari") is considered to be the wife of Seto Bhairava. As Kumari throws the parched beaten rice to the right and to the left, she throws it into the faces of Sima and Duma, who have been standing and looking on at either side of Seto Bhairava, and they react with gestures of discomfort. Now Seto Bhairava is cured of his affliction. He gets up and embraces the reluctant Kumari, which usually provokes much laughter. Now Seto Bhairava gives his shawl to Duma, asking her (through the Gatha musician who speaks for him) to wash it for him saying, "It is a little dirty, please wash it." Duma throws it down on the ground. Seto Bhairava says, "I should hit you," and makes a fighting gesture. He then picks up the shawl and goes through the same sequence, with the other member of the pair—Sima—and with the same results. Finally he picks up the shawl, which Sima has thrown down, and washes it himself in pantomime. He then walks away. The dance-drama segment is now finished. All the gods, except Sima and Duma and Seto Bhairava, perform a set of formal dances. This is the only time that the benign and beautiful forms of the goddesses also dance, and now Ganesa[*] also dances with the group for the first time during this day's proceedings.

Now the true Bhairava, as Bhairava is usually conceived in Bhaktapur, the large blue-black dangerous-looking male figure, comes to the fore.[102] As in the informal invited ceremonies described above, Bhai-


rava is offered a pig to be sacrificed and returns beaten rice with his blood-stained hands as prasada to be eaten by the onlookers, who thus become participants in the sacrifice.

Now the dance-drama is over and the gods making music return to their god-house, now accompanied in their return procession by people from the locality. The locality has been protected.

The Significance of the Nine Durgas" Pyakha(n): Some Speculations on How The Nine Durgas Protect Bhaktapur

In Bhaktapur's characteristic "religious" language the Nine Durgas are said to be of major importance in the protection of the city. In our analytic language this is, indeed, what they are doing in their neighborhood pyakha(n) s through the significance of their performances to the people of the local neighborhoods. They protect the city by helping to assure the proper relation of individuals to the city's society.

As always, we are concerned with the significance of the Nine Durgas" performance for Bhaktapur's symbolic ordering, that is, with its impact on Bhaktapur's people. Much of the form of the Nine Durgas has no direct significance in this sense—although it would be significant analytically to, say, historians of South Asian culture. We must note, however, that many aspects of the Nine Durgas" form and action are indirectly significant in our limited sense even if the meaning of those forms and actions is, in some sense, unknown to most or all of the Newars who witness and engage in the performances. These aspects are significant in part precisely because their meaning is unknown. It is sufficient that the spectators have the conviction that there is meaning even if they do not know what it is. Thus the spectators to the Nine Durgas" pyakha(n) do not know what the overall sequence of visits by the Nine Durgas is in the spatial mandala[*] they create over nine months, but they do know that the visit to their neighborhood is an essential part of this pattern. They do not know what many of the iconic details of the masks signify, nor which of the minor goddesses is which. They do not know what the mask makers or the Gatha actually do to give proper siddhi to the performances. They do not know what the formal yantra dances of the Nine Durgas signify. Such unknown matters are in contrast with the very accessible and direct implications of other aspects of the masks, sacrifice, pyakha(n) , and so on. But the things they do not understand


have their own meaningful implications, they contribute to the performance's special sacred force.[103]

Although the great majority of the spectators to the local pyakha(n) may not understand such matters, they know that they are correct and necessary. The dances, masks, and procedures represent an order that is organized and guaranteed by something beyond ordinary contingent local human action, improvisation, and decision. This helps give the performance, in spite of its sometimes comic style, a deep seriousness and relates it to the sacred realm of Hinduism—a seemingly eternal and transcendent realm beyond the here and now. The forms that spectators do not understand, to a certain degree just because they are not understood, evoke—as do the transcendent ritual and ceremonial forms and sequences and their contexts—this other mysterious world. All that the spectator has to know or believe is that something is being done properly, that it is generated out of a sacred tradition, where it is rooted in myths and legends, and that it is properly passed down from generation to generation of priests, mask makers, and dancers through proper initiation, teaching, and mantras . The audience sees a performance that is a manifestation of something beyond the ordinary, something organized in some other order beyond the whims of the Gathas. These properties of the performance, allied to references to ultimate macrocosmic realms of order, powerfully evoke ideas and emotions characteristic of encounters with the "sacred."

