KATHMANDU: Imagine having to walk — walk — 66.5 km in 24 hours! Isn’t even the thought just tiring? Yes, for most of us it’s a Herculean task that seems impossible. But for the devotees in the Dipankha Yatra it is more of a pilgrimage to be able to do this 66.5 km walk.
The Dipankha Yatra is a 900-year-old religious ceremony conducted from Nagbahal that takes place only when five auspicious astronomical and astrological features coincide on one particular day according to the lunar calendar. This auspicious day fell on October 18 this year. Suarmas Sankranti, Chandramas Purnima, Rewati Nachytra, Harshan Yog and Adityabar — the four auspicious features coincided on Friday instead of Sunday. Though just four of the features out of five coincided, the Yatra was still held as it has been done so earlier. The last Dipankha Yatra was held in 2005.
Dipankha Yatra, the procession of the Neel Thu (Blue-horned Ox), is associated with the legend of Dipankar (one of the 14 Buddhas). It is believed that walking just one step in this Yatra equals to earning the dharma of offering one tola of gold.
Genesis of the Yatra
Everyone is welcome to participate in the procession during which devotees visit 131 temples and chaityas around Kathmandu Valley. As a result, the procession is a never-ending walk of devotees ranging from children to the elderly. The walk this year began at 2:15 am from Nagbahal.
Being the starting point of the procession, Nagbahal was decorated like a new bride with colourful flags and lights lit around the courtyard. Even on October 17, not caring about the downpour, people reached the premises to offer kisili (offering of rice grain, whole beetlenut and coin kept in a small clay vessel) to Neel Thu Boddhisavttow.
Though there are no hard-and-fast rules for those wanting to participate in the Yatra, the devotees usually offer kisili a day prior in the hopes that nothing bad befalls upon them during their walk.
Bikash Ratna Dhakhwa, secretary-general of Dipankha Yatra Organising Committee says, “The offering of kisili to Neel Thu Boddhisavttow is for the assurance of good health and to lessen the hardships during the journey.”
Sisters — Amita and Saari Shilakar — were participating in the Yatra for the second time this year and were offering their kisili. Saari shared, “The last time, it took me 33 hours to complete the journey and I earned around 12 sores on my feet. I was unable to walk for three days after the Yatra.”
When asked about the reason for participating in the Yatra Amita said with a merry smile, “Last time it happened after 32 years and the purpose was to have fun. We believe walking in the Yatra brings peace and prosperity to us as well as the country.”
At the Yatra
There were more than 50,000 people in the Yatra who were walking together either with their family members, relatives or friends. At some places families had brought food for their dear ones, while at many places onlookers and locals offered juice and fruits to the devotees. And there were funny scenes too where some hurried to bring slippers for their dear ones as the shoes the walkers were wearing either got torn or were irritating them.
Then there was 58-year-old Punyamati Sainji from Bhaktapur participating in the Yatra for the second time. She did not offer kisili this year but wore the same pair of shoes that she did for the Yatra in 2005. “This time the journey is more pleasant as one does not have to go inside the shrine and offer satbeej (seven types of seeds) and coin, which is time consuming and annoying. It is easier to offer it on a piece of cloth placed in front of the temple,” she said adding, “One gains dharma by offering one tola of gold for every step taken in the Yatra.”
Sharing a similar view, Purna Deshar, 75, who has walked two Yatras already during his lifetime opined, “This is my third time and I am with my daughter-in-law and granddaughter. It is believed that doing this Yatra is auspicious and one gains punya. And if you gain punya in Kathmandu, it is equal to visiting the sacred cities of Kashi or Benaras.”
And he found this Yatra more comfortable as there were proper ways and volunteers placed in different areas to show the way. Moreover, drinking water facility, medical aid, toilet and more being provided at 43 points of the route added to the comfort of the walk.
However, 12-year-old Kritika Maharjan found the journey very hard. “My legs are aching so much ... but as I am being able to visit new places, I am enjoying it as well.”
Kritika was part of the Yatra more for fun than to earn dharma though.
At each shrine devotees offer satbeej as well as a small copper plate with the imprint of an ox. About the offerings Rabindra Shakya, one of the coordinators from Dipankha Yatra Organising Committee explained, “People offer satbeej, coins, copper plate with ox imprint according to their will. The offering satbeej is for the peace of one’s planets like the Sun, Moon, Mars and so on.”
The Yatra that went from Nagbahal, Khokhana, Chobar, Chhauni, Swoyambhu, Lazimpat, Chabahil, Bouddha, Pashupati and more will come to a stop at Maha Laxmisthan of Lagankhel on October 19. The main priest and two Upadhyays will be given sagan (boiled and fried egg) and the devotees’ families will also offer them sagan before going home, as per Shakya.
He added, “With the procession of Dha Baja and idol of Neel Thu being welcomed at Nagbahal, the Yatra will come to an end.”
The legend behind
According to the book Dipankha Yatra published by Dipankha Guthi, Dipankha Yatra Management Committee, on the day of Aswin Sukla Purnima chaityas are worshipped with the belief of getting salvation from the cycle of rebirths and getting nirvana. The day is important as worshipping one chaitya on this day earns one the punya of going around thousands of chaityas on other days. Moreover it is also the day of Neel Thu.
Neel Thu is believed to be the God of Prosperity who also grants wishes to his devotees, as per Dhakhwa. In the book, it is mentioned that Neel Thu was born on Aswin Purnima Aswini Nachetra with good astrological order in the home of a priest. He was given the name Neel Thu as his horns were blue in colour. The couple was without children but after the birth of the calf, they became prosperous and gave birth to their child. The couple believed the calf to be one of the forms of Boddhisavttow as Neel Thu used to go around the chaitya every morning and evening.
When Neel Thu became old, he wanted to visit Dipankar Buddha who resided at a distance before his death. As he reached Dipankar Buddha’s place, Dipankar Buddha blessed Neel Thu that he would be born into the Shakya clan and become Shakyamuni Buddha.
With this prophecy Neel Thu became very happy and bid his goodbye walk towards another mountain. It soon became evening and he decided to rest in the jungle, but the fate had decided something else. The wild animals attacked him and he was killed.
Only on the fourth day of the ox’s disappearance, the priest found a heap of bones and two blue horns and he was sure it was Neel Thu. The sad priest took the bones towards a river bank and buried those in the sand forming a chaitya where he used one horn as the pinnacle, and the other to offer water to the chaitya. The priest worshipped the chaitya and on the thirty-first day a magical event took place — the sand chaitya turned into gold and the horn turned into an idol of a blue ox from which precious jewels rained down along with mystical light.
The priest took the idol of blue ox to Dipankar Buddha and told him what had happened. Dipankar Buddha went to the place and did a religious count — the day of appearance of idol of blue ox is Aswin Sukla Purnima, Aswin Nachetra, Adityabar, Harsha Yog and Sangkranti. He placed the idol in front of the chaitya and put life into it naming it Neel Mahabrishratna Boddhisavttow.