Yet, within this larger frame is the pyakha(n) 's drama and the game-like "fishing" episodes of the pursuit of the mocking boys and young men by the gods. The messages here are direct and specific, completely dependent on peoples' understanding of the pyakha(n) 's symbolic forms. The dramas and fishing chases have a central theme or motif, which is elaborated in various ways. This theme is the violation of hierarchy, shown concretely through the violation of proper respect toward a superior. The young boys mime this to Sima and Duma, the older boys to Seto Bhairava, and Seto Bhairava to Mahakali. This violation of hierarchy and the response to that violation illustrated in the drama and fishing pursuit does not concern ordinary violations of the moral law, the dharma of civic life, any more than the struggle between the gods and the Asuras in the Devi Mahatmya concerns ordinary moral relations among deities. Ordinary moral violations, the arena of shame, loss of face, and the generation of bad karma , have their own symbols and myths, their own spatial location, their own religious modes and divinities. This pyakha(n) and its context


does not concern the moral problems of human beings with each other. In its offending of superior dangerous gods it concerns the violation by humans of the very order that makes the moral realm possible, and it shows the consequences of such a disruption.

Hierarchy, the central principle of social order in traditional Hindu societies, is, as we have shown in chapters 5 and 6, greatly elaborated in Bhaktapur's complex urban organization. The violation of the conventions of hierarchical relationship, therefore, strikes at the central organizing principle of Bhaktapur's society. Thus the Nine Durgas" pyakha(n) can be interpreted as being about the struggle between disorder and order, about what happens to individuals who violate order, and, finally, about what has to be done to restore that order. The contextual meaning of the Nine Durgas in the larger Devi cycle indicates that although this disorder is dangerous both to the ordinary moral gods and to humans as social beings it is at the same time a source of fertility and energy. Thus the boys and young men who mock the gods are admired for their courage and Seto Bhairava is a sympathetic Chaplinesque figure with whom one must empathize as he struggles against the terrifying Mahakali. Similarly, the boys and young men who called out order-threatening and immoral obscenities at the proper phase of the annual cycle were also doing something positive, amusing, and vital. The children and young men are pursued by the gods whom they mock and are sometimes caught without particularly serious consequences, but the potential consequences for the acts of rebellion that they have mimed are shown graphically in Seto Bhairava's encounter with Mahakali. He fails to show respect for the superior deity, who becomes enraged. He tries to restore relationships with her by the kinds of exchanges that are effective with the ordinary, the non-Tantric gods— gestures of respect, the offering of money or daksina[*] . But only an offering of blood sacrifice appeases this kind of a deity. The biting off of the head of the cock and the drinking of its blood signifies to the onlookers that it was Seto Bhairava who was to be killed, or at the very least castrated, if it were not for this convenient substitution. The sacrifice enables the return of the shawl and some social dignity to Seto Bhairava and atones for his violation of hierarchy.

The Nine Durgas are dangerous deities, and Mahakali is the dangerous goddess in her most frightening representation. As we have argued throughout, such deities have a special position in the maintenance of order in Bhaktapur, where Tantra and the worship of dangerous deities (as is widely the case in the history of South Asia) has been captured and


put to use by the social order as the legend of the origin of the Nine Durgas attests, rather than representing attempts by renouncers, magicians, and peripheral social groups to escape from that order. Like the traditional Hindu ruler in his ideal relationship to the priest, the dangerous deities are responsible for the protection of the traditional ritual and moral life, although they are beyond morality themselves. They are ambivalently made use of when that moral order is being threatened either by some internal force or by some external danger. Seto Bhairava's rebellion threatens the hierarchical basis of urban order, and a dangerous deity becomes activated.

The way Mahakali's threat is both manifested and avoided is in the blood sacrifice of the cock. This is in the context of the massive blood sacrifices of Mohani, the blood sacrifices by the Nine Durgas at other times, the legend of the Nine Durgas" murder and eating of humans before they were captured by Tantric priests, and the accounts of human sacrifices performed by the Gathas in the past. We have noted (chap. 9) that animal sacrifices are for some informants, at least, consciously and with deep emotion associated with vivid memories from their boyhoods when they felt that the sacrifices were in fact selfishly motivated murder, that they might be directed toward them if the adults became angry at them, and that the animals were somehow equivalent to themselves. "I could feel the knife on my own throat," as one man said in reminiscence.

The pyakha(n) thus makes use of a particularly powerful and complex local constellation of meanings. Its message is directed directly at males.[104] Men are the critical actors in the public social organization of Hindu communities, and the largest component of the civic symbolic system is devoted to the expression and control of their problems, emotions, and orientations in the performance of their social roles. It is striking in view of this male prominence in the public life of the city, that that force which is represented as external to the city but vital to it, both as the energy of nature and as the force that both threatens and which, if properly placated and controlled, will protect the city against disruption, is represented primarily by the nonsocial, dream-like "Mother Goddess" and the images, concepts, and emotions associated with that powerful symbol.

Sacrifice is not only a powerful symbol of a threat, a potential punishment for violation of hierarchy, but as we have argued in chapter 9, an important motivation for accepting the social order, for identifying with and becoming one of the sacrificers, to escape the fate of being


one of the creatures that are sacrificed. This acceptance of order under the pressure of sacrifice is manifested in the acceptance, the "understanding," of the particular ideologies and dogmas of the group that would be hypocritical, problematic, and perhaps nonsensical to an innocent eye. Such items requiring faith are vividly represented in the mystifying dogmas about sacrifice itself.

The pyakha(n) plays with the theme of the vital impulses of the city's citizens that are socially disruptive and, making use of blood sacrifice, one of the very most powerful symbolic resources for restoring and maintaining individual assent to Bhaktapur's culture and society, restores order both within the drama, and, ideally, in the minds of its spectators. Seto Bhairava is not only the ineffectual protagonist who blunders into trouble with Mahakali and is saved only through a substitution of a sacrificial animal; in another phase of the pyakha(n) , the "going fishing," after which the whole event is significantly named, he is the one who is mocked by his inferiors and becomes, in turn, the agent of punishment. Similarly, the people of Bhaktapur are not only the passive objects of potential destruction in the face of violations of order. They themselves offer the sacrifice, perform them themselves on other occasions, share in the blood by feasting on the sacrificial animal, and, during the course of the Nine Durgas' performances, eating the bloodstained prasada . The people identify, then, not only with the victim but also with the dangerous deities, both in their wildness on the one hand, and as collaborators in slaughter for the sake of social order on the other, which results in a sense of community that psychoanalytically inclined observers might argue not only represents the mastery of switching from a passive to an active role and an identification with the punitive forces but also has something to do with a sense of shared guilt.

The last part of the drama may be thought of as a kind of moving downward from a more cosmic scale to a more domestic one, thus providing another bridge to the audience.[105] Here Seto Bhairava is healed through his wife in a common magical healing procedure known to all people. The grain that he throws in the face of Sima and Duma has perhaps an added bit of meaning insofar as those two personages are also thought to represent Death's messengers. But in this little episode of healing domesticity, of Seto Bhairava having to turn to his wife for help, the wife, Kumari, is herself merely an attenuated form of that violent natural force, Mahakali. This reminder of the danger that persists even in domesticated women, the Kali that is said to dwell within


all women, crops up as we have seen, from time to time in Bhaktapur's stories, as a subdued and faintly comic counterpoint to the grand theme of the cosmic Devi. But with the help of Kumari Seto Bhairava is cured. Like Somara, the Tantric Brahman in the Nine Durgas legend, after the escape of the Nine Durgas brought about by the interference of his wife, Seto Bhairava is returned to ordinary civic life. He is safe, but as his inability to get Sima or Duma to wash his shawl for him reminds the audience, he is without power to alter the conventional order of things, and thus without, in fact, much power at all.


